Porcupine Tree’s uncertain future leads to followers remembering why the world needs them
Long long ago, when darkness struck and Pandora opened the forbidden box of trouble, a different world was created. Maybe a world less happier, but definitely a world so much more beautiful. Sorrow has in my opinion always been a motivator. It makes you think deep, and it wanders looking for answers. Sorrow is what strikes the human body in the most intriguing way. It is safe to say, sorrow is always in the air. Everyone deals with a tragedy or loss and pain. So did I.
At a time like that, I was introduced to Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson. Something, which single-handedly changed my life. However, about a year ago when I heard that the band was going on an unexplained hiatus, I cracked. Everyone around was discussing and praying it was not true. Every time there were rumors about the band getting back together, hope would be restored. Every time there were press headlines about Steven Wilson looking to move on, we would spend our days with heavy hearts. That is how much Porcupine Tree affects their fans.
Porcupine Tree started somewhere in the 1980’s almost as a bit of fun in Hemel Hempstead, England. Here resident Steven Wilson, with the help of some school buddies came up with the idea of a fake psychedelic progressive band that had a stupid name, a string of imaginary albums and a line-up that consisted of numerous psychedelic pseudonyms. That was how the name Porcupine Tree came into being. Who knew back then that this ‘stupid name’ would be a name that would stir so many emotions with just a small mention? This is a band that is unbelievably brilliant and has spent a great deal of slogging on the live music circuit, releasing extravagantly packaged albums with little commercial potential. Then again, we also say, “mainstream is just so mainstream”.
So coming back to the question, “Why does the world need Porcupine Tree?” Are you a fan of Porcupine Tree? Did the band change you or has it personally affected you? If your answer to the first is yes, the answer to the second will probably lead to a lot of jumping around and excitement followed by a life-changing conversation. All the fans who are reading this definitely have an idea about what I am talking about. Porcupine Tree brings people together. Not just that, they help you bond with someone based on emotions because there is never a Porcupine Tree song without emotion. Here is why. Steven Wilson picks up a situation; let us take the example of ‘Way out of here’, which happens to be my favorite by the band. In this song, Steven Wilson chose to portray the perception of a child who feels that her life is intolerable and she wants to find a way out. She wants to disappear and vanish to avoid all her emotional pain. Thus we have, “Way out, way out of here. Fade Out, fade out and vanish.” So, basically once Steven Wilson knows his situation, he finds an emotional picture to paint around it. Imagery and emotions are what make Porcupine Tree what it is and topics like a troubled child are the ones, which everyone can relate to and has dealt with in their life.
I believe the important thing about strong emotions is that when you feel them, you have the tendency to feel alone. A state of auto-phobia transcends right about your head, like a huge black cloud. At times like this, a person wants to know and feel that they are not alone; they are not the only one. There is definitely a dark side to everything. With the songs that Porcupine Tree writes, you can listen, feel and relate to the music. When you listen to the lyrics, you get the feeling that these group of men playing their wonderful music are there for you when you need them in song, if not in actual presence. Porcupine Tree has helped me get comfortable with who I am and what I do which has helped me to work on improving my flaws. I have learnt to accept what cannot be changed. It is the kind of music that speaks to me in coded language, albeit one that I understand. Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree have, through their careers, explored many topics, most of which have been rather dark. However, the dim, eerie, and uncomfortable sound that The Incident punched through in its bass-heavy mix (completely unseen before in Porcupine Tree history) was the jewel in Porcupine Tree’s very big crown.
Time and again, when I have been asked to describe Porcupine Tree, I always say, “You don’t listen to this band’s music, you feel it.” Once Porcupine Tree is a part of you, it becomes like a constant presence walking along with you all the time. Talking about what you hear, Steven Wilson has accepted repeatedly that production is probably his favorite thing to do. A Porcupine Tree album will be always feature multiple layers of music creating something that sounds so complex, but so simple at the same time. When it comes to Porcupine Tree samples and production, you can probably call it ‘dessert for the ear’. Fear of a Blank Planet went through some unusual production which stood way out, being considered ‘way ahead of its time’, just like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the moon. The band is also a 2-time nominee for a Grammy ‘Best Surround Sound which further proves the fact that this is a band has not just a single collective sound, but it is also an aural delight to isolate every one of the myriad elements present in their songs. Once you have finished listening to this band, all other music seems clearer and easier to understand. After Porcupine Tree, you begin to re-appreciate other music. Porcupine Tree, inadvertently, taught me active listening.
Porcupine Tree is also recognized for their album architecture. ‘In Absentia’ is known to be about the mind of a serial killers, rapists and child abusers. Steven Wilson chose to write about something that one would not usually think about. However, the album has a certain melancholy to it while it may have certain song that’s invoke nostalgia to an extent like ‘Blackest Eyes’ followed by ‘Trains’ which seems to be a beautifully imagine-invoking track. Steven Wilson went for something similar with the ‘Incident’ believing in continuum. This album was about how the media takes powerful, tragic, life-changing proceedings, and transforms their personal coverage into some sort of a detached report. The album is, but a mere way to exemplify the fragility of human life, and how sorrow, misfortune, and despair are not unique to these events, but a widespread global phenomenon. Nonetheless, the band still ends up talking about emotions. One of the things we are all made of.
This is a band like no other, and Steven Wilson, is the antithesis of a rock star despite his group’s increased prominence in recent years. It is true that 70% of Porcupine Tree is Steve, but we always have a well-sculpted sound from the band. Wilson is the definition of well spoken, working things with uniqueness, endlessly trying to figure out what makes his music connect to everyone who listens; he is on a 24*7 loop on how to make the world tick. Not just that, he sings in the most beautiful manner with a very comforting voice, making you feel every word. Just adding on to the ‘Porcupine Tree Effect’.
From melancholy pianos accompanied by subtle samples and special effects to heavy metal thick storms to reverberant sounds, drum lines that fit into the song like a jigsaw puzzle but also such style that you see in no other, Porcupine Tree drowns in enormous emotional range sonically and lyrically, yet does so in a way that persistently connects one to the characteristics of being human. From Richard Barberi jumping from one synthesizer to another to Gavin Harrison lost behind an enormous drum kit and Colin Edwin on his bass with that mysterious smile. Live, the group is further studded with stellar guitarist John Wesley also on backing vocals with Steve who is busy on the guitars or keyboards. Added to this are the dramatic lighting effects, and breathtaking video elements synced to tracks in the set list done by the hands of one of the most creative melancholy visual artist and photographer Lasse Hoile. Lasse has been working with the band in defining the tone and image of the band for many years and here you have one of the finest touring teams in the world. Like their studio releases, Porcupine Tree’s concerts strive to be an experience and not just another night on the town. The band concert DVDs like Anesthetize – Live in Tilburg will change your perception of music performance. The passion you see in Steve, John and Wesley and the busy Barberi and Harrison will inspire you to figure out who you are as a person and your purpose in life.
You ask why the world needs Porcupine Tree. Forget the world, you need Porcupine Tree as your companion, not just a band but much more. This band will help you when you need to believe, this band will make you think about your life and long-forgotten emotions. It will teach you to move on, because if no one, you always have Porcupine Tree.
I do not know if Porcupine Tree will get back together, or if they will ever release an album or tour again. Steven Wilson has hinted on occasion that he has no intent of returning to Porcupine Tree – the one act that played a pivotal role in cementing his career. But then again, I am choosing to keep my hopes high.
There is some twisted solace in the fact that the last song in their discography will be “Remember Me Lover”.
That is how well Porcupine Tree planned our life for us. We will miss them, but they are always there to love us. Still you ask, why does the world need Porcupine Tree?