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Cover Story ? Porcupine Tree: A work in progress, Part I

Modern prog puzzlers Porcupine Tree make all the musical pieces fit.

“The funny thing is, this is supposed to be my year off,” says Porcupine Tree frontman Steven Wilson with a slight laugh. “It hasn’t worked out that way.”

Despite the fact that Porcupine Tree hasn’t released a full-fledged studio record this year, Wilson has plenty on his plate, and more than he had initially planned for.

Aside from his work as mixer, remixer, producer, editing technician and mastering engineer, Wilson has been touring and recording (Schoolyard Ghosts) with his side project No-Man, working on his first-ever solo album, Insurgentes(scheduled to be issued in different formats, including DVD-A and vinyl), contributing to Aviv Geffen’s (Blackfield) solo record (produced Trevor Horn), producing an upcoming record by Israeli metal band Orphaned Land, and doing other Porcupine Tree activities — such as a short tour of Europe, recording a new concert DVD in Holland and beginning the writing process for the next studio record. One has to catch one’s breath after simply reading that long list of works in progress and accomplishments.

“If I say, ‘OK, I’m going to take some time off from work,’ time off from work for me means, paradoxically and ironically, making music,” says guitarist/lyricist/lead vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Wilson. “Because I’m proud of the work and want to release it, it starts to take over my life. That’s really the story behind every single one of my projects, from the early days onwards. There are times when I feel I’ve created a monster.”

Wilson may indeed be a mad scientist like Dr. Frankenstein (albeit in the sound lab), but the bulk of Wilson’s creations breathe new life and vitality into his craft.

It’s difficult to recall, in recent memory, an artist capable of releasing a variety of quality music projects while keeping his credibility, willfully adopting an experimental musical stance and maintaining relative accessibility.

“I’ve always viewed Steven as a kind of cross between Todd Rundgren and Frank Zappa,” said Freakbeat Emporium mail-order founder and Delerium Records co-founder Richard Allen, one of Porcupine Tree’s former labels, in a 2007 interview.

“Frank Zappa continues to be a big inspiration for me,” Wilson proclaims. “Now there’s someone who’d released an extraordinary high volume of music in his lifetime and even posthumously. But the quality, with one or two exceptions, is extremely high, and the eclecticism is extremely diverse.”

Starting point

Things haven’t always been this crazy for Wilson, but even during his earlier days as a recording artist (before he was even professional), the boy from Hemel, Hempstead, Hertfordshire, England, was bouncing from one project to the next.

Wilson’s main gig these days is Porcupine Tree, a band that has been alternately described as progressive rock (a term that Wilson once detested but has learned to warm up to), post-progressive, neo-psychedelic, progressive metal, experimental/ambient and even trance/club.

Porcupine Tree began its life as a farce, a tongue-in-cheek project that Wilson erected, more or less, for his own amusement. It was his relationship with vocalist/lyricist Tim Bowness of No-Man, a band now relegated to side-project status, that Wilson once envisioned as his bread and butter.

“No-Man was conceived as something that was supposed to give me a career in music,” says Wilson. “Porcupine Tree is an example of something I started for fun that became a part of my career, part of my work, as it were.”

Indeed. From 1989 through 1990, while still working with Bowness, Wilso