- 'They don't like me to mess with what they grew up with,' says Wilson of progressive rock's purists.
Steven Wilson came to fame via Porcupine Tree, one of his many group projects, and his name has since become synonymous with current-day progressive rock. In addition to a highly successful solo career — 2015's Hand. Cannot. Erase. is his fourth and arguably best album — Wilson has made a name for himself through his remixing of classic rock albums. He has applied his skills to key works from the catalogs of King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Yes, Gentle Giant, ELP, Caravan and others.
As a result of his multifaceted career, Wilson has built a fan base that extends across multiple generations of music fans; younger listeners explore his current work and deep back catalog, while older listeners enjoy the fruits of his labors as applied to The Yes Album, or King Crimson's influential Red.
Some of the titles he's remixed haven't come out yet, including albums from Chicago and acts associated with the 1980s: XTC and Tears for Fears. "The Tears for Fears ones are beautifully recorded albums," he says, "so the reason to do those is to create the Surround-sound element of the reissues. But there have been albums I've remixed that I've felt I could perhaps fix things that were perhaps slightly compromised in the original mixes."
Wilson's acutely aware that not everyone appreciates the revisionism inherent in remix projects.
"There are always some fans who will disagree," he readily acknowledges. "They don't like me to mess with what they grew up with."
But really, it's more about advances in audio technology; his remix work, he says, has often been "as much restoration as it was remixing."
Meanwhile, Wilson continues to pursue his own music — more than 20 albums' worth of it so far — with Porcupine Tree, No-Man and numerous other side projects. "There was a point at which I could have easily spent my whole life doing remixes of classic albums," he laughs. "I'm very grateful for the fact that there was no shortage of offers coming in, but the priority for me has to be my own music."
He's currently touring with a stellar group of musicians, including guitarist Dave Kilminster, bassist Nick Beggs, keyboardist Adam Holtzman and drummer Craig Blundell. For an artist who always seems to know — and get — exactly what he wants from his music, he's happy to give his musicians as much leeway as possible.
"The solos — and there are a lot of solos in my music — are largely improvised every night by the musicians," he says. "There would be no point to me hiring these extraordinary musicians if I didn't allow them the opportunity to express their own musical personalities and identities within the music."
One could argue that he does the same thing, and tastefully so, on both sides of the mixing board.