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8 December, 2005

Burning bridges: here; use my lighter

The current issue of 'Explicitly Intense', a US metal magazine, features an interview with Steven Wilson (SW), of Porcupine Tree (amongst several other projects).  One of the questions inspired a rather... forthright comment on regressive 'prog' acts such as Transatlantic and the Flower Kings (TFK), whose output is heavily based on the music of the early 1970s.  Surprisingly, Roine Stolt, of TFK and Transatlantic, felt the need to respond publicly (I don't know where, but the following quotes were republished at the Porcupine Tree Forum).

Jeff Nau (Explicitly Intense magazine):
As far as progressive rock goes and had gone,what do you feel about what's happening now? Dream Theater is still doing very well, and now there's a new kind of prog rising up with bands like the Mars Volta and even Radiohead – but also with older-sounding groups like the Flower Kings and Transatlantic. What do you think needs to happen for it to survive?

Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree):
Okay, I think that answer is very simple: bands like the Mars Volta, Tool, and Radiohead – these bands are the future of progressive music.

Bands like the Flower Kings and Transatlantic? The DEATH of progressive music. These are the bands that reinforce every prejudice people have about progressive rock: old-fashioned, pompous, pretentious, hung-up on sci-fi concepts – that for me is rubbish. But there's a new wave of bands that for me are being influenced just as much by hip-hop as they are King Crimson or Godspeed You Black Emperor and bands like us as well, I hope.

For me, Transatlantic and the Flower Kings – and I have heard these bands, unfortunately – they're following the blueprint from 1972 so closely; it's completely pointless and redundant. They're never going to better the originals, anyway – why bother? Whatever's going around should be part of their musical vocabulary.

I don't particularly dig generic music, whether it's hardcore metal or hip-hop, even down to the prog bands you mentioned. They're following a formula way too closely. For me, being progressive is about taking the word at face value: if a band is going to try to be progressive, they shouldn't be looking at the past – they should be looking at everything that's going on around them now, from hip-hop to trip-hop to death metal to trance. The word 'progressive' is about the FUTURE.
Yay! Well said! Though I like Transatlantic immensely, at least as much as Porcupine Tree (I couldn't say the same about TFK), I totally agree with SW.
Roine Stolt, via e-mail to [?]:
It's correct, it IS a personal preference and it IS OK to have an opinion. It's just that it comes across as a bit aggressive and who knows... silly, as neither Flowerkings or Transatlantic have ever been dealing with "sci-fi lyrics", at least to my knowledge. But I fear it is more than an opinion, it is a bit of an aggressive statement, meant to hurt or diminish.

What he present is his opinion that we are the 'death of progressive rock', it is not that nice a statement really. I suppose he's trying to say that bands like us scare the younger audience or the hip crowd and press away, that he now apparently is eager to please, it is in his 'marketing plan'.
I suppose Stolt can be forgiven for not being familiar with SW's more generally-stated position, just as SW can be forgiven for not paying full attention to the lyrical content of certain bands, but he's missing the point. It's about artistic integrity (which sounds pretentious; whatever), not popularity. It's not about conforming to an image – quite the reverse.
We all fight for recognition, but a bit of positivism is sometimes better that hanging out what should/could be your friends.
****ing hippie sh*t (but you knew I was going to say that).
It's that Steven does not seem to care if he piss me off, or Portnoy or Trewavas off, or whoever have helped him in the past, I think he believes it just add to his credibility... or coolness??!!! So he don't like Symphonic/prog, fine, but my question would be, is he now into the more metal things because he loves it or because it simply have a bigger audience. My guess is that Steven's career means a lot to him and he do whatever it takes to make PT a bigger act, he wanna be in with the cool in-crowd, the dark tattooed guys. In that sense I can see that any 'flowery' old school hippie band like TFK looks like a bad future and something he wanna steer away from rapidly, not to be connected.
As I mentioned above, I believe Stolt is totally misattributing SW's motivations, which he's expressed quite frequently. SW wants to be progressive (an approach encompassing all genres) but never 'prog' (a specific, fixed, genre) – there's a difference. Since 2002, his view has been that "death metal is the new progressive rock", and he's taken Porcupine Tree in that direction somewhat. In 2006 or 2007, it could be hip-hop, or folk, or polka. It's all about the music, not sales figures, nor popularity with the 'in' crowd.
Now, there are many prog bands out there (name XXXX) that create a stir within prog circles that I personally feel is exactly what Steven is referring TFK to be, they are scarecrows, they scare people away because they are not close to as inventive, poetic, expressive or original as Yes, ELP, Floyd or Crimson or simply DULL. Many a hype is written in advertisements or articles in the prog-press or mailing lists all over about those bands but I still find them VERY poor and sometimes unlistenable. BUT I would never go as far as hang them out in an interview (at least I hope I haven't ).

For me it's quite simple, if a band like Transatlantic sell 65,000 copies of a CD (on an independent label) it simply means that the band IS popular, VERY popular...
No, no, NO! Popularity and creativity are entirely different matters. An entirely stagnant, repetitive band can produce stagnant, repetitive music which will still sell well to the established fanbase and those wishing to recapture a lost youth. That the niche occupied by Transatlantic and TFK is relatively lucrative isn't relevant. It's still an inward-looking, closed system of which I, and seemingly SW, can have limited respect.
... and that MANY people do NOT consider them to be the DEATH of prog, rather the 'new life' or 'afterlife' or whatever, but many people did rejoice. It WAS a phenomenon. If Steven Wilson feel the opposite... we can't do much about that, but he's wrong.
It's impossible for an opinion to be right or wrong.
Flowerkings is a band that started around the same time as PT and he knows very well of us and know we're both popular and considered along with Spocks [Beard], PT to be the new wave of prog. So after all there may be some truth to that he try to kill his competition.
Rubbish. TFK is an overt return to 70s standards and style; there's nothing 'new wave' about it. Stolt presumably means TFK represents a new resurgence of popularity, which itself is very debatable – modern, popular progressive music (e.g. The Mars Volta) is little like 70s prog.
That Porcupine Tree and TFK might be competitors is laughable. They're simply not on the same racetrack.
I may be wrong but I seem to remember that Steven Wilson's name came up as a possible candidate to mix the second Transatlantic album, but at the time someone of us had heard that he didn't like us at all, so it's not the first time he make similar statements, this is his firm belief, not something thoughtless he happen to say....

[Update 26/10/06: I've been directed to a post SW made in a Progarchives forum on 8 August this year, in which he reported that he'd apologised to Stolt for the personal nature of his criticism, whilst defending his right to dislike the music, and to say so publicly.]

In fact I spoke with Roine about this, and apologised - my comments about these bands was borne out of frustration with certain jounalists trying to lump us into some kind of "neo-prog" movement. And frankly it's just not my kind of music. Of course it's true that it's an ugly thing to criticise other musicians, but I don't think there's any musician on the planet that has not at some time been critical of their contempories in the press (including Mikael A). Many times I have had to eat humble pie with the guys from Dream Theater because I've had to come clean in the press and say I don't really dig their music (and these guys are my friends!)


I agree entirely with your comments. About your criticism of the 'prog' label – to which you linked on the word 'difference' – I happen to have the same opinion.
I have also noticed the exact same phenomenon with the term 'alt-rock'; nowadays, the music called 'alternative' is exactly the opposite of that – it's not an alternative to pop music, it IS pop music!
And I find it a pity that the two terms which should matter the most while classifying music, 'progressive' and 'alternative' (basically the two only directions you can go from one genre, that is, either to modify it and progress from it, or to contest that genre entirely and instead make music that is an alternative choice) have become very genre-specific labels.

Oberon (Québec, Canada)

Posted by Oberon at December 14, 2005 04:33 AM

Both opinions are remarcable.
really, we can learn a lot from them both.
This is something that we can meditate a lot.

Is prog music a style made in the past?
or Progressive music reffers to a genre that always looks to the future and it does progress?

Really quite a theme to think about.

It was nice to read all this. thanks.

I love to talk about this, if anyone wants to discuss, you can find my email here.

Posted by Jefe at January 8, 2006 04:57 AM
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