A Conversation with Courtney Taylor-Taylor
Mike Ragogna: Dandy Warhols has a new album, Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia: Live At The Wonder. Why did you go back to that album and can you describe the event beyond the music?
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: So 2013 was the 13th anniversary of Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia, and I think it was probably our biggest-selling record...maybe ...Monkey House was, but I think Thirteen Tales... outsold ...Monkey House. But we decided that we would just play the entire record with all of the segues between the music and extra musicians and all of that stuff. So we did a litlte tour, just a couple weeks in America and maybe one overseas show with it. But sort of at the last minute, because that's sort of how we do everything, somebody said, "Hey, you guys have got like four shows left, you should probably record this." So that was maybe the second to last show of the tour and somebody managed to get some kind of digital recording box down there, plug it into the board and just record whatever came out. Then we mixed it here at the studio, the auditorium, and we made sure not to do any of the overdubs or anything like that. We didn't want to cheat, we just wanted to document what we do live. Also we can then take exactly that and play it for a live mixing engineer and say, "By the way, this is exactly what it should sound like in front of the stage when we're playing," because you can not go see your own band. You can never go and see your own band, decide how it sounds and either correct your front of house mixing engineer or change that person. So that's as close as we'll ever get to hearing our own band. But really you don't know what it sounds like.
MR: What did you think of the performance in the end? A lot has happened between when you first recorded Thirteen Tales... and now. It sounds like you guys have grown as musicians and artists.
CT: That's a pretty long assumption. Okay, okay, let's just assume we have.
MR: [laughs] But you know where I'm going with this, it's about the evolution from how you heard that project when you first recorded to heard how performed it live all those years later.
CT: Yeah. I don't know that we've grown up since then at all. Certainly a good bunch of us spent the last thirteen years basically drunk or stoned. You don't necessarily grow up that much. I don't know if we changed at all. I really don't. I look at the pictures on that record and I say, "Wow, we look a lot younger. We look like little kids." We look like grown-ups now.
MR: What do you think of The Dandy Warhols nowadays and what are you doing in 2014?
CT: What are we doing in 2014? The usual. Go to Europe for a little bit, enjoy the spring and early summer. For the spring tour, we'll do America, we'll go around and do a couple weeks and try to go to places we haven't hit in 15 years like Memphis and just do kind of small venues in America so that we can go back again and do more serious, larger venues later in the year, with colleges in September. Then Australia and Europe. That's kind of just what we do year in and year out. Last year we didn't really work very hard, and I haven't left Portland all winter, which is a real bummer because it's pretty grey and crappy here. We usually go somewhere in the other hemisphere for the winter, but we didn't this year. We've changed booking agents and managers. We ended up with a bigger profile team, so we're kind of attempting to just ramp up The Dandy Warhols and pay for our children's education or whatever. What I think is the most important thing is that we still enjoy that new bands that come out have our records and they're bands we like. The young bands that we have influenced, and we've definitely made our mark--I'm not so sure sonically we really were one of the first bands to bring back vintage guitars, vintage amps, old synthesizers, eighties keyboard sounds, that was Welcome To The Monkey House, and before that was Thirteen Tales... and before that, Come Down was a shoegazer record. We were a couple of years ahead of everybody back then. The bands that are still influenced by us are amazing, but also just the attitude, the disposition of young bands, that it's very cool to be smart and whimsically dressed--not necessarily well-dressed but not badly dressed. I like that. I like that it's cool to be smart, it's cool to be eccentric and all that stuff. More importantly what I and every artists I knew at 14, 15 years old, punk or new wave kids, all we really wanted was to create a world where people understood us and were interesting to us and we were interesting to them. The Dandy Warhols have most f**king definitely done this one thing: We have definitely made the world a place that we enjoy more.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
CT: Oh God, just enjoy it. Enjoy that you're a new band and you're excited about getting into a band and being gone and getting four days off work at the pizza joint you work at. It's like, fuck, man, I wish I could go back. That's something that gets me every single day of my life. I can't be seven years old in the summer again, I can't be a twenty-nothing again, I can't be a teenager, I can't even go back three years and do it. Ugh. The art and the commerce and all that, I know that's what you're looking for in an answer, "What you really need to do, man, is develop a web presence." No, f**k that, just enjoy your f**king life and do what everyone does, document it, hashtag the f**k out of everything, whatever, that's cool, but really, be present. Hang out with people and really milk life. Every day. Just get as much as you can out of it because it's not just going to give you sh*t. Jackie Onassis said, "Don't expect much from life."
Transcribed By Galen Hawthorne
KITTY HAWK REVISITED
"The first idea for this video actually had a human/monster transformation...no lie," explains Joel Burleson aka Ki:Theory. "But then we decided to go with something a little more real world...I wanted it to have a sense of seriousness and not in a whimsical way. The video was mostly shot in Berlin and then made to look like LA with a little bit of Richmond, Virginia thrown in...a truly international effort. Favorite shot? Has to be when the beat drops right as our friend in the passenger seat decides to test the Scotchguard on that nice antique interior. SICK!"
A Conversation with Alan Parsons
Mike Ragogna: Everything comes around, Alan! The tracks "The Game Of Love" and "Instant Crush" on the new Daft Punk album seem to have been influenced by The Alan Parsons Project.
Alan Parsons: I've heard people say that. I hear it to a degree. I think they're very good, I think they deserve all the Grammys they've won.
MR: And I believe their randomly accessed memories included Alan Parsons as well as Nile Rodgers and Giorgio Moroder.
AP: Giorgio Moroder, there's a guy I admire.
MR: Alan, Legacy is releasing The Complete Albums Collection by The Alan Parsons Project, and there's one disc that's especially of interest, The Sicilian Defence.
AP: Yeah. They pushed us hard to include it and they needed to. I never in my wildest dreams thought that it would ever be released.
MR: It was recorded around the same time as Eve, right?
AP: Yeah, about '79.
MR: What's the story on that?
AP: Well, the story is that we had to deliver two albums and Eric was a little bit at odds with the label at the time, so it was kind of, "You want an album? Okay, we'll give you an album." It's all instrumental, it's clearly project-y in a way. It's not our finest hour as The Alan Parsons Project, that's all I can say. But for followers and historians it's an interesting piece of work.
MR: Do you feel like musically it might be a bridge between a couple of those albums?
AP: No, it's definitely very different to anything else.
MR: Okay. "Elsie's Theme" was an edited version of one of those tracks, right?
AP: That's right. So that's the only thing that's been out already from The Sicilian Defence. I think I might even say that it's an extended version on The Sicilian Defence album as opposed to the edited version included on the Eve bonus tracks.
MR: This is something I've never asked you, and I really ought to since you are one of the pioneers of sound and experimentation: From album to album, did you feel like you learned things that went into new albums?
AP: I think the artists I had the privilege of working with were an influence on my records and I think you're right to say that each successive album was influenced by the previous one.
MR: Was it noticeable and appreciated by you at the time?
AP: The funny thing is people say that they hear a song by The Alan Parsons Project and say, "That is unmistakably The Alan Parsons Project" or "unmistakably produced by Alan Parsons." I dont' know what that sound is. I don't recognize what other people hear as being "me." I just follow my instincts and do what I think is best. I don't hear my sound specifically. It's a weird thing.
MR: I think there was a lot of groundwork done, maybe unconsciously, as far as atmospherics, reverbs, cymbal ringouts--your albums were used as prototypes for some of the bands that followed you. Maybe when you're in the process of making an album, you're not paying full attention to that, but what about when you listened back to the project in the end?
AP: You mean when we wrapped an album up and we played it back in its entirety? That was always a great moment. That was always a great feeling of achievement when we would get to that state. It was a nice way to round it off. All artists have that moment when they turn the lights down and say, "All right, we're going to play the album from start to finish in its finished form." It's great.
MR: Did you have any revelations after listening back to any of your albums?
AP: [laughs] Well sometimes I'd say, "Oh, well the voice is too loud on that song, so I'm going to have to re-mix that one again," but generally no, we didn't do a lot of re-mixing or repairs or things like that. We also had the blessing that the only input from the record label would be from Clive Davis and Clive was a voice to be respected. So many artists have to put up with this A&R man voicing their opinion, saying, "Oh, we love this but we don't like the mix. Make it heavier here, and you should change this and change that." I've never had much of a want to respond to such suggestions. Clive would say, "This is the hit song, we need to make this into a single somehow," and we'd answer to his wishes.
MR: So it was mostly hands-off by the label?
AP: Yeah, and I'm grateful for that. I've watched other artists and producers fall victim to the wrath of the A&R man who says, "Oh, it's great, but do another mix."
MR: Did you have that experience when you were working with anybody like The Hollies or even The Beatles?
AP: As an engineer it was not my place. Nobody would talk to me, they would only talk to the artists and producers.
MR: But you were probably witnessing these types of things.
AP: Yeah, the era of the A&R man coming in and making demands and asking for mixes to be different and stuff, I think that's from the early eighties onwards. Not so much in the seventies.
MR: What's nice about this box set is that somehow Tales Of Mystery And Imagination is included. I guess that was licensed from Polygram?
AP: Yeah, that's a miracle in itself, that two labels with nothing to do with each other could come to a deal where they would include each other's products. That's great news. It would have been incomplete without it. I'm very pleased that it's in there.
MR: And it really does feel like a nice statement from top to bottom. Did the name "The Alan Parsons Project" stick because someone wrote it on the tape box and then...
AP: That's not strictly true; the title just came from the record company people referring to the album. They'd just say, "How's that secret Alan Parsons project coming along?" because nobody knew what it was until the very last moment. Nobody knew it was going to be based on Edgar Allen Poe stories.
MR: Urban legend has turned it into a story where some accountant was referring to it as "The Alan Parsons Project" and that's how it ended up.
AP: That's a story that has a certain truth to it. I wouldn't necessarily say that it was an accountant that coined the phrase. But certainly Russ Regan who was the head of the label at 20th Century at the time said, "Hey, 'The Alan Parsons Project,' I like that. I think that's what we should call it." That's how it actually got coined.
MR: Nice. There are a couple of projects that came your way to produce--and I'm sure everyone was saying, "Let's have Alan do this one"--that really seemed to launch careers. Al Stewart, for instance, you really did launch Al Stewart's career in the United States with those mid-period singles from Year Of The Cat and Time Passages.
AP: Right, right. I think it was Al himself, personally. A mutual friend, another engineer at Abbey Road who knew both of us put my name forward. It was not lead by a label or any kind of business deal, it was a rather friendly approach with a gesture, "How would you like to work with Al Stewart?" I did admire his work, and he came from the same kind of musical background that I did. I grew up with folk just as he had done, so it was a great match.
MR: Many of the musicians you played with, especially early on, came from Pilot, right?
AP: Yeah, essentially The Alan Parsons Project rhythm section was Pilot. Pilot plus Eric [Woolfson] on keyboards.
MR: So if you backtrack that a little and someone were to buy--actually, I don't want to use that word--if someone were to look into the Pilot recordings, do you think they'd have a hint at what was going to be coming on The Alan Parsons Project?
AP: I think so! And why shouldn't they buy it?
AP: That's one of the problems in the industry; nobody's buying anything. But yes, they should go and buy the Pilot album, or download it at least. I think there is a certain Project-y sound or a certain Parsons sound although I've already said that I don't particularly recognize it. But you can hear the guitar playing sound and of course David Paton who sang "Magic" and all the hits of Pilot also did a couple of songs for the Project, so there's another connection.
MR: That's right. And also, you used a string of other vocalists, one of them being Allan Clarke.
AP: That's right. A lot of the guests were literally just through my personal connections with them. Obviously I'd done a lot of work with The Hollies, and Allan was kind of an obvious choice. Steve Harley from Cockney Rebel was another obvious choice, and John Miles, I had quite a lot of success with him as his producer for his artistic career. He ended up doing several songs on The Project over the years.
MR: Yeah. What's interesting and unfortunate about John Miles is he had such a great pop sound and you made such great records with him but they just couldn't break John Miles as an artist in the United States unfortunately.
AP: No, it's so sad. He's huge in Europe, but they never found a format to break him, I don't know why.
MR: And the other thing I mentioned before, it's a headscratcher why The Hollies' Another Night album wasn't a huge record. I know you had the duties of being engineer, but it seemed to me that there was a heavier hand by Alan Parsons in that project than not. Unless I'm imagining that.
AP: I think you're right. I actually played synthesizer on the title song as well, which is a little-known fact.
MR: Nice. You also engineered the album before, right? The Hollies?
AP: Yes, indeed. I think I did that full album, yeah. Sometimes it was because there were other things going on at Abbey Road that I had to share engineer credits with others, but I think I did most of it.
MR: See, this is why I'm one of those people who says there is an Alan Parsons sound, because I can hear it on those records having been a Hollies fan for years and years. I saw the difference once you had a heavier hand in them.
AP: Wow. I'm sort of taking that as a compliment. I think that's nice.
MR: It's totally meant as a compliment. The other one is of course that little album that should have been a hit, Dark Side Of The Moon by Pink Floyd.
AP: I continue to be surprised and obviously elated by the continued success that it has enjoyed more than forty years on. It's just extraordinary, the staying power the album's had.
MR: Nice. Given your call-out in the Austin Powers movie, did you ever find out if Mike Myers was a fan or not?
AP: I didn't! I can only assume that he was, otherwise he wouldn't have written that into the script. It's a bit of a regret that we haven't met. It's an even bigger regret that I didn't know about the quote going into the movie before it was released because I might have approached Mike Myers and said, "Any chance of me getting involved in the music for the movie?"
MR: Or even a cameo on camera!
MR: When you look at The Complete Albums Collection, which I am thrilled about, do you come away with any thoughts or summations?
AP: It seems so definitive, like it's the big statement. I'm not hanging up my hat yet! I just want to make that clear, it's a box set, not a lifetime achievement award that suggests that I'm not going to carry on doing what I'm doing. I'm still playing live, I'm still producing other artists with some success, I might add. It's slightly suggesting that it's the end of an era, but in my own view it's not.
MR: Considering all of the bands that he's touched, Clive Davis went out of his way to say some really nice things about the Alan Parsons Project in his book
Soundtrack Of My Life.
AP: Yes, that was nice. I read the book and it was indeed a very complimentary couple of passages he put in there about us.
MR: But in a way I almost feel like he was saying the obvious. I think a lot of people feel the same way about you.
AP: Well I won't argue with that. I won't say it's true or false, but I won't argue with it.
MR: Other than The Sicilian Defence is there anything that you would've wanted to do during that period that maybe you ended up working on after?
AP: Well you know the project ended on a slightly sour note because the next album after Gaudi which was not officially the Alan Parsons project but which involved all the same people, Eric, myself and all the guys who had performed on the project records, it became a double album called Freudiana which I'm proud of, but I think it was possibly a mistake not to have given it the Alan Parsons Project identity. It's almost certain that it would've done better if it had been released that way. It ended on a sour note because that album became a stage musical which ended up in a terrible legal wrangle between the producer of the show and Eric Woolfson. I was kept blissfully at arm's length on the court case, but it did leave a sour taste in the mouth. Possibly had that not happened Eric and I might have continued to make records together.
MR: I was going to ask if that affected your relationship.
AP: Yes, very much so.
MR: There's no delicate way to ask this, but do you miss making records with Eric?
AP: Very much, yeah. We were a successful team, a good team, and we were good friends. The problems caused over Freudiana had a lasting effect. I do regret that greatly.
MR: And I'm sorry about that, too. Can I ask what's your favorite album out of all of these are?
AP: When I'm asked that question I usually say the first album since it was the first of a new breed of records, but I'm kind of keen on Stereotomy as well. That's a good album. Generally I think that I got more ideas off my chest and more personal satisfaction out of making the first album than out of anything else.
MR: Nice. You're conscious of how I Robot is looked at as an iconic album in a lot of ways, right?
AP: That would be for you to say, not me, but I think it was the one that really put us on the map. Tales was really a cult album, I Robot really did put us on the mainstream rock radio. I give Clive Davis great credit for that, since that was his first album.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
AP: It's a very difficult market right now, isn't it? The download world is a very different world from the world I grew up in, relying on radio and television exposure to get people to go into record stores and buy an album. It's very, very different now. It's all now about social media and spreading the word through those social media. Radio has become less important. But the artist, I think it's almost a requirement now that a new artist has to play live. It's very, very, very difficult to sustain a career without playing live. I could not survive without playing live because record sales have declined so dramatically. But the good news is that as long as live music exists people will pay to go and see it, which is not true of recorded music.
MR: What's your take on the usage of your songs, both as samples in hip hop music and as background music in ads?
AP: That's nice, it's always flattering to be sampled. That's a good thing. It helps pay the rent as well. It's great particularly when we get licensed for movie soundtracks. That's a great feeling when that happens.
MR: And of course the question I'm dying to ask. When Daft Punk and Alan Parsons get together to finally make some recordings, who's going to produce whom?
AP: [laughs] I'd be happy just to be involved with those guys, really. If you have occasion to call them, please ask them to call me. I would love to work with them.
MR: [laughs] You've got it.
AP: When you mentioned hip hop and Daft Punk I thought you were going to immediately refer to the Grammys, because it was a very different show from what it used to be.
MR: When Daft Punk came on?
AP: Yeah, that was great. The LA Times asked "Is rock 'n' roll finally over?" because there was no rock music at the Grammys.
MR: That's true. What do you think?
AP: As long as I'm continuing to sustain my career in the rock business I'm not going to agree with that statement.
MR: Nice. Are you working on anything with Billy Bob Thornton at the moment?
AP: The only connection is through our mutual friend Lisa Roy who manages his music career. He very kindly narrated the DVD series I did a couple of years ago which is called The Art and Science Of Sound Recording.
MR: All right, this has been amazing. I'm such a fan, it's ridiculous. I'm going to stop blushing and get off the phone now.
AP: Thanks, Mike!
Transcribed By Galen Hawthorne
"AN UNUSUAL MAKEUP OF A BAND..."
According to The Gloaming's gloamsters...
"The Gloaming is a collaboration between five musicians named Martin Hayes (violin, fiddle), Thomas Bartlett aka Doveman (piano), Iarla Ó Lionaird (vocals), Dennis Cahill (guitar) and Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh (hardanger fiddle). They range in age from 30-something to 50-something, that they live in America and Ireland, and that each one has won individual renowned as a master musician."
"If you allow anything to happen, it can be a much broader palette," says Iarla O'Lionaird, vocalist.