After the premiere for tour film slash road movie Insurgentes, Steven Wilson stuck around to answer questions from the audience. I was there, so, for the curious, here’s a snippet of the more interesting bits (I should add, I’ve paraphrased the questions, as some were quite rambling):
Audience Member: Do you have plans to tour the album?
Steven Wilson: The simple answer is yes. The original plan was to do some shows to promote it, but I always said that after the second record there’d be enough of a repertoire, and that record is already well underway…
AM: In the film you touched upon the pros and cons of the internet age- you’ve been active on Facebook and Twitter in the last few days to promote this, so has your view changed since the film, or is this just the new model for promotion?
SW: Most people start making music to share it with as many people as possible… [which makes] these things necessary. To a certain extent I’ve embraced these things over the last few months… [but] the internet removes the enigma around an artist… reality is not what pop and rock music is about, at least not the great bands… most people wouldn’t recognise Radiohead or Tool if they walked down the street, but you could find out about their personal lives… it’s difficult, for example, to think of Ozzy Osbourne as anything other than a cuddly buffoon.
He then went on to warn of the danger of listening to press in the internet age, saying that a negative review on a blog could just be “some kid listening to Metallica in a basement in Colorado”.
AM: How did the movie come about?
SW: It grew fairly organically, as I’ve worked with Laisse [Hoile, the director] since about 2002… he wanted to make a film, and if you think the music industry is hard to break into then the film industry is a hundred times harder… I decided to take a road trip to record the album, and asked Laisse to come along.
When asked about his reverence for what he calls the ‘Golden Age’ of recorded music, he responds “I think I would have sold more records in the 70s” with a smile, before continuing, “that was the last generation where it was possible to make music in the old-fashioned way.” He admits, “I wouldn’t have the faintest clue about how to get started in today’s industry”.
AM: Why would you do this project right now when it might be seen as self-aggrandizing?
SW: It just seemed like a whole lot of fun using the medium of film…. The thing is I talk a lot about music, and I’m very passionate about it, which I think can make me seem arrogant… I’m not rich, I’m not a celebrity- I’ve just carved out my own little corner… there aren’t any films about musicians working at my level- working musicians.
AM: How do you see your future career? I heard that you want to move to engineering and mixing as your prime focus.
SW: I don’t suppose I’ll ever be able to stop making records. The idea of the album is unfashionable now, what with iPods and shuffle, but it’s what I like doing… maybe I’ll stop touring though.
AM: Why is Mexico featured so prominently in the film?
SW: It’s just darker. I’ve never really connected with the US, but I really connected with Mexico… the island of the dolls- that place is fucked up. If it’d have been in the UK or Us, every death metal band would have filmed a video there, but I think we were the first to film it… obviously, Lasse’s camera loved it.
AM: There are artists or musicians trying anything to get people to buy a physical album (for example Katy Perry scenting her records); what techniques would you use to stop downloading?
SW: How low would I go? [laughs] You can’t stop people. What I do is try and raise the debate. The problem is the youngest generation who’ve only heard MP3s… they don’t even know what a CD sounds like.
Steven is quick to point out the current vinyl resurgence though; “with human beings, every action has an opposite reaction”, before extolling the virtues of surround sound:
“MP3s are a victory of convenience over quality. Surround sound is very inconvenient, but it makes the sound three-dimensional; of course you have to have the equipment and sit in the right place, and not all rooms can accommodate it, but…”
He also accepted that most would not be bothered with the new technology, let alone the existing physical medium; “I once had a girlfriend who put the speakers for her stereo on top of each other because it ‘looked better’.”
AM: Do you see CDs or Vinyl as better placed to survive in today’s market? Surely, as an engineer you must concede that CDs are a higher quality delivery medium? Or does the ‘organic’ ascetic of the LP trump the CD?
SW: It has everything to do with mastering. There’s good mastering and there’s bad mastering. A lot of people think they know about it, but… purely from an ascetic point of view, you can’t beat a beautiful vinyl. CDs are halfway between art and technology… with the more recent Porcupine Tree releases, we’ve been focusing on packaging, which seems to work in terms of CD sales.
That last one was mine. I should have seen the ‘mastering’ point and pre-empted it, if I wanted to get a straight answer. Better still, I should have asked ‘what do you love about music?’ but then again if I had we’d probably still be there.