Named as one of the best Progressive Rock artists of the twenty-first century, put your knowledge to the test and see how Steven Wilson revolutionised the rock and metal world.
Held in high regard by musicians across the world, yet still named as “probably the most successful British artist you’ve never heard of” by The Daily Telegraph, the impact Steven Wilson has had on the music industry is both profound and understated.
Famed for his solo projects and his work with the Progressive Metal band, Porcupine Tree, Wilson’s accolades stretch further than most realise, with him now being regarded as one of the most proficiently diverse musicians of recent years.
Now, ahead of his postponed arena tour for his most recent solo album, take a glimpse back at the songwriter’s discography and put your knowledge to the test with our top ten facts you probably didn’t know about the British Musician.
1. He was releasing a series of Pop Covers Ahead of His Solo Career
Most noted for his progressive, melancholic sound in tracks such as ‘The Raven That Refused to Sing’ and ‘Trains’, Steven Wilson’s line of work is predominantly known for its quieter, more solemn undertones and the occasional nod to the metal genre.
However, upon first starting his solo career, the musician’s initial path opted for a much different sound to the one he is currently known for.
Before releasing his debut solo album, Insurgentes, in 2008, Wilson first released a series of six CDs under his own name, featuring covers from an assortment of different artists.
Including covers of ABBA, Prince, The Cure and Alanis Morissette, these unlikely sources of inspiration were a distant stretch from the sound Wilson would later become famed upon in his solo work. Initiating in 2003, at the time, these releases took caught fans of Porcupine Tree by surprise- with the songwriter already delving into different genres and demonstrating the full extent of his diversity.
2. His talents span far further than guitar and vocals
Known primarily as the lead guitarist and vocalist of the British Prog band, Porcupine Tree, few realise that the extent of Steven Wilson’s technical ability spans much further than he is often given credit for.
Alongside his work with Porcupine Tree and in his solo career, Wilson is also credited as the primary songwriter in other, lesser-known bands: No-Man, Storm Corrosion, Bass Communion and Blackfield. Here, alongside being a lead vocalist and guitarist, the musician has also written and recorded sections on other instruments including piano, keyboards, bass and mellotron.
What’s more, as well as working as a musician, Wilson has also worked extensively behind the scenes across the music industry- involving himself in the production, mixing and engineering a number of albums. Here, he has also been responsible for the remastering of numerous classic rock albums from the likes of Jethro Tull, Tears for Fears and King Crimson.
3. The Inspiration for his fourth album came from a much darker place than usual
Not one to shy away from emotion-dominated, melancholic motifs throughout his discography, shortly after establishing himself, Wilson quickly obtained the title as one of the ‘saddest Prog artists of all time’.
Yet, by 2015, with the release of his fourth solo album, Hand. Cannot. Erase., the musician had taken his darker sound to new levels. This was done as the musician based the album on a much more melancholic true story that, for the most part, had gone unnoticed across the UK.
Inspired by a documentary Wilson had seen, the inspiration for the album had come from the story of Joyce Carol Vincent- a young British woman who lay dead in her apartment for nearly three years before being discovered.
Exploring themes of isolation, death and solitude throughout the release, the album took a much more dismal source of inspiration than captured within Wilson’s previous releases- adding a darker side to the songwriter’s discography than ever seen before.
4. He was more heavily involved in Opeth’s discography than many realise
Whilst many are aware of Steven Wilsons work alongside the Swedish death metal band, Opeth, few realise the full extent of the musician’s impact on the band’s success.
Working with them on four of their most successful albums, Blackwater Park (2001), Deliverance (2002), Damnation (2003) and Heritage (2011), Wilson took the reins as the producer, as well as helping to mix and engineer the releases.
Not merely working behind the scenes to release the albums, few realise that Wilson also played a role in the writing and recording of the albums. Providing backing vocals, rhythm guitar and piano across the releases, the musician most prominently features with both his vocals on the track ‘Bleak’ and through writing the lyrics for ‘Death Whispered A Lullaby’.
5. It was his work with Opeth that made him venture into Metal
Whilst often recognised for his emotive, atmospheric approach to Prog with tracks including ‘Blackest Eyes’, it was only after working alongside Opeth that Wilson began to delve into the Metal genre and form what has become known as his signature sound.
Working closely with the band throughout the early 2000s, Wilson credited this experience as a driving force that allowed him to push Porcupine Tree into heavier territory. This was seen as, the year after working on Blackwater Park, Porcupine Tree’s 2002 album, In Absentia, incorporated a more aggressive and shred-orientated sound than ever before.
Remaining one of the band’s best selling albums to date and charting across many European countries at the time of its release, In Absentia became a landmark release for Porcupine Tree and immediately put Wilson on the map as one of the most important Prog artists of recent years.
With this newfound blend of melancholic Prog and Metal, Wilson began embedding heavier influences into his sound from then onwards- later collaborating with Opeth frontman, Mikael Åkerfeldt, in a band called ‘Storm Corrosion’ in 2010. Although not touring nor playing any live shows with the band, the duo described the project as “the final part in the odd trilogy of records completed by (Opeth’s) Heritage and Steven Wilson’s second solo album Grace for Drowning” when talking with Metal Underground in 2011.
6. He temporarily held the world record with one of his tracks
Forming back in 1987, although not fully committed to the project until 1989, Porcupine Tree was initially a side project for Wilson, with his main focus instead prioritising the earlier band, No-Man, originally entitled ‘No Man Is An Island (Except The Isle of Man)’.
Up until the early 2000s, Porcupine Tree was initially created as a light-hearted parody- inspired by earlier 70s Prog artists including Frank Zappa and Pink Floyd. This lack of seriousness was seen especially during the band’s earlier releases, with the members increasingly willing to test the boundaries with their sound, exploring different, unorthodox avenues without restriction.
A far stretch from their later hits, the band’s earlier releases were more centred on testing Prog limitations, with one of their tracks, ‘Voyage 34’- even breaking a world record for the Longest Single Released. Over 30 minutes of Psychedelic, Ambient Prog, the release was unsurprisingly met with no airplay, yet still managed to enter the NME Indie Chart for six weeks and was established as an Underground Classic.
7. Porcupine Tree’s most successful album was inspired by a novel
Remaining one of Porcupine Tree’s most successful albums to date, Fear of a Blank Planet, was showered with widespread commercial and critical acclaim upon its debut. Still their best selling album to date, the 2007 album launched the band into new heights- leading to them being nominated for a Grammy, entering the Billboard charts globally and winning numerous polls as the best album of the year.
An immediate essential for countless Metal and Prog fans, many were aware that the title was a deliberate reference to the Public Enemy album, Fear of a Black Planet…, however, few realised that the release was also a concept album based upon a novel by Bret Easton Ellis.
With its lyrical content surrounding 21st Century issues including mental health, teen violence and prescription drugs, the album directly took inspiration from the novel, Lunar Park. Written by the same author of the controversial American Psycho, the predominant theme of the text and the album both centre around the modern struggle of alienation caused by technology.
Making references to mental health struggles that impact the younger generation, the band used the album’s lyrical content to raise awareness for issues such as Attention Deficit Disorder and Bipolar Disorder, as well as documenting the issue of isolation faced in the modern world.
8. He outwardly rejects comparisons to other Progressive artists
Although highly inspired by numerous artists from recent years, Wilson has openly rejected the notion of comparison throughout his career. After finding success throughout the nineties and early 2000s, the songwriter was immediately held in high regard by Prog fans, with Porcupine Tree given the label of ‘The Pink Floyd of the Nineties’… a nickname that Wilson would openly reject.
Whilst not extensively discussed by the musician, fans speculate that this disdain for the title stems from Wilson’s eclectic and widespread taste in music. Outwardly inspired by artists from a numerous range of genres, inspiration for Wilson’s work has been credited back to genres including hip-hop, ambient listening, dance, avant-garde metal and experimental techno.
These greater influxes become prominent in the musician’s other, lesser-recognised projects, including his project with Tim Bowness, No-Man, in which a mixture of Dance, Atmospheric Rock, Trance and Psychedelia create their unique sound… making them much more than a simple Prog band.
9. He prioritises a distinction between his personal life and his career
Whilst rejecting comparisons to other artists in terms of musical similarity, Steven Wilson has openly followed the lead of other musicians when it comes to keeping a safe distance between his personal life and his career.
Holding musicians such as TOOL’s Maynard James Keenan in high regard for their lack of social media presence, Wilson has always kept a relatively low profile across the span of his career, sharing a very limited amount about his personal life with fans.
Radiohead and Pink Floyd are also credited with being a source of inspiration for how the musician maintains his presence in the public eye, with him holding his discography in higher regard than any personal opinions or online presence.
10. He uses his personal beliefs as motivation for his music
Whilst striving to keep his personal life reserved and restraining any heavy involvement in current affairs, that isn’t to say that Steven Wilson refuses to speak out on issues he holds in high regard.
Openly vegetarian and heavily vocal when it comes to any form of mass organised religion, the musician’s intrinsic atheist beliefs and interest in spirituality have become a prominent theme across his songwriting.
However, refusing to ever be outwardly blunt in his personal beliefs, Wilson rejects the overtly political notions of bands such as Rage Against The Machine- instead, using characters and narratives to convey his opinions, rather than imposing his own views directly into his music.
How many of these facts did you know about Steven Wilson? Is there anything we missed? Let us know via the comment section!