To an international fan-base comprised of listeners attuned to his ever-evolving vision, Steven Wilson represents the triumph of artistic integrity over the deadening aspects of musical conformity.
Since launching Porcupine Tree as a one-man-band 30 years ago, Wilson has been a tireless advocate of musical wanderlust, moving through several musical landscapes before emerging into a solo career that blends aspects of all of his previous incarnations into a startling new whole.
Wilson was last in Buffalo in 2013, when he and his band offered a deeply immersive audio-visual spectacle at the Town Ballroom. He returns to the same setting at 8 p.m. Nov. 27.
Question: You've been willing to challenge the preconceptions of your fan base by expanding your sonic and harmonic palette. “Home Invasion” offers proof that your instincts were on the money.
Answer: One thing I have found over years is that if you change direction, the initial reaction tends to be very polarized, but as the music gradually filters through and fans start engaging with it on its own terms rather than comparing it to what went before, the appreciation and acceptance of it increases. Ultimately, I'd like to create a body of work where every album has its own personality and a reason to exist within the catalog, not just "more of the same."
I certainly never described myself as progressive rock - and certainly not "prog," which is a meaningless term - but a lot of other people have, so perhaps they were bound to be disappointed when a record I made didn't fit into that genre. I think that's part of the battle of defining yourself as an artist. You're constantly fighting the pressure from outside to be pigeonholed and deliver more of what people already liked. I always wanted to create my own musical world. That takes time and must be earned, and it does mean sometimes confronting the expectations of the audience.
Steven Wilson: "I always wanted to create my own musical world, and that takes time and must be earned." (Photo by Hajo Mueller)
Q: Here in Buffalo, people still speak in hushed tones about your previous shows in town – the “Incident” tour stop in 2010, and later, the “Raven” show. After touring this album around the world for a year, you’re now getting around to some of the secondary markets, and you might not feel the same intense enthusiasm about playing in Buffalo as the audience is feeling. How do you retain the passion for playing live when you’re touring so much? Is there ever a point where it becomes counter-productive?
A: That's a good question. Perhaps there isn't the same sense of occasion there was when I was playing the bigger venues on the first leg of the tour. However, playing with this band is always so much fun. We have a good time and that translates to the audience. The show may not be on the same scale as it was at the beginning of the tour, but it has evolved. These smaller shows are more informal and intimate and that's a good thing.
Q: You’re back in the U.S. at a particularly torrid time in the country’s history. As you’ve been touring the world, are you conscious of the rightward ideological swing that seems to be happening?
A: It's happening everywhere, not just in America. Although I think it's fair to say the seed of it has come from America because of the way the current administration has legitimized prejudices that I thought we'd seen the back of forever. Most touring musicians tend to be open-minded, and see the world as an international community, so this new era of paranoia and rebuilding walls that had long ago been broken down...well, it's all a bit depressing.
If this current state of play is a reaction against what came before, I can only hope that the pendulum will swing back in the opposite direction very soon. Optimistically, I believe it must be so.
8 p.m., Nov. 27 in The Town Ballroom (681 Main St.). Tickets are $32 advance, $35 at the door through Ticketfly.com.