INTERVIEW WITH ALAN PARSONS

 

Questions by Francesco Ferrua, Francesco Gandolfi, Sandra Holder,

Nicola Masinelli, Dario Pompili, Stefano Viezzoli and Lorenzo Zencher.

A deep and sincere thanks to Sandra Holder, without whom this interview would not been possible.

Sandra, thanks for turning our dream into reality!



--INTERVIEW DONE OVER THE PHONE BY SANDRA HOLDER ON JANUARY 15, 2005-

 

Parsons Day: Alan, first thank you very much for the opportunity to do this interview with you. It will be published on our Italian website called "The Parsons Day". Do you already know about us and have you ever visited it? We also have a devoted mailing list and we do annual fan meetings…

Alan Parsons: Just today I took a look and I was impressed. It looks very professional and the graphics are very nice. My Italian is not very good so I am unable to comment on the validity or correctness of its content (laughs).

PD: Well, let's start the interview and let's start talking about your new album, an album that marks a change in your style of music. What have been the main technical problems you've encountered during the recording of A Valid Path, and how have they changed your approach to the composition of an instrumental?

AP: By virtue of the fact that we used computers to record this album, we were asking for a whole series of technical problems from day one, but I found it an interesting experience working without tape machines. Another important difference was the fact that there was no band this time so it was not only working without tape machines, but also working without a band. It was really quite a different experience. I did take more of a back seat in terms of hands-on involvement because only one guy can click a mouse and I generally left that to whomever I was collaborating with.

The compositional process was the same as it always has been - just sitting down at a keyboard and experimenting and improvising. This was largely unchanged through the shift to computers on the recording side. Having said that, the whole recording experience invariably has an effect on the composition.

PD: Why the idea of an album with a new sound, in the modern electronic area? Was this decision based more on an artistic desire to change style and to bring new elements into your music, or more on a desire to reach a new and younger audience hoping to also reach the charts?

AP: I felt I needed to go in a new direction, as suggested by the title. The title comes from computer lingo and is intended to mean the opposite of "invalid path".

PD: Was it more an issue of artistic self expression versus a business decision?

AP: A combination of both. The selling point to the label was an electronic album with collaborations with well-known electronic acts - that was the buy line as far as the labels were concerned. I was very pleased that the idea came up because I felt that I was getting stuck in a bit of a rut. With Ian and Stewart out of the picture because they were just geographically too far away, I needed to take a new approach. I could have gone with an album with the live band but it just seemed like a more exciting idea to do this.

PD: What can you tell us about the concept behind the songs; can we see it as a theme album? We've found some elements that seem to lead into a concept about aliens and Unidentified Flying Objects…

AP: There is really no concept other than the title is a suggestion that it is computer generated. The album started life as a concept based on great explorers but the only remnant of that is Chomolungma which is loosely based on the conquest of Mount Everest. One of the wonderful things about making music and writing lyrics is that people put their own interpretations on them and I'm delighted that somebody has found conceptual material involving aliens and UFO's but it wasn't intentional. If they are referring to the first track Return to Tunguska there is a belief that the explosion in 1906 in Tunguska was extra-terrestrial but they can read about that themselves.

PD: Five years between the last album and this one is definitely too long a time. Will we have to wait five more years for the next one?

AP: If you would like to come up with a million dollars I will start recording tomorrow (laughs).

PD: Speaking of money, how have sales been for A Valid Path?

AP: Better than expected and better than The Time Machine. We've had a better result in Europe than in the United States. We are now starting a new phase of promotion in the United States putting out We Play the Game as a second single. The same thing will probably follow in Europe.

PD: Was there any material that was recorded but not released on the album? We know you've collaborated also with Adam Freeland, so what happened to that material?

AP: I never actually did any work with Adam Freeland although we got on very well and we have promised ourselves that we will do something together. There's a few little snippets, a few little 10 second idea demos that never got developed but nothing substantial that you will ever see in the future.

PD: In AVP you re-recorded two classic songs, Mammagamma and The Raven. In your career, what is the song you recorded that you most think is absolutely "not to be touched"; that is to say it's perfect the way it is? And which one would you most like to re-record in a totally different way from the released version?

AP: Mammagamma and The Raven were actually Jeremy's choices to re-record and I was happy to go with them. I think probably the most "not to be touched" ones are the most lavish production ones which would be Ammonia Avenue, The Turn of a Friendly Card Suite and so on. But I listen to the old stuff and still feel that if I did revisit them there would be an opportunity to make improvements. That is why I'm look forward to doing the 5.1 mixes at some stage.

PD: Is there any one song that you would like to redo because you were unhappy with the way it turned out or weren't satisfied with it?

AP: I don't think there are many songs where I would say that my contribution to them was so bad that I would want to do them again. I just think there are some weak songs, weak tracks and I have some least favorite songs that probably I would prefer to simply exclude rather than to rework. But there is no accounting for taste - my least favorites are other people's favorites so I wouldn't be allowed to do that (laughs). I think probably my least favorite track of all is Don't Hold Back, and although I think Clare Torry did an excellent job, I think that could possibly be revisited and made into a better record.

PD: You've just released an electronic album that points to a younger audience with a look toward modern music. But on all your recent tours you play mostly songs from The Project years, that is to say music from the 70's and 80's. Additionally, now and then you take music of The Beatles on the road with A Walk Down Abbey Road. How do you reconcile these diverse efforts, in your opinion, and what direction will you take for your next album?

AP: The choice of material is largely dictated by popular choice on the part of the audience. If we didn't play the hits they would ask for their money back. As for A Walk Down Abbey Road, everyone loves The Beatles and everyone loves to play Beatles songs so it was an interesting and quite rewarding experience. I didn't feel uncomfortable in the least in doing it and I felt that I probably had a better raison d'etre for being there than any of the others. The direction for the next album will probably be a commercial decision. If we feel that there is potential for another electronic album then that's what I'll do. If the general view is that I should go back to the older style then I'll do that. I've actually been giving serious consideration to a Christmas album as well. That was the thing that saved Chicago from the doldrums and I just might do the same thing.

PD: With original music or covers?

AP: With well known songs. Well maybe a couple of original tunes...

PD: Talking about tours, what were the main reasons that prevented The Project from doing live concerts during the 80's? And in your opinion what was the key of The Project's success although you didn't play live?

I think one of the reasons we never did it until Eric and I had split up was that I think Eric would have been uncomfortable with me as a featured musician on stage. I've never actually heard him say that but I think he believed that my musical ability was not sufficient to play live. If it had happened it probably would have been me at the sound controls rather than on stage. This is reflected in the fact that the first time we did play live at Night of the Proms- that is what I did. I just got up on stage for the last song.

Another reason it didn't happen sooner was that I think keyboard technology wasn't up to it. When midi keyboards and programmable synthesizers became more commonplace that's when we were realistically capable of doing a decent show.

As for the Project's success, I think it was probably due in part to the very fact that we didn't play live. I think the mystery of what it was, the mystique of the Alan Parsons Project contributed to its success.

PD: The current tour songlist totally excludes the post-Project era. Is that a precise artistic choice or simply that you've chosen the more famous old material and added the simplest songs from AVP to be performed live, in order to involve the old and the new listeners as well?

AP: As mentioned in question number 8, The choice of material is largely dictated by popular choice on the part of the audience. We are playing 3 songs from A Valid Path in the current live show.

PD: Are you still in contact with your old friends, Ian, Stuart and Andrew? For some years now, Andrew has been doing some sort of experimental electronic music, in the vein of Stockhausen, using also a lot of trumpet. Have you ever thought to collaborate with him in a modern way? Also Stuart seemed to look toward a modern kind of music…

AP: I would be delighted to work with Ian, Stuart and Andrew again but given the geographical distance it is difficult, but it's something to think about. If I did do another electronic album I would like to collaborate with Stuart. And why not Andrew as well, with his trumpet guy - it's probably John Wallace. They are good buddies. John is a trumpet player who did a lot of stuff with us.

PD: We know that songwriting was mainly Eric's department in the Project years (with the exception of the instrumentals). Who had the leading hand in the choice of album themes? For example, was ancient Egypt a passion of Eric's? Yours? Both?

AP: Eric was generally in charge of concepts but in the specific case of Pyramid I think I had a stronger hand in that. Pyramid actually started life as a witchcraft theme and I actually put forward the idea of Pyramid mysticism and pyramid power being the only concept of the record. That's what we went with. I think concept albums from my past have been much more of a marketing tool than anything else and I think the concepts have been a lot looser than they have been reputed to be.

PD: Is the initial statement correct, that you primarily wrote the instrumentals Eric was primary writer of the other songs?

AP: There is an element of truth to that, yes. Where's the Walrus is about the only exception, where Eric had a larger part. There were songs which we genuinely wrote together, where we really did collaborate. Sometimes the production itself would turn Eric's songs inside out.

PD: How do you see your future in music? Do you intend to continue to release your own albums or are you thinking to concentrate your efforts into the production and engineering for other artists?

AP: I'm now 56 and I think it's realistic to assume that I will probably only do one, maybe two more records. I also have the option to produce and engineer for other people. I would like to revive the Project catalog again and do surround mixes.

PD: When was the last time you produced another artist?

AP: Well I've helped out a number of people. I just helped out a local artist called Mike Dawson on his record. He's very much a local appeal sort of guy. The last full-blown album, geez I think it was in the '70's (laughs). No, sorry, Vitamin Z was probably the last one. That was late '80's. I also helped out with Iconic Phare and with the Excalibur project, but I was more of an associate producer on those.

PD: You are involved in the soundtrack for the movie 5-25-77. Will you compose new material for the movie, and if so, will it be in the vein of A Valid Path?

AP: It will be much more the 70's sound because the movie is about the 70's and Patrick Read Johnson, the director, wants to capture a 70's feel with the music. The movie is largely finished. It is now in post-production so that is going to happen quite soon I think.

PD: And what about the rumour of a cameo role for you?

AP: He says that's still going to happen but he's only got a few shots to finish... I think that might fall by the wayside.

PD: Finally you have reached the web directly with your own official website, a long overdue development when you consider you were always one step ahead of most other artists. Is it your intention to bypass the "old method" of distribution and sell things only through the web? Many artists, like Peter Gabriel, Pearl Jam, Marillion and Camel, to name a few, sell their "official live bootlegs" through their web sites. Are you going to do something similar?

AP: The Madrid Concert DVD will be available in the next few days - it's now finished. The first copy was just delivered. We're taking them with us to sell on the road and they will also be available for sale through the website.

PD: And will they also be distributed through traditional channels such as record stores?

AP: No. However, we are about to do a deal for a high-definition full-scale DVD shoot in the summer with Eagle, our label in the UK. So there will be a totally "proper" purpose-made DVD. The Madrid thing was only slightly compromised because there wasn't a lot of pre and post production - the director didn't really know the music that well.

PD: After On Air, it seems you abandoned the multimedia area a little. Will you do something new like videos, DVD's, software in the future? A little time ago, you said you would work on the 5.1 releases of the Project albums; did you give up on this idea? Are there copyright problems?

AP: I'm just waiting for the opportunity to arrive to remix the albums in 5.1. As far as I know the albums are all owned by the original labels. Having said that, I think there is probably room for some re-negotiation. A Valid Path will be released in the summer of 2005, probably on DualDisc (stereo on one side, DVD audio on the other).

PD: We saw you begin a brand new range of collaborations in A Valid Path. Are there artists with whom you would like to collaborate again or new artists with whom you have never worked but would like to in the future?

AP: I'm always keen to work with new people. Having worked with The Crystal Method, they are absolutely at the top of their profession so I couldn't have asked for anybody better known than they are. I'm keen to do stuff with Adam Freeland and possibly Air - a French electronica band.

PD: Talking about your latest album with old friends, are you completely satisfied with The Time Machine or would you like to change something?

AP: There is always something to change on every album but I felt The Time Machine was pretty good. I was generally pleased with it.

PD: Which artists do you currently listen to?

AP: I go with what's being played on the radio, normally. I don't seem to buy CD's these days. Of modern pop I think Maroon 5 are particularly good.

PD: What format radio stations do you usually listen to?

Either adult alternative or classic rock. That's where my roots are.

PD: Ultimate, definitive, stroboscopic Alan Parsons Project collection… what do you think about the fact that every six months there is a new compilation? Do they pay you, at least?

AP: I am very frustrated that the label never gets in touch with me to get my approval on compilations. Love Songs was a complete joke. I'm also very angry about a live compilation which is called Extended Versions which is not only not true but it is actually just Alan Parsons Live in a new package. Do they pay me? Record labels are extremely evasive about letting you know what sales are included on the royalty statements - they're impossible things to read. The only time you actually find out the truth is when you do an audit and of course that costs money and makes everybody unhappy. But that's the unfortunate truth of the record business.

PD: It seems that the compilations sell well; have you ever thought about making your own compilation, re-recording or re-mixing your favourite songs?

AP: No.

PD: Well, now the final question …and we hope your answer will be positive. On your first Italian tour on May 1998 you said exactly this words "Prima volta in Italia, non è l'ultima!"; we were sure you was telling the truth and the fact you held five dates here in October is the proof. Well, could you promise us that the October concerts have been the "second time in Italy, but not the last"?

AP: I'm always ready to come to Italy. I love Italy, I love the people, the culture, the food. This is the most often asked question by fans and it's not really in my control. It's in the hands of agents, managers and promotors. If they make us an offer that we find acceptable we'll be there in a heartbeat. If we don't come it's based on a business decision not any lack of desire to want to play in Italy.

PD: Are there still ongoing discussions about a spring tour in Italy?

AP: There are discussions about everything that is happening this year. There is a whole new idea coming out which I can't talk about yet but it's quite an exciting new development involving a collaboration with somebody else.....

 


A very special thanks to Alan for the opportunity to do this interview.


You can reach Alan Parsons official website at:
http://www.alanparsonsmusic.com