"I Embrace The Renaissance Of Vinyl" - An Interview With Alan Parsons
With the release of The Alan Parsons Project - The Complete Album Collection 11LP Box Set, the entire back catalogue of producer Alan Parsons and songwriter Eric Woolfson's project is undergoing a well-deserved reappraisal. With producer-led albums now the norm in the music industry, it's safe to say that The Alan Parsons Project was ahead of its time as a concept and as a proving ground for studio excellence.
To mark the occasion, we talked with Alan from his Santa Barbara home to discuss his favourite APP record, thoughts on the ongoing vinyl revival and how 'Sirius' has taken on a life of its own.
TM: The Alan Parsons Project – The Complete Albums Collection is now available in a beautifully packaged deluxe vinyl 11LP box set, including the whole collection of ten original studio albums. If you had to say that one of the studio albums best captures what you set out to achieve with The Alan Parsons Project, which one is it?
AP: Probably the very first (Tales of Mystery and Imagination - 1976). It was the first of a new kind of album: a producer's album, where the producer was the artist. Strangely enough, I didn't really expect my name to be in lights, as it were, I thought it would be just 'Various Artists produced by Alan Parsons' in small print, but the label felt it was important to have an identity. The first album is what really represented what I was trying to do. In later years, particularly after Clive Davis (Arista) had signed us up, I felt the pressure to be more commercial but there was no attempt to be on the first album at all. I just got a lot of ideas off my chest. I was - for the first time - in complete control of the creative side of a recording and that continued, of course, through the remaining nine albums.
Tales was new territory: for the first time, the band had been assembled specifically for a record I worked on and Eric wrote songs for. Whenever I'm asked this question, I always say the first album is 'the one'.
The Alan Parsons Project was ahead of its time. I watched a film in the cinema recently and before it started, a demo of the theatre's sound system came on using 'Sirius' as the backing track. Are there any of the records, within the context of how music has developed in 2022, that you're particularly proud of being so state-of-the-art?
Well, I take that as a compliment. Thank you. You know, I was if you'd asked me what my second favourite album is, it would have been Turn Of A Friendly Card. We recorded that in Paris, which was a fun experience in itself. I was living in Monaco at that time and we travelled up to Paris, on various occasions. We had two weeks here, and two weeks there to make the most of it. It was also arguably - along with Eye In The Sky - the most successful because it had two singles on it.
With the big singles, Turn Of A Friendly Card feels like the record that cements that transition from 'progressive rock' to 'progressive pop'. It can be argued that artists from the progressive rock genre laid the table for the electronica and synthesiser music of today. But that's not always acknowledged when people talk about 'prog-rock'. Did that tag ever feel restrictive?
I think at the beginning it was it was progressive rock, Though I'm interested to hear you say progressive pop, because I've been saying that for years. I have been lumped in with the likes of Tangerine Dream and like Vangelis. Somehow I got branded as a synthesiser wizard, but more often than not, it was an orchestra... people perhaps didn't really know what the sound of an orchestra was. I was very proud of my upbringing at Abbey Road (Studio) where I learned how to record an orchestra. And then we stuck with that formula very, very rigidly. What's interesting is that Pink Floyd hadn't done that; with The Alan Parsons Project, we set out to do another Dark Side Of The Moon effectively, but on that album, there's not a single orchestral instrument in sight... although The Wall did have some orchestration.
I think the only other act really using orchestration was The Moody Blues and I think we kind of beat them to it really because Days Of Future Past was very much Mellotron and not orchestral instruments. The orchestra was kind of our trademark.
You look at modern parallels, like what Daft Punk was doing to huge success with orchestration ten years ago on tracks like 'Beyond' (Random Access Memories) and the Tron: Legacy soundtrack, I hear a lot of Alan Parsons in there. In many ways, the orchestra actually the oldest western tradition of music but it sounds so fresh and even futuristic in the way that the listener interprets that when juxtaposed with modern instruments and production techniques.
Well, you mentioned 'Sirius' for example. The riff is actually a Fairlight (CMI), which is a sample. So I mean, it could have absolutely been played just on an organic instrument.
The Fairlight sample was actually a clavinet; the instrument that Stevie Wonder made famous on 'Superstition'. But 'Sirius' is basically that one riff and everything else is all organic sounds; guitars, bass, drums and strings. The track has a life of its own. As I child I knew first heard it as the Ricky 'The Dragon' Steamboat theme tune and he was a WWF Wrestler.
Oh really!? Well sadly, it's become known as the Michael Jordan theme song over here! People still don't realise it's The Alan Parsons Project. If we see people coming to our live show for the first time when we get to 'Sirius' towards the end of the show, I can see them looking at each other: "Oh, I know this!"
From your most well-known music to some of the most obscure you ever made: The Sicilian Defence. The album's inclusion in this box set is a real collector's piece. I've read a few choice quotes across the internet that you've said about it in the past. Can you give us a quick synopsis of what happened with The Sicilian Defence and how you feel about people hearing it today?
It was recorded, I think, in two days. It was never, in my view, expected to be released - it's a contractual obligation album. And there are a couple of tunes on there that would have developed into some pretty reasonable songs but ultimately, it's a collector's item.
I listened to it for the first time when it first came out on CD in 2014 but I hadn't heard it since we recorded it.
I've listened to it twice today. While I would agree that it is absolutely for completists, it's fascinating to hear. Some of it you could put alongside the KPM library music of the time from people like Andy Clark and Alan Hawkshaw. There are little motifs and synth sounds that have echoes of other APP music - any completist is going to find a lot to enjoy and it's something that they thought they'd never get to hear on vinyl.
For vinyl enthusiasts, I'm very confident that we've got the best-sounding set of vinyl out there right now. A lot of effort went into remastering it, at half-speed and searching for all the tapes which have got scattered around the world, through no fault of mine. But, you know, tapes go missing!
Here we are talking about remastering for vinyl when the record was previously out on CD in 2014 - how do you feel about the fact that the ongoing vinyl revival of the last decade and how it co-exists alongside streaming in 2022?
I embrace the renaissance of vinyl, it's a really good thing as it means that people are returning to their homes to hear an album from start to finish, with a tea break halfway through to turn the record over. The CD is heading towards being defunct. Nobody has a CD player in their car anymore unless they unless the cars are seven or eight years old. But we sold a great many CDs over the years.
Streaming is the platform now that most people are using. But I don't think enough people are streaming at home and putting the music through a decent system and speakers.
Sadly, a lot of people are listening to music literally on the speaker on their iPhones and that's criminal. It's terrible.
Nor are they listening to albums from start to finish.
Listening on laptops and phones. Or those nasty little earbuds!
So do you listen to music on vinyl yourself?
On occasion, but if I'm actually going to listen listen to music, I'll probably do it in the studio and stream. Believe it or not, our household doesn't have a lot of music, and it's nearly always the TV, to be honest. CNN by day and movies by night.
Any particular TV you've been enjoying recently?
My wife and I are great binge-watchers. We're catching up on The Crown right now, which we are enjoying. My wife loves a series with Kevin Costner called Yellowstone. I call it a 'cowboys soap opera'. It's very violent, and it's not my cup of tea!
Originally released in 2014 on CD, The Alan Parsons Project – The Complete Albums Collection is out now as a beautifully packaged deluxe vinyl 11LP box set, limited to 1,500 copies worldwide. It includes the ten original studio albums plus The Sicilian Defence, originally recorded in 1979, and previously unreleased until 2014 when it was included within The Complete Album Collection 11CD box set.
Order the box set from this store for the chance to win one of the below prizes:
An original 1982 rare promo copy of The Complete Guide To The Alan Parsons Project vinyl box set (x3 sets to give away)
A complete set of 11 test pressings for the Complete Albums Collection (x3 sets to give away)
An individual album test pressing (x50 to give away)