A meeting of minds between Opeth’s big chief Mikael Åkerfeldt and Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson, Storm Corrosion is a down-beat, atmospheric heavyweight that is the sort of Weird Science fantasy wet dream prog-heads have been jonesing for ever since Wilson took over production duties on Opeth’s groundbreaking Blackwater Park. Their eponymous debut eschews any of Opeth’s physical mass, and operates outside of Porcupine Tree’s spacious musical universe, but there’s still signature DNA of both projects, and indeed a lot of darkness to trace it back to those responsible. The Deciblog caught up with Steven Wilson to talk about the writing process, and how cinema influenced the mood for the album.
There has been a lot of talk about you guys drinking wine and writing, but how did you get in the mood to write for Storm Corrosion, to get into the right frame of mind?
Music was the important thing. We both have a fondness for outsider music, or records that you might not call generic, on the fringes. Artists like Scott Walker, for example. Mikael is very fond of this artist from the 70s called Comus, very dark, macabre, psychedelic folk music – those sort of things, but also there was a strong influence from cinema. Very often, before going to record some music we would watch a movie, and we would watch fairly surreal, dark, fairly experimental movies, David Lynch movies, Japanese ghost movies, and these also set a tone for where we were going.
Mike talks about progressive music as almost the exercise of making music, a sound that’s new; how much emphasis was made, deliberately, not to cover anything that not only you’ve done in the past but also what influenced you?
There are strong musical references there. Listen, I don’t think it is possible to do something that is totally unique in this day in age. Everything has been done in some form or another, but I think what really can be done now is that you can take influences and filter them through a strong musical identity of your own and still make them sound really fresh, and I guess that’s what we are doing on Storm Corrosion. We are taking obscure records, obscure film soundtracks, obscure cinema, a lot of drink of red wine, getting together and putting something together that sounds unique. [But] It certainly hasn’t come out of nothing.
And hanging out, talking about cinema and musical ideas is more important, I guess, than having a thought-out plan or preconceptions of what the music should sound like?
When we were doing the record the last thing we were doing, the last thing we were doing was intellectualising the process. There was never any, “Let’s make this sort of record; we’ll take 25 per cent of this and…” There was none of that intellectualising.
But it’s funny, though, because you can intellectualise it as the listener, and yet there’s no room for quantuum mechanics etc. when you are writing the music
I think that is key, because I don’t like music that only works on an intellectual level, and I don’t like music that only works on a technical, impressive musicianship level. It is completely about texture and emotions, and I think that’s important. Personally, the records that I like the most are the ones where you can intellectualise about eventually because there is interesting stuff going on, it adds to the production, there is an interesting structure, the way the music unfolds, the lyrics are thoughtful. But, at the same time, there are beauty melodies, there are emotional kicks and there is a deeper soulful presence in the music, too. The key thing for me is that this feels like a very spiritual record to me, and I think that comes from a place that has nothing to do with the intellect at all. Of course, there is a bit of intellect, just because of the way the pieces are structured, the arrangements are thought out, but where the music came from originally, the melodies, the feelings and the lyrics – they are very intuitive and not kind of made up to impress, at all, on an intellectual level. I respect that balance in everything that I do.
You mention cinema being an important influence, certainly in terms of mood: would you like to score a film in the same fashion as say Goblin or Popol Vuh have done?
Well, you know, I’ve been hearing my whole career about how cinematic my music is, haha! But for whatever reason I have never been invited into that world of doing soundtracks. I mean, I’ve done a few commercials over the years, when I had to, but to be actually able to score something? It’s funny, I was watching The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo last night, with the Trent Reznor/Attica Ross soundtrack, and they seem to establish a fantastic relationship between the director, David Fincher, and the musicians. I mean the music and the images just complement each other perfectly, but I have to say that those kind of relationships today are not so prevalent as they were at the time when Popol Vuh were about. There was a thing where a band would be asked to do a soundtrack album, and then the 80s and the 90s came around and you had albums like the Bodyguard, glorified compilation albums, with the record companies trying to place one of their artists on the soundtrack album, so the idea of an artist or band scoring a movie kind of fell out of favour a bit. There are a few in recent years – I mean, I loved the AIR soundtrack to The Virgin Suicides, that’s amazing, but you know I have never been invited to do anything like that would be a dream. To do a great movie, and to be in that space, working with visuals, it would be a dream. And I like to work with visuals anyway, but I am driving it from my end so I’m creating the music and creating interesting visuals to go with the music. It would be magnificent to do it the other way round.
Who would you want to work with?
Well there are the obvious ones: David Lynch, but then everybody wants to work with David Lynch. Also, Michael Haneke, I love his movies. Christopher Nolan, I think, makes extraordinary movies, but he’s got a relationship with Hans Zimmer. There are a lot of great film-makers around at the moment and it’s interesting; we were talking about rock music being a bit stagnant, but movies are definitely going through something of a re-birth. For the first time in many years you have intelligent – if that’s possible – blockblusters, things like Inception, which totally blew me away, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the new Avengers film, which I haven’t seen but I hear it’s a very accomplished piece of film-making. But for years, the Hollywood blockbuster scene was so dreary and drab. But, yeah, I guess my music lends itself to the darker, more surreal end of image.
**Storm Corrosion’s self-titled album is out now. You can buy it HERE.**