Life is smiling on Steven Wilson. He has an international career, he’s working on four albums simultaneously, he has a small apartment by the sea, and every week he finds new friends at the local post office or the vegetable market. And all of this is happening right here in Israel.
It’s been five years since Wilson, 38, met Aviv Geffen and they formed the Blackfield band. They are working now on Blackfield’s second album, and Wilson has decided to move from London to Tel Aviv. “I’m trying to live here,” he explains. “I’m working with Blackfield so I’m taking advantage of the opportunity to try to live here, to meet people, to stroll around the town. Israel is a wonderful country, especially Tel Aviv.
“There are wonderful restaurants here, good food, amazing beaches, the most beautiful women in the world, a ton of really good reasons for living here,” he adds, watching the crowded street from our Tel Aviv cafe.
Wilson’s says he's often considered building a home in Israel, but says he's not quite ready to wash his hands of his native England. "It’s possible that Israel will be my second home, but it won’t be my only home. I really love the combination of Israel and England. They are completely different. The British are very private and keep things to themselves, while Israelis aren’t that way. In England I couldn't make friends with people in the supermarket or people who work at my bank or post office, but in Israel I can, and I like that.”
Here is something else you didn’t know about Steven Wilson: In London he lives in heavily Jewish Golders Green, where the main drag features synagogues, Jewish and Israeli restaurants and a Steimatzky’s book store. Wilson notes that while he has no Jewish family connections, he is connected to the Jewish community, both in Israel and in London, because he happens to live in Golders Green.
Wilson is currently involved in a number of musical projects. In addition to Blackfield’s next album, he is planning to put out an album this year with his Porcupine Tree band, and he has a new project with the vocalist for Opeth (for which he produced three albums) and Dream Theater’s drummer Mike Portnoy.
Early next year he plans to begin production on an album by Israeli metal band Orphaned Land. “I love to work, I have to work,” he explains. “I’m not prepared to give up any of my projects. When I was younger I worked for several years composing music for commercials, but I was very happy to give that up. I didn’t really like it, it was a way of financing my bands.
"Now, when everything is gaining momentum, I’m running from place to place and I’m crazy about that. I’m lucky that I have so many things that interest me and I can produce them all over the world. I’m not looking for a career in Israel, but I want my music to be international and to speak to everyone.”
How is work on Blackfield going?
“We have a collection of good songs, and only recently we started recording them in the studio. One of the great things is that both Aviv and I have a lot of old songs that you can arrange and recreate. We did that on the first album with Aviv’s songs, and we plan to do that this time as well. We definitely think of the album as a work for the international market, and not just as something for the Israeli public.
The first album came out in Israel before it came out in Europe, and that might have been a mistake. During the waiting period in Europe the public has time to hear it, to get interested, and to download songs, and then when the album arrives there is a bit less enthusiasm. That’s why we will probably try to release the next album all over the world at the same time. Most of the writing is being done by Aviv, and most of the singing and production is being done by me, so this is a real collaboration where each of us does what he knows how to do best.”
The romance between Geffen and Wilson is really a Hollywood love story. But Wilson had another romance with Israel.
“There’s an ironic twist to this story,” says Wilson. “It’s kind of a coincidence that as it turned out, she’s now living and working in London, but it’s not because of our relationship. The first time I came to Israel I was in shock. I wasn’t expecting such a pleasant, youthful, secular atmosphere, especially in Tel Aviv. I don’t really remember what exactly I was expecting, but I imagined something a lot more conservative and establishment.”
What do you not like about Israel?
“I don’t like the religious coercion. I am not a big fan of organized religion or even of religion at all. I do believe in spirituality and I do see myself as a spiritual person, but I think that God and Satan exist within people, and don’t hover over us. I believe that God is found in mother earth and within us.
"Many times religion promotes hate and friction between people. I don’t really like the religious side of Israel, although in Tel Aviv I hardly see it at all. Several days ago we played in a studio in Bnei Brak on Friday. After several hours we were told that we had to stop working because if we didn’t then the place would be fined because you aren’t allowed to play when the Sabbath begins. This method seems to me a bit unrealistic because it shows that someone is forcing his faith on me, and I don’t believe in those things.”
Falling in love
Apart from the women and the sea, Wilson also fits in musically in the humid city. Several weeks ago he appeared solo at Bloom Bar in Tel Aviv, a dimly-lit neighborhood pub on King George Street. “It’s a pub I go to often, and the owner is a really good friend of mine. He had a birthday and he asked me to play some songs and I agreed. And people came because it was publicized on the Internet, but it wasn’t something I'd have done in England. If I appeared in a small pub in London without telling anyone it would turn into a big deal with a lot of noise made about it, rather than an intimate approach with friends in the pub.”
“I understand that my choosing Israel sometimes seems surprising, perhaps because I have the chance to work in England as well as New York. But all my friends who came to visit me in Israel just fell in love with the place. There’s no reason not to.”
Do you like Israeli music?
“No. Ninety-nine percent of Israeli music is bad, 99 percent of British music is bad, 99.9 percent of American music is bad, 99 percent of music in general is bad. Full stop. Israel is no different; most of the music is crap, like everywhere else in the world. But there’s no doubt that Israel has a lot of talented musicians. Besides Orphaned Land, which I’m going to produce next year, I’ve heard several bands I really liked.
What would you advise Israeli bands that want to break into the international market?
“One of the main problems with young bands today is that most of them sound like well-known bands and try to be like them. This isn’t an Israeli problem, it happens all over the world. Many times I’ve received demo recordings or web sites e-mailed to me with songs by young bands, and many of them sounded like Porcupine Tree. On the one hand it’s very flattering and touching because it’s great to know that there are people who like your music, but it’s also insulting, because they people apparently didn’t really understand the music.
“We live in the age of downloading and the Internet. I believe it’s actually alternative bands like Porcupine Tree, Opeth, Flaming Lips, Blackfield, Tull, The Mars Volta, and Arctic Monkeys—they’re the ones who sell more albums in a time like this since they bring with them an album that is of one piece. This is spiritual and real. When fans really love their music they want to feel the finished product, to see the disc with their own eyes, to read the words on the album cover, they want to feel it. While most of the Internet age is based on singles, you can’t feel singles that you download from the Internet.”
“In the end,” he agrees, “the point is that you have to create something that no one else has done yet. It’s true that it’s a cliché and doesn’t sound possible, but it is. You want to play a 15-minute song? Do it. You want to form a band with three bass players? Go for it. You really don’t need to think how to obtain a different recording contract or how to act on the stage. Screw it, that isn’t important. You have a lot better chance to succeed if you just do what you love and just be yourself.”