Interview: Alan Parsons talks about the making of his forthcoming concept album
Courtesy of Sony Music

When the Alan Parsons Project had a big hit with their Eye in the Sky album in the early ’80s, fans had to be content just with playing their copies of the album, as the band did not tour. That’s because there was no band. Parsons, the man who engineered the BeatlesAbbey Road and Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, worked strictly in studio with writing partner Eric Woolfson and a cast of session players. That changed in the mid-1990s when Parsons assembled the Alan Parsons Live Project and took the show on the road for the very first time.

Parsons is currently working on a new album, his first in more than a decade, while also playing select dates with the Alan Parsons Live Project, including Apr. 26 in Ft. Lauderdale, FL at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts (click here for tickets) and Apr. 29 in Orlando, FL at The Plaza Live (click here for tickets). Those shows will find Parsons performing the I Robot album along with greatest hits.

Later this spring the Alan Parsons Live Project will play shows celebrating the 35th anniversary of Eye in the Sky, something that has also been commemorated with a massive box set from Sony/Legacy Recordings. Fans will love Eye in the Sky 35th Anniversary Edition; it includes a half-speed master double vinyl copy of the album packaged in a deluxe gatefold sleeve, three CDs encompassing the album, unreleased bonus tracks and Eric Woolfson’s songwriting diaries, the album on Blu-ray audio, a 60-page book and goodies such as a poster and a flexi disc.

During a telephone call with Parsons he told us about working on his upcoming album, gave us a remembrance of the late Woolfson, and anticipated playing an Eye in the Sky show in-the-round at Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix. His commentary below is given exclusively to AXS.com.

AXS: You’re working on a new album and you’ve recently completed an orchestral recording session and a masterclass. Tell us a little bit about that.

Alan Parsons: The masterclass is a continuance of my classes that I’ve done through the educational DVD series and book which are called “Art & Science of Sound Recording,” which has been out four or five years now. This was different in that it was a two-day session that encompassed an orchestral session at a studio called Hybrid in Santa Ana. We got a sort of all-star rhythm section on Saturday and the full orchestra on Sunday. The rhythm section was Nathan East on bass (Eric Clapton, Phil Collins) and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums (Sting, Jeff Beck), and then we had Jeff Coleman on guitar, who also plays in my band, and Tom Brooks who played keyboards and also did the orchestral arrangement. The piece we recorded is a well-known classical piece by Paul Dukas and we abridged it slightly and have done a rock version of it. And it was done in front of 20-or-so budding engineers and producers; it was quite a session. They were all very well behaved. I’ve always maintained that at these classes that people should say what they think, and if they have any ideas that they should speak up. And they spoke up at the right moment most of the time.

AXS: Do you have a working title for the album yet, or a target date for release?

AP: Target date for release is February of next year and I hope to deliver in September. I don’t want to give anything away; I’ve always found it’s more effective to let the cat out of the bag around the time of the release and not before. The album is conceptual; all the songs are based on a particular subject.

AXS: In the book that’s included in the Eye in the Sky 35th Anniversary Edition you mention that in this day of three-minute downloads that it’s very difficult to get people to listen to an entire album so that they can follow a concept. So you’re not too concerned with that making the new record?

AP: I think that my audience is either going to buy the CD or download the entire thing. I don’t think we’re going to fall victim to one single getting downloaded, although it would be very nice if we did get a hit single; that would mean we’d sell lots of full albums as well. The fact that it’ll be a piece of music that will be designed to be listened to from start to finish…there’s not much saying that there won’t be a song or two that people can’t download as a three or four minute piece as well. The whole pop music business has been essentially based on that for years. But it’s true what I said. With all the present 21st century distractions, the internet, games, five billion TV channels, it’s difficult to get people to sit down and listen to a piece of music for more than five minutes.

AXS: You’ve been involved in a lot of collaborations with other artists. Is working on the new album keeping you away from that?

AP: Generally speaking I’m concentrating on the album and the live shows. At the moment there’s nothing else going on production-wise that I can think of. Having just built a studio, I want to get in to production again as soon as this album is done. I want to keep the studio busy even if I’m executive producer as opposed to full-blown producer. I want to get my money back!

AXS: The Eye in the Sky book also features lots of notes and commentary from Eric Woolfson, the late co-creator of the Alan Parsons Project and your longtime writing partner. Can you share a favorite memory of Eric from the Eye in the Sky days?

AP: He was always very fun-loving and always had a sense of humor. He was clearly a very talented writer. The actual song “Eye in the Sky,” I was ready to drop it. I didn’t feel it was a strong enough song for us to continue, until we found the right feel for it. He never allowed me to forget that I was ready to drop “Eye in the Sky” into the dustbin. He never let me forget that.

AXS: Working with technology is part of what you do for a living; are you also a tech guy away from the studio? Do you get new devices as soon as they’re available?

AP: You know what, not particularly. Just keeping up with email and social media is a task in itself. I like gadgets; I got a drone for Christmas which I’m hoping to have some fun with when I’ve got some time. It’s barely out of the box yet. Like everyone I spend a lot of time on my phone and my computer, but other hardware not so much.

AXS: You’ve got an Alan Parsons Live Project show scheduled for June 8 at the Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix, a venue in-the-round where the stage rotates, and you’ve played there before. Is any special preparation required for such a show?

AP: It’s a fun venue. It’s quite disconcerting but nevertheless fun. It’s different. You have a lot of personal contact with the audience, who are right there in front of you. To experience it is fun. The important thing is to know where to go when it’s time to get off stage!

Follow Alan Parsons and find Alan Parsons Live Project dates here.