It’s been 13 years since Porcupine Tree released their last long player, “The Incident”. And so you can definitely describe the now released work “Closure/Continuation” as a comeback album of the band around mastermind Steven Wilson, founded in Great Britain in 1987. On what is now their eleventh record, the progressive rock heroes prove that they still have what it takes to create innovative rock songs. You will be able to see that they haven’t forgotten anything live in the fall when they come to Berlin, Stuttgart and Oberhausen for three dates on their extended tour.
The emergence of “Closure/Continuation” is by no means solely due to the two-year break in the pandemic. Most of the seven songs are even older than Covid, as Steven Wilson and his bandmate Richard Barbieri tell ntv.de in an interview.
ntv.de: 13 years is a long time in the fast-moving music business. You all have other projects, but wasn’t this enormous time span in the end more of an accident?
Steven Wilson: We’ve actually been working on the album for a very long time. It wasn’t like we went on hiatus and then got back together for production last year. Basically we’ve been working on new songs since 2012, albeit sporadically.
Why did this process take so long?
Wilson: Well, first of all, I think it takes a good reason to release a new record. It must be an evolution of the sound. It also has to be compositionally strong, a real statement. Otherwise, why bother? And yes, we’ve all been involved in different things like solo projects. With these experiences we then came back to Porcupine Tree to make the sound sound fresh again, but at the same time still like us. Just like Porcupine Tree in 2022.
Richard Barbieri: Especially after “The Incident” which wasn’t necessarily the best album we’ve ever made. And the tour was not the best either. We are three different people with different projects and influences. We live different lives and worked with different musicians until we felt like we could continue with Porcupine Tree.
But you three have to agree on that…
Barbieri: First Steven was still touring solo and then came the pandemic and the lockdown. At least that allowed us to focus on finishing the album. So this time circumstances have brought us to this point a bit…
Wilson: Yes, the lockdown is actually the simplest answer to the question of when is the right time. (laughs) I don’t know if we’re sitting here without him or if we would still be working on the album after all. But this phase gave us the necessary time and peace to finish the songs that we have been developing over the last ten years.
The tour in autumn is also the first in this constellation for a good ten years. Are you now one of those bands that travel separately and only meet on stage for work?
Barbieri: That may sound strange, but we actually each have our own bus. (laughs) But that has more to do with the production, the size of the shows and the number of people involved. Because I still think we stand together more than we did on the last tour when we all traveled together on a bus.
Like an old married couple with separate bedrooms?
Wilson: Maybe. The many years of touring together have increased our understanding of each other’s quirks. All three of us couldn’t be more different. But it is precisely these differences that make Porcupine Tree stand out. The band benefits from the fact that we have now recognized and understood this. We deal with it much more relaxed than before and enjoy the presence of others. But of course, it can also be that we hate each other at the end of the tour, of course you never know that beforehand. (laughs)
With your lyrics you have always pointed out grievances and made socially critical statements. Are you currently still following?
Wilson: We’re actually slipping from one catastrophe to the next. Brexit was only the first nightmare. Then it continued with the Trump administration, which changed a lot. Then Covid, now the war in Ukraine. And the music industry itself has also changed insanely. When “The Incident” came out in 2009, nobody had heard of Spotify. You have to imagine this. Everything has changed, and not all for the better. Of course I process that in my songs in my own way. And yes, my lyrics have always been quite dystopian. We are living in a dystopia right now. Do the lyrics reflect that? I think it depends on the recipient, but I’m very curious about the reactions of the fans.
Has the new streaming changed anything for you as Porcupine Tree in your work? For example, are you concerned that many people today tend to listen to playlists and individual songs rather than entire albums?
Wilson: No. I don’t even have a Spotify account. (laughs) We’re following the tradition that an album is a journey that you listen to from start to finish – like watching a movie or reading a book. Maybe we are the last generation to think about music in this way. We’re old, that’s what we do. It’s hard for me to change my thinking here. I like the idea of splitting the album into two sections for the vinyl for example.
Barbieri: Basically, there are no more rules today.
Wilson: I like the fact that there are no more rules. Max Richter has released an eight-hour album called “Sleep”. Other things appear that are not linked to an album. I also like the idea that artists can always replace versions of their songs with new ones. I love all of that. But we’re part of the generation that grew up with the album as a format, and it’s hard to break away from that.
Your fans don’t have to, because “Closure/Continuation” is not only available in streaming, but also on CD, vinyl and even on cassette. A format that many younger people no longer know. Is that something nostalgic, because it can’t be the good sound.
Barbieri: I think it’s more for real fans. It’s just nice to own.
Wilson: Yeah, I think that’s something for collectors too. And we’re not even the first to come up with this idea. Even AC/DC released their last album on cassette. People are getting into physical things again, but a tape is more for possession than for listening.
In the course of digitization, did it bother you that many people only hear your songs as compressed files and the sound quality falls by the wayside? Or do you rather see the benefits, like reaching a broader audience that doesn’t know you yet.
Wilson: I think the latter is more important. When I was young and bought vinyl, it wasn’t the best quality either. It’s very rare that the circumstances at home are similar to those in the studio where the music was created. As long as the people who really care have a chance to hear it in the highest quality, I don’t care what other people do. Everyone should decide that for themselves. At the end of the day, music matters.
Barbieri: I actually listen to MP3s myself all the time, transfer them to my old iPod and listen to them in my car, which doesn’t exactly have good speakers. (laughs)
Does the upcoming tour still make you nervous, all that traveling?
Barbiere: A lot can happen first. Corona – or an escalation in Ukraine. But we have to plan. And by our standards, it’s actually quite a short tour, but the venues are bigger. We only play 13 shows in the US, it’s similar in Europe.
Wilson: We’re fine with the numbers. But the locations are even bigger. It makes it very exciting to see how much the band has grown over the years. We’re selling more tickets today than ever before. So I think we’re going to enjoy it a lot.
Nicole Ankelmann spoke to Steven Wilson and Richard Barbieri from Porcupine Tree.
The album “Closure/Continuation” will be available from June 24th.