Shadows of a creative man

Published Dec 15, 2013, 9:58 pm IST
Updated Mar 19, 2019, 12:16 am IST
Alan Parsons, on his second visit to India, talks about the dying art of concept albums, and being in a band that was ahead of its time.

All through his career, Alan Parsons has worn many hats. As a sound engineer turned producer turned musician turned mentor, Parsons has dabbled with a lot, most often simultaneously.

If you thought he'd be done with experimentation at this stage of his career, you'd be in for a surprise.


“It's true, I am taking acting lessons," he laughs, adding, “Can you believe that?"

Respond in the affirmative and he says, “I know, you think I'd make a good villain. I have that kind of face and build that makes it easy for people to slot me in the role of a bad guy. But I am a good guy, you know," he laughs again.

Parsons is in India to perform with his eponymous band Alan Parsons Live Project at the Johnnie Walker The Journey festival at the Mehboob Studios on Saturday.

At a time when bands toured relentlessly while also releasing multiple albums, the Alan Parsons Project (as it was called then), a British progressive rock outfit chose to stay in the studios and focus on putting together slickly produced concept albums. When the band finally did get on stage, it was literally at the end before they disbanded. “As much as I'm happy about the journey of the band, I just wish sometimes that we had gotten on the stage much earlier. We would've made a great stadium band. Instead we chose to put all our ideation and energy into working on albums," he says, with the slightest hint of regret.


Concept albums are albums where the songs and their lyrics work towards or under a unified theme. In this age of torrents and tweets, where does he see the scope for such albums?

“Oh it's a lost art. People now release one song at a time. Listeners hardly buy studio albums anymore, let alone have the time and patience to listen to an album at a stretch. Even I have to think of singles. People's attention spans have gone down. In this over-stimulated world that seeks instant gratification, we rarely have the time and space to sit and listen to an album start to finish. Musicians have got to keep pace with that," Parsons says.


The pace may be frenetic but Parsons has taken his time to pick and choose projects that he wants to work with. It's his passion that has driven him to make unusual tie-ups.

Parsons adds, “As a sound engineer you do not have much of a say, but as a record producer you can choose who to work with. Apart from Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson, I've also had the good fortune of teaming up with Jake Shimabukuro, an American ukulele virtuoso of Japanese origin. When I first heard about his concert, I thought to myself, 'Really, do people listen to a ukulele soloist for two hours?' Then when I heard him, I knew I just had to produce his album."


Early in his career, Parsons was involved with the production of several significant albums, including The Beatles' Abbey Road and Let It Be, as well as Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon for which the band credit him as an important contributor. He turned down Pink Floyd's offer to work on their next album Wish You Were Here and instead focused on putting together a band. In the contemporary sense, the Alan Parsons Project was a collective with a revolving door policy for sessions musicians and vocalists.

Remind him that that was an arrangement rather ahead of its time, and he ponders before admitting, “Why yes, apart from the Prog Collective, I don't know bands that do that today. In fact, there weren't too many who did it back then. We used musicians and singers based on our requirement for an album or a song. We picked the voice that best suited a song in our opinion. Which is why each song seemed to take much more effort and time to put together. But when I think of it today, I'd have it no other way. It wasn't about having creative control issues. It was about producing the sound that keeps playing in my ear."