Interview with Eric Woolfson and Alan Parsons

From the Italian music magazine "Nobody's Land - Frammenti dell'Utopia Progressiva" n. 24 - January 2007


Tales Of Mystery And Imagination - Edgar Allan Poe




Francesco Ferrua: You was the one to suggest to Alan the making of the album, telling him the project that you already had in mind from some time before. How much material did you already drafted before beginning to works on the album with Alan, and who helped you for the first demo recordings?

Eric Woolfson: The whole thing began when I was taking some classes in marketing after I left school in the early 60s. At that time, marketing was a very new development and the lecturer told us there was not even an agreed definition of marketing, but he said to give you an example of a marketing statistic, no film of Edgar Allan Poe's work has ever lost money. This struck a chord with me and I thought if no film of his work has lost money, why should an album of his work be any different. I then read a collection of Poe's works and realized the musical potential. This was about 10 years before I even met Alan and in the late 60s I had written some of the material, chiefly The Raven. I went into the studio to make some demos with Rick Westwood who was the guitarist of The Tremeloes (a group with whom I did some production work as well as writing for them). I was not satisfied with these demos and felt that the production and engineering would require a very special talent. It was only years later when I was managing Alan, that we discussed his frustration with producing big name artists who often over-rode his decisions as an engineer/ producer. I had the idea firstly that perhaps we should create a different kind of vehicle. I was influenced by the direction the film business had taken where directors such as Hitchcock and Kubrick were the focal point of the movies they made, rather than star actors. Secondly, I recalled my unfulfilled ambition to do a work based on Poe, and putting the two together with Alan as engineer/ producer and myself as writer, The Project was born. The decision to call it The Alan Parsons Project was mine and was based on the fact that although the Project was Alan and I, he had a higher visibility in the industry as a result of having worked with major artists, obviously Pink Floyd and Paul McCartney. In addition, I ran the business affairs of the venture and was the manager of the entity and I thought it would be better in view of this, not to identify myself too prominently artistically.

F.F.: Do you remember the very first time you met Alan? And the first time you talked him about your personal project regarding what would became Tales Of Mystery And Imagination?

E.W.: I first met Alan in the canteen in Abbey Road Studios during a break. He was working in one Studio and I in another and as we were both tall (I'm 6 foot 6 and I think he's 6 foot 5) we saw eye to eye, certainly on a physical level! We began a conversation that led to a discussion about his frustration with the record company who employed him and out of this came the suggestion that I should become his manager. I think it was at least 2 years before there was any discussion as mentioned above on the formation of The Alan Parsons Project.

F.F.: Many times you declared that you was the composer for almost all the Project tracks, both for music and lyrics. If so, why it was decided to put Alan's name beside your as co-author? If also this had been a binding contractual obligation with the 20th Century Records contract, why the Woolfson/Parsons wording prolonged also with the Arista Records contract the following year, remaining unchanged for the entire Project life?

E.W.: In the beginning, the idea was that we would each contribute 50% of the compositions, but it soon became clear that Alan's talents lay in other directions and although I wrote at least 95% of the music and 100% of the lyrics, I made the decision that in spite of this, I would stick to the original intention of sharing the credits. Unfortunately, when people saw Alan's credit, as well as his name in the title, they wrongly assumed that he was the writer (lead singer, lead guitarist etc etc).

F.F.: After the release of Tales you signed the contract with Arista Records. It seems that you signed immediately for a total of 9 albums… so incredible for a band with only one album achieved, more incredible of you compare this with today's contracts where the music market crisis don't allows long time investment. What influenced more in order to let Arista betted so much on you?

E.W.: It's misleading to think that we immediately signed for 9 albums. The deal with Arista Records was in fact for 2 albums, but there were options (as with most recording contracts) and these options were soon firmed up by the record company. Today's record business is sadly in serious decline and although artists are still signed with extensive options by record companies, it is highly unlikely that many of these options will be exercised.

F.F.: How were usually conducted a daily recording sessions? How much freedom was left to the musicians in giving their own inputs in performing the tracks?

E.W.: On the first album, Alan wanted to use musicians he had worked with and particularly admired, so my role was often to try and teach people their parts. I would work with the basic musicians, normally guitar, bass, drums and keyboard to teach them the songs. There was considerable freedom for the musicians to give their own input and particularly in the case of the guitarist Ian Bairnson, his innovative and creative approach was outstanding, though it must be said that all the musicians who took part were superb. At this early stage, I would contribute to the overdubs and backing vocals. Alan was not enthusiastic about using me as a lead vocalist and out of respect for his role as producer, I complied. From the next album, I Robot, onwards, my role as musician increased but it was not till The Turn of a Friendly Card album that I performed lead vocals.

F.F.:What's the meaning behind the album cover, a work of the graphic studio Hipgnosis, whit its narrow strip of illustration with that long shadow?

E.W.: To answer this, you would have to get into the mind of Storm Thorgeson and his Hipgnosis colleagues at the time. All I can say is that they immersed themselves in the recordings and came up with the designs they did as a result, though I do believe that the tape covered mummy might have been an idea that Pink Floyd had rejected earlier.

F.F.: The album was premiered at the Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles, but it was not a concert, but only a public audition where the music from the album was coupled with laser show. Did you ever thought to play live the entire album for a great concert with choir and orchestra?

E.W.: Although I did have ideas about further works inspired by Poe (eg Tales of Mystery Volume II and a possible film) the idea of a conventional concert was not high on my list. To have recreated the atmosphere of the record would have been a monumental task as there were literally hundreds of people involved in the recordings. At the original presentation in the Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles, we did include a contribution from Orson Welles which subsequently found its way onto the re-mixed CD version and I did think that there could have been a lot of mileage in touring the laserium show which accompanied the playing of the recording in various planetariums. However, unfortunately this never happened. As regards Tales of Mystery Volume II, when we moved to Arista Records and I suggested this could be our next work, the record company took the view that as they did not have Volume I, they really were not interested in Volume II, and I had to wait many years before developing POE, More Tales of Mystery and Imagination which contains some of the material from my musical POE which was performed in a showcase version in Abbey Road Studios, but has yet to be produced commercially on the stage. I have to say that experiencing the performance of POE in Abbey Road was quite overwhelming and fulfilled many of my aspirations for my work inspired by Edgar Allan Poe.

Francesco Ferrua - July 2006



Francesco Ferrua: It is true that during the recordings of Tales you held a strong secrecy about the subject of the album, and even you wrote on the recording tapes fictitious titles as Bristol Creme instead of The Cask Of Amontillado, or From Usher With Love instead of The Fall Of The House Of Usher, just in order to mislead the working staff?

Alan Parsons: We were concerned about anyone hearing about the album concept and the possibility that they might rip off the idea. But it was also a little studio joke to come up with silly titles. Sometimes I now regret it, because I can't remember the real title when I am looking through old tapes.

F.F.: During the works for the album, Eric and you always agreed about the style to give to the various tracks and to the whole album, or everyone of you had to fight in order to see his own ideas released? I'm talking about, for example, the choices about the instruments to be used and, more generally, about the use of more electronic or more acoustic sounds. How much has been important your work as producer in order to give the final style to the album?

A.P.: Generally speaking, the style and arrangements were a series of mutual decisions between Eric and myself, although it was my job as the producer to shape the arrangements and sounds, so I had a stronger direct influence over such things. Eric made up for that by being the principal composer.

F.F.: On Tales you used the projectron, a new technology developed just for you, a sort of forefather of the fairlight. What particular recording techniques you remember to have used in order to achieve certain sounds or effects?

A.P.: The Projectron was a keyboard instrument designed to my specifications by an American recording and electronics engineer by the name of Keith Johnson. Each note on the keyboard would reproduce the audio source at that's note's input but with a variable attack, sustain and decay. It was a rather primitive and quirky machine, but it used some fairly advanced technology for the time. We spent a lot of time making tape loops from vocals and percussion instruments. Each loop would be recorded to a tape track on a 16-track machine at a pitch corresponding to each note on the keyboard. The 16 track tapes would run about three minutes and would then have to be rewound. It took days to make up the tapes. The most obvious use on Tales is the female backing vocals on The Tell-Tale Heart.

F.F.: Generally speaking, what do you think has been lost with the come of the digital recording era? Don't you think it put a stop to the imagination and the manual skill of the sound engineer?

A.P.: The difficulty is to be original. So many music creators have access to the same technology - sampled sounds in particular. Yes, I often miss doing things the old way and starting from scratch.

F.F.: Tales owns a great deal of evocative and visionary power, but despite of this your first videoclip was released one year after, for the I Robot album. Have you and Eric ever thought to transform Tales into a multimedial show or, more simply, to accompany the album with some images?

A.P.: I have often given consideration to such a multimedia idea and would still like to do something on those lines. Eric wrote a theatrical musical about Poe but it used nothing from the APP Tales album. It would be interesting to see if the label would have any interest in creating images to go with the album.

F.F.: Besides artists you already worked with, Pilot, Ambrosia, John Miles, Terry Sylvester from Hollies, Jack Harris, just in order to quote some, on the Tales album there are other artists you never worked with before. I'm thinking, for example, to Arthur Brown, the actor Leonard Whiting, Sky's members Francis Monkman and Kevin Peek, the great Orson Welles for the narrations (used only successively for the 1987 re-edition, but commissioned already for the original edition). It's been hard to take on so many guests for the recordings? How did you manage to assemble a so variegated cast?

A.P.: We had some kind of previous contacts with all of the guest artists which made it easier. The label found Orson Welles - I never met him unfortunately which is a disappointment because I wanted to tell him what a great job he did.

F.F.: During which phase of the album realization did you begin to make use of Andrew Powell's contribution, and how much important has been his role?

A.P.: Andrew was always a key component and was considered to be a member of the APP. He worked particularly hard on The Fall Of The House Of Usher and did a lot of research on Claude Debussy's unfinished opera in Paris.

F.F.: The best and the worst memory about the making of the album…

A.P.: Arthur's first take on The Tell-Tale Heart was the best. The were no worst moments - it was a very happy experience.

F.F.: For the 30th anniversary of Tales, will be the album re-released? It would be the right occasion for release a 5.1 Dual Disc edition…

A.P.: If there was interest and a budget from the label I would gladly do it and remix it in surround. I do not sense any such interest.

Francesco Ferrua - July 2006