Porcupine Tree Writing Style

Through all my lyric writing sessions, I plan to help you understand how good lyrics are written by showing you many different, but equally valid lyrical styles.

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In this lesson, we will examine how Steven Wilson from the band, Porcupine Tree writes some of his lyrics.

The style that I will describe today doesn't apply to every single song that he has ever written, but in my opinion is one of the more powerful techniques that he has used.

It's Called the "Feeling - Story" Technique.

What He Does

Steven Wilson takes a situation. He find a feeling, or an idea that he wants to portray.

After he has found what exactly he is trying to portray, he finds a way to paint the picture of this happening.

Now this often happens by him putting a more specific story into his songs. I realize I'm being very general here, but I promise I will focus and hone in on what he does exactly.

Steven Wilson

For example, if he was trying to create the feeling of anger or hate, he might write a song from the perspective of someone who's wife had just been murdered.

To the untrained ear, you might just think the song is about Steven Wilson's wife being murdered, but if you look closer, he might put cues in the song to help you realize that the song is a metaphor, and that he is just trying to show his anger.

That is just an example that I made up. Now take a look at an actual example of Porcupine Tree's song, "Way Out Of Here".

Porcupine Tree - Way Out Of Here

Way Out Of Here

Out at the train tracks
I dream of escape
But a song comes onto my iPod
And I realize it's getting late

I can't take the staring
And the sympathy
And I don't like the questions,
"How do you feel?"
"How's it going in school?"
"Do you want to talk about it?"

Way out, way out of here
Fade out, fade out, vanish

And I'm trying to forget you
And I know that I will
In a thousand years
Or maybe a week

Burn all your pictures
Cut out your face
The shutters are down
And the curtains are closed
And I've covered my tracks
Disposed of the car

And I'm trying to forget
Even your name
And the way that you look
When you're sleeping, dreaming of this...

Way out, way out of here
Fade out, fade out, vanish

After reading that, you need to ask yourself, "What is the #1 point that he is trying to make in this song?".

The song is from the perspective of a child who has an obviously intolerable life ("I dream of escape"), and not nearly enough autonomy in it either.

The child wishes he could disappear, vanish, and just escape his life (because of the emotional pain that he is feeling in his life).

I would believe that this is most likely because of having his heart broken by a woman, likely one that he had an intimate relationship with ("And I'm trying to forget even your name, the way that you look when you're sleeping").

What Cues Did Steven Wilson Use?

Lets take a look at the first 2 Verses.

Out at the train tracks
I dream of escape
But a song comes onto my iPod
And I realize it's getting late

I can't take the staring
And the sympathy
And I don't like the questions,
"How do you feel?"
"How's it going in school?"
"Do you want to talk about it?"

Considering that Steven Wilson is in his 40's, we can assume that when he was a child, the "iPod" did not exist.

On top of that, he isn't in school either. Automatically we know that this portion of the song is:

  1. Not about him
  2. A metaphor to show that he feels the need to escape

Now, let's examine Verses 3,4, and 5.

And I'm trying to forget you
And I know that I will
In a thousand years
Or maybe a week

Burn all your pictures
Cut out your face
The shutters are down
And the curtains are closed
And I've covered my tracks
Disposed of the car

And I'm trying to forget
Even your name
And the way that you look
When you're sleeping, dreaming of this...

Now this seems more like it. You can tell that it no longer seems to be a metaphor, or about someone else, but shows a true situation that Wilson may have gone through.

These Verses focus mainly on what happens after you lose someone you love and have your heart broken. You "Burn all their pictures" or "Cut out their face".

The Chorus

Now the Chorus is really important. For the Chorus, you want to narrow down as much as you possibly can, and tell the listener what your main idea is.

One thing that you can learn from Steven, is to put the most focused idea in your song in the Chorus.

For Example, the main idea of this song was that he was looking for a way out of his life. So what are the lyrics of the Chorus?

"Way out of here."

That's it.

I can imagine what the internal dialogue when writing these lyrics might have sounded like.

"I want to communicate that I really need to escape from my life. I'm miserable, and the overwhelming need to escape is really just crushing down on me.

Maybe the lyric could be:

"Crushing the life out of me".

Nah, that''s pretty cheesy and far too obvious. Maybe something else...

"Find me an escape from here"

Well...that's a bit more on the ball, but it doesn't really flow well. It's a bit clunky, and I think I could condense it even more.

"Find me a way out of here"

That's much better! But I still see some extra words in there that are really going to detract. How about this...

"Way out of here".

Perfect. I don't think I could say my message for needing an escape any clearer, nor could I say it in less words.

Take your time. As in the internal dialogue above, you may need to re-work your chorus a few times to get it right. That's part of editing, and is normal.

Take home lesson for the chorus: Say it in as few words as possible. Make every word count.

Bringing The Song Together

In the 1st section of the song, we saw a fictional story about a young boy who has trouble in school and wants a way out of life.

This part is not a story about Steven Wilson. It is either meant to be a metaphor, or is about someone else.

Now in the 2nd part, he tells his own story. His story still has the same purpose...that he needs a way out.

As you can see, taking the "1st person narrative" can be a very powerful technique if you decide to incorporate it into your own writing style. You talk from someone else's point of view so that it's much easier for the listener to empathize and relate with you.

How You Can Do it

Here's a checklist of the process of thoughts to help you process this style of lyric writing:

  1. Find a main idea or feeling you want to get across.
  2. Look for different angles on the idea. If it is a feeling, make a list of all the different situations that could cause someone to feel this way.
  3. Take your list, and choose 1 or 2 of the situations.
  4. For each situation, try and get in the head of the person the situation would be happening. Your lyrics are your own, but for me, I would just write down the types of things they might think, or feelings that they would have. This needs to be a 1st person narrative.
  5. Optional: Now take your own, real life situation, and try and write down the feelings that you have, any specific situations you might have had.
  6. Spend extra time on the Chorus to tell the listener what your main idea is in as few words as possible. Make every word count.

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About The Writer

My name is Andrew Muller. I love creative art, music, television shows, movies, video games, and a good story.

If you had to find me somewhere, you would probably find me down at O'neils home cooking eating an organic sweet-potato bun breakfast sandwich with ham.

Among my friends, it's a "Muller Classic Move" to eat Mcdonald's at 2am because it's cheap and open 24/7. The joke here is that I'm an idiot. 

I play drums, guitar, piano, and I write & perform music for My Goal Is Telepathy. Take a listen to the latest sound here.