“We’re the quintessential cult band”

Porcupine Tree has unveiled the video for the new single ‘Rats Return’. Check it out on NME first below, along with our interview with frontman Steven Wilson.

The trio release new album ‘Closure / Continuation’ on June 24 – their first since going on hiatus after 10th album ‘The Incident’ in 2009. Singer / guitarist / keyboardist / bassist Steven Wilson, keyboardist Richard Barbieri and drummer Gavin Harrison celebrate their return with a European tour in October and November, climaxing with a huge homecoming show at SSE Wembley Arena on November 11 – and today share a new video.

Directed by Ricky Allen, who has previously made videos for the likes of Little Mix and Mimi Webb, the ‘Rats Return’ video depicts a dystopian quiz show with nightmarish rules.

In the 12 years since Porcupine Tree last toured, Wilson has enjoyed a successful solo career, while Harrison has become a drummer for alternative rock icons King Crimson. Barbieri, whose previous band Japan enjoyed cult hero status themselves before splitting in 1982, has released albums with ex-Japan bandmate Steve Jansen and Marillion singer Steve Hogarth.

Initially ignored by critics, Porcupine Tree released debut album ‘On The Sunday Of Life’ in 1992. They slowly gained a word-of-mouth cult status, playing their biggest show at London’s Royal Albert Hall on the tour for ‘The Incident’. Having long insisted in interviews that they had ended, the trio’s return came as a surprise to fans, with the title of ‘Closure / Continuation’ hinting at their uncertain status.

NME: Hi, Steven. Welcome back to Porcupine Tree. It looked like the band were over, but suddenly there’s a new album about to come out. What happened?

Steven: “We felt there was unfinished business. Our last album, ‘The Incident’, wasn’t our best. We’d got into the album / tour / album / tour cycle, when it’s always been important to feel like there’s a reason to make a new record, that it should have its own personality. We walked away from all that, without necessarily meaning to. We actually started working on this album 10 years ago. It’s taken so long partly because we’ve all been doing other things and also because, the longer time went on, the more we realized that if we were to come back, it had to be something great that felt fresh. We couldn’t just cater to the fanbase and give them more of the same. “

How easy was it in reality to come up with music as original as ‘Closure / Continuation’?

“Quite easy, because the simple ethos in going through 10 years of music was ‘Does it excite us?’ We’ve gone with songs that have a newness, a freshness and – in the true sense of the word – a progression. We’ve done a lot of things to change ourselves up: for the first time, we wrote the record together. We’ve de-emphasized the guitar, with ‘Walk The Plank’ just me and Richard playing electronics. There’s more space in the music. It’s less dominated by guitar, so there are fewer classic rock tropes. “

Even by Porcupine Tree’s standards, ‘Rats Return’ is a dark song. What inspired it?

“The rats are politicians who express having an interest in the public but, when it comes down to it, only want to save themselves. Having lived through Brexit, Trump and Boris Johnson, it wasn’t hard to get depressed about what’s going on in the world. “

Are you optimistic things will eventually get better?

“Not very, I’m afraid. When you read that governments are trying to do away with women’s rights to have abortions, you think ‘What fucking century are we living in?’ I’m always disappointed by that backwards, reactionary way of thinking. It’s become a cliché to say it, but it’s also true that there’s only black-and-white online, with no shades of gray or room for discussion. Belligerence is on the rise. Sadly, I think there’s an element of truth to the saying that it doesn’t matter who you vote for, because the government will always get in. “

The title ‘Closure / Continuation’ seems a tease on whether this is the last Porcupine Tree album. Are you breaking up again?

“I honestly don’t know, and that’s true of all three of us. The title isn’t meant to be controversial, as there’s supposed to be an implied question mark, because we really aren’t sure. It’s a perverse title, but it’s also genuine. We’ll see how the tour goes and whether there’s anything new we feel we have to say as a band. We were able to make ‘Closure / Continuation’ with no pressure or expectation, and it’s the only time we’ll be able to do so. Even if we do disappear, people aren’t going to believe it. It’ll be: ‘Oh, they’re just pretending to vanish again’. We’re not sure we ever want to make another record, because there’ll be that expectation next time round. None of us need to do it, which is a beautiful position to be in. “

What do you get from the band that you don’t get from your solo career?

“We’ve all diversified since the previous album but, straight away, the three of us started making music together that was unmistakably Porcupine Tree. There’s something about me, Gavin and Richard together that sounds instantly like Porcupine Tree. Locked in the album / tour cycle, that becomes limiting, and you start painting yourself into a corner. In the Venn diagram of the three of us, there’s a little area where we cross over and that’s the music we make together.

“With few exceptions, it’s why bands are doomed to repeat themselves. But it can be a great strength – that you only sound like yourselves. We’ve come back with a record that is archetypally Porcupine Tree, which is good. But if we got back into the album / tour cycle, we’d inevitably become the same. We’re all keen to avoid that, and it’s why I can’t imagine the Porcupine Tree will ever become my primary focus again. “

How do you feel about playing your first UK arena show at Wembley Arena to finish the European tour?

“I have some trepidation about it, because the stakes are high. Our audience is bigger than it ever was, so expectations are higher. I’m curious to see what the audience demographic will be. I’d love to see as many young fans as possible. There’s a constant worry that young people no longer engage with rock music, which is depressing to someone who grew up listening to Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and King Crimson. I’m pretty sure a younger generation have discovered us, as we didn’t have this many fans last time. It’s been fascinating to see the legend of the band grow in our absence. When you disappear, you either quickly fall off the radar, or people start to realize that what you did is unique and special. Luckily for us, that’s what seems to have happened. “

Why do you think that is?

“In our first incarnation, it always felt a struggle. People said we were prog-rock or prog-metal, but we never used those terms ourselves. That’s part of the deal: if you want to create your own musical universe and you don’t want to be a generic part of the zeitgeist, it’s going to be hard. We were there when grunge, Britpop and all these other movements were happening and we were never part of any of them. At the time, it’s frustrating to be shut out of whatever people are talking about. But I now see it as a positive, because we exist outside of anything that could have perhaps tied us to a particular era. We’ve never been on UK TV or radio so, in some senses, we’re the quintessential cult band. There’s a vindication in being able to come back after so long to play such big shows. “

If Porcupine Tree isn’t the primary focus, are you planning a new solo album?

“I’ve written pretty much it. I love synths these days. I fell out of love with guitars a few years ago. I’m not a particularly good guitar player anyway, and I got to the point where I’d pick a guitar up and I was just boring myself. My last record ‘The Future Bites’ was quite electronic, but it was also quite pop. I’m keeping the same musical vocabulary, but it’s less pop in the song structures. I’m going down more of a conceptual rabbit hole. It’s a musical journey, rather than focusing on pop songs. “

So on stage at Wembley, you’ll probably turn to Gavin and Richard at the end, give a big wink and say: “See you in 12 years”?

“Something like that, probably! Or maybe I’ll say ‘See you next week to start the new record.’ If we’re all having the most amazing time on that tour, jamming promising ideas in soundcheck, who knows? “

‘Closure / Continuation’ is released on June 24 via Music For Nations. Porcupine Tree tour in October and November. Check out tour dates below, and get tickets here.

October
21 – Max Schmelinghalle, Berlin
23 – Gasoemeter, Vienna
24 – Forum, Milan
27 – Avicii Arena, Stockholm
28 – Falkoner Theater, Copenhagen
30 – Spodek Hall, Katowice
November
2 – Zenith, Paris
4 – Porsche Arena, Stuttgart
6 – KP Arena, Oberhausen
7 – Ziggodome, Amsterdam
9 – Halle 622, Zurich
11 – SSE Wembley Arena, London

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