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Blackfield

Everything's written about Porcupine Tree. The British prog formation gained so much popularity throughout the years that many people speak of them as 'the Pink Floyd of the 21st Century'. That Porcupine-anchorman Steven Wilson also plays in the band Blackfield is something that's not so widely known. That's not such a surprise, because the band released only two albums so far, which second one has once again not an album title. What looks like a poppy prog project between Steven and his Israelite friend Aviv Geffen at first, turned out to be a serious formation with frequent touring and substantial discography ambitions. Steven is a man with a tight schedule and an overloaded agenda (at this moment the new Porcupine Tree is also in the writing process), but between two jobs he took some time to talk with me, while his chauffeur drove him from one place to the other.

By: Evil Dr. Smith | Archive under prog / sympho metal

band imageI called Steven just a few days before the European tour would start in England. The first time I called they were busy rehearsing and the second time he was already on the road to a next appointment. Because Blackfield had a release party of their new album in Jerusalem a couple of days ago, I was a little surprised they still had to rehearse. You're not in good shape already?
Exactly, we felt it could be better and we could use another rehearsal today. And I think it was much better as a result, we're very confident now. It wasn't really a release party in Jerusalem, it was more like a warm-up show: rehearsing for the tour.

You played a couple of time before in Israel. How's it like to play over there, especially because in Israel you are not the “star” of the band, but Aviv is.
That's correct, and I like that! I'm not really interested in certain aspects of being a celebrity/pop-star thing. I just concentrate on the music, the singing and producing the records. Aviv like to be in the spotlights and he's a big star in his native country. That's not a problem for me. When we come to Europe, Aviv's not the person that people know, so that's probably a bit strange for him.

So Israel is the only country where you don't get stage fright, because everybody's focusing on Aviv.
Hehe, something like that yeah. But to be honest: I'll get that anyway. I tense to be stressed out and very nervous at any place and at any particular situation. It doesn't matter how many shows I've done, it's just in my nature.

What do you do to get rid of it? Do you have any rituals?
I'll get totally drunk, hahaha! Well, I used to drink too much before I went on stage, but that does affect the performance. It does take the edge off of your nerves, but it obviously makes the performance less focused. These days, I just accepted it's a part of what makes the performance good in a way. If you don't feel nervous and you don't have the adrenaline pumping through your veins, you won't perform as well. And the adrenalin is a very important part of the kind of performance process. Now I use the adrenaline to make the performance better. It's not that I'm nervous all the time: I lose it within minutes after I entered the stage. It's having the nerves about the anticipation of what's going to become. Once you're actually there, you'll relax and you get used to the environment and the audience, making contact with the front row, etc. You get relaxed quite quickly and the nerves are no longer an issue.[/b]

The more I was looking for information about you and Blackfield, the more Steven Wilson-related music I came across: besides Blackfield, Porcupine Tree and No-Man (a kinda poppy electronic project with Tim Bowness), I also noticed the formation Bass Communion and lots, lots of solo work. Do you need all this to survive (mortgage, bread), or is it just the workaholic mentality?
It has nothing to do with money. I can probably say I don't have to worry too much about money anymore: the Porcupine Tree back-catalogue keeps me okay in terms of financial stability. But the reason for me why I do all these projects is very simple: I want to. It sounds the most obvious thing to say, but for me one of the greatest things being a musician is the opportunity to travel, to work with different musicians, to visit different countries, meet different cultures and to get different perspectives on things. If I want to, I just could say I only want to do Purcupine Tree for the rest of my life. But to work with the same musicians the rest of my life within the same kind of musical context, that sounds for me an unhealthy thing to do. Even a kind of boring. So I go on and do other things too. Now is Blackfield a touring band too, so I have two major touring commitments now in my life. Even this year in fact. That variety and being able to do different things keep things interesting. So it's not a question of money of being a workaholic, I just enjoy doing it!

You like almost all kinds of music, but especially progressive, experimental and electronic types of music, regarding the extremely long list of favourite artists on your myspace site.
Hmmm, I don't think that's true. You see Abba, The Carpenters, Electric Light Orchestra, Frank Sinatra, et. So you'll see a lot of very mainstream, popular music as well.

However, I didn't notice a lot of black music: Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, that's basically it. Are you not into soul, jazz, reggae, urban and other black music?
Well, that's not true either. Miles Davis is one of my biggest heroes. He's on the top of that list. You'll also find John Coltrane and Donna Summer in that list; they're black as well. And you find more jazz like Keith Jarrett in that list. So I think you're got a bit tired halfway the list, because there are a lot of jazz and black musicians I like.

Let me rephrase the question then. Are there any genres you DON'T like?
I can't stand hiphop. Well… that's not even entirely true. I do like some instrumental hiphop. It's more rap music I don't like. Although I do like some of the classic hiphop from the eighties: like the first De La Soul album 'Three Feet High & Rising'. Come to think of it: I don't like R&B and modern hiphop music. It just doesn't appeal to me at all.

I saw also several movies and directors on your “list of likings”. On the last Porcupine Tree tour you were projecting during the song 'Arriving Somewhere But Not Here'
some kind of movie on the video screen. Did you ever thought about making music for movies? Do you like to do that?

I would love to do that! Especially with directors I really admire. We make our own films for our songs, and what you've seen on the screen during that song was made by our visuals director Lasse Hoile. He takes care of all the visuals of the show and you could say that his visuals have a certain cinematic quality.

Every time we make a new record and it is send out to all the producers and movie studios, you always kinda hope that someone will pick up on it. In fact, one of the songs from our last album is featured in a major Hollywood movie, which I never saw actually. It's called 'Four Brothers' and the song they used was 'Shallow' (quite remarkable, because the majority of the music on that movie came from Motown sixties classics and modern urban music, EDS). So we've been picked up in little bits and pieces here and there, but my ambition is to work closely with a director on a movie and actually score the movie: create the music specifically for the moving pictures. That's one of my greatest unrealised ambitions. My favourite director would be David Lynch, but I think almost every musician would work with him. I just saw his new movie a couple of weeks ago (Inland Empire) and I was totally blown away: amazing… AMAZING! But he creates a lot of his own music. Yes, I know he works a lot with Angelo Badalamenti, but in this new movie he composed it actually himself. So I'm not holding too much hope, hehe. But those kind of experimental filmmakers are more interesting to me as a musician than a director who'll ask me to write music for 'Father Of The Bride Part 4' or 'Police Academy 10' or something [laughs]. So I think it's pretty obvious with what kind of directors I like to work with.

band imageLet's get on to Blackfield now. Another album, another nameless album. Just like Peter Gabriel's first four solo albums, for instance…
In a way, yeah. And Soft Machine with their first seven albums. I always liked the idea of naming the album after the band. It's very simple, but it's very powerful. And we didn't have a title, so we didn't try to contrive a title to the record. There are no great plans. So it's just 'Blackfield', it's quite possible that the next album will be called 'Blackfield' too. If the right title presented itself, I guessed we used it this time. Or we will use it the next time. But I like the simplicity to call the album just 'Blackfield'.

Can we see Blackfield as a real band? Because the first album was made only by Aviv and you.
Oh yeah, absolutely, Blackfield is a band. This time has been very different. This time we cut the whole record with the same band, the five-piece line up we toured with two years ago. I think that was important, because I wanted this record to feel more like a cohesive batch of songs, with more sense of direction and purpose. The first album was made over a period of years in fact. It took us two years with different line-ups in different studios in different countries in different periods of times to make that one. This second album is made in one relatively short period of time of three months, using the same studio and the same three musicians. I think that definitely is giving the album an additional strength and sense of direction and purpose.

You produced the album, just like all the other albums you participate in. In the past you also worked with a few others like Opeth and Anja Garbarek, but besides your own music, you're not really a household name in the producers world. People don't ask you, are you strong enough to say NO, or are you just good enough?
The answer is none of those really. The real answer is that I do get invited a lot. Since I did the record for Opeth – which won a Grammy, I get a LOT of metal bands asking me to produce them. Firstly, I don't have time. Secondly, most bands that asked me play very standard metal and that doesn't really inspire me to work with. And obviously I had to deal with a lot of Opeth clones as well. Why would I want to work with a band that copies Opeth, when I worked with the real thing? [laughs] About four, five years ago when I started working with Opeth, I had time to produce other bands. But now, with Porcupine Tree and Blackfield becoming more and more successful, I'm pretty much tied up all the time. Although I'm going to produce the new album by Orphaned Land from Israel. I don't like a lot of metal. I like metal when it's got something special about it. Opeth is a very special band. It's hard to find other bands of that much interest to me as a producer and a musician. Orphaned Land is one of the exceptions. They're very experimental, very unique band. They are writing their new album now and I probably going to produce the album in the middle of this year: but it's also a question of time. So when the right band comes to me and I can manage to find the time, I still really enjoy producing. That's really what I think I'm the best at: my production is my strength. More than anything else, really.

Where did you take the photograph of the album sleeve?
The image was created by Carl Glover, a guy I worked with many times over the years and also does covers for Porcupine Tree and Bass Communion (Carl also works for Marillion – EDS). He came up with the idea and we really like that idea. It's like the name Blackfield almost rising from decay (of the modern music scene). I know this is a very pretentious thing to say, but we think that we're doing something that not a lot of people do these days. We write classic pop and classic rock music in a way that bands used to do in the seventies. We use a lot of acoustic guitars, we use a lot of harmony vocals, we use mellotrons and very organic sounds that creates something that is very contemporary and emotive. It's a very old fashioned way of making music, and not a lot of people doing this these days. I believe there are millions of people out there that still love that way of making music. So for me the cover image of the album, with its debris and decay and the name Blackfield boldly arising from it, is kinda symbolic of what we're doing musically. Once again, I know it sounds pretentious, but that's just the way I see it.

How do you work together? Some songs on the first album were originally Hebrew songs, coming from Aviv's solo albums, and some songs he wrote especially for the album. So composing the first album was mainly Aviv's job, because only two songs were written by you: 'Blackfield' and 'Lullabye'.
It's pretty much the same on the new album. I now have written three songs on this new album, but still the majority of the songs (seven) are coming from Aviv. I think we do have different styles. Aviv has a certain approach to writing that I don't have. His songs tend to be more anthemic, and his lyrics tend to be more poetic. My lyrics are a little more obscure. But you can guess: which songs did you think I wrote?

Phew… I think 'Once', because that's the heaviest song on the album and you're playing heavier music than Aviv on his solo albums. I think 'Christenings', simply because Aviv is Jewish.
Correct! Two out of three, you're doing well! The last one is a bit harder: that's my ballad on this album, so Aviv could also write it.

Well… I don't know, I'll take a wild guess: 'Where Is my Love?'.
[Steven with a slight disappointing tone in his voice] No, it's 'My Gift To Silence'. But you did it pretty well.

All this music you create, all the bands you're playing in, all that time and energy you put in your music: is that the main reason why your single?
[Very decisive] Yeah! In one word: yes. I mean, my personal life has suffered quite a lot the last few years, and I'm not happy about that. But next year I'm gonna take as much of that year off as I can, and I hope I can fix that.

BLACKFIELD:
Aviv Geffen & Steven Wilson - lead vocals, guitars
Daniel Salomon - keyboards, backing vocals
Seffy Efrati - bass guitar
Tomer Z - drums, backing vocals[/b]

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