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No Easy Trick: Alan Parsons Mixes Magic and Music on New Album ‘The Secret’

Alan Parsons
Alan Parsons. Courtesy: Frontiers Music Srl. Credit: Simon Lowery.

“It’s an interesting time. I’m fortunate in that I’ve had a long-standing career and my catalog continues to keep me alive and sustain me. And playing live and supporting the catalog is also sustaining my fairly comfortable lifestyle. But, the simple fact of the matter is we live in an age where recorded music is not being adequately compensated, as far as the artist, writers and performers on the records are concerned. The danger is that if people are not gonna get paid to make music, then why should they make music. And that’s a real danger.”

Alan Parsons has been making his own music since 1976 when he released The Alan Parsons Project’s debut album Tales of Mystery and Imagination. The album title turned out to be prophetic because Parsons has been weaving tales of mystery and imagination into his music ever since. With a catalog of groundbreaking progressive rock records that include I Robot, The Turn of a Friendly Card, Eye in the Sky and Stereotomy, among others, this literal magician of a musician has kept fans spellbound with every subsequent collection of otherworldly compositions.

On April 26th, Parsons will unveil his latest sonic ace up his sleeve with the release of his new album The Secret. Apropos of its title, the 11-track masterwork features some surprises, including a bevy of very special guest vocalists. The album will also be available as a Super Luxury Box Set.

Alan, good afternoon. How are you, sir?

Hi, good thanks.

It’s a pleasure to speak with you and thank you for your time today. Well listen, we’re here certainly to talk about your new album The Secret. I’d like to kick off our conversation here by quoting a famous – and I might add, extremely accurate – soothsayer: “I Robot…The story of the rise of the machine and the decline of man, which paradoxically coincided with his discovery of the wheel…and a warning that his brief dominance of this planet will probably end, because man tried to create robot in his own image.”

That soothsayer was (The Alan Parsons Project multi-instrumentalist, songwriter) Eric Woolfson.

Okay. The question is, how does it feel to hear that again 40 years later and know that he was right on point?

He was, wasn’t he. We’re at a stage where A.I. is very much a part of everybody’s life. It’s interesting that the philosophy that we tried to convey on (the 1977 album) I Robot was not in harmony with (American author Isaac) Asimov’s philosophy. If you ever read the Asimov trilogy, he maintains that we would never allow robots to cause humans any harm. Our observation was that machines could become more intelligent than the human race and therefore cause us irreparable harm, or even dominate us completely.

Let’s move to the present here – and actually just a little bit into the future – because the new album The Secret is due out April 26th. Share a brief overview of what you wanted to accomplish with this album.

It’s the first album in a while – 15 years to be precise, which seems like a long time, but it’s not as if I’d gone into any retirement. I’ve been keeping very busy. I’ve been working with other artists. I put a DVD video, and series and book together called The Art and Science of Sound Recording. I completely rebuilt my house. A number of things got in the way of recording, but I felt the time was right and here we are. It’s a return to my traditional style. The last studio album was very electronic and somewhat of an experiment with electronica. But the new album is back to the old style. Good songs. Heavily orchestrated in most cases. A long instrumental piece. It’s back to the old values, really. We got some really wonderful guest artists appearing.

Yes.

We got Jason Mraz, who is from another generation, literally.

Oh yes, I know him very well. I’m gonna ask you about several specific songs along the way in the conversation, so we will definitely bring Jason into the conversation once again because I’m a huge fan of his. Is there a sonic or lyrical thread line that connects the 11 tracks?

Yes, very much so. I don’t know if you’ve seen the cover art, but it depicts a magician walking on a road of magic wands. The theme is very much is the art of magic. That’s been a passion of mine ever since childhood. I have a huge collection of books about magic that teach you tricks. I’m a member of the Magic Castle in Hollywood, which is arguably the best known magic club in the world. It’s always been a passion of mine, and I just woke up one day and said, hey, I think it makes a good subject for an album.

The album opens with the instrumental “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” followed by “Miracle” featuring the aforementioned Jason Mraz on lead vocals. I’ve been a big fan of his voice and music for a long time, so I found the choice to be both bold and brilliant. Why did you believe he was the right fit for this song?

I just heard the demo that we put together, and I just heard Jason’s voice on it. I had met him a couple of years previously. He played me a version of “Eye in the Sky” which he had recorded himself. He was my biggest fan as well as me being his biggest fan. And he said when he heard “Miracle” he said it sounds like a remnant from Eye in the Sky. It could have been on that album, he said.

Fans are going to appreciate that the mutual admiration society got together and cut this track (laughs). It’s a good one. Let me ask you about the just-released second single “I Can’t Get There from Here.” It features Jared Mahone on the vocals.

He’s one of the cowriters. One of the main writers is a guy called Patrick Johnson, who is a movie director. And he actually directed the video for the song as well. You probably noticed that it included some fairly pricey-looking footage from a movie that he’s made called 5-25-77, which is the date that Star Wars came out. That song is gonna feature as the final song in the movie.

Can you tell us a little bit more about the track itself?

It’s got a fairly vague magic connection. I remember it was sort of a joke that the English always make jokes about the Irish, and then the Americans joke about the Polish. When an Englishman asks an Irishman for directions to get somewhere, he says (in an Irish accent), oh, you can’t get there from here (laughs). I saw David Copperfield do a show where he transports himself from the theater to a Caribbean island. And you are completely convinced that he is actually on this Caribbean island. Very clever trick. I kind of always think of that when I hear the words, I can’t get there from here.

We’ve already mentioned a couple of really fine singers. Let me add another one into the mix. Track five, “Sometimes,” features longtime Foreigner frontman Lou Gramm. Had you worked with him in the past?

I hadn’t. But interestingly Mick Jones and I both had sons who were at the same school in London back in the 80’s. So, I knew Mick, but I never actually met Loy Gramm before. And I still haven’t, believe it or not. We recorded that vocal over the internet at a distance, which is a realistic way of working these days. It saves on airfares and hotels, apart from anything else, but he did a lovely job. I just felt we needed a real rock voice to sing that song and I think he did a wonderful interpretation of the song.

Indeed. The line that jumped out at me was, “The older grow wiser.”

I wonder why (laughs)? Yeah, the older do grow wiser, and of course we had a successful song called “Old and Wise” on Eye in the Sky. It’s become a kind of anthem for many people. I don’t wish to sound doomy but it’s a very popular choice at funerals.

As we get older, let me segue to a different topic here just for a second. How are you navigating the sort of ever-changing landscape of the music business?

It’s an interesting time. It’s a dangerous time for people coming into the business, I think. I’m fortunate in that I’ve had a long-standing career and my catalog continues to keep me alive and sustain me. And playing live and supporting the catalog is also sustaining my fairly comfortable lifestyle. But, the simple fact of the matter is we live in an age where recorded music is not being adequately compensated, as far as the artist, writers and performers on the records are concerned.” The danger is that if people are not gonna get paid to make music, then why should they make music. And that’s a real danger.

You mentioned of course your long and stellar career. Al Stewart’s Year of the Cat album (produced by Parsons) served as the soundtrack to my senior year in high school, so I want to thank you for that.

Oh, really!

I loved that album.

We saw each other just a month ago. We were on a cruise, a music cruise called the On the Blue Cruise, which was put together by (The Moody Blues’) Justin Hayward. Al was on the bill. We were on the bill. The Zombies were there. Steve Hackett was there. A number of good friends were on the ship with us, so we had a good time.

Just a couple more questions for you here, and again thank you for your time. What can you tell us about the Super Luxury Box Set edition of The Secret?

It’s pretty lavish. It’s got a poster with my likeness on it, a T-shirt, a lithograph, the album on vinyl, the album on CD and also a hi-def version on DVD with a 5.1 surround mix. It’s a nice box set package. I think the first few hundred are going to be autographed by me. The booklets are sitting here at home on my desk waiting to be signed.

Isn’t it great that as much as technology and the business has changed that vinyl is coming back?

Yes, well, that’s good. We talked about the fact that copyright owner’s compensation has dwindled, and so has the quality of the audio. We’re in the world of downloads onto smart phones, MP3s and so on. So, it’s actually very encouraging to me that vinyl is undergoing a renaissance because it means people are going back to hi-fi and the experience of actually sitting in a room listening to music. For so many people out there now, it’s just become a background activity.

You can’t beat the experience of sitting down and listening to a record from start to finish.

Yeah, I agree.

Final question for you. And this one is one I ask often in these conversations, but this will be the first time I ask someone who actually worked with The Beatles about, what I call, their proverbial Beatles on Ed Sullivan moment. Did you have one? Was there a song that came on the radio, or an album you listened to, perhaps a concert or something where you said to yourself at that point, this is what I wanna do for the rest of my life?

I think it was probably hearing Sgt. Pepper’s for the first time. I was working in an associated department of EMI Records in West London called Tape Records. That department was responsible for making copies of master tapes for foreign countries to manufacture vinyl. The master tape of Sgt. Pepper’s came through that department and I was there assisting and making copies of the album and the first hearing of it just had me absolutely spellbound. And a tear in my eye, literally. I think it was then that I said I’m gonna write to the manager at Abbey Road and see if I can get a job there. Thankfully I was successful in that quest.

Well, is there anything else Alan that we need to cover? Anything else that you would like to add to the conversation?

Only, please have everybody go to our website and look for shows. We’ve got plenty of shows in the States, in Canada and in Europe later in the summer. It’s Alan Parsons.com.

Fantastic. Well thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure and safe travels on the tour.

Alright Jim, thanks very much. I appreciate you doing this. Thanks. Bye.

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