Steven Wilson: "I have a strong personality and I don’t need to hide it anymore"

a press shot of steven wilson

Steven Wilson returns with a new album, a new label and the announcement of a 2018 European tour. Titled To The Bone, Wilson’s fifth solo record will emerge on August 18 on Caroline Records – home to Peter Gabriel, Iggy Pop and Underworld – and although it’s not a concept record there is a theme: the era of post-truth.

“Looking around at the world today, it’s hard not to feel some sense of disenchantment at everything that’s going on,” Wilson tells Prog. “Not just politics, but the way people are with each other – very rude and aggressive, intolerant. It seems like something’s gone terribly wrong.

To The Bone is the first song on the record and it seemed the right title,” he continues. “It’s about how truth is now a flexible notion. In the post-Trump era, truth can be twisted and used to support whatever argument you care to put across. To The Bone was a cry from the heart to say: ‘Please can we get to the one truth, the reality here, because I can’t tell anymore.’”

Wilson began to write To The Bone in 2015 while on tour for Hand.Cannot.Erase., amassing songs that were whittled to 11 and recorded and co-produced in December with Paul Stacey (Oasis, Black Crowes) at his studio in Clapham. The songs are more melodic than previous work and (relatively) upbeat, inspired by Wilson’s favourite 80s pop records. “This isn’t me being nostalgic,” he says. “As I’ve gotten older, my listening diet has changed and I’ve gotten immersed in certain artists again after seeing them on things like old Top Of The Pops shows. In the last couple of years I’ve found myself listening to the progressive pop albums of the 80s: Kate Bush’s Hounds Of Love, Peter Gabriel’s So, Tears For Fears’ Songs From The Big Chair and The Seeds Of Love, and Talk Talk’s Spirit Of Eden. People think the 80s were a shallow, superficial era, but those records were really smart.

“I’ve got nothing against the guy but we’re living in the climate where Ed Sheeran is cutting edge,” he continues. “Those prog pop records would never get on the radio now. However, there’s still some great, clever, complex pop music out there. It’s not a particularly optimistic prognosis for my record getting into the charts but, you know what, I’m going to do it anyway!”

Maybe new label Caroline can help. “I’d always been a little sceptical about being compromised by a major label,” Wilson says. “I found out I had fans at Caroline and they’re part of Universal so the potential to reach a bigger audience is there. We’re thinking of doing three singles,” he laughs, “that should give you an indication of the nature of the record – in the past that would have been unheard of!”

The artwork for the album is also a departure. In images art-directed by long-time collaborator Lasse Hoile, head and shoulders shots show Wilson shirtless, bombarded by multi-coloured paints and powders. “I’m really pleased with it,” he says. “The first time I put myself on the front cover of an album I had a gas mask on my face. The second time I was a silhouette. For Transience, it was a stark black and white portrait. What I’ve come to realise is I do have strong personality and for a lot of my career I’ve hidden behind artwork. The time has come to not hide anymore. I also wanted to look a little more alien, so there’s a little bit of Bowie in there.”

The band line-up is also quite “intimate”, he says, with Wilson leading on guitar. “People might be disappointed by that,” he elaborates, “but as it was a different approach my guitar style was better suited.” He also plays most bass parts, joined by regulars Adam Holzman on keys and drummer Craig Blundell alongside King Crimson drummer Jeremy Stacey – brother of co-producer Paul – and harmonica player Mark Feltham. Israeli vocalist Ninet Tayeb returns, and Swiss jazz singer Sophie Hunger guests on a track called Song Of I: “There’s a very sexy, sinister vibe on that,” Wilson says. Ex-Mansun frontman Paul Draper also appears on the title track, and he and Wilson have been working together on an as-yet untitled song. “We talked about making an EP together,” Wilson says, “but let’s see what happens, at the moment we’re having fun and that’s the main thing.”

Steven Wilson’s 2018 tour starts on January 31 in Lisbon, with a show at London’s Royal Albert Hall on March 27. See www.stevenwilsonhq.com.

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