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Steven Wilson on why "The Future Bites," 5 Things to Know

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Friday, February 5, 2021

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Steven Wilson says this is "the first time in my life I can remember feeling not optimistic about the future."

But rather than lament in silence, the British music auteur turned it into his latest album, "The Future Bites," a sweeping nine-song set that dresses up his dystopian worldview with arguably his most ambitious stylistic pivot to date. Known for his prog rock guitar heroics, Wilson this time explores an electronic-infused terrain, embracing new approaches without losing the energy and technical acuity that's been his trademark since he started the band Porcupine Tree during the late 80s.

Wanton consumerism, the travails of social media and narcissistic culture are among Wilson's targets on "The Future Bites," which he recorded prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and refined during the rest of 2020. A deluxe edition features even more songs, and Wilson has accompanied the album with a series of inventive and provocative videos. The future may look shaky in his to him, but Wilson's present is nothing less than exciting...

• Wilson, 53, says via Zoom -- in front of shelves filled with vinyl albums -- that he considers it "bizarre that ('The Future Bites') became even more topical and prescient" between the time it was recorded and its Jan. 29 release. "Obviously I didn't anticipate that. I wondered to myself whether releasing a record about the dystopian world we lived in during obviously the darkest times of any of our lifetimes was a great idea. Are people looking for music to escape from that, or are they looking for music like this, that talks about the world we live in in this kind of vaguely blackly comic way. It's getting a great response so far, but that certainly was more by luck than judgement."

• Noting that "my career has always been driven by not wanting to repeat myself," Wilson says he found himself "bored with the tropes of classic rock, progressive rock...that had become my stock in trade, my default style for most of my career." Similarly "bored with the guitar," he worked more with synthesizers and samplers on "The Future Bites," though with live musicians in the studio as well. "There's no getting away from the fact this is a particularly extreme reinvention in terms of my career, although it still very much sounds like my record. It's still a very big change in the musical vocabulary, but this feels so much more inspirational to me. I was able to bring that whole sort of (electronic) palette into my world, so it still sounds like a Steven Wilson record -- it still has that sense of journey and texture and hopefully sonic excellence to it."

• Wilson also tapped Elton John to record the spoken segment on the song "Personal Shopper." "From the original demo I always had this bit in the middle for somebody with a famous, recognizable voice to read this list of what I call first-world consumer items...I went to see the 'Rocketman' movie, and just before the credits there's a where-are-they-now, pre-credit sequence and it says 'Elton managed to kick all of his addictions except for one,' and there’s a picture of him with all the shopping. It was this lightbulb moment of 'OK! Of course! Elton John, the most famous shopper on Earth. This HAS to be the guy who does it!' It was so perfect for him...And thank God I was right. We worked together on the list, which is the closest I'll ever get to saying I collaborated with Elton John on a song, and I like to think when his voice comes on the track people are just gonna break out in a big smile because it's so perfect and so surprising and so funny."

• Wilson has so far released four music videos for the album's songs -- including a clip for "Self" in which his face morphs into those of celebrities such as Robert Downey Jr., President Joe Biden, Scarlett Johansson, Brad Pitt, David Bowie and many more. "I'm releasing a record during a time when I can't tour, I can't do TV shows, I can't even do record store signings or personal appearances. The only thing I have left it, 'Let's make some amazing videos and get them online,' and that's the way we're doing to shop-window this album. And I had the time to do that because I didn't have to prepare to tour. So I was putting all my effort into making great videos which reflected the them of the record. And I'm really proud of all four of the videos that came out."

• In addition to his own music Wilson is also an active and in-demand remixer who's helmed updated catalog reissues for artists such as King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Roxy Music, Black Sabbath and many more. "Anything that comes along where I can genuinely say 'I grew up with that album. I love that album!' -- and that's a very broad church. There's an almost endless supply of record that potentially could come my way for mixing in SurroundSound or Dolby Atmos. The people I'm doing them for are...people who have bought the album at least three times in their lifetime, and I recognize myself i that equation and I know know what I would want is something that doesn't in any way change the music....but is presenting it in a new way that makes it sound fresh again. It's a real honor to be able to work on these albums I myself have loved over the years."

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