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In the studio, Alan Parsons is the guy.
The British born musician/producer/audio engineer cut his teeth working at the famous Abbey Road Studios in London in the late ‘60s, sharing space with world famous acts. Parsons was a regular at the studio, working on albums such as the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” and “Let It Be,” as well as Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon,” which essentially launched Parsons’ career as a producer and successful artist.
In 1975, two years after the release of “The Dark Side of the Moon,” Parsons teamed with Eric Woolfson to create The Alan Parsons Project, a progressive pop duo that went on to create a string of hit albums throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s. Though the project rarely performed live in its heyday, Parsons got the itch in the mid-90s to take his studio act on the road. Now, The Alan Parsons Live Project has toured the world and makes a return stop to Milwaukee’s Pabst Theater this Friday.
According to Parsons, it’s mostly a greatest hits show featuring songs such as “Eye in the Sky,” “Don’t Answer Me” and more of his project’s legendary tracks. Parsons also reassured that the seven-piece band doesn’t “cheat” with taped vocals or other audio tricks onstage. “It’s all real,” Parsons said.
I talked with the studio legend about his regrets, his biggest studio projects and the new world of music singles.
P-C: The Alan Parsons Project didn’t seriously perform live until the mid-‘90s. Do you regret not touring in the project’s heyday?
Parsons: I have huge regrets on that because if we had been courageous enough to pull a band together in the ’80s, I think we could have become as big as any of the bands in that time period. We could have become a stadium band, but now, because we started late, we’re just a theater band (laughs). Perhaps that’s a slightly selfish comment and really, we’re happy where we are. Eric Woolfson, who was my partner in the Alan Parsons Project, he was never terribly interested in playing live I don’t think.
P-C: You’ve performed with Alan Parsons Live Project in Milwaukee before. Any funny stories from your last few visits?
Parsons: Well, we were at the airport once and Wisconsin is famous for cheese, so I asked someone (at a store in the airport), what kind of local cheese do you got? They said, well we’ve got cheddar and (long pause) Monterey Jack (laughs). It was kind of disappointing, but I understand Wisconsin is a mecca for cheese.
P-C: Before launching the Alan Parsons Project, you worked with world famous musicians in the studio. What band or musician do you think set a new bar for recording artists? Was it the Beatles?
Parsons: Absolutely. They revolutionized the way records are made I think. First of all, they made great demands on the technical side of things and were always asking for more tracks. Give me another track. I need another track. That was a huge challenge with the technology that was available at the time, but believe it or not, the last Beatles album was made with only eight tracks. They never even saw 16 tracks, so it’s extraordinary that they managed to pull that off with the technology that was (available), but I think it was recognized that they needed to push the engineers in the studio to the limit. The second thing is that they were kings of spending time to experiment. They had unlimited access to Abbey Road Studios and nobody would ever say, it’s time to go guys. No one would say, it’s time to wrap up or you’ve been on this tune a week now, it’s time to move onto something else. No one would ever do that, so they really did push the limits of not only technology, but the time element.
P-C: You also worked with Pink Floyd and the production for “The Dark Side of the Moon” was very advanced at the time. Would it sound drastically different if you were to recreate that album with today’s technology?
Parsons: I don’t think it would be hugely different. I think the trend these days is for bands to do each of their parts as a separate entity and everything is done to clicks and everything can be cut and pasted. I think the songs would’ve still stood out and some of the effects would have been a whole lot easier to achieve than they were at the time. The intro to “Money” was technologically quite difficult to achieve. We were splicing two-inch long sections of tape together and on a hard disk recorder, that could be done in 10 minutes (laughs). It took hours and hours of time to do that then. … Without actually doing it, it’d be hard to say if it’d be that different or not.
P-C: You were very much into the aspect of creating albums, but now it’s all just about the single. Is that frustrating for you?
Parsons: Oh incredibly frustrating, yes. We are in an iTunes, one song at a time world. People don’t go out and buy a record, turn the lights down and play it start to finish. There are too many distractions. People are too busy checking their email, playing video games, watching TV. It’s just not the same as it used to be, so yes it is frustrating and it’s probably the reason why I haven’t made an album in the last, approaching 10 years now (laughs).
P-C: You haven’t released a new album, but you did release a new single, “Fragile,” in April.
Parsons: Yes, we have a single out right now called “Fragile” and what I’m going to be doing is offering it as a high quality download (on alanparsonsmusic.com) that’s infinitely better quality than mp3. I’m going to be offering it for less money than the mp3 trying to encourage people to go for quality and not just the accessibility. We’ll also be selling “Fragile” as a high quality download on a credit card sized USB stick at the show.
P-C: Do you really think people will gravitate toward the higher quality download or just stay with convenience?
Parsons: Well, the consumer unfortunately always go for convenience and they also go for free, which is why YouTube is such a nuisance to artists. But I think the renaissance that vinyl has been enjoying is some type of adaption to the fact that quality is important, at least to some people. Mp3 needs to go away. It just doesn’t sound good. Computers are getting faster, the Internet is getting faster and storage is getting bigger, so I’d like to see people using more space for music and therefore getting higher quality. And they need to start using loud speakers again, not earbuds (laughs).
P-C: Alan, you’ve been in the music business a long time. What’s the secret to your longevity?
Parsons: Wow, I wish I knew that. I really don’t know. I think the music that we made between the mid-’70s and late ’80s was kind of timeless. It was hard to put a timestamp on it. You don’t say, that comes from the ’80s or ’78 or whenever. We didn’t really follow fashion or trends particularly. We just did things the way we felt was right and stuck to our guns. Whatever it was, that seemed right at the time and it seems right now. People still want to hear this stuff and I think so few people realize we do go out and do this live and it comes over really well. … It’s a joy to do and I have no intention of giving it up, at least not yet.
— Mike Thiel: 920-993-1000, ext. 526, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @thielwrites
Check ‘em out
Who: Alan Parsons Live Project
Where: The Pabst Theater, Milwaukee
Tickets: $45 (tickets can be purchased at pabsttheater.org)
When: 8 p.m., Friday
Note: Parsons has recently been working in the studio with Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree and ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro. “I’m keeping busy in the studio though I don’t seem to be making albums,” Parsons said.