Interview with Porcupine Tree Bassist Colin Edwin
- Greetings from India and welcome to Indian Music Mug Colin.
Colin Edwin: I am very happy you got in touch, my two visits to India so far have been expceptionally memorable!
- What’s keeping you busy lately?
Colin: Just recently, I have doing some live shows in the UK with Tim Bowness after playing on his recently released solo album. Tim, in conjunction with the Henry Fool band members are keen to continue, so plans are afoot to do some more dates and to record new material. For the rest of the year I’ll also be doing some sporadic gigs with Twinscapes, my bass duo project with Lorenzo Feliciati, our album came out in February, and I have also hooked up with the avant-metal band Obake after playing on their second album which is due out in October, live dates in Europe are being set up for December.
- Tell us about your formative years in music? Whom did you look up to while growing up as a musician?
Colin: I was very fortunate to grow up in a musical family, my father played jazz guitar, my older brother and sisters all played instruments and my mother had the radio on all day. I gravitated to bass, but quite late, I think my father was initially skeptical as I’d never shown any interest in learning music, but he encouraged me and I think it might have been as he always needed a bass player. Within a few weeks of picking up a bass, I was lucky enough to meet a fantastic bass player called Martin Elliott, a top London session musician, who gave me some of the best advice and guidance I could have hoped for. We still get together from time to time and discuss all the usual bass nerd things. Anyway, after a string of different bands and dead end jobs, I was eventually able to devote myself to music full time.
- We know you and Steven have been friends from school. How did he influence your music and vice versa ? Tell us a bit about working on Steven’s side project No man.
Colin: Steven has always been a big consumer of music, so he’d always have something different playing whenever I’d see him, and often something I hadn’t previously been aware of, so he did turn me onto a few things. When the time came for him to choose the live line up for Porcupine Tree, some time after he’d done the first album on his own,as we first got together it turned out there was a real chemistry and balance between all of us, so nobody needed to radically change their approach to fit with the music. There wasn’t a lot of discussion, it just gelled very quickly. That’s quite remarkable really, and it’s also rare in my experience.
I am probably too close to judge how being a part of Porcupine Tree has influenced me. Inevitably, I have been shaped by being in the band for so long, and I certainly picked up a lot from working with the other guys in Porcupine Tree, but I think I have also been shaped just as much by other situations I have played in too, in particular working with my Ex-Wise Heads partner Geoff Leigh.
No Man was a series of recording sessions where I was only involved as a bass player, rather than band member, it was a different and I felt it a highly suitable context for me to play in, so I was happy to do it, and also a great opportunity to play the upright bass, which is something I really love to do.
- Tell us how Porcupine Tree happened? What inspired you guys to venture into the progressive genre?The band having achieved a legendary status now and you having been in the band for over two decades how has your musical perspective grown and changed while working with the band?
Colin: Porcupine Tree was initially Steven’s self indulgent outlet for making progressive and, in the early days, psychedelic influenced rock music. He had released the first album through a small label and had some interest in the project and was eventually asked to do live shows, but didn’t have a band.
I guess he asked me to come and play bass simply because he knew that I would like the music, as I had already recorded bass on a track for the second album “Up the Downstair” some time earlier. Steven had worked with Chris Maitland and Richard Barbieri at different times in different live line-ups of No-Man. We all came together for a short series of gigs and a BBC radio session. In all honesty I had no expectations it would be anything beyond that, just a chance to play some interesting music and have some fun doing it. I do remember feeling astonished at the number of people who came to the first gig, and also at how easily the band fitted with each other musically speaking. Bearing in mind the kind of music, completely at odds with what was deemed popular at the time, I really didn’t think we’d ever reach a significant, international audience. It was only really after we did Sky Moves Sideways that I thought it was something that obviously connected with people and that perhaps the band had a bigger future.
Porcupine Tree has had very little mainstream press, no hit single, very little TV exposure, and the interest in it seems to have grown ever upward organically but steadily, although we have spent a lot of time touring, always looking to expand the audience by playing new places. Being seen as having “Legendary status” is something almost amusing to me, for a while it really felt like no one was interested, but it’s very good to know that despite Porcupine Tree not having done anything new for a few years now, there still seems to be a lot of interest, the music still touches people and reaches new ears all the time.
- You are a jazz fan as we have heard.How has it influenced your playing style?
Colin: I was exposed to a lot of jazz through my father’s record collection and it’s a musical form I still enjoy listening to. I spent some years playing a lot of upright, learning old standard tunes and getting to grips with improvisation, which has helped me in all sorts of musical situations, although I am less inclined now to play straight ahead jazz myself, I am more motivated to play other types of music. I would say it was a great learning curve though, and jazz was also a gateway for me to discover a lot of what is known as “world music” a major interest of mine.
- Tell us a bit about your recording time with Porcupine Tree and the process of music making and how the exchange of ideas take place?
Colin: Sometimes the music has come out of group writing sessions with each of us contributing a starting point for the others to build on, but other times Steven has fairly developed ideas that he brings to us and we all shape in our own ways to varying degrees. We have experimented with improvisation too, on tracks like Moonloop for example, and also with using guest musicians, (Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, Alex Lifeson) usually as soloists bringing their own thing to the bigger picture. Over the course of the albums, there has never been any one fixed recording method, and ultimately the sound of the band is linked to our personalities.
- Tell us a bit about your solo albums “Third vessel” and “PVZ”.
Colin: One of the things about playing the bass is that you tend to need to do it other people, so “Third Vessel” started as an experiment to see what I would do without any interaction, interference or input from anybody else. Eventually I got a few other people to contribute voices, just for a little variety.
I love to get inspired by others that I work with, but equally I find it important to see what I can come up with left to my own devices. One analogy is that creativity is kind of like a muscle, the more you use it the stronger it gets and the better your judgement develops, I think this is true for any art, so for me it’s become important to try and write music on my own on a regular basis. Anyway, on “Third Vessel” , the first track “Varkala” is dedicated to a beautiful town in Kerala, South India where I spent a happy few weeks. Throughout the album, I do a little bit of spoken word, so there are some Sufi stories, my son babbling in his baby talk, and a few other things, like the serious sounding German telephone operator on “Phone Matters” all used to illustrate the theme of communication, which is what the album is all about in a very general sense. “PVZ” was inspired by the life of a Hungarian writer named Geza Csath who lived in the early part of the 20th Century and was something of a polymath, a gifted writer and also a composer, violinist, and critic. He was certainly a philanderer, as his diary shows, but he’s a fascinating character to me. He was almost like a proto William Burroughs but many years before. Csath was also a physician, giving him access to the hard drugs which eventually destroyed him.
I was a huge fan of his writing, and his life story is an abject lesson in wasted talent, very tragic. There’s a Hungarian film called “Opium” , well worth seeing, in which the main character is clearly based on him. I do a little spoken word adapted from some of his texts, but it’s more or less an instrumental album.
- Do you think commercialization has creeped in way to much into music today than say 20 years back?
Colin: I’ve never paid too much attention to mainstream commercial music, but it certainly seems that way. Back in the 1980’s some quite odd, unlikely or even underground bands could have hit singles, and get mass media coverage, but there doesn’t seem to be anything comparable today. The good news is that there’s plenty of good stuff around if you want to look for it, and with the internet it’s easier to find.
- Tell us a bit about Metallic taste of blood.
Colin: Metallic Taste of Blood is really myself and Italian experimental musician Eraldo Bernocchi. We met through the internet, and when he found out I was a fan of his music, he suggested we meet up when I played in Italy. We hit it off really well and decided to work together. The first album was a very spontaneous creation, we worked with no set plan, just following our instincts. Eraldo suggested Balazs Pandi on drums and he in turn suggested Jamie Saft on keyboards. So it’s four people from different musical worlds and on paper it probably shouldn’t work, but I am very proud of the result, to me it’s the most original thing I’ve ever been involved in, and it has a clear emotional flow. I think it’s perhaps a “marmite” album, some people really love it, I still get lots of messages about it, and other people don’t get it, but that’s fine. There’s actually a feeling behind the whole thing which became evident. The name of the band refers to the taste which you may initially find unsettling, say when you mistakenly bite your lip and draw blood, but eventually you might somehow enjoy it, or in a similar way, think of how you might enjoy a horror film, it can be cathartic and uplifting to experience dischord. We will have another album out next year, this time with Ted Parsons (Swans/Prong/Killing Joke/Godflesh etc) on drums and Roy Powell (Naked Truth/Mumpbeak) on keyboards, who played live with us last year. It’ll be a little different of course, but the big elemental sounds and slight feeling of discomfort will still be there to enjoy.
- What advice would you give to budding bassists on learning the art of playing bass and perfecting it ?
Colin: There are no short cuts, you have to work on getting a good technique, work on having a good sound, and work on all the other aspects of music too. Try an get out and play with all types of people and keep your ears open. Don’t neglect seemingly basic things and persevere. Learn to listen to yourself and how you fit with other musicians, and try and make your approach valuable to whoever you work with.
- Do you have any future projects planned out with Steven Wilson. Give us a sneak peek into your future solo projects .
Colin: I have no plans to do anything with Steven, and Porcupine Tree have nothing planned for the foreseeable future.
As for me, next out (in October) will be a new album with myself and US guitarist Jon Durant. It’s the third time I have made a record with Jon and I think we have made our best yet, it’s a clear development from the last one “Burnt Belief” which came out late 2012.
Jon is a wonderful guy and great guitarist, we certainly have a productive connection so I hope we can also organise some live dates. In between the last album and this one, Jon and I played a couple of live dates with two fantastic female singers from Kiev, so we have a bunch of recorded material with them that I hope will also find a release in due course.
I have also been steadily working with various people, and recently I have made good progress on a bunch of instrumental music with Estonian guitarist Robert Jurjendal, some song based material with my RJ, old buddy from Random Noise Generator, the next Metallic Taste of Blood album is in the closing stages and due out early 2015. I should also mention that my Endless Tapes project will hopefully release a full length album before too long, we’re keen to do some more gigs too.
- Any plans of touring India. Have you listened to any Indian bands/artists recently?
Colin: I would jump at the chance to visit India again, but sadly no plans yet. I have listened to a lot of music from India over the years, mostly those more well known in the West of course, but I would be keen to hear more. I used to go and see Indian bassist Shri who played in London a lot in the late 90’s, he’s made some great albums, anyone interested should check out “Drum the Bass” and his work with the DJ Badmarsh. I have been lucky enough to meet and play informally with a few Indian musicians, and I have also worked with Indian born guitarist Rajan Spolia, whose album I produced a few years ago, he plays some marvellous guitar on a load of tracks with my Ex-Wise Heads project.
- While coming up with a 30 minute track like Voyage 34, how do you guys manage to turn it into a reality and with such perfection considering the length of the track?
Colin: To me, the length of a track in minutes is irrelevant, I think the main thing is to have a strong narrative flow that makes sense. All very subjective of course. It’s slightly more challenging to create a long piece of music that remains engaging all the way through, but that’s where good judgement comes in.
- Tell us a bit about your weapons of choice.
Colin: I was lucky enough to have a beautiful fretless bass made for me by US company Spector a couple of years ago, and that has become a firm favourite. I am also using an old Ovation Magnum for heavy dub type sounds with Metallic Taste of Blood and I still use my Wal basses a lot, but actually I have quite a bass collection and they all get used, as I tend to make a choice depending on what sounds I am looking for to go with what music I am playing at the time.
- What is the best thing about what you do i.e make music?
Colin: One of the big side benefits for me has been the travel, I don’t mean the tedious process of getting on and off aeroplanes and all the waiting around, but I have got to see a lot of places that I always wanted to visit and a few I never thought I’d ever get to. I have found that in most places, as a musician, the locals usually want to show you a good time and for you to enjoy your visit to their corner of the planet. Also, Music is also a constantly fascinating and absorbing process, working with different people who may bring out in you something that surprises you, it’s very rewarding.
- When are we seeing Porcupine tree back together?
Colin: There’s no timetable for anything yet, and no plans to do anything.
- Thank you Colin for your time. Leave a message for your fans here in India.
Colin: Thanks for all your support! I am hoping my next visit to India will be sooner rather than later, and I’d like to invite anyone interested to check my website (www.colinedwin.co.uk) and my blog: (colinedwin.blogspot.co.uk)