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Jason: What motivates you to make music?
Steven: Well, originally what motivated me to create music, you won't be surprised to learn, was other music. Really being inspired by the music I grew up listening to. These days it tends to be less clear-cut. I tend to find that the inspiration is often purer when it comes from things other than other people's music. The problem with being inspired by music itself is that it tends to make things more derivative for obvious reasons. If you're inspired by a particular piece of music, very often you can create something that is very much in the shadow of that piece of music. So these days I tend to get more inspired by things like cinema, books, what's happening in my life, what's happening in my friend's lives, etc.. And also, this might seem very self indulgent, but I think one of the biggest influences a musician can have is learning from their own mistakes. For me, one thing that has been very important is not repeating myself. Not getting into a kind of cycle where I keep making the same record over and over again. God knows there are plenty of artists that do that. I've always tried to avoid repetition. Actually, one of the biggest influences or motivators I have is that will not to repeat what I've done in the past. And that kind of inspires me for new ways to approach....or
Jason: To make progress, really?
Steven: Exactly, to progress and I think the other thing that is really important as a musician, or any kind of creative artist, is to keep the input always fresh. If the input is fresh, then the output will be fresh. I still buy a lot of new records, I still read a lot. I still try to keep on top of what's going on in the world. I really try and avoid the kinds of things that rot your brain like MTV and Billboard Charts and to be honest, most of the music media. I don't read reviews. I don't even read reviews of my own music. I'm just not interested. They're just opinions. And although opinions tend to be very important in terms of the way records are marketed, to me as an artist/musician why should a review have any interest. Even if it's a good review, why should it have any value to me? It's just an opinion.
Jason: I think you also run the risk of changing yourself, even sub-consciously by reading a review. It's impossible for the ego to completely tune out a review, be it good or bad.
Steven: Exactly. It is very hard. When I DO read reviews, 99.9% of the time it annoys me. Not even because it's bad. Actually, bad reviews are often less annoying than good reviews. With a bad review you can see that the person clearly doesn't get what we're trying to do. Good reviews sometimes annoy me because the person may have liked the record but for all of the wrong reasons. Even worse, are the comparisons you always get in these reviews. People always HAVE to compare things. In some respects I understand it. I mean, how do you explain to your audience what you're writing about? But the whole concept of writing about music is an absurd one anyways. It's like Frank Zappa said, 'Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." It's using one artistic medium to talk about another one. So often Journalists are very lazy in the way they write about music and they will fall back on the same old things...particularly in regard to Porcupine Tree as being the new Pink Floyd. That REALLY annoys me. I spend so much time trying to be unique and distinctive and to have our own personality. And then to be dismissed in a single sentence like that is so upsetting.
Jason: Yeah, to reduce it to a simple comparison just doesn't seem fair.
Steven: Yeah, it's not fair!
Jason: At what point in your career did you realize that you wanted to be a professional musician? Was there a turning point where you saw your career starting to unfold in front of you?
Steven: I can't really remember a time when I wanted to be anything else. It's very difficult to trace it back to some kind of epiphany or realization. I discovered music when I was about 10 years old and became obsessed with it very quickly. I'm sure at that early age that I must have decided sub-consciously that this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to make records. I didn't understand how to make records at the time, but I knew that this was something that I wanted to do. It was something that captured my imagination. I think that about half way through my teens I was quite adamant with my parents that this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a musician. Now, to their credit, they didn't let me do that right away. I think it would have been a disaster if I had tried to go out into the world and become a musician immediately after school. They actually advised me to go out and get a proper job in the interim. What I actually did, which in retrospect was the best thing I could have possibly done, was get a job in the computer industry for about 4 years. I made some money and by saving that sum of money, I was able to build my home studio. Having my own studio has meant having complete artistic freedom. Still to this day I make most of my records in my home studio. Now it's not that uncommon for people to have their own home studios these days, but this was before the advent of digital/hard disc recording where you can make albums that sound fantastic on a computer. This was like 15 years ago so it wasn't that common for people to have home studios like that and I did. So I was able to start making music that at that time no record label would EVER have been interested in, but it was all extremely important in the development of my own craft.
Jason: So let me ask you this. I know you are a big digital recording advocate. With that being said, do you feel that the advent of digital home studio equipment, particularly affordable home studio equipment, has changed musician's priorities? In other words, many musicians these days seem to spend an inordinate amount of time learning about compression ratios and plug-ins instead of practicing their instruments and focusing on that craft. How do you feel about that?
Steven: Hmm, I guess I'm a little bit guilty of that myself, but then I've never considered myself to be a musician anyway. What I've always wanted to do, and this is going back to that very first time I fell in love with music, is I wanted to make records. I guess what I was saying, although I didn't know it at the time, is that I wanted to be a songwriter / producer. I wasn't ever interested in being a pop star or a celebrity. I wasn't ever interested in the money one could make. I was only interested in making records. That is where the romance was for me. So, I became very interested in the process of making records very early on, perhaps to the detriment of my actual musicianship. I think there is a danger. If somebody is a guitar player, then they should spend their time working on their guitar craft. I think you're right. What we have in the 21st century, and have probably had for the last 20 years is a dearth of distinctive musicians. There are a lot of musicians who can play, but they sound a lot like other musicians. I can be specific about this. If you look at the turn of the 70's into the 80's, look at a band like the Police. They were 3 guys and you could tell each of their styles from a mile away. It didn't matter what they were playing on, you could tell that is was Stewart Copeland on drums, Andy Summers on guitar and Sting on bass. I can't think of a single band in last 20 years where you can instantly distinguish every band member's musical personality. The problem we have now is that it's too easy to create sounds in the prescribed way. It's too easy to sound like your idols. And this whole cult of the Steve Vai / Joe Satriani guitar shredder thing is a great example. It's fine to be able to play like that, but you find it very hard to develop your own personality if you dedicate your whole life to that style of playing. An I think that since the 70's and 80's what had gone out of music have is distinctive musicians. And I think you're right about this. The focus on the studio and the process of making records has perhaps taken over too much from the process of writing distinctive songs and creating distinctive voices on your instrument.
Jason: Then again, digital recording has opened so many doors for creative people.
Steven: At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter. It seems like such an obvious thing to say, but it doesn't matter what technology you have but how you use it. That's a real clich? to say these days, but not that many people practice what they preach. If you have a strong enough personality you make..... I was reading an interview with Dave Gilmore once and they were asking about the guitar that he used and how he got his sound and he stopped them immediately.
This is what he said, ' look, you can give me any guitar, it can be the cheapest piece of trash, and I can play it and it would sound like me. It's not about the strings, it's not about the pick-ups, it's not about the amps, it's about the personality and the way you express yourself through the music."
I think this is true of the studio too. Sure you have all of these plug ins, digital technology, computer hardware, but you still have to connect your human side to that technology to use it in an interesting way. It seems so obvious but that always been the reality.
Jason: Well Steven, since this is an interview that is going out to the internet community, is there anything you would like to say?
Steven: Well first of all, thanks! The Internet has really been invaluable to us. I don't think we really could have gotten this far without it. I'm not sure the band could have survived beyond the first record without the Internet. The problem we've always had with Porcupine Tree is getting the media to take an interest in the band. Because the music we play is perceived to be old fashioned or not commercial or not mainstream or whatever. We've always had a problem with media exposure. The proliferation of Internet sites and the information they have circulated has been absolutely essential. It has been the lifeblood of keeping the band going. I think that the best way to create a following for a band is word of mouth. The only problem with that is it's also the most time consuming. It takes a longtime to create a following by word of mouth and it would have taken an even longer time without the Internet. So I guess my message to all of the people in the Internet community is just a big thank you. I hope nobody feels like we've abandoned him or her or not given them enough attention. Sometimes we get accused of having sold out because we signed with a major label. I don't feel like our relationship has changed with our fans. I hope our street team members don't feel that way! We certainly value the street team over any other marketing tool we have.
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