Considering that Steven Wilson loves being in Tel Aviv, it’s surprising that his
world class, atmospheric rock group Porcupine Tree hasn’t performed here in
almost 10 years.
But the acclaimed British guitarist/singer, who given
his druthers, would divide his time between London and Israel, isn’t the one
deciding where the band plays.
Which is why their upcoming July 7 show at
the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds is their first since two wildly
concerts cemented their reputation among Israeli music fans as one great
“Porcupine Tree is a band, and it’s not up to me where the band goes
– it’s between the manager, our agent and the band as a whole,” said
speaking on the phone from England during a break in the band’s summer
schedule, which had just seen them play a series of festivals in
“As much as I would have loved to bring them to Israel in the
last few years, with our hectic cycle of albums, and due to the fact
production is quite expensive with video screens and a large crew,
offer wasn’t there, or there wasn’t a convenient time. Or there was
going on, if you know what I mean, and one or more of the band members
keen to come. So, what should have been a year- or two- [year] break
turned into 10.”
What? The same Steven Wilson who calls Tel Aviv one of
his favorite places, who rented an apartment here in 2006, and who
formed a side
band with his friend Aviv Geffen called Blackfield and released two
another on the way, isn’t able to convince his Porcupine Tree bandmates
Israel is the greatest place on Earth? As a matter of fact, no.
very hypocritical of me, of course. But, there’s always that risk of
cancellation. If the boat thing [the Gaza Flotilla] had happened this
instead of a month ago, who knows? The other guys don’t have personal
attachments to Israel, but they are committed to doing the show, and
coming,” said Wilson, adding that the band had received numerous emails
appeals for them to cancel their upcoming show in Tel Aviv.
understand the pressure other artists who cancelled must have felt.
take the appeals seriously, but I’ve had to reconcile that with what I
from my experience in England, that the people of a country often differ
intensely with what their government does.
“Just as British citizens
objected to Tony Blair and the invasion of Iraq, I get a sense that the
people are upset about what’s going on. You forget living outside of a
that the actions of the government are not the actions of the people.
penalize the people who live in Israel for the actions of their
their army? It doesn’t achieve anything. It’s a cliché that music rises
all, and it’s a cliché for a reason – it’s very often true.”
been riding on Porcupine Tree’s musical wave since 1987, when as a
his main musical project, No-Man, he and a friend decided to make up a
Floydinspired fictional band, with an intricate back story and
progressive- based music to prove their existence.
The lark proved to be
more enjoyable than his other musical endeavor, and within a couple
Wilson had hand-picked a band to flesh out the fictional Porcupine Tree
“It’s one of those things – life surprises you when you
least expect it.”
Said Wilson. “Porcupine Tree started out as a bit of
fun in the studio more than 20 years ago, when I had these so-called
projects going on.
And they all failed. I think this succeeded because it
was purely about making music to please myself. It pleased other people
so it goes on.”
With over a dozen albums to their credit featuring
everything from complex song suites with odd instruments for progressive
like dulcimer and banjo, to sweeping instrumental epics and shorter,
conventional rockers, the only constant in Porcupine Tree’s career has
their challenging themselves to do something different every time.
latest album, 2009’s The Incident, according to one reviewer “manages to
incorporate bombast and melody (the sixth movement, which shares the
title), rock (“Octane Twisted”), Yes’ folky moments (“The Seance”), and
grooves (“Circle of Manias”), before it all gently floats away on a
fairy dust (“I Drive the Hearse”).” As proud as he is of the band’s
work, Wilson sounded almost cocky when talking about Porcupine Tree’s
“We have one of the best shows in the world right now, and
Porcupine Tree is one of the best live bands in the world right now. I’m
worst musician in the band – they’re amazing,” he said, referring to his
bandmates, keyboardist Richard Barbieri, Gavin Harrison on guitar and
MAYBE THAT unexpected bravado has something to do with the
personality shift that Wilson said he’s experienced by his ongoing
with Israel, a romance which began when Geffen met Wilson in 2000 and
for the band’s 2001 shows.
The Israel that Wilson experienced – the sun,
beaches, clubs and tumult of Tel Aviv – was unlike anything he had
and it prompted him to spend more and more time in the country,
the renting of an apartment in Tel Aviv in 2006 in order to enable him
Geffen to work more frequently on Blackfield material.
“To me, Israel is
almost the antithesis of what I had grown up with. Being English, we’re
and reserved, we don’t express our opinions, we’re very private people.
weather is s**t, and I’ve never been a big fan of English women. In
found it all opposite. It’s friendly, there are beautiful women,” said
“There was a fire missing from my personality, an element
missing, and when I started to spend more time in Israel, I became more
forthright, more passionate and opinionated – in a good way and in a bad
think I was able to complete my personality by finding its Israeli
While Wilson’s stays here have become less frequent over the last
few years, it’s mainly due to his work schedule and not because he’s any
enamored with the country.
“I love Tel Aviv, but I’ve spent so much time
on the road in the last year that I’ve hardly been home in England, let
had any time to spend in Israel. I was only there a couple times, but
I hope to return for a longer period,” he said.
WILSON’S CONNECTION to
Israel remains strong, however. He and Geffen are currently writing and
recording songs for Blackfield’s third album.
And the musical workaholic
recently mixed and played keyboards on Tel Aviv-based Middle Eastern
Orphaned Land’s album the The Never Ending Way of ORWarriOR. With his
limited and his commitments many, Wilson said that he’s looking for
specific beyond a pay check when he agrees to collaborate with another
“I’m looking to get something out of it. Artists will come to me
to produce or mix and they look for what you can give them, but they
that I’ll take anything away from the project myself, but I do,” he
“When I get involved, it’s so I’ll learn something myself. With
Orphaned Land, it was a completely new perspective. You won’t hear what
anywhere else – that fusion of Western metal with a Middle Eastern
it’s completely unique, like nothing I ever heard before. That was an
attraction. Plus, I can learn from a band like that – they were using
instruments I had never seen before.”
Kobi Farhi, the singer for Orphaned
Land, said he was thrilled to work with Wilson, calling Porcupine Tree
the best progressive rock bands of today.”
“I had met Steven in 2001 when
they came here for the first time, and when we released our 2004 album
sent him a copy. He was fascinated with the production and with how we
progressive music with Arabic and Jewish elements,” said Farhi.
really likes things that don’t sound like anything else, so we succeeded
reach that definition, and he agreed to help on our next album.
amazing to work with him.
Our music is so full of layers, and so diverse,
that you need someone to mix it properly – otherwise some of the stuff
lost. And he knew exactly what to do.” Farhi will be front and center
Porcupine Tree takes the stage next week, a show that Wilson said he was
forward to, not only because it will allow him to return to a place he
but because it’s providing a needed respite from the string of festivals
band is playing this summer.
“Playing at festivals is sort of a balagan,”
said Wilson, using the Hebrew vernacular for a big mess to describe the
dozens of artists as divergent as Stone Temple Pilots, Jack Johnson, and
Strokes providing non-stop entertainment for the hundreds of thousands
braving the elements of hot sun and cold rain.
“It’s a battle; you don’t
have your usual production, you’re often playing in daylight with very
atmosphere, and it’s usually to fans of other bands who quite possibly
know you,” he added. “And to top it off, the audience has usually been
at some point and they’re a bit miserable.
So, it’s a bit of a struggle.
But if you’re able to win over 20 percent of the crowd, it’s pretty
the case of Porcupine Tree, it would be a good bet that the percentage