Steven Wilson

On this day in 1967, musician Steven John Wilson was born in the Kingston upon Thames section of London to music-loving parents. His father, an electronic engineer, built him a multi-track tape recorder and a type of synthesizer called a vocoder. Wilson's first instrument was a guitar but he grew to learn to play others, including keyboards, autoharp, hammered dulcimer and flute. The rock group Porcupine Tree, for which he's most well-known, started as his solo project in 1987 before disbanding in 2010.

Associated mainly with progressive rock, Wilson's influences and work as a composer, performer and producer have encompassed genres such as psychedelia, pop, extreme metal, electronic and jazz. He's worked with groups like King Crimson, Pendulum, Jethro Tull, Yes, Tears for Fears, Roxy Music and Anathema. The Daily Telegraph in 2017 called him "the most successful British artist you've never heard of" in that he has avoided mainstream music, an industry he calls "dreadful."

Wilson has been nominated four times for Grammy Awards, twice with Porcupine Tree, with his collaborative band Storm Corrosion and as a soloist. He was crowned "king of prog rock" in 2015 at the Progressive Music Awards in London. AllMusic.com credits him on 976 different releases as either songwriter, instrumentalist or producer.

Wilson, an atheist, frequently criticizes religion in his songs. His 2017 album "To the Bone" includes the track “People Who Eat Darkness,” which is about living next door to a fundamentalist religious terrorist and being none the wiser. The song “Last Chance to Evacuate Planet Earth” (2001) commented on the disturbing details behind the Heaven’s Gate cult's mass suicide in 1999. “Prodigal” from Porcupine Tree’s 2003 album "In Absentia" says "I tried to find myself a better way/I got religion but I went astray/They took my money and I lost my faith.”

Wilson is a vegetarian who doesn't smoke or do recreational drugs and drinks only occasionally. In a 2012 interview he said "a lot of musicians produce fantastic work in their 20s that’s incredibly creative and prolific. By the time they get to 30, they get married and have kids. Suddenly, the music starts to get more predictable. I think that’s because they become focused on other things and the music becomes a job as opposed to being a vocation. That’s never happened to me. I don’t have a family. I’m not interested in having a family. Some people might think that’s very tragic and sad. I don’t. It’s not for me." 

Wilson in Bologna, Italy, in February 2019. Photo via Shutterstock by Carlo Vergani.

INNERVIEWS: Are you an atheist?
WILSON: I guess I am in some ways your archetypal atheist. I think the whole myth of religion is absolutely absurd. I say this with the caveat that I understand it brings happiness to people who would otherwise be unhappy. There is comfort in it for people who would otherwise be tortured by their own existence and all that stuff. I appreciate those reasons and arguments, but at the end of the day, I’m afraid it’s just a silly fairy tale that mankind has dreamed up because of our fear of death. It’s as simple as that.

—Innerviews online music magazine (2012)

Compiled by Colin McNamara and Bill Dunn

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