The Progressive Roots Of Steven Wilson

From Throbbing Gristle to... ABBA!

It's almost impossible to define Steven Wilson's music.

There are aspects of rock, for sure, intermingling with pop – but then the arrangements, the musicality, and the ideas contained therein belong to a dimension all of their own.

The composer's catalogue is often categorised as 'prog' – a term as succinct as it is misleading – and, with new album 'To The Bone' incoming, it's certainly something he'll be hearing a lot more of.

But with countless fans across the globe Steven Wilson's music surely deserves to be seen as it truly is: progressive in every sense.

So, with this in mind, Clash invited Steven to lay bare his progressive roots… and it could surprise you.

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Tangerine Dream – 'Zeit'

This is for me the original and greatest ambient record, years before the notion of "ambient" music existed. It's music without melody, rhythm or structure, but listening to it is like filling the room with the most beautiful and mysterious perfume, or like be suspended in the void.

I think a lot of people's idea of ambient music is closer to new age, but this is very organic, dark and dissonant, mostly generated from guitar, percussion, organ and unidentifiable electronic sounds.

The opening seven minutes with eight cellists gradually weaving in and out of tune with each other really sets up the subtle balance between unease and beauty that the album maintains for over 70 minutes. I can never get tired of listening to it.

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Kate Bush – 'The Hounds Of Love'

One thing I miss in modern music is the notion of the sophisticated pop record, an album that works in a very immediate and accessible way, with strong melodies and a focus on the art of writing songs, but at the same time if you choose to you can engage with them on a much deeper level. Whether it's lyrics that deal with sometimes quite ambitious subject matter, the cinematic production, or great musicianship, these are easy to enjoy records that work on so many levels.

Although it was something that you would have to say started with the Beatles in the mid 60s, there was a real golden age in the 80s for these kind of records.

'Hounds Of Love' is a perfect example, it was a number one album with several mainstream hit singles on it, and yet there's absolutely no sense of dumbing down or simplifying her vision at all.

I don't hear too many records with the same kind of ambition these days. With my new record 'To The Bone' I aimed to make an album that would be like my modern take on that approach.

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Throbbing Gristle – 'The Second Annual Report'

Throbbing Gristle invented the term "industrial music", and it was like my punk music when I was a teenager. It was music which challenged the very notions of proper musicianship and production and it introduced me to the aesthetics of pure noise.

When I first heard 'Slug Bait' (opening track from 'Second Annual Report') it was the opposite of everything I had been listening to at that point, the performers couldn't really play (at least not in the conventional sense, but I would argue that they were good musicians in the way they thought about sound), the recording quality was ugly and lo-fi, and the lyrics were about serial killers and burn victims.

It made the hairs on my neck stand up in a way that no music has ever done so since – there seems to be something genuinely sick in the very fabric of the music, which I loved as a teenager (and still do).

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Pink Floyd – 'Ummagumma'

In much the same way that the Beatles introduced millions of people to the world of avant-garde music with the track 'Revolution 9' on 'The White Album', for me Pink Floyd did a similar thing with the second record of 'Ummagumma' in 1969.

As someone that had grown up hearing my dad play 'The Dark Side Of The Moon' and been interested enough to explore the band's other records, stumbling across 'Ummagumma' as a 12 year old kid blew open the doors to a whole world of music which had nothing to do with conventional rock or pop music.

From the scream on 'Careful With That Axe Eugene' to the bizarre varispeed tape experiments of 'Several Species Of Small Furry Animal Gathered Together In A Cave' and 'Grooving With A Pict' I was fascinated by all of it.

Pink Floyd's music was never the most complex technically (and all the better for it), but in their use of sound design and experimental production techniques in the context of rock music was, I believe, second to none.

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Abba – Complete Studio Albums

To be honest it's tough to pick one Abba album, because the best of their music is spread across their eight studio albums, amongst a handful of corny filler tracks. But when they are at their best for me is simply the greatest pop music ever recorded.

I thought about choosing the compilation 'Abba Gold', but that doesn't contain all my favourite songs. 'Arrival' is probably the most consistent album they ever made, there probably isn't a weak moment on it, and it contains two of the best pop songs of all time on it: 'Dancing Queen' and 'Knowing Me Knowing You'. But then there are many other moments of genius like 'The Visitors', 'The Day Before You Came', 'SOS', 'When I Kissed The Teacher', 'Eagle', 'Lay All Your Love On Me'… the list goes on.

Listening to the song 'Mamma Mia' alone is like a masterclass in songwriting, there are about six or seven different sections to that song but every single one of them is a memorable hook.

I always tell people that if you want to understand anything about the art of writing pop music you just need to listen to The Beatles catalogue, The Beach Boys circa 'Pet Sounds' / 'Smile', and the whole Abba back catalogue. In terms of song construction, production, performance and melodic invention, it's peerless.

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Steven Wilson's new album 'To The Bone' will be released on August 18th.

For tickets to the latest Steven Wilson shows click HERE.

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