Asked what the experience was like to go back and revisit his earlier recordings, Alan Parsons explained, “It’s actually very pleasurable, like stepping back in a time machine.”
By Jason M. Rubin
From Abbey Road to Family Guy, Alan Parsons has done it all. He will reach into his bag of sonic tricks at Medford’s Chevalier Theatre on Wednesday, February 27. (This is a make-up date for a November 2018 appearance that had to be canceled due to a snowstorm.)
He was only nineteen years old when he received his first professional album credit, but it was a good one: assistant engineer on Abbey Road by the Beatles. The following year, 1970, he was the assistant engineer on Let It Be and Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother. His association with the latter band continued in 1973 when he served as the full-fledged engineer on Dark Side of the Moon, which last year was voted the best album of all time by readers of Classic Rock magazine. Having been nominated for a Grammy for his work on that progressive rock landmark, he hired a manager, Eric Woolfson, who had been dreaming of assembling an ensemble to record a series of concept albums. Woolfson decided his new client was the perfect co-director and namesake for such an undertaking. So, in 1975, the Alan Parsons Project was born.
Through ten albums released between 1976 and 1987, the Alan Parsons Project operated similarly to Steely Dan. Woolfson and Parsons comprised a creative brain trust, much like Dan’s Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. A revolving roster of ace musicians and vocalists were hired to perform the compositions. There were other similarities between the two outfits: Parsons’ pristine productions were a match for the sonic clarity of Steely Dan’s, and both bands eschewed touring, preferring the controlled climate of the recording studio to the haphazard hazards of the road.
“In the studio you have many tries to get it right,” says Parsons, “whereas on stage every moment in the show is the last chance you have. Obviously, I can’t be in two places at once; I can’t play keyboards and guitar and be at the sound board. But at soundchecks I go out to hear what the band sounds like, and I might ask the engineer to tweak things here and there. Fortunately, I work with people who understand and appreciate the music and it’s in their interest to get the sound right.”
Along the way, and in contrast to a lot of progressive rock bands, the Alan Parsons Project managed to do pretty well on the charts. I Robot (1977) and Eye in the Sky (1982) were top 10 albums in the U.S., and radio accepted such singles as “I Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You,” “Damned If I Do,” “Games People Play,” and “Eye in the Sky.” “Sirius,” a short instrumental that preceded “Eye in the Sky” on the album, has been heard on TV and film and has become a sports staple: it was adopted by the Chicago Bulls for when they introduce their starting lineup.
Eventually, Parsons and Woolfson (who died in 2009) went their separate ways. Parsons recorded four albums under his own name (dropping the “Project” in deference to his former partner) and in the late ’90s began touring. His current eight-piece band is coming to Medford’s Chevalier Theatre. Though his last album of all-new material was released in 2004, he has released three live albums since then and many of the classic Alan Parsons Project albums have been reissued in deluxe editions. In fact, earlier this year, the Eye in the Sky box set won a Progressive Music Award for Reissue of the Year. Obviously, this legendary figure comes to town with the wind at his back.
Asked what the experience was like to go back and revisit his earlier recordings, Parsons explained, “It’s actually very pleasurable, like stepping back in a time machine, hearing each individual track and rediscovering little subtleties you’d forgotten about. It’s a great feeling. Also, I’m a huge advocate for mixing the older material in Surround. It’s been a great experience for me.”
Touring as the Alan Parsons Live Project rather than the Alan Parsons Project Live, he makes it clear that, while the repertoire is drawn primarily from the classic Alan Parsons Project recordings, this is not the Project per se. None of the musicians in Parsons’s current band performed on any of the earlier albums. And while the melodic prog of the Alan Parsons Project was part and parcel of the British music scene in the ’70s and ’80s, Parsons now lives in America and his band is largely American-born.
In the coming year, fans can expect a new recording. Titled The Secret, it is a concept album — though Parsons would not reveal what “the secret” was — and features his touring band as well as special guests that include former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett, original Alan Parsons Project guitarist Ian Bairnson, ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro, and session legends Nathan East (bass) and Vinny Colaiuta (drums).
“For all the unfashionability of concept albums these days,” he said, “I helped popularize the genre so I’m not going to let it go.” The album will appear on the Italian record label Frontiers in April. In addition, Parsons, who was name-checked in the second Austin Powers movie, recently did a dialogue session for the Family Guy television show. “They haven’t animated the scene yet but it was fun to do and I’m curious to see what they make me look like,” he concludes.
Jason M. Rubin has been a professional writer for 33 years, the last 18 of which has been as senior writer at Libretto, a Boston-based strategic communications agency. An award-winning copywriter, he holds a BA in Journalism from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, maintains a blog called Dove Nested Towers, and for four years served as communications director and board member of AIGA Boston, the local chapter of the national association for graphic arts. His first novel, The Grave & The Gay, based on a 17th-century English folk ballad, was published in September 2012.