Artist Spotlight: Steven Wilson
Progressive rock icon Steven Wilson is a relatively recent convert to Takamine. He used an EF341SC extensively on the first leg of the tour supporting his latest album 'To the Bone', and is also using a P7NC and an EF360SC Thermal Top guitar. Initially known as the founder, lead guitarist, lead vocalist and songwriter of the band Porcupine Tree, Steven has also worked with a "who's who" of bands in the prog world including artists such as King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Andy Partridge, Yes, Marillion, Tears for Fears, Roxy Music and others. The tour continues this fall with dates scheduled in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and all over North America.
For people involved in creating progressive-oriented music, acoustic guitar isn’t the first instrument that comes to mind. How do you incorporate acoustic guitar into your music?
I'm not really conscious of creating progressive-orientated music, because I grew-up inspired by so many different kinds of music, and a lot of it was songwriters using acoustic guitar, such as Joni Mitchell, Crosby Stills & Nash, Neil Young, John Martyn, and Nick Drake, who are all a big part of my musical DNA. From a very early age I had a love of the acoustic guitar and the golden sound that it can create for songwriters.
Do you turn to acoustic guitar as a songwriting tool? In what way?
These days it's hard to do something new using either of the two mainstays of songwriting, the acoustic guitar and piano. However, I find there are ways to still be very inspired by these instruments, with the acoustic guitar, simple things such as using a capo to give the guitar a mandolin-like quality, or using alternative tunings. These alternative tunings can be purely intuitive, just experimenting with transposing strings up randomly up and down, and then seeing what traditional chord shapes give you in terms of more exotic voicings. That's something I've done a lot over the years, especially when I feel like I've hit a brick wall with my songwriting.
What specific aspects of your Takamine — the tone, the playability, the feel, etc. — make it an appropriate instrument for you and your music?
Having a bond with a beautiful instrument can really inspire and engage you as a songwriter, and I certainly feel that with the Takamine guitars. If I'm working on a song, I don't want to be thinking about the mechanics or the limitations of the instrument (in the sense that all instruments have inherent limitations). But I never feel that with Takamine guitars. On the contrary, I feel completely free to draw on my creativity. They also look pretty fantastic onstage!
You’re in the midst of the "To the Bone” tour, and you’ve been using a Takamine EF341SC on the road. How has it held up under the rigors of travel and stage performance?
You would have to ask my guitar tech Tonto, but I'm certainly not aware that they've ever let us down in any respect, and we are up to about hundred shows so far.
Is there anything special you’re doing in terms of audio/effects processing when using the EF341SC live?
Occasionally I look for a slightly more crystalline quality from the guitar, so we put it through a Boss EQ pedal which is offstage with Tonto. A preset can be easily engaged which can give the guitar that brighter "pinging" quality when needed.
On a general basis, do you get inspired — as a player, as a songwriter — by specific instruments? Can choosing one guitar over another have an effect on how inspired you are to play?
Most nights onstage I tell the story of how picking up a Fender Telecaster early in the To the Bone writing process completely changed my whole approach to not only playing guitar, but also the way I was writing. Different guitars can be completely different instruments, in the same way that a piano has very little in common with a Hammond organ other than that both are keyboard instruments. The same with engaging a particular pedal. I finds the bigger and richer the sound of an instrument, the less you need to play to make it speak.
To the Bone reminds us of those rare and great instances from the ‘80s when adventurous, prog-influenced music managed to bubble up to the pop consciousness. Do you make efforts to have a specific and focused thematic feel to a collection of music?
I was interested in an approach to making albums that I remembered from my teenage years. Growing up in the 80s, there were a lot of artists during that period that were making very accessible music without compromising any of the ambition, musically or lyrically. I feel it was a golden age for sophisticated and intelligent pop music with artists such as Kate Bush, Prince, Talk Talk, Peter Gabriel, Tears for Fears..etc. Without wanting to be nostalgic, I definitely wanted to draw on that tradition of making an album that was easy to enjoy but experimental at the same time.
Is continuing to improve as a musician something you still aspire to do? Do you still discover new music that inspires you to play and write?
It's very important to me that every album I make seems like an evolution from the previous album. While it certainly isn't easy to constantly reinvent oneself, and sometimes the fan base are very resistant to that sense of evolution anyway, I think it's important to create your own musical universe. Ultimately I would love to be considered as someone who didn't belong to a category or genre, but instead simply created a "Steven Wilson style" of music. That takes years and has to be earned I guess, but I hope I can do it!
To the Bone Tour Dates (North America)
THU, NOV 15: THE VOGUE (VANCOUVER, CANADA)
SAT, NOV 17: BING CROSBY THEATER (SPOKANE, WA)
SUN, NOV 18: UNION HALL (EDMONTON, CANADA)
MON, NOV 19: THE PALACE THEATRE (CALGARY, CANADA)
THU, NOV 22: PHOENIX THEATRE (TORONTO, CANADA)
SAT, NOV 24: THE STUDIO @ 1ST ONTARIO (HAMILTON, CANADA)
SUN, NOV 25: LONDON MUSIC HALL (LONDON, CANADA)
TUE, NOV 27: TOWN BALLROOM (BUFFALO, NY)
WED, NOV 28: HOUSE OF BLUES (BOSTON, MA)
FRI, NOV 30: THE FILLMORE (PHILADELPHIA, PA)
SAT, DEC 01: STARLAND BALLROOM (SAYREVILLE, NJ)
SUN, DEC 02: CAPITOL THEATRE (PORT CHESTER, NY)
TUE, DEC 04: THE PARAMOUNT (HUNTINGTON, NY)
WED, DEC 05: RAMS HEAD LIVE (BALTIMORE, MD)
FRI, DEC 07: CAT'S CRADLE (CARRBORO, NC)
SAT, DEC 08: ORANGE PEEL (ASHEVILLE, NC)
SUN, DEC 09: VARIETY PLAYHOUSE (ATLANTA, GA)
MON, DEC 10: CANNERY BALLROOM (NASHVILLE, TN)
TUE, DEC 11: VINYL MUSIC HALL (PENSACOLA, FL)
THU, DEC 13: THE RITZ (TAMPA, FL)
FRI, DEC 14: CULTURE ROOM (FORT LAUDERDALE, FL)
SAT, DEC 15: CULTURE ROOM (FORT LAUDERDALE, FL)
SUN, DEC 16: PONTE VEDRA CONCERT HALL (PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FL)
WED, DEC 19: HOUSE OF BLUES (DALLAS, TX)
THU, DEC 20: HOUSE OF BLUES (HOUSTON, TX)