The In Absentia Tour Interviews
John Wesley - Cortemaggiore, 28th March 2003
Gavin Harrisson - Cortemaggiore, 28th March 2003
Richard Barbieri - Cardano al Campo, 29th March 2003
Colin Edwins - Cardano al Campo, 29th March 2003
Steven Wilson - Zurich, 30th March 2003 (soon)
My first interview in the PT tour bus, after the Cortemaggiore show. Everybody is sick with flu, Richard is eating pizza and Steven is relaxing on a couch. When I'll get back a few minutes later, I'll find him asleep on the same couch. Looks like they all need a rest....
A: You were with Marillion ten years ago, then with Fis hand now Porcupine Tree, itís like a familly thing. How did you have your first contact with Steven Wilson?
W: I saw Porcupine Tree while I was working
with Marillion on the Made Again tour at the Forum in
A: How did you reaqrrange the guitar parts with Steven Wilson on that tour? Because I saw that sometimes he has the lead, sometime itís you, so how did you decide that kind of thing?
W: Steven sent me a list of the material, and so I learnt as many of the parts , the guitar parts on the songs as I could, and we sat down at a hotel room one afternoon, and he said ĎIíll play this and youíll play that, and now I play this and you play thatí and thatís kind of the way it worked. We just sat in a hotel room one day.
A: What kind of a challenge is it for you now to be part of the live crew of Porcupine Tree?
W. oh, there are lots of challenges. Itís very complicated music, and youíre playing with great players, so you always have to be on your toes and you have to know, do your homeworks and know your parts, and be on form everynight. And then one of the biggest challenge is just to be away from home.
A: What are the highlights of the last ten years, since you joined Marillion and now, what are the best memories you keep with you?
W: Wow, there are so many! Thereís a couple moments on the first U.S tour I did with Marillion, that were so astounding, and then laters tour, I remember the Ahoy in Rotterdam and La Cigale in Paris, and so many different things, the Rome gig for me the other night was a highlight, Ďcos I did a solo set and the crowd was just fantastic. So itís been solo like that, itís been some good shows.
A: Do you think youíre going to do more solo set acoustic on this tour? Why arenít you playing every night? You should!
W: It wasnít planned for me to play every night. And I donít wanna, you knowÖ If Iím invited, I will play, the last two nights, unfortunately I was sick! I would have played. I hope that if there is no support act tomorrow, if Iím better then I can play. But if there is no support act, the band has no problem with me playing. But Iíve been sick, itís just the fever and the throat, that kind of things.
A: What are your other projects, besides playing with Porcupine Tree?
W: Iíve done a lot of things, mostly focused on my own solo career. Iíve got a lot of writing done for a new album, which I want to start recording through the summer and I just worked with a band in the U.S called Sister Hazel and some other bands like that, so there are different things going on. Mainly the new album.
A: What would you say are the most difficult things for you to play on this tour from the Porcupine Tree material? The trickiest parts?
W: Wedding Nails is always tricky, but itís funny, some of the trickiest things are just trying to match Steven, in some parts you know, like Pure Narcotic weíve done tonight for exemple: itís always difficult to really pay attention to the way he is playing acoustic, and trying to match that, so thatís very difficult. And Strip the Soul could be difficult at times, hard timing things, lot of counting, so itís good!
A: One last thing, what are your dreams for the next ten years?
W: To be able to keep doing this! I love playing and Iíd love keeping playing with Porcupine Tree, and Iíd love to be able to make some touring on my own, in fact if I could do those two things Iíd be a happy guy!
Wes get out of the room and go down the stairs, "Gavin! You're on!"
Unfortunately, there was a problem with the recording, that has been mistakenly erased (sorry Gavin! sorry sorry sorry!!!!). But thanks to my list of questions, Iíve been able to retrace the interview. Please just keep in mind than these are not the exact words of Gavin, and due to my poor memory, the answers are considerably shortened from the originals.
A: What were you previous contacts with Steven Wilson?
G: In fact I played with Richard Barbieri in the early 80ís, and as the former drummer departed, Richard proposed to hire me for the album, first as a session musician, and then Steven proposed me to join the band.
A: What kind of a challenge is it for you to be part of Porcupine Tree?
G: I was always a session man before, and itís the first time Iím part of a band. So thatís kind of challenging. And I like it, itís fun
A: How is it to play with Colin? He is such a melodic player, he has such original lines!
G: Itís a nightmare! (laugh) In fact I knew his teacher a long time ago, and the first time I met him, he was learning how to play the bass! Iím a few years older than him, and thatís fun to play now in the same band than him!
A: How was the collaboration between the four of you during the recording of In Absentia?
G: Steven left us much freedom to do our things, even if everything was already written, we had space to experiment.
A: How is it to play the back catalogue? You bring songs like Waiting or Hatesong to a new level!
G: Steven made me listen to a live recording in Warszawa, because the songs evolved during the tour, and I decided just to do my things and not to imitate Chrisís drumming, so thatís how it worked.
A: What are your other projects?
G: Iíve released a DVD, a drum teaching course, and I do a lot of sessions. Particularly, Iím doing a new Claudio Baglioni album.
A: What are the highlights of the tour so far?
G: Well, in fact, every night when we can sleep at a hotel is a highlight for me! (laugh)
A: What are the trickiest drum parts of the current tour?
G: Strip the Soul is a bit tricky, because there are a lot of changes, and Creator has a Master Tape is difficult too, physically, because itís very fast and you have to keep this speed all song long.
A: A dream for the future?
G: My dream is to play the music I want to play, and why not making another solo album.
I arrived at Cardano al Campo at around 6, and the crew was setting the stage for the show. The Nautilus is in fact a discotheque, with low ceiling (which is good), but the soundboard was far away. Anyway, they made miracles and had a killer bass sound. Wes was playing as the opening act. Anyway, in the end of the afternoon, I climbed into the tour bus again, in order to interview the lord of strange sounds, the ghosts provider himself, Mister Richard BarbieriÖ
A: First question I want to ask you is about Porcupine Treeís sound getting heavier as years go by. Still you find places to put your layers. Is this new for you?
R: Yeah, I mean, itís more difficult now. Itís more of a challenge to find space because the sound sonically is very kind of dense and the guitar is a lot more prominent. So I have to kind of pick and choose the spaces and try to find ways to combine keyboards with this. So yeah, itís more of a challenge. But maybe the next Porcupine Tree is completely different.
A: Yes, maybe! I think that when there were the first heavy songs, maybe songs like Even Less, there were still lot of places I think . Yesterday I saw Wedding Nails, and I was surprised to hear that you could still find those places in such a piece of music.
R: Yeah, what can I say, itís more difficult. But then in the beginning, songs like Up the Downstairs were very electronic and ambient, and Voyage 34, so things change.
A: Would you like to participate in a kind of jam like the Moonloop one?
R: Yeah, I think we should do this more often. We used to maybe once a year going to studio and just jam, and tracks like Tinto Brass, and, er.. what was that? Returning Jesus? No, I cant remember the name of it now (Richard is probably thinking of Intermediate Jesus), I think that Moonloop, this kind of tracks happened, Buying New Soul, happened from jams. So I think it would be good with this set up to try to do that more.
A: Maybe on the next album, maybe Gavin would be interested to participate in jams like that?
R: Yeah, I think so, because for Gavin, every night he plays something different. So he is bored with playing the same thing. So for him itís very important to improvise.
A: And also, I understand that the new album was completely written, right?
Yeah! Yeah I mean we went to a mall studio in
A: The way Steven Wilson plays on the demos, he plays keyboards already, and you take this as a basis and you find yourÖ
R: Itís kind of 50/50. He plays keyboards, like kind of pad keyboards or some Mellotron organ on the demos, which I donít like. Iím never happy with this situation but for him, when heís doing a demo, he has to have a complete sound. As my history is more, if you work with the demo you work from something small and you start to arrange. In your mind you know the finish but you stillÖ So, something we change a little bit and then I say 50% I do new things, new ideas, electronics atmospheres, texture sounds. So yeah, itís not perfect for me but itís kind of a little bit of each.
A: Did you write some new material lately?
R: Iíve just started writing some new things, maybe towards the end of the year weíll all put some music together and see. The Porcupine Tree sound is from Steven because itís a style of writing. But we all put around music and some ideas come through with usually one, two or three co-writes or group compositions.
A: Have you been working with Jansen lately?
R: No, not lately, he went to America, together with David Sylvian. So theyíre together making I think an album together. And Iíve been so busy with Porcupine Tree the last two years have been really busy. So at the moment, this is my kind of life but I hope to do a solo album and to do some other things, because for me Porcupine Tree is not enough. I have to express more.
A: And I think you have a new keyboard called Indigo. So what can you tell us about it?
R: Itís just a little kind of virtual analogue synthesizer.
A: Prophet V like?
R: erm, yes, the idea is itís not analogue, itís digital, but itís modelled on an analogue, so you work with it in the same way and the sounds are very similar, close. So I wanted something new for just inspiration on stage. Now I have a kind of sponsorship with Roland, recently, so there is a new synth that I have at home, just two days before we came on tour. They gave me, so next tour weíll use this very special synthesizer.
A: and when youíre on the studio, do you work the same way you play live?
R: In the studio I improvise. I like to improvise. I used to arrange parts. But the problem is if you have a part you become very close to this part, and when you play in the studio, if somebody doesnít like it or if thereís something, then you feel like a loss for this. So for me lately the best way is I go to the studio with nothing in my head and that day I react to the music, and I work all day and do something and that is kind of an instant emotional response for that day so I work for maybe a week or so on the album, every day, just in this way.
A: And once youíve chosen some layers and stuff, you learn and you keep them forever? Do you happen to change things live?
R: I do change things live, yeah. Because I donít often keep my sounds. Because if you keep the sounds, then you never change so for me itís more of a challenge to recreate something live. Sometimes I keep them all the time or I just move on to something next.
A: Last night I heard like if you had sampled kind of what Steven Wilson played, or maybe it was just my imagination. Do you happen to do that?
R: No, I donít sample. I use a lot of distortion with the keyboards. So I think the sound is similar to guitar a lot of the time, I know that sometimes Iím playing a solo with distortion, and everybodyís watching Steven!
A: And you take sometimes a line of what you play and put it on loop?
R: Ah, yeah, Iíve got some loops going, yeah. Not sampling but long delay. At the beginning of Dark Matter, usually.
A: Maybe a few words for the Israeli fans?
R: Yes, yes! We hope to get over there sometime; soon, it was fantastic when we were there for the first time! We couldnít believe the response from the people, it was really great. We had a really good time. Weíre looking forward to get back there soon.
Richard goes out and get Colin, black hat on, and smiling widely as usual! He was very friendly and didnít hesitate to answer lengthily to my questions.
A: Before I heard your own solo music, I heard from some people that you had the reputation of a world musician. Listening to Porcupine Tree, I never understood why!
C: Right, I
donít know, itís something thatÖ One of my hobbies is travelling. So I go to
foreign places, just for a change, and itís how I got into world music in the
first place. Itís because I like to go to different places, some opportunity to
do it, you know, in a band. And I was never really interested in music, it all
changed when I went to Morocco for a holiday, for a couple of months, quite a
long time, and I got really into the whole music thing. I was really interested
in the literature of people like Paul Bawls, and Jack Keruack, and this kind of
people. Now I went to
A: So you hadnít an interest for that music before?
C: No, I had a few records but I never really got into it big time, and then because I met, you know, I went from having an instrument I couldnít play, didnít have any idea how to play, to meeting somebody who could teach me tunes, and who knew exactly where that instrument is coming from, which was really lucky.
A: So who is playing the percussion on Ex-Wise Heads?
Basically, there are three of us on Ex-Wise Heads. Thereís me playing the bass
instrument, I also play double-bass and acoustic bass guitar and stuff, and the
guembri which is like a Moroccan three strings bass thing. And Geoff plays all
the things you blow down basically, flute, saxophone, that kind of stuff. Heís
got a few weird wonderful things, heís got a harmonium-like melodica, and he
plays the zither, and just sounds he likes, you know, heís got electronic stuff
as well that he mixes with it. And on the percussion thereís a guy called
Vincent Salzfaas. Heís basically a bougs player,
which is a Senegalese, er, I donít know how much you know about (laugh),
you know itís like a djembe, a bigger djembe, but you have a set of four, so he
stands before like four drums, and he plays with both hands, it sounds like
more than one person playing. Heís actually studied in
A: Ex-Wise Headís music is very textured music, but sounds very raw with lot of soul into it, and how do you compose considering your involvement with Porcupine Tree?
C: The music is composed in lots of different ways, some of it is improvised, and thereís a few tracks on both of the albums that are completely improvised, and some of the other things come from an idea for a tune, and itís normally quite a simple melody, and we just play on the tune, and what we tend to do is weíll play the same tune six or seven times, and what will happen is if itís a good tune, weíll gradually get refined so it grows from itís ownÖ I know it sounds a bit pretentious (laugh) but it will grow in its own way because we get ideas from playing it and itís almost like what you eventually hear is like a filtered kind of thing, weíve filtered it through the fact that we jammed on it so many times. But of course itís live music, itís not big studio production music, itís very live so itís very raw, and you know Iím happy to admit thereís plenty of mistakes on the records, but it doesnít bother me because I think that what you can hear is the interaction between the three of us, so you have to open yourself up to the possibility of a mistake to come up with something new, something like that.
A: And that brings me a question about Porcupine Tree, because youíre part of that mythical jam, Moonloop! And would you be interested in doing this again? Iím sure Richard would like to do it, and probably Gavin.
C: Yeah, I actually remember when we did Moonloop, it was a veryÖ there was something kind of magical about it when we did it. It was great, I remember the day when we went to jam in the studio, I mean it was nearly ten years ago now, you knowÖ I got a friend of mine, Rick, who plays percussion to come down, so there was me, Steve, Rick and Chris, and the really weird thing was, after we played the session, I went next door and there was a TV in the room next door in the studio and they were actually showing a documentary about the moon landings. I donít think Steven knows that, Iíve never told him. (laugh)
C: that was really weird, yes, when Steve came up with the title... Because it was like the 25th anniversary of the moon landings at the time, itís very strange! But my own thing with that is very understated at the beginning on how the whole thing built, you know, and I remember actually while we were doing it our manager was sitting watching us with a friend of his, and I was thinking that the whole thing has to be done for the listeners, so that while we were jamming, we had to keep in mind that itís something that people wannaÖ Automatically we want people to listen to it again and again. So I was deliberately underplaying, and leaving out some gaps, I just didnít want listeners to that listen to line of bullshits that lots of people do in their jam you knowÖ And gradually when we had the tune, thatís a good example of like with Ex-Wise like I was saying earlier, when we came to play live it kind of got filtered, you know, because we played it so many times that we ended up you know, the version on Coma Divine is totally different to the version on the original Moonloop. It kind of developed, and then what happened I think was that it developed to a point were we couldnít go any further with it, and now we donít play it anymore, which is fine.
A: It reminds me a bit of the way King Crimson was playing a few pieces of music, improvising every night and maybe you have regrets not to have material available of that kind?
C: Yeah, it would be good to put more of these improvisations back in the set! But I guess thatís something weíll have to work on. Itís been very focused on the compositions, so things have change a little bit but I have no problem with that. I think maybe weíll go back to do some more improvised stuff. Thereís quite a lot of material to stretch out anyway, soÖ we have to change things, if not you go crazy playing night after night.
A: And I think of the Signify tour. How did you feel at the end of the tour?
Signify tour... I mean, yeah Ö itís a difficult question because what happens when
I come off a tour is I catch up with all the things I miss while being away you
know! And Iím always looking for the next thing to doÖ But our tours have got
longer, since weíve started touring. Our first
A: A bit
the same that in
C: Yeah, the first time I think was 1997. Poland is a great place, it was a real surprise to me, because I was expecting some gloom kind of ex-communist terror block kind of country, and actually there are some really fantastic countryside, and so many beautiful medieval kind of places, you know, places that werenít concreted all over or destroyed, actually cracked off or stuff, itís quite nice! So itís really an interesting country and the people are very warm, and itís a great place to go!
A: Gavin told me yesterday that he met you for the first time while you were learning to play the bass!
C: Yeah, we
have a mutual friend called Martin, and he used to play with Gavin many years
ago, and Martinís really responsible for a lot of my musical education in the
early days. He taught me a lot of things. I come from quite a musical family,
but I never took it seriously when I was a kid, I just pissed about and
eventually I persuaded my father to buy me a bass, which he didnít want to do,
because he didnít believe I would ever do anything with it, and about two weeks
after I bought it I met this chap Martin, from a friend of somebody else, and I
remember meeting Gavin a few times, yeah! This is like late 80ís. A long time
ago. It is very strange! But Iíve learned, you know, you can never predict the
future, I never thought in a million years Iíd end up in a band with Gavin, you
know, so itís unpredictableÖ I never thought when Steve first asked me to do
Porcupine Tree that we would come to
unpredictable, yeahÖ And Considering Gavinís Dizrhythmia, would you be
interested in collaborating with him and musicians from
C: Gavin has a very very fantastic bass player with him named Danny Thompson and I donít think I would ever fit his shoes! (laugh). Danny Thompson is like an English legend, I donít know if you know him. Heís an old double-bass player, heís been around for years, and heís basically played with everybody on earth! Heís been a session double bass player for years, heís been doing some folk music as well, and he had his own trio, doing folk music, or folk-influenced jazz, heís very English, itís great stuff! So, I donít know!
At this time, somebodyís calling Colin from downstairs, TEA TIME!!! Well, itís time to accelerate the movementÖAnd I choose to drop a few questions in order to finish the interview in two minutes time!
A: Here are two funny ones, youíre not obliged to answer! The first question is about the hat, (laughs), itís been like since 1995 that it didnít leave your head anymore, so! We were wondering if there were some religious things or something?
C: They are saying, ďIf you want to get a head, get a hat!Ē (silence) You donít know about that? (laugh) No, I just like hats, I collect them, itís one of my obsessions.(laugh)
A: Itís all weíll have, right?
C: yeah yeah!!
A: OK, then the other thing is the smile! Because the precise question is: What do you knowÖ That we donít??
C: (bursting laugh) ah, itís all for show! No, I donít know, I have lots of people telling me I smile a lot, but sometimes itís just concentration! Or you know, itís good to see people in the audience and see them makes me smileÖ err.. (laugh)
A: Yeah, because somehow, the music is very dark sometimes! Ö Yeah, in someway, it reminds me a bit of, you know, the Indian dancers or something, Ö
C: yeah yeah yeah!!
A: theyíre really deep in their mind, and what goes out is a smile!
C: yeah, yeahÖ. I think that the big thing about playing music is the state of mind you get into. Thatís something I really enjoy about music more than anything else, more than any other aspects. Itís a state of mind you can get into sort ofÖ itís totally in the moment. And nothing can bother you. If itís happening, you knowÖ because youíre just doing what youíre doing at that time, and thereís nothing, no past, no future, itís just that moment, you know that kind of thingÖ thatís what I likeÖ
A: Last one: Your favourite tracks on the new album, the ones where you feel you are the most involved?
C: I was most involved with Strip the Soul, because Iíve kind of wrote that with Steve, and I really like Gravity Eyelids, Iím very happy with my performance on the record, and Sound of Muzak I think, those two, Iíd say those three..
A: Great line! When it comes into the choruses!!
C: yeah, thatísÖ thatís nice, thank you! (laugh)