Interview with Eric Woolfson

From the Italian music magazine "Nobody's Land - Frammenti dell'Utopia Progressiva" n. 23 - January 2006


Francesco Ferrua: Let's start with a question about your latest album, Poe. The notes on the booklet inform us that the album has been recorded between 1997 and 2003… a very long time. What's the main reason for this, and what songs have been recorded early and what were the latest to be put down on record?

Eric Woolfson: Because I was under no contractual obligation, I had the luxury of letting the project take as long as it took and as I wanted the final product to be free from artistic compromises, I allowed for a considerable amount of time in the studio. The way things were recorded was not one after the other, but rather sections of each song were worked on in parallel so there really is no order I could give you. But I can tell you that Immortal was the very last song to be completed.

F.F.: As for the meaning of your lyrics you say that you're like a mirror held before the listener, a mirror that lets everyone to give a personal deep meaning to them, so intimate that they help the listener to discover more deeply himself. This is surely true, but I also think that your lyrics tell a lot about yourself, as a man and an artist. For example, I'm thinking about You Don't Believe, that seems to be a critical comment about Alan, Limelight that seems to tell about your desire to go out from Alan shadow and show them all your importance inside the Project, or more recently Lonely Song where we can read "If fortune were my goal, fame was my ambition / why am I so afraid to face the crowd?" that seems to express deeply how much you're shy to appear on stage. And these are only some few examples… what do you feel to tell me about?

E.W.: However autobiographical or not these lyrics may or may not be, I believe it is more important not to try and influence the listener with my own interpretations. The only meaningful thing for a listener should be how he or she responds to the work so the mirror analogy really works for me.

F.F.: What has been the main reason why the Project didn't played concerts? Don't you think that the success could have been really bigger if you'd had carried your music live around the world?

E.W.: I absolutely agree with you, but at the time, Alan's role was not something that could be done on stage and he was unwilling to develop in that direction. But in any case, we were under such tight contractual obligations that there was no time to even contemplate touring as for half of the year, I was writing the material and the other half of the year we were recording it together and in between we were promoting the previously released album through press conferences, radio interview etc round the world.

F.F.: The Alan Parsons Project is one of those rare band that never released alternative versions or out-takes for the songs, probably because Alan himself took care of all your recordings, also for the single edits, and he took under his control all the tapes. Beside this, as a good producer as he is, Alan knew well when a song would had work or not and so almost everything you recorded has been published on your albums. Sicilian Defence is the only one Project album that is still unpublished and so, probably, this is the only one Project material still never heard. Could you tell us the genesis of this album and describe it? I know that it's an album totally instrumental done only in order to satisfy the Arista contract… this means that it's a poor album musically talking? Are you and Alan the only persons to play on it, or there's also the usual band and the orchestra?

E.W.: I'm afraid you have come to some wrong conclusions with your assumptions about how the recordings were made. The record company have the responsibility for marketing the product and they have shown no interest in developing alternative versions as far as I'm aware. In fact, the Arista label no longer exists as an independent entity and so there is really nobody I am aware of who has any interest in marketing the product in the way you suggest.

F.F.: Has been lost the master disc or it's still around and one day it could be released?

E.W.: It was agreed with the record company that the Sicilian Defence would not be released so I'm afraid that really is the end of the matter.

F.F.: If we compare an album like Tales Of Mystery And Imagination or I Robot with another like Ammonia Avenue or Vulture Culture we can hear without any doubt how with the flowing of the years your music became less experimental and innovative… then it became again more musically interesting with the final two chapters, Stereotomy and Gaudi. Is this due to a conscious choice or, more probably, to a pressure from the label?

E.W.: There was no artistic involvement from the label in the making of the recordings. From my point of view, the songs and instrumentals that I wrote were capable of being recorded in many different ways and this question, I suppose, really needs to be put to Alan as he was the engineer and producer who decided on the style of the recordings.

F.F.: To file the Project music under a musical genre it's always been an hard work. We could call it progressive or alternative rock, but in this case we'd have to differ from album to album. How would you define the Project music and what influences you think to have got from the major progressive rock bands?

E.W.: As you say, I don't think you can categorise all of the project recordings under a single heading. We were making recordings from a different perspective to everyone else at that time. Because there was no performing entity, we were making recordings of the highest technical studio quality, and as we were the only people who seemed to have that as their first priority, we were not copying anyone. As a writer, I am not restricted to one particular style which I think is reflected to some extent in the Project recordings. Although there were many other artists around who were making impressive records which we enjoyed and admired eg Police, Steely Dan, etc, etc, there was never any attempt to copy or be influenced by their works. In fact quite the opposite, if anything came out in the studio sounding as if it might be influenced, we made every effort to develop it into something else.

F.F.: All we know that you wrote all the Project songs, with the only exception of the instrumental tracks and some other rare cases. You wrote them, but then Alan developed them into the studio. So, on your opinion, what's been Alan contribution on the final result? I ask you this because I suspect that you see Alan's contribution as being only on the sound and arrangement side… so, once changed the arrangements Alan's contribution would be dead. It's so? And is this the reason why you decide to not credit Alan as co-author for the Project songs you used on your musicals?

E.W.: Again firstly to correct something you say, I also wrote a considerable number of the instrumentals. Alan's significant contribution was obviously as engineer and producer where he was responsible for the treatment and style of the recording. Alan's co-writing credit on the Project albums was a business arrangement which did not reflect his creative compositional input. This arrangement ended with the completion of the APP album Gaudi which was the last contracted album for Arista. On Freudiana, I am credited as the composer on all tracks exept one where Alan was credited as composer for a track he did indeed compose. Regarding credits for songs used in my musicals, the short answer is that Alan didn't write them, I did.

F.F.: I've seen Steps - The Making Of Gaudì Musical and this confirmed what I was always thinking: your dedication on your musicals is total, not only for the music and the book, but also for the casting, the rehearsals and the overall coordination. What are the main satisfactions you got writing musicals instead of write only albums as you did during the Project years?

E.W.: The satisfaction in writing for the theatre as opposed to making records comes after the fact. In the record business, the end product is a piece of plastic, whereas in the theatre, you are dealing with a multi-dimensional activity involving the talents and disciplines of other people, such as directors, choreographers, costume and set designers etc etc. Incidentally, they, not me, have the responsibility for making decisions on casting and so on, although they often refer to me as a courtesy.

F.F.: The credits on Gaudì Musical and Gambler are really thin and so we don't know who took parts in the recordings. Could you tell us what musicians and orchestras played on these albums? Did you played the piano and keyboards?

E.W.: As these recordings were not made like Project recordings, I did not feel it was necessary at the time to give as much information in the credits and unfortunately with the passage of time, it's hard to remember who was or wasn't involved. What I can tell you is that I did do much of the keyboard work with Haydn Bendall, my engineer who was another member of the Abbey Road Studios staff. We tended not to use conventional musicians on the backings because for the theatre, the approach to sound is very different to a record and so bringing in Project type bass, drums and guitars would not have been appropriate. This of course involved sacrificing recording quality as far as conventional records were concerned, but the priority here was the theatre. So keyboard synthesisers were used to make much of the sound, although we did add a full orchestra (the Czech Philharmonic) which we recorded in Prague.

F.F.: I think that one of the great points of Poe album is that it don't includes cover versions of old Project songs. So, I think that the main problem with Gambler is the fact it includes too many Project covers, taken from different Project albums. How do you justify your choices for Gaudì Musical and Gambler, and what will be the trend for the future?

E.W.: The answer to this is that you can't always please everybody all the time! Whether one is writing a concept album or a stage musical, the creative process is fairly similar although of course, the stage musical is more than twice as long. The choice of material is ultimately down to the director of the show whose responsibility it is to decide on content and I leave that decision to him or her.

F.F.: On Poe album you used again the phrase that Orson Welles performed for Tales Of Mystery And Imagination, "All that we see or seem, is but a dream within a dream". This is really an evocative and fascinating sentence, but anyone could give it his own interpretation. What's the personal meaning you give to it?

E.W.: "I am a mirror, I am a mirror, looking at me you see yourself"!!!

F.F.: When will be released the Poe premiere at Abbey Road Studios DVD, and when the musical will be officially open?

E.W.: I wish I could answer that question, but I can't right now. We are working on both of them and will of course keep you posted!

F.F.: What can you tell us about A Forest Fire, the new musical you're working in collaboration with korean Seensee Musical Company?

E.W.: I am right in the middle of this project at the moment and there will be much to say shortly.

F.F.: In recent years the musical format seems to go very well also here in Italy… there's a chance to see your musicals performed someday in our country?

E.W.: There are no imminent plans for Italy, but who knows for the future.

F.F.: I've been in London for the premiere of Poe and so I've had the opportunity to see how fans from all over the world bestowed you with great signs of valuation and affection, and I also took part of it. What you felt in front of so much positive acclamation? During the Project years Alan and you always chose to count on the mystery factor, keeping yourself under the fascinating Project name, giving a really low importance to the image factor and bringing all the attentions only upon the artistic side. Now that you cannot use the Project name anymore, do you feel that that choice had a double effect and maybe it resulted now a bad choice?

E.W.: Yes I did enjoy the Abbey Road experience of POE and it was wonderful to actually get to meet so many supporters of my work (particularly the Roadkillers!). On the question of image and low profile, I do prefer to keep out of the limelight, however from a marketing point of view, this unquestionably raises difficulties. I have described my decision to call it the Alan Parsons Project as both the best decision of my business career and the worst. The best in terms of keeping my anonymity and privacy for my family, the worst in terms of constantly having to explain my role in the APP to people who assumed that Alan did everything.

F.F.: What about your relations with Alan nowadays? Do you have the opportunity to listen each other to your products and, maybe, exchange useful opinions?

E.W.: As Alan now lives in a different continent and as we have gone in very different artistic directions, there is very little contact between us.

F.F.: What kind of music Eric Woolfson listens during his free time? Do you follow the current musical scene, and if so do you have some preference?

E.W.: I certainly do not follow the current musical scene and if I listen to music for relaxation purposes it would probably be classical music or the latest musical discovery of my grandson who is currently heavily into the King and I, The Sound of Music and much as it grieves me Joseph and His Amazing Technicoloured Dreamcoat!

F.F.: What are your musical plans for the future? Have you already begun to work on some new project while working on A Forest Fire?

E.W.: As there is so much work to be done in marketing and promoting my existing musicals, I think that's going to keep me pretty fully occupied for the foreseeable future, but I do of course have a backlog of musical ideas which, like Gaudi's Sagrada Familia, would take more than a lifetime to complete! I am currently off to Japan for the second Premiere of the Japanese tour of the Korean version of Gambler having recently come back from a Gaudi concert in Germany. I'm looking forward to many more such premieres.

Francesco Ferrua - may 2005