Demetris "All Around"
Is there any “gentle giant” out there? Is there any musician that unfolds her/his massive music potential with such dexterity but, simultaneously, with such humility? Sure, there is! And one of them is Colin Edwin of PORCUPINE TREE (and of so many great music projects out there, to be fair with) who bites his “humble pie” food and testifies numerous facets of his personality as a musician and as an individual! Enjoy the man behind one of the most memorable bass lines of our era!
Dear Colin, thank you very much for your participation in that interview! It’s our honor!
Where are you now? Where this interview finds you?
At my home, in an usually warm English afternoon.
Could you give us a brief (as much as you can, haha!) catalogue of your collaborations until today? I believe the catalogue is unending!!
Outside of Porcupine Tree, Ex-Wise Heads has been the longest running thing I’ve been involved in, starting in 1998 when I met former Henry Cow sax player and flautist Geoff Leigh. We’re still working together, we played a few sporadic gigs over the last year or two which has been very enjoyable.
We’re taking our time on the next album, as we’re trying to get the music somewhere different again from where we’ve been before.
Random Noise Generator came out of a desire to just do some relatively straight forward rock, in a group situation with regular rehearsals. Our first album came out in 2003, and we recorded a second album which has never seen the light of day.
The guys are still good friends and I am now working on new solo material with help from RJ, the singer.
Under the name Endless Tapes I’ve been developing some instrumental music with Italian multi-instrumentalist and drummer Alessandro Pedretti. Our first EP release came out in July and we’re planning to put out a full length album next year.
Metallic Taste of Blood, which came out in 2012, was a real organic growth of ideas that came from me meeting up with Eraldo Bernocchi, it was a great process and I am very happy with the results, there will be more for sure.
Right now I am also working on a follow-up to Burnt Belief, my 2012 collaboration with US guitarist Jon Durant. Jon is coming to the UK this month and the two of us will also be performing in London with Astarta/Edwin, which is me joining up with two fantastic female singers from Ukraine. I was introduced to their music whilst performing in Kiev with Ex-Wise Heads. We’ve performed together a couple of times before and we’re also now in the closing stages of a full album of music based on Ukrainian folk elements, which is their area of expertise, mixed with my input. I like to think of it as ‘Collision Music’, we come from completely different areas, geographically and musically, but we are making something unique and also it’s taking us out of our comfort zones and leading us somewhere I for one feel good about.
I’ve been working sporadically on the next album with Tim Bowness’s Slow Electric project, which has also led to me playing bass with Henry Fool, one of his other bands who play in much more jazz-rock style, the material works very well live so I hope there will be more live shows. I have just finished tracking bass for a slew of new material but I am not aware of any release schedule.
The next release I am involved in will be Twinscapes, which is an unusual thing because it’s me collaborating with another bass player, something I’d wanted to do for a long time.
It came out of an invitation I had earlier this year to do a gig with Lorenzo Feliciati, an Italian bassist who was in England doing a short UK tour had a day free in London during his trip. We met up, rehearsed for a few hours and then played a small gig, which went really well. We both felt we’d like to explore our chemistry, so that’s exactly what we’ve been doing, with help from some guest musicians that we both admire.
You’ll be able to hear the results in February 2014, when the album will be out on Rarenoise.
I learnt about you from PORCUPINE TREE’s “Signify”. When I heard that record and your bass, I was totally thrilled! Glory record! What was your approach on that record? And, in general, in every recording procedure?
As far as bass playing goes, I’ve always really had the same approach.
I try to play strong supportive lines, and to inject some character but without detracting from the other instruments or voices in a band. I also try and be as sonically aware as I can. A lot of the time, less really is more in a group situation, so having an appropriate tone is very important. I am naturally a bit of a minimalist and I tend to be economical but I try not to be too obvious.
I was amazed by the sound mix your debut album with METALLIC TASTE OF BLOOD? A stunning album! How is that record going? A few things about the songs and their concept? Any plans for live sessions?
There was no real discussion about conceptual things, rather, it was all a very open and exploratory process. Actually, I am very proud of the album as I think it’s really a good balance between disciplined playing and freedom that we got just about right.
It was very well received by both metal heads and jazz types, two mostly divergent audiences and a lot of people tell me it’s a real “grower”, which is always a good thing. We did take the band live earlier this year for a one-off festival performance and I can confirm that the music certainly “cooks” in a live context too, something I was confident about anyway.
I also had Matthew Richards of DANCING FOR ARCHITECTURE on chat recently and he told me about your participation in his album “Morphology”. How was that collaboration?
It’s always good to find an interesting musical context for me to play bass in, and I really enjoyed working on Matthew’s music. The material was mostly very well developed by time it reached me, but it was very rewarding to play and I found my space in it to our mutual satisfaction. I found that his tunes have a kind of “earworm” quality, and I’d find the themes stuck in my head hours later.
You really seem to have a minimalistic, low profile, but also robust approach in your bass sound. It’s so memorable that I could recognize it from miles away! And it grooves Colin, it grooves! How do you accomplish that? (e.g., see your whole bass approach in the “Hatesong” of PT).
I love the idea of repetition in music and I often try and come up with basslines that are like “hooks”. If you get it right, a repetitive line can be a very powerful thing that can underpin a whole composition. Hatesong is a good example of that, no matter how often we’ve played it, it never gets tired for me. I am very happy to hear you find my lines memorable because it’s exactly what I’d hope for!
What would you say technically to a bassist that would ask you about the specific sound techniques that you use to produce a bass sound like yours? Otherwise, what are the specifications of your sound? Also, to a bassist who wants to become a pro and, in general, a better musician.
The first thing to realise is that your fingers are the beginning of the chain of tone, and can be much more important than your equipment in shaping your sound, so it’s important to understand and experiment with touch. I learnt a lot about this through playing the double bass, as being an acoustic instrument, your own hands really make it.
Choose an instrument that feels good to you and ignore the trends. As an example, I bought my Wal basses when they were cheap and out of vogue, but they were my ‘workhorses’ for years and are now highly sought after, once people realised what good quality and sound they were, they became collectible again.
For any bass player I think developing a strong inner clock is really essential, it can really give you a lot of confidence and that will, in turn make the rest of the band feel better. I’ve spent a lot working of time with metronomes and I can recommend that experience.
Above all, learn to be sympathetic and supportive to the situation you are playing in, and it really helps if you can be detached from your own ego and hear the bigger picture. I will share one quote I keep finding to be true, I am not sure who said it but it’s great advice: “Think of something to play and then play half of what you first thought of” - it really works for me I have to say.
Do you play other instruments? Do you write lyrics?
I enjoy playing the guitar, but I like to use it as a noise machine and treat it with a lot of effects. I actually enjoy programming rhythmic things, drum machines and so forth and manipulating audio to create textural things, there’s a lot of that on Burnt Belief.
I also dabble with some instruments I’ve picked up on my travels, the Turkish saz, a guimbri from Morocco and I still play upright bass, but not as much as I’d like to.
I am not really a lyricist, although it’s something I’d like to explore, I am fascinated by text and I have done some spoken word on my solo albums.
Also, what a record “Burnt Belief” is! Marvellous! I personally liked “Uncoiled”, “The weight of gravity” and “Balthasar’s key”! How would you describe its sound? With which of the songs are you more connected and why? Is this a concept album or a set of songs?
Burnt Belief was a very instinctive extension of my previous work with Jon Durant. I went from being the bassist on his previous album to co-composer and collaborator as well, growing into the role if you like. I think Jon recognized that I understood completely where he was coming from, so he was happy to have my input expand, as we really got on well whilst making “Dance of the Shadow Planets”, for my part I found his music a very natural setting for me to work in.
Sometimes it’s difficult for someone who is used to being in control, Jon having been leader on all his previous albums, to relax that control, but with Jon there are no issues, we have a lot of common ground musically and there is total trust.
There’s an ambient influence running through all the things I get involved in, even the heavier moments of Metallic Taste of Blood, and Burnt Belief is another thing that has that thread, although it’s probably closer to what people think of as ambient music than anything else I do. Really I just want to make very immersive, absorbing music, something listeners can really get lost in and explore, which is what I look for in things I listen too. My personal favourite on the album is “The Weight of Gravity”, I think it captures what we are about, and it has a fantastic guitar solo from Jon.
There is a concept behind Burnt Belief, Jon and I share a fascination with delusional behaviour and what we all accept as reality, but I prefer that people find their own resonance with things, that way, they feel it deeper.
Which are your favorite music songs during your lifetime? Also, your influences as a musician?
I was lucky to grow up in a very musical household, so all sorts of things have entered my head from a young age and I also listen to a lot of different types of music that I don’t go anywhere near with a bass.
I like to think my influences have become less overtly musical and more conceptual,
through my interactions and experiences. I go through stages with my listening habits, periods of listening to lots of music and then times where I only hear the music I am working on, or playing.
However, there’s quite a few albums that I can revisit and that still feel fresh to me every time: Captain Beefheart’s “Trout Mask Replica”, Can’s “Ege Bamyasi”, Killing Joke’s first two albums, Brian Eno’s 70’s albums, David Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy, Bless the Weather by John Martyn, Gong’s “You”, to name some.
Recently, I’ve been listening a lot to a band called Dawn of Midi and Nick Bartsch’s Ronin.
I am afraid I am pushing myself to make the question that’s a little bit pressing and clumsy sometimes, but I am taking the temptation! Is PORCUPINE TREE going to return some day with a record? Are there any plans about that in the future? I read that Steven is more dedicated to his band now and you all have great collaborations with other musicians. Is that a moment where you search for more different and independent music territories?
As primarily a bass player I find music is something that I need to do with others rather than on my own, so I am always thinking about new situations to play in.
The lack of Porcupine Tree activity has given me the opportunity to get involved in some completely new things, the band being kind of all consuming with the touring schedule we had for years.
As the saying goes, the journey is more important that the destination, so the search will never stop.
Sorry to disappoint you, but there are no plans in place for any further Porcupine Tree activity at the moment.
What’s your personal philosophy in life? How do you overcome barriers and how do you use your strengths?
I have noticed in my life that the smallest, chance happenings can sometimes have a big, and normally a positive effect on my direction, so I try and keep myself open to whatever crosses my path, that’s not really a developed philosophy but rather a mindset. I try and push the barriers of my comfort zone to develop my abilities.
Perhaps foolishly, I tend to see the positive side of things, and I think of problematic situations as being ones you can learn from.
Is there any genre of music that you haven’t played yet and you’d like to play if you had the opportunity?
There are certainly plenty of genres I’d like to explore, and I can enjoy playing most things. I have a strong affinity for dub and also for the ECM style of atmospheric jazz, so it would be great to find an opportunity to play something that marries those two areas.
What is prog rock for you? And prog music in general, anyway? We think this is a concept and not a genre, as many believe.
In truth I am very wary of labels. For years Porcupine Tree being labelled a progressive rock band was a great hindrance to us really, as very few people were interested in anything under that banner, certainly in the UK. It’s a label that attracts some really passionate and open minded listeners for the most part, so I hope there will always be a way of reaching those people, as, although the prog label no longer turns people off like it used to, doubtless it will become a turn-off again at some point in our cyclic culture.
We’ve reached the stage with Rock music where it’s become like jazz or classical music in that there is now a “classic” repertoire, and sound, but that shouldn’t mean you can’t transcend your influences and try new things, and really progressive musicians should look forward rather than backwards, so I totally agree with you about prog being a concept, to think of it as a genre is limiting.
Also, what do you think about the future of prog rock and prog music in general? Are there any ways for the betterment of its promotion through internet and other means?
I do find it really strange that because of the internet, the past is now present in our lives in a way it really hasn’t been before. Look up the most obscure music you half remember from your youth and you can probably find it, and I am sure we can all think of people from our distant pasts who’ve tracked us down and surprised us.
It worries me a little that some musicians get a little too referential with their output because they can draw on the past so readily.
However, one big benefit of the internet is that any kind of non-mainstream music now has a chance to find an audience somewhere, which is good, but it’s just as hard to grow something “fringe” as it ever was, there is a lot of stuff out there, and everyone is a critic now. The future for all musicians is not looking great really with the decline in traditional record and CD sales and so forth.
Tell us a few things about some of your plans for the short- or the long-term future.
This month my priorities are to finish the Twinscapes album with Lorenzo Feliciati, perform live with Astarta/Edwin and work on the new material with Jon Durant, then I’ll be preparing to go to Budapest for the recording sessions for the next Metallic Taste of Blood album in November. Long term, I want to take both Endless Tapes and Twinscapes live, we are currently planning the feasibility of a series of small club dates next year.
I had watched you and PORCUPINE TREE back in 2005 in the “Deadwing” tour, in Thessaloniki, Northern Greece! Any memories from our country and that live?
Greece has always been a great place for Porcupine Tree, the two shows there in 2010 were amazing, and probably the best.
Truthfully, I can’t think of a time when it was less than brilliant, the audiences always receptive and warm.
A message from your part for the listeners of JustIn Case Prog Radio and for all prog’n’rollers out there is…
Thanks for your support, and interest in my humble self...!
Anything that you might add?
Keep your ears open.
Dear Colin, thanks a lot about answering those few (lol!!!!) questions!
Demetris “All Around”
Founder and Progducer of JustIn Case Radio (www.justincaseradio.com)