A year on from his To The Bone album, Steven Wilson has toured it extensively and has this week issued Home Invasion: Live at the Royal Albert Hall a new concert film, shot at the historic London venue back in March. “There was a lot more smiling, ” he tells editor Paul Sinclair, when SDE caught up with him recently…
SuperDeluxeEdition: Were you pleased with how the concert film turned out?
Steven Wilson: It was a difficult one for me. I resisted doing a concert film for quite a few albums. I was of the opinion, how do you capture that feeling of being immersed in a show. My shows try to be very immersive with the multimedia and the quad sound and all that stuff. I was resistant for a while, but then Eagle Rock came forward with a proposal to do the Albert Hall and I thought it you’re going to do it anywhere, the Albert Hall is the place to do it. Hometown show and all that stuff. The solution to that rhetorical question is that you encourage them to think of it as a piece of cinema. I haven’t seen a lot of concert films recently, but the ones I have seen are quite ‘straight’ and I encouraged Eagle Rock to think of it more like cinema, so you do have things like split screen, slow motion, overlaying images, blurring and those kinds of techniques that some purists might balk at, but to me, it does make it more comparable with the actual experience of seeing a show.
SDE: Does filming shows inhibit your performance?
SW: Obviously, it does make you a bit more self conscious. But I think the fact that it was the third of three nights made it a lot less like that. The band felt comfortable. We’d already done the show two nights running, we understood the dynamic between us and the audience. So I think it was probably the right show to film. I’m not going to say I was completely unaware of the cameras, but I think I was much more relaxed than I might have been normally.
SDE: Did you have to do any fixes, or overdubs afterwards?
SW: It all went down really beautifully. I mean, I’m not going to say I didn’t fix the odd bum note here and there, you know… but it’s pretty faithful. There’s nothing that’s been added, let’s just say that.
SDE: Because we’re in the era of touring being something of an income generator – whereas it in the past it was more of a loss-leader – does that mean the economics around it allow you to spend more on stage design and presentation?
SW: Well, that’s a very good question. I think I’m peculiar in that I’m still the guy that loses money on tour and makes money on selling records. Honestly! (laughs). The reason I lose money on tour is that firstly, I’m a solo artist, so I pay everyone on that tour, other than me; the crew, the sound, the lighting, the production, the merch, the band…. and I like to put on a show, as you can see. Now, I’m not playing the kind of venues that U2 or Roger Waters are playing, I’m playing relatively small theatres. So actually the economics of it are completely cock-eyed, really. Let’s just say that I shouldn’t really be putting on the show that I am, the level that I’m at. But I do it, because that’s why I fell in love with making music. Not to make money, but to create some kind of magic. That was always my dream to create some kind of multi-media show, that’s what I do, but I’m lucky if I come back and I’ve broken even. But that’s fine, because actually I do pretty well out of my remix work and I do pretty well out of the record sales. The kind of music I play, and I’m sure you find this too with your readers, your demographic, the kind of people that buy my records are still predominantly buying physical products… if I was making hip-hop, I don’t think that would be true. But because I play rock music, classic rock, whatever you want to call it, I do still have a substantial audience that want to buy physical product and that has been a real lifesaver and it’s meant that I can indulge with the live show.
SDE: You make the joke in the interview on the DVD/blu-ray about the fact that you haven’t had any ‘hits’ and yet you can sell out three nights at the Royal Albert Hall. Some people might have trouble getting their head around that, but I think maybe it’s down to a larger percentage than normal of your audience wanting to come and see you play live. Do you think that’s true?
SW: I hope so. One of the things about putting on the live show is ‘speculate to accumulate’. In other words if you put on a great show then people who come to that show will all go and tell their friends and so when you come around to their town next time, they’re going to say “hey, you’ve got to come and see this show, it’s mind blowing…” I’d love to say it’s worked like that, but it hasn’t worked quite like that [laughs] – at least not to the extent I would like, but I do think that has been a factor. Also, I think the kind of audience I have, a lot of them are the kind of people who just want to own everything I do. So you might call yourself a U2 fan [even if] you’ve just got U2’s greatest hits. I don’t think that’s true of my audience. A pretty high percentage probably have everything I’ve ever done [laughs] – at least based on the piles of records people bring me to sign sometimes – and I think that’s unusual but it means I can pretty much stage a show that draws from my whole back catalogue, and they don’t necessarily know what they’re going to hear. It’s nice to be able to go and see an artists where you don’t necessarily know how much they’re going to pull out of their back catalogue.
SDE: So how much did you vary the setlist on the ‘To The Bone’ tour? From your comments on stage at the Albert Hall you’re clearly aware that some people will come every night, so that gives you some latitude to vary things, but when you are just going from city to city, place to place, do you vary it very much?
SW: I wouldn’t say I vary it very much. My philosophy this time was to have two shows, because there were some cities where I was playing two nights, so we prepared two shows. The thing is with a show, when it is quite complex in terms of the way the visuals are choreographed, it’s not like you can suddenly just decide to change the song. Because everyone… the lighting, the sound guy.. they’re all prepared for a particular flow and a particular show. So it didn’t vary a lot, but we had an ‘A’ show and a ‘B’ show. I think you came on the second night [at RAH, a day before the filming] when we did the B show, which was based more around the Hand. Cannot. Erase. album and most of that record I dropped from the A show. So we had two different shows and at the Albert Hall we did A and B shows the first two nights and then the third night, because it was being filmed it had it’s own sense of occasion anyway. What we did on the third night was we ran most of the first show, but we also squeezed in a few songs from the B show as well, so that we knew we’d have them as part of the concert film.
SDE: And obviously on the blu-ray/DVD you have the bonus rehearsal tracks as well, which cover off some other songs.
SW: Exactly. So we filmed some songs in the afternoon that we knew weren’t going to be part of the concert itself.
SDE: You have the 5.1 surround sound mix on the blu-ray/DVD. Did you have to do any kind of special preparation in terms of how you recorded the sound?
SW: All my shows are recorded to multi-track anyway. The desk that my engineer uses basically has a built-in hard disk recorder, so I record and document every show anyway, so there wasn’t really anything particularly different we had to do this time. With the live audio [surround mix] I think I’ve been a little bit more conservative than I might be with a studio recording because obviously there are certain things that just sound a bit fake, in a live context, if they are coming behind you. A guitar solo isn’t suddenly going to come from behind you in a live show, whereas you can do that with a studio recording… it’s more of an impressionistic medium. So it’s a little bit more conservative, but it’s still very immersive and discrete.
SDE: And the album To The Bone… you’ve obviously toured it extensively and you have some more dates coming up – what’s your feeling about the record now, having played it live so much?
SW: I’m really proud of it. It’s one of those things where every record I make, I’m proud of, and every record I make is where I’m at, at that particular point in time, in terms of my musical tastes, the music I want to make and how I want to express myself so… you’ve got to bear in mind that album was written about two years ago now, so I’m already working on the next record, which will be completely different again, so it’s kind of already slightly alien to me. One of the things I found with the To The Bone album – and unfortunately you didn’t see that show – but it gave the show, the ‘A’ show, a lot more balance than I think the previous tours that I had and let me explain what I mean by that. I think the previous couple of albums, because they were so conceptual, the shows were very intense, reflecting that more kind of conceptual nature of the albums, [because of that] there wasn’t a great deal of a sense of joy about those albums and the shows. And when the To The Bone repertoire was available, suddenly the show had a lot more joy, to it, and it felt a lot more balanced. There was a lot more smiling, as well as the more melancholic side of the show. So songs like Permanating, Same Asylum As Before, Song of I... there was something that was much more dynamic and uplifting about the show as an overall trajectory. It was a little bit less immersed in that world of conceptual rock. And for me that made the show a lot more fun. At least as much as a Steven Wilson show can be described as fun [laughs].
SDE: Do you write, can you write, when you are on the road, Steven?
SW: I’m the kind of person that can’t really write on the road, because I don’t really find it particularly inspiring. I’m also one of those people who need to be surrounded by my tools. I’m mean, I’m not Bob Dylan, I don’t just go into a hotel room and write a song on an acoustic guitar. Clearly I’m not Bob Dylan in many respects, but you know what I’m saying. And similarly I’m not Elton John, I can’t just sit down and write a song at a piano… I think I need to have all of my toys around me, whether it’s the drum machine, synths… and that’s the place where I write music. When I’m out on the road, I have a little mixing rig with me these days, so I tend to do more of the remix work. I actually did a lot of the mixing for the Home Invasion DVD while I was still out on the road.
SDE: Talking of your remix work, since you are now very busy with your own albums and touring does this mean you’ll be more selective going forward?
SW: I’m turning down more than I would have done, maybe two or three years ago. I just haven’t got the time. But do you know what? If the right project comes along, I’ll make the time. I’ve just finished work a few months ago on a massive box set for Tangerine Dream and they’re one of my favourite bands of all time, so that was a real labour of love. And as I’ve always said, kind of half-jokingly – and I know it’s never going to happen – but if Kate Bush rang me up tomorrow [laughs]… I’ve spoken at length to Stephen Tayler, her engineer, and he’s said in no uncertain terms that she’s not interested and that’s fair enough. But I’m using her as an example, but if the Prince estate rang me up, or the Bowie estate…or the Zappa estate – of course I would make the time.
SDE: Looking at your tour schedule, you’re going to be really busy on the road again ,for another period. Why go on tour again? Why not go back into the studio with your toys as you said, and get on with the next record?
SW: Good question. Can I put you in touch with my management and you can talk to them about it?! [laughs] Honestly, that’s kind of how I feel. Listen, it’s going to be a lot of fun. Usually, what happens with an album-cycle these days, is that you do what’s called the primary markets first and then you go back and you do another round of the secondary markets, which is what I’m doing now. So whereas last time I would have played New York and Los Angeles in America, now we’re doing Nashville and Pensacola and those kind of places, and the same is true in Europe. And these are important things… you know we talked about this, why is my fanbase so loyal, and part of it is that I do go out and try to reach as many people as possible, but there is also frustration in me that I’m already working on new material and I would prefer to be creative, rather than painting the same painting every night, as Joni Mitchell once described touring.
SDE: Does that mean we shouldn’t expect anything new next year, but more likely the year after?
I think that’s quite likely, yeah. I’m looking at Spring 2020 for the new record
Finally, do you see this as a concert film with some audio bundled in, or do you see it as a live album? Obviously you’ve got the vinyl coming out next year. What’s you thoughts on that?
That’s a very good question. I was talking to my manager this morning about whether the blu-ray/DVD/CD packages will be eligible for the music charts and no one seems to know. So… I don’t know. I guess it’s primarily a concert film, because that’s the way it was conceived. Let’s just say, I wouldn’t have done it if it was just going to be a live recording , I wouldn’t have bothered. The To The Bone show is very much about the visual spectacle.
Steven Wilson’s Home Invasion: Live at the Royal Albert Hall is out now on 2CD+blu-ray and other video formats. A 5LP vinyl box follows next year.
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Home Invasion - 2CD+blu-ray
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Home Invasion - 5LP vinyl box
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Home Invasion - standalone blu-ray
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Home Invasion - standalone DVD
2CD / Blu-ray / DVD
(1) Intro “Truth”
(2) Nowhere Now
(4) Home Invasion / Regret #9
(5) The Creator Has A Mastertape
(7) People Who Eat Darkness
(9) Arriving Somewhere But Not Here
(11) Song Of I
(14) The Same Asylum As Before
(15) Song Of Unborn
(17) Sleep Together
(18) Even Less
(19) Blank Tapes
(20) The Sound Of Muzak
(21) The Raven That Refused to Sing
Blu-ray/DVD bonus features
Rehearsal tracks (Routine, Hand Cannot Erase, Heartattack In A Layby), interview and backstage footage.
Home Invasion: In Concert At The Royal Albert Hall / 5LP vinyl box
1 Intro “Truth” 2:52
2 Nowhere Now 4:08
3 Pariah 5:11
4 Home Invasion / Regret #9 10:58
1 The Creator Has a Mastertape 5:25
2 Refuge 8:42
3 People Who Eat Darkness 6:24
1 Ancestral 13:52
1 Arriving Somewhere but Not Here 13:53
1 Permanating 5:34
2 Song of I 7:13
3 Lazarus 4:04
1 Detonation 11:27
2 The Same Asylum as Before 5:53
1 Song of Unborn 6:40
2 Vermillioncore 5:07
3 Sleep Together 7:52
1 Even Less 4:02
2 Blank Tapes 3:14
3 Sound of Muzak 5:08
4 The Raven that Refused to Sing 8:31
1 Routine 9:01
2 Hand Cannot Erase 4:18
3 Heartattack in a Layby 3:59
1 How is Your Life Today? 3:17*
2 Blackfield 4:33*
3 Postcard 6:55*
* vinyl bonus tracks