Producer Extraordinaire Alan Parsons Reflects on His Remarkable Career

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click to enlarge Producer Extraordinaire Alan Parsons Reflects on His Remarkable Career
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For legendary producer Alan Parsons, there was a good reason that for many years, the Alan Parsons Project didn’t play live concerts. He wanted to be able to reproduce what he had done with the studio albums on the concert stage and while there would eventually be technological advances that would help him out on that front, it would take a few years.

“The fact that we didn’t actually start touring until 1995 is an indication of how difficult it might have been before that time,” Parsons says with a big laugh, during a recent phone conversation from his California home. “All of the material was recorded between 1976 and 1987. Eight years later was the point at which I felt comfortable enough for the available technology to actually assemble a band and put it on the road. It was helped largely by keyboard technology and sampling technology. When MIDI came along, it just made it all a whole lot easier. Rather than having a mountain of keyboards, you know, we could just get by with two or three.”

Technology helped him recreate the albums.

“We’ve got a pretty close approach to some of the orchestral sounds and other sounds that would have been difficult to capture with primitive keyboard technology in the earlier years,” he explains. “Once we got going in the mid-’90s, we managed to replicate [things] live quite adequately, I think [in comparison] to the original sounds. It’s a little tough to get a full orchestra effect, but we did fine with strings and occasional woodwind instruments on synths. There’s still no real substitute for a full orchestra.”

That’s why Parsons has been happy for the occasional opportunity to perform Alan Parsons Project classics like “Eye In The Sky,” “Games People Play” and “I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You,” with an orchestra. One of those concerts, a 2013 date with the 70-piece Philharmonic Orchestra of Medellin, comes out this month under the banner of the Alan Parsons Symphonic Project on Blu-ray, DVD, CD and digital download.

“We recorded [Live in Colombia] with a full blown symphony orchestra a couple of years ago. It’s great to play with an orchestra,” he says. “The good thing about the video is that we captured it with lots of cameras. It’s full-blown HD production with really good quality picture. And of course, we recorded it multi-track as well, so the sound came out great. I love playing with orchestras, wherever it is. We’ve done a few shows here in the States. We’ve done shows in Europe as well with an orchestra. It makes a big difference and I’m hoping that one day we can actually do a full blown tour with the orchestra.”

For the moment, Parsons is pretty happy to still be playing his music for people after four decades.

“I just feel fortunate that so long after they were released on the records that people still want to hear them. We have a little bit of an identity crisis in that everybody knows the songs, but they don’t associate the songs with my name, which is a little bit of a frustration. When you start a song, you see one audience member turning to another and they’re saying, 'Oh wow, I didn’t know that this was the Alan Parsons Project!' But you know, I’m just glad to be here flying the flag and keeping the catalog alive.”

It was legendary record label president Clive Davis who helped to guide Parsons when he was struggling with the group’s identity crisis, advising that he should stay the course.

“It’s interesting, the sort of artist identity, the ‘Alan Parsons Project,’ was really meant to describe just the first album. I didn’t realize at the time time that we had created an artist identity called ‘The Alan Parsons Project.’ But it did stick and that’s what Clive wanted, he wanted to call the I Robot album, another Alan Parsons Project album. So it stuck right through to the final album in 1987.”

In the long run, Parsons was grateful to have the support of Davis, who would play an important role in helping to map out the future success of the Alan Parsons Project.

“We were blessed to have Clive’s interest. He heard the first album and, I mean, Tales of Mystery and Imagination wasn’t a fantastically huge success. It charted, but only in the lower regions of the charts. But it was enough to attract Clive’s attention and he signed us to his newly formed Arista label and everything else that followed was with Clive.”

At 18 years of age, he was working as an assistant engineer at Abbey Road Studios, where he would be part of the production team for two Beatles albums, Abbey Road and Let It Be, prior to becoming involved with another album which continues to bring him lots of accolades, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

“You know, we all worked very hard to make it the record that it became,” he says now. “I had to work long hours sometimes, because I was doing other projects as well, but I didn’t want to give up a single minute of engineering time to anybody else, because I wanted to be the only engineering credit. And that paid off — I got credit for it and the Grammy nomination, which was very nice.”

He wasn’t surprised by the expansive visions the members of Pink Floyd had for the album that they had in mind.

“I think the Floyd were pretty well-known for taking studio facilities to the max,” he laughs.”It was only 16 tracks with Dark Side of the Moon, so that was a battle in itself to squeeze everything onto 16 tracks. But you know, that was part of the process and part of the challenge of recording back then.”

Even now, he still marvels at how he answered those recording challenges.

“I think that in the years when I started my engineering and production career proper, which was in the early ‘70s, it was a fight to get interesting sounds,” he says. “There were no magic boxes or digital boxes to produce delays. You just had to resort to mechanical devices, like echo chambers and echo plates and tape. Tape played an enormous part in creating delays, with time stretching and time shrinking and all of that stuff. It’s actually remarkable to think that the albums that I made my name with, like Dark Side of the Moon, there were no digital boxes back then. It was all done with tape and chambers and things."

He says there was a benefit to working with rudimentary equipment.

"I think it was a healthy thing to have to battle with primitive technology to achieve results," he says. "I think that battle often resulted in very satisfying results. Now that everything is digital, you just plug in a box and you get a myriad of effects with the touch of a button. I feel there’s a certain loss in the creative process. It’s become a little bit too easy now.”

The Alan Parsons Live Project, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 2, Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park - Hard Rock Live, 10777 Northfield Rd.,
Northfield, 330-908-7625. Tickets: $39.50-$62.50,

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