Alan Parsons: Interview with Stephen Dare

Alan Parsons

Alan Parsons is brilliant, interesting, brainy, nostalgic and engaged in the making of music. His work with the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Ambrosia, and of course the eponymous Alan Parsons Project have established him as one of the great musician/sound engineers of the past sixty years. Seriously. Look it up.

Our editor, Stephen Dare, managed to catch up with and interview him on his career, the nature of his work, and his plans for the future. It was an engrossing and thoughtful encounter with one of the most interesting figures of progressive rock.

For your consideration:

Alan Parsons Interview with Stephen Dare

Stephen Dare: Hey, this is Stephen Dare from TheCelebrityCafe.com. Thank you so much for joining us, Alan. This is such a pleasure and such an honor to speak to you.

Alan Parsons: Oh, thank you. Good to be here.

Stephen Dare: So this is not the Alan Parsons Project. This is the Alan Parsons Live–

Alan Parsons: Yeah. We occasionally just go out as Alan Parsons. We occasionally go out as Alan Parsons Live Project. Technically, the Alan Parsons Project is no more. It was just a recording outfit and the other half of the Alan Parsons Project, Eric Woolfson, died sadly a few years back. So we’re keeping it alive, we’re keeping the music alive by doing shows and it’s pretty much exclusively the Alan Parsons Project catalog but so the act is known as the Live Project, Alan Parsons Live Project.

Stephen Dare: Excellent. And such an interesting concept from the very beginning. And you’re coming to Florida and you have several dates in Florida one of which is Jacksonville.

Alan Parsons: Right. Jacksonville, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, and one other–

Stephen Dare: And you’ve been selling to pretty packed crowds since you’ve done these tours.

Alan Parsons: Yeah. I mean Florida has been very kind to us. I mean not that the rest of the country has been unkind but Florida, in particular, has been very strong and we’ve done these orchestral shows when we play Tampa that was popular when we’re playing there we’ve got a full orchestra with us and that’s always a great joy to play with a full orchestra.

Stephen Dare: And what do you think has changed if anything in the type of performance vibe as you’re going out with these live shows is there any difference that you note generationally who’s coming to the concerts or how is that going? What’s the vibe like? What can people expect of the show?

Alan Parsons: Well, I think our demographic is probably certainly over 40 and probably to a large extent over 50 but our heyday was late ’70s early ’80s. So that’s the demographic but the nice thing is that rock concerts tend to be family affairs these days and so a lot of times we’ll get the next generation as well as the parent generation so that’s always nice to appeal to a younger crowd as well as the standard crowd.

Stephen Dare: And to say heyday is kind of understating it I think a bit. You have had a fabulous career

[laughter]–
Alan Parsons: Thank you.

–and you’ve worked with the unbelievable greats of music.
Alan Parsons: [crosstalk] I’m not going to– I don’t sell a lot to teenagers put it that way [laughter].

Stephen Dare: I think they just probably haven’t been introduced to the music as well.

Alan Parsons: Yeah.

Stephen Dare: I mean you were one of the early pioneers in progressive rock, weren’t you? In terms of sound engineering.

Alan Parsons: Well, you’re kind to say that. I was there during the sort of golden years of classic rock, yeah, in the early ’70s–

Stephen Dare: And one of the distinctive styles of music. Once you’ve heard one of your engineered projects you know it’s you.

Alan Parsons: That’s always been a puzzlement to me that people can recognize that it’s me. I don’t sort of necessarily go for a particular sound or a particular style. It just seems to emanate to people’s ears and I can’t identify what it is that makes it sound like me. But that’s been the case for a number of years. That I do seem to have a sound.

Stephen Dare: Yeah. And that’s the nutshell of the artist, isn’t it? And that brings me to a question. You’ve done so much engineering work. You’ve got a new sound studio. You’re famous for your engineering. You’re also famous for your music. How do you consider yourself at this point? When you look back, would you say you’re more a musician or an engineer?

Alan Parsons: Yeah. The studio is still my favorite– it’s what I would call home. But having said that, there’s the instant gratification element of playing live and to please the audience is tremendously fulfilling, it really is. But the thing about live shows is you only get one chance to do it, to get it right. In the studio, you can do it over and over again until it’s perfect. So there is a much–

Oh, yeah. Well, a live show, it’s partially the kinesthetics. It’s the negative spaces instead of just the sound.

 

Stephen Dare: So I was first introduced to your music via a music video. It was the Don’t Answer Me.

Alan Parsons: Oh, right. Yes. The animated video. Yeah. That won some kind of animation video award at the time.

Stephen Dare: It did. Yeah. I remember watching it on MTV when you won.

Alan Parsons: Yeah. The golden days when MTV actually used to play music. Yeah.

Stephen Dare: Yeah, yeah [laughter]. During that brief nine-month period, right? At that age, I didn’t realize that you had already had this incredible career before. And I interfaced you through a new technology, which was the music video format. And you were one of the few progressive Rock musicians that made that jump in such a good way. You jumped, you got the award for the video. A whole generation of people which were introduced to you.

Alan Parsons: It was interesting that we never made a video in which Eric or myself actually appeared. Although we do appear in that animated one as characters. But we weren’t a performance group for the purposes of making promo videos for MTV. So we always just did conceptual videos that had actors in. There was one exception. We did do a promo where we both appeared in for I Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You, which was on the I Robot album. But otherwise, we just chose to do sort of conceptualized videos with actors.

Stephen Dare: And that was quite a change from just Rock venue performances from the ’60s and ’70s. And then straight to a digitized or that televised format for your music. And I wonder if your ability to jump that way was because you were also an engineer and you could see the changing technology or was it just what the promoters suggested to you or how did that happen, that jump?

Alan Parsons: Actually, it was first started– the playing live situation started with the guitar player and drummer of the previous Project album. So that’s Ian Bairnson and Stuart Elliott. And the orchestra arranger, Andrew Powell. We all got together and we made an album without Eric. That was an album called Try Anything Once that was in 1995 or 1994 might’ve been the recording year. That’s when we decided to put a live band together. We thought that it gives the album we took made every possible town and we combine it with project material. So that’s what we did, we went out on tour starting in Germany and other places in Europe, and then ultimately in the States.

Alan Parsons
photo: L. Paul Mann

Stephen Dare: And you made your name with the concept album and the idea of the concept albums. People don’t use the concept album format very much anymore. What do you think about? What would Alan Parsons say about concept albums?

Alan Parsons: I’ve never really sided away from concept albums because I enjoy the idea of writing songs around one subject. I’m actually working on a concept album right now. The difficulty is with concept album is that we live in a world of three and four minute  downloads on iTunes and Spotify and what have you. So it’s very hard to get people to listen to an entire record or the entire 40, 45-minute album. You can still pick a single or a featured track from a concept album and have it as an isolated piece. There’s no harm in that. But I still prefer that people would do it the way they used to, particularly in the case of vinyl, they would put the record in, light up and play the record stuff in it with a quick tea break halfway through to turn the record over.

Stephen Dare: What an incredible experience to have just as part of the daily life of being a teenager or 20 just to spend 45 minutes or sometimes an hour listening to a common theme with music while in an altered state of consciousness, what an incredible generational experience.

Alan Parsons: I think people miss that. Like I said, we live in a different world. There’s so many distractions now, the internet, emails, smartphones, a huge number of TV channels, video games, it’s a different world now.

Stephen Dare: It’s very Alvin Toffleresque I think with Future Shock.

Alan Parsons: Alvin Toffler, remind me who that is.

Stephen Dare: He was the author who wrote Future Shock who said that the future was chaos because there’s going to be so many options and people would have trauma over it. And I think to a certain extent, he was probably right.

Alan Parsons: Well, we certainly got addicts, we certainly got smartphone addicts going on, no doubt about it.

Stephen Dare: As an engineer, what do you see next?

Alan Parsons: In music recording, I think we’re in quite an exciting time. There’s very few really bad sounding records being made these days. The technology is there for everybody. I still think there’s value in having an experienced year behind making records. That’s where I come in, not only for my own exploits but for the times when I could use other artists other artists, some artists like to have an experienced ear to work with.

Stephen Dare: And do you ever see yourself moving into the 360, virtual reality or augmented reality formats?

Alan Parsons: I’m certainly interested in the virtual reality stuff because I think the possibilities for music recording with virtual reality experiences is very exciting. And I’m particularly into immersive sound and surround sounds and-

Stephen Dare: So maybe an even deeper exploration of a concept album, a concept reality album.

Alan Parsons: Maybe, maybe. Yeah.

Alan Parsons: I’ll wait for the phone to ring on that one [laughter].

Stephen Dare: True enough. And that person will be Google. Good heavens. I have enjoyed your music so much over the years and I accessed it, as I said, kind of in a poppy way. And it wasn’t until my 30s that I ever got to listen to the very thoughtful side of your music. It’s such a pleasure to be talking to you. And thank you so much for making the time.

 

Stephen Dare: Amazing. And I do have one final question: What of your tracks or songs or works do you have the most affection for? Whether or not it was widely recognized or whether it was glossed over, which of your– what’s your favorite that you did over the past two decades?

Alan Parsons: Interestingly, certainly one of my favorites is arguably the piece that I’m at least best represented for, though I’m not at all represented by. Though it’s not particularly recognizable as being me, but it’s Sirius, which became this incredible sports theme for some strange reason. And we continue to this day to get requests for commercials and movies. And it was in a second commercial last year for heaven’s sakes. I mean, it– I’m very proud of that just for the fact that it’s a strong enough piece of music for people to want to incorporate into their video products. In terms of songs, probably– songs as opposed to tunes, and that’s very much an instrumental piece. There’s a song called Limelight, which we got Gary Brooker from [inaudible] to sing and I still greatly enjoy listening to that. And we’ve been playing it live as well quite recently. I’m hoping we will have time to play it in our slightly shortened set on these Florida shows because the first three shows, we have Carl Palmer as our opener. So won’t be doing a full two hours. Probably more like 90, 100 minutes, something like that. But we normally like to try and squeeze in two hours of stuff.

Stephen Dare: Well, is there anything that you feel like I’ve missed in this?

Alan Parsons: Only that I am in the throws of making an album right now in a brand new studio, which I’ve built on my own property in an outbuilding. It’s very much state of the art and it’s an analog console. And when I’ve finished the album, I’ll be renting out the studio to others and hopefully projects that I’ll be involved with as a producer or as an executive producer. But I’ve got high hopes for that. And the album should be completed in September, October and released January or February I’m anticipating.

Stephen Dare: Do you have a tentative name for it?

Alan Parsons: A tentative title. Well, I’d rather not give that away because I always like to surprise people with what I do. And that was a thing that we always did with the Alan Parsons Project. We never let on until the last minute what the concept was.

Stephen Dare: Well, I appreciate this, man. You’ve made me cooler just by talking to me [laughter].

Alan Parsons: Thank you. You’re very kind. Okay. See you at the show?

Stephen Dare: That would be lovely. Thank you very much, Mr. Parsons.

Alan Parsons: All right. Take care. Thanks for doing this.

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Stephen Dare

Editor in Chief

Traveller, writer, chef, entrepreneur and natural born gossip. Originally from Jacksonville, Florida, but has lived in the five corners of the US. (Florida, San Francisco, Seattle, NYC and Muncie, Indiana). Big fan of Dorothy Parker, Thorne Smith, Ogden Nash, Quentin Crisp and Graydon Carter. Although not necessarily in that order.