Welcome Back: Blackfield – Israeli star Aviv Geffen reunites with Steven Wilson

Aviv Geffen and Steven Wilson, Blackfield photo

Blackfield is the long-standing collaboration between prog rock’s blue-eyed boy Steven Wilson and Israeli musician and iconoclast Aviv Geffen. Since their 2004 debut they’ve released four acclaimed albums and built up a strong following. Wilson had all but left the project to focus on his blossoming solo career, but he’s now back in the fold for Blackfield V. We talk to principal songwriter Geffen about the group, politics and his role as a judge on Israel’s version of The Voice

When Steven’s solo career took off, he took a step back from Blackfield. Some of us thought it was the end, but here’s Blackfield V

Yes, and we both think it’s our best work so far. It’s got all the angles that made Blackfield so nice the first time. I started work as usual, writing all the songs, he heard Family Man and How Was Your Ride? and really liked them, so he became more and more involved.

Does he approach it as a side project?

No. Like on the first two albums, we ended up doing everything together, and he wrote 44 To 48, maybe the best song on the album. He was with me every minute on email: “Let’s change that horn part, that guitar part.” It was nice to realise his full commitment to the album. It’s not a side project. He was making time, doing it very seriously.

Were you in the same room, or was it a Skype/internet thing?

The first rule of Blackfield is that we’re always physically together in the same room to record. On the song The Jackal we even play the guitars together into one mic in one take. We both flew back and forth between Tel Aviv and London, and when we heard how the music was going, we both said, “Let’s delay the album, let’s do this properly.” I’d never seen him so enthusiastic about Blackfield – he was totally into it and that really touched my heart as a musician.

Alan Parsons produced a few tracks on the album. What did he bring?

I’m not that into sound structure – I have more fun with lyrics and guitars. But for Alan and Steven, great-quality sound is a big, big deal. Watching them together at the desk was to see God creating the world. We also recorded at Trevor Horn’s home studio too. It was an amazing moment to get this dream team together.

There’s a concept of the ocean, about the cycle of life – tell us about that.

It’s important to us. It’s like we threw the bottle on [the cover of] the first Blackfield album. We threw it into the sea of life and now it came back, the same bottle, and we’re at the same point at which we began.

That’s a lovely image. Your father is renowned poet Yehonatan Geffen. Has he ever helped you with your lyrics, or even looked at them?

[Laughs] No, never. With Blackfield, the lyrics are so simple to write. Steven and I both grew up feeling like outsiders. We were lonely teenagers – our heroes were Roger Waters, Syd Barrett, but also Jeff Lynne, Abba. We have the same idols and that connects us.

Are you and Steven good friends outside of Blackfield?

Yes, we’re great friends, and it’s been good to spend so much time together on this album. I wrote Never Be Apart about him. We’ve been doing this for over eleven years now. We go on our own paths, but in the end we’re always together. He’s always out there in the world, and I’m here in Israel in the firing line – amid the terror of the region, dealing with politics – while he’s playing in, say, New York. He’s not into politics like I am. He’d never criticise his Prime Minister, but I do.

You met Roger Waters and Brian Eno recently to discuss the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which aims to increase pressure on Israel to change its policies towards the Palestinian people and their land.

I had a four-hour meeting in New York with Roger to explain that BDS serves only the right wing. When bands don’t come to Israel, it serves [Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu, and makes the left feel smaller. I’m arranging concerts here, and some of the best bands said, off the record, “Aviv, we can’t play in Israel whatsoever.” I tried to explain to Roger and Brian that it’s not the way, but Roger is a naïve person, and hypocritically he played a show in Israel. It’s not fair to play here, take the money and then say, “Boycott Israel.” Brian is a very clever guy, we’re friends, but still he sees Israel like South Africa, like Apartheid. It’s frightening. The boycott is giving Bibi more power. He loves it.

Are you alone in feeling this?

There are many people like me that want to see a different future for my region. I can’t live in Israel while I know that a few kilometres from my home there’s a long queue of people in the desert getting medicines, food or work. I don’t want to wake up twenty years from now and say to my son Dylan that I was aware we occupied other people’s land and did nothing.

You have a large discography as a solo artist, but outside of Israel, you’re best known as half of Blackfield. Are you okay with your profile?

Well yes. I’m lighter in my solo stuff. I opened for U2 in Europe [in 2010], and they wanted me only – Blackfield was too dark! I think people are figuring out I’m the one writing the songs. We’ve been offered to open for Biffy Clyro on tour next year. Steven knows his own crowd – the prog-rock crowd – but Biffy are more indie rock, and Steven never went onstage in front of the crowds Biffy got. He loves it – he’s got a chance to cross over.

You’re a judge on Israel’s version of TV talent show The Voice. Given your political stance, that’s a pretty mainstream thing to be doing, isn’t it?

[Laughs] The most mainstream! But I’m not there for the music contest – I’m there to spread my agenda about the government, the settlements, society. I’m saying some dangerous things on prime-time TV, like, “There’s no God. Google is the new God.” In Israel, that’s a shocking thing to say. But I’m also choosing the songs – ELO, Placebo, Biffy Clyro. I’m exposing the audience to great music, not cheesy stuff. It’s very important to show people there’s something outside of YouTube.

Blackfield V will be released on February 10 on Kscope.

Grant Moon

A music journalist for over 20 years, Grant writes regularly for titles including Prog, Classic Rock and Total Guitar, and his CV also includes stints as a radio producer/presenter and podcast host. His first book, 'Big Big Train - Between The Lines', is out now through Kingmaker Publishing.