Trees and Beliefs. An interview with Colin Edwin of Porcupine Tree.
Porcupine Tree, a world renowned progressive rock band, is currently on hiatus. However, Colin Edwin, bassist, has kept himself busy as well. On December 21, 2012, his collaboration with Jon Durant was released. The all instrumental album encompasses some incredible soundscapes, and is a powerful accomplishment for Colin Edwin. His innovative bass playing fleshes out the ambiance of the music.
Recently, Colin took the time to sit down and answer a few questions for us. He gave some incredible insight on his views of music, where he is musically, and possibly where he would like to go. Read for yourself, below!
While Porcupine Tree has been on hiatus, you seem to have remained busy. On December 21, 2012, you released your collaboration with guitarist Jon Durant, titled “Burnt Belief“. This isn’t your first collaboration with him, either. What led up to the collaboration on this project and Durant’s album “Dance of the Shadow Planets”?
I first met Jon Durant whilst touring in the USA with Porcupine Tree a few years ago and we kept in touch sporadically. Sometime later he invited me back to the USA to play bass on Dance of the Shadow Planets, which was recorded completely live in a studio in New Hampshire. The whole process went really well, and much better than I think either of us expected. I found my role within Jon’s framework very easily, so I was hoping that we might work together again.
About this time last year, Jon mentioned to me that he’d like my involvement on his next album, but he told me he hadn’t really formulated a plan and didn’t have much material ready to work on. I suggested that I might do some audio processing of his ambient guitar soundscapes to help kick start the process, and he was immediately enthusiastic about the ideas that I sent him, so it all grew for there.
While we were working on “Burnt Belief”, I had the feeling that we were inspiring each other as we were going along, and despite the remote recording process, which was the exact opposite of how Shadow Planets happened, I never felt there was anything lacking. My role expanded from bassist, to bassist and co-composer and co-leader quite naturally.
It’s sometimes difficult for those who are usually more in control to be more open to others in a collaborative setting, but I think Jon welcomed giving up the reigns he’d been used to as a leader on his previous albums.
On “Burnt Belief”, did you play your fretless bass? What led to the decision of what equipment you used for the recording?
Yes, there’s a lot of fretless bass on “Burnt Belief”, I’d say about 80%. I thought that the expressive possibilities of playing a fretless would fit really well in the context of the music on the album and of course it’s an instrument and sound I really love, however, I try and avoid it being too obvious a sonic choice sometimes, so there are some other bass sounds on “Burnt Belief” too, like my heavily flanged Wal played with a pick on “The Weight of Gravity”.
It’s funny to me now that I went for years playing fretless almost exclusively, and then I kind of gave it up for a while to re-evaluate it, but nobody ever asked me about it until I stopped using it so much, then I used to get “Why don’t you play the fretless bass anymore?” from lots of people.
Now, more often than not, if somebody wants me to guest with them, they ask me to play fretless….
On the last track “Arcing Towards Morning” Jon and I both made a conscious decision that after all the electronics in the other tracks, we felt it was important to have some really organic and earthy, natural sounds, so Jon stuck to his 12 string acoustic guitar and acoustic piano, and I played my double bass.
A video for “Semazen” from Burnt Belief was recently released. Did you have a hand in production or design of the video itself? If you did, what were your thoughts behind it?
Actually, I had no input on the video for “Semazen”, which was all Jon Durant’s work. He discussed concept with me and I said “Yeah, go for it”.
Jon understands graphic design very well and he’s also a very good photographer (the “Burnt Belief’ album cover photo is one of his), which is an interest we both share.
During Porcupine Tree’s downtime, have you compiled some musical ideas for the next record, or are you waiting to collaborate together?
I tend to pool ideas pretty much all the time, and I spend regular blocks of time doing sort of research and development sessions. Sometimes this means exploring musical ideas, like a set of rhythms, and sometimes maybe working out the sonic possibilities of a piece of gear, like an effects pedal for example. I’ll record everything and then revisit it to see if I can develop it further myself, or maybe with the involvement of others.
So I have a folder full of short musical sketches, like chord sequences or riffs and bass lines, and these will be sifted through and presented for exploration whenever the time comes to work with somebody else, whether it’s with the other guys in Porcupine Tree or Metallic Taste of Blood or whatever the next thing might be.
I think of creativity as being like a muscular activity, you need to exercise it as much as you can for it to improve, and to develop your judgment about how that idea might work in a certain context.
One thing I will say though, I am nearly always wrong when I try and second guess what people might like to use out of a given set of ideas.
Herd of Instinct, another progressive rock outfit, have you guesting with your fretless bass on a couple of songs. Is there anything you can tell us about this collaboration?
I wasn’t very familiar with the band or the material before they contacted me, but I related immediately to where they were coming from, a sort of mutated King Crimson-sque abstract landscape.
Sometimes as a bass player I play on things that are in the early stages of being developed, and the finished thing might bear little resemblance to what I’d played to at the beginning, before everyone else does their overdubs. The Herd of Instinct guys gave me complete freedom and I think it was an occasion where they were probably looking for a different take on what they might have had already, since the material was pretty well developed by the time it got to me. I found my own space in it quite quickly and easily, so it was very satisfying to do.
There was one strange piece of synchronicity as well. One of the tracks they chose for me to work on is called “A Sense of an Ending” which was the exact same title I had been using for something I was developing at the time.
“Octane Twisted” was also recently released, on 19 November 2012. How do you feel about the quality of the live recording?
I think “Octane Twisted” is a good live document of ‘The Incident’ tour. We had a lot of discussions about what tracks we were going to include on the album, but I am pretty happy with the way it came out. It has the most vibrant version of “Hatesong” I think we’ve ever released, it catches the Incident material in good form in front of one of our favorite audiences in Chicago, plus a few old fan favourite songs that rarely get a live airing, like the full length “Even Less”.
What kind of influences do you have on your playing and writing? Are there any ‘recent’ or ‘modern’ bands that have given you some ideas?
I have musical influences for sure, but for me the whole point is to move beyond them, and develop my own thing in the process of working with others, which is where I’ve really learnt a lot over the years.
Outside of music, I get a lot of inspiration from photography, which is a big hobby of mine, and also travelling whenever I get the opportunity. The possibility to travel to places I would otherwise never see was a big motivating factor for me wanting to be a full-time musician in the first place.
I also think a lot about music in cinematic terms. It’s an abstract idea, but a great film director can draw you in to their narrative and lead you somewhere else with their use of form, space and light and shade, in the same way, I think music should engage you emotionally and take you somewhere as a listener, otherwise it’s a pointless technical exercise with no depth.
As for current bands, there’s some great stuff out there, I love the Deftones, I really “got them” after seeing them live a little while back and revisited all the old stuff too.
Karnivool’s last album “Sound Awake” is still a regular on my system, I think they have something new coming out soon, I spent some in Australia and saw the Karnivool related band Floating Me, who made another great album that definitely deserves a much wider audience. The UK band We Fell to Earth I discovered last year, and I couldn’t stop listening to them for ages. I also enjoy the interlocking guitars of Foals, and the minimalism and collective group improvisation of Nick Bartsch’ s Ronin.
Usually, I like to finish an interview with a random question. A band was created to write a concept album based on your life and accomplishments. You are given free reign on who to hire for the band, the band name, and the album title. Who would you choose as members, and what would the band name and album title be?”
That’s a really good question.
It might not be obvious, but my life has a lot of benign turmoil going on most of the time, so I think “Tame Chaos” might be an appropriate title for both band and album.
So I’d have people from wildly different backgrounds trying to find common ground, perhaps Diamanda Galas on vocals, Ginger Baker on drums, Brian Eno on keyboards, Eberhard Weber on bass, and Tony Iommi on guitar, but I’d limit him to playing acoustic guitar only. The band would be joined by an unknown Australian aboriginal who would be a complete virtuoso didgeridoo player, and Dr. Dre would hold it all together somehow.
Keep up with Colin Edwin below:
Sample the Colin Edwin/Jon Durant album below:
Watch the Semazen video below: