In this conversation Steven Wilson and Rick Beato discuss Steven’s early influences, inspiration, process for songwriting and recording, Steven’s solo records, working with guitarist Guthrie Govan, and Steven’s upcoming solo album.
Early influences & inspirations
“Fell in love with the notion of making records rather than being a musician…”
Advice for making it as a producer
“I’ve never been trained as a producer, engineer or mixer, I’ve learned by my mistakes, I’ve learned by listening…”
The answer is to listen, listen to a wide-variety of records, learn, develop your ear.
Steven would go to the library in his youth and borrow any record that caught his interest. To develop his ear.
“I was trying to decode what it was this music was trying to give the listener…”
Technology in mixes
Loves hearing the records that strike a balance between organic and the electronic worlds.
Wilson will utilize electronic technologies in mixes (Melodyne, drum samples) but use them sparingly, to the point where the listener is unsure if they are used or not. If it’s obvious to the listener they are being used, it’s time to back off them in the mix.
Importance of a good quality recording before mixing begins
Take the time to get a good sound initially in your recording, and then you won’t have to spend time trying to craft it in the mix.
This was something Alan Parsons discussed as well.
Collaborating with musicians on solo records
In several of his solo records, Steven sought contributors where he considers himself “the worst musician in the room”. Where he can lead from the songwriting and production, and bring in the best musicians he can find to bring the vision to life. Inspiration from Frank Zappa who brought in top-class musicians.
The approach is to steer them in the right direction, but then just let them go.
“I loathe shredding, I cannot stand the whole phenomenon of shredders, it’s like turning music into an Olympic sport…”
“A song can start from anything, a texture, a sound, a chord, a keyboard sound, a groove…”
Today Steven has moved away from the guitar and utilizing more electronic sounds to create inspiration.
Utilizes the guitar more as a color to the song, rather than the starting point for the foundation of the song.
In the last 7-8 years has shifted thinking to no longer be interested in “genre” for songs. Has pushed against being labeled as just a “prog” genre artist. Wants to create albums that go through many different genres/styles throughout the musical journey.
Loves to revisit unexpected records that weren’t the typical favorites of the crowd. For example “Ummagumma” by Pink Floyd.
“Zeit” by Tangerine Dream is the record he revisits most often. Never gets bored of it. One of the first ambient records.
“Ambient music is like perfume, it creates an atmosphere that changes your relationship with the space you’re in. I love this about ambient music…”
Abba records stand out from a production perspective.
Balancing Multiple Projects
Likes to have multiple projects going on at once.
At any point in time Steven may be working on multiple projects at the same time. But day to day will focus his attention on what he is interested in working on. The variation of working on different projects keeps things interesting.
“Being able to do different things on different days is what keeps things interesting…”
Digital projects, DAWs, empower this. You can open a new project at any time.
“You can work on projects incrementally, put something away for a month and come back to it, hear it with new ears, a new perspective that you couldn’t realize when you were too close to it…”
Steven has been working on his upcoming solo record incrementally over the last 2 years.
Radio has no influence. TV has no influence. You have to utilize Social Media to market yourself. It’s where the attention is.
Psychological shift: today it is about being a fan of the song. Fans are not following the artist, they follow the song. No allegiance to the artist.
The Dichotomy of Genres
“The natural curiosity, the inability to recognize genres, has actually been one of my greatest strengths, but also my biggest achilles heel, because how do you sell something, how do you satisfy a fanbase that you keep constantly disappointing because I make go off and make a pop record when they expect a conceptual prog record…”