With his latest album, From The New World, legendary musician/producer Alan Parsons continues a string of lushly orchestrated progressive rock, this time featuring guests such as Joe Bonamassa and Styx’s Tommy Shaw.
Parsons gained recognition as assistant engineer on the Beatles’ Abbey Road and Let it Be then famously engineered Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother and The Dark Side of the Moon. He became a producer, then formed the Alan Parsons Project with Eric Woolfson (1945-2009), which recorded 10 successful concept albums between 1976 and ’87 and enjoyed several hit singles.
The new album borrows from a piece of classical music and includes your cover of a ’50s soul-pop song. What led to those choices?
Antonín Dvorák and Phil Spector are two of my boyhood favorites, and I actually wanted to orchestrate more than just the movement we based “Goin’ Home” on (Dvorák’s “Symphony No. 9 in E minor”). I grew up with classical music and my father was very keen on that movement. I still hope that one day I can do other sections.
I wanted to cover the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” because to me it’s quintessential Phil Spector.
Describe the guitar’s importance to your music.
It’s interesting. For the first three or four APP albums, some people thought I was very electronic and into synthesizers and that sound. The fact is we were – and probably always will be – very much guitar-based. I Robot opens with a distinctive synth drone, but it’s not long before the guitar takes over. I have to take my hat off to Ian Bairnson. Over the years, he did a fantastic job – some of the greatest guitar-playing in any prog-rock format. We were lucky to have him. Sadly, he’s in ill health right now and not able to play.
From the songwriting aspect, it would be easy to assume APP’s music would’ve been keyboard-based, but there’s more guitar than people realize.
When you say keyboards, people think of synthesizer and piano. Eric was always ready to play piano or a Rhodes. Some of the sounds that people think are electronic are actually orchestral sounds. People who were buying our records in the early years may not have been sufficiently into classical music to recognize what orchestral instruments sounded like. There were very few acts using heavy orchestration. The Moody Blues was one. Pink Floyd didn’t start orchestration until The Wall. Genesis and Yes had a limited amount. But it was a big part of what I wanted to achieve. I think as long as I’m making records, orchestration will always be considered, but not for every song.
In your live show, you play a lot of acoustic rhythm guitar.
I’m a strummer – I strum chords. I made my start with guitar and played in a band at school doing Chuck Berry and Shadows covers. I didn’t play leads. I also went through a brief period of playing folk-blues as a solo artist. I took lessons to play clawhammer style and got pretty good at that. Soon, though, I got the (assistant engineer) job at Abbey Road and put the guitar away for quite a few years.
What do your longtime lead guitarist Jeff Kollman and guitarist Dan Tracey bring to your band?
They’re incredible. Jeff’s a virtuoso. I respect his ability enormously. Dan’s also a very capable guitarist. He’s more of a rhythm guy, though he gets his moments in the live show as a lead player. We are, perhaps, a little guitar-heavy in this band because singer P.J. Olsson and saxophonist Todd Cooper also pick up acoustics during the show. I love the sound of acoustic guitar. The more guitars strumming along with a song, the happier I am.
What do you remember most about recording David Gilmour’s guitar for Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon?
His Strat, and he had some really good pedals for the period, when it was unusual to have any pedals at all. He’s just a great player. He managed to get a great sound. I don’t take much credit for that. I just took a mic and stuck it on the amp! He gets credit for the guitar sounds on the album.
Do you have a favorite guitar?
I’ve been playing a Taylor for three or four years, and love the sound and its action. I’ve played a PRS semi-acoustic with f holes, and a Washburn acoustic.
This article originally appeared in VG’s October 2022 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.