"In Conversation" - Ray Wilson talks to TWR about his career to date. Interview conducted by Alan Hewitt. Photographs by Alan Hewitt, Martin Dean, Mike Ainscoe, Stuart Barnes. Memorabilia: TWR Archive/Richard Coppola.
It has been a while since we focused TWR’s attentions on Ray’s career but here at last he chats to TWR about his career and current plans…
TWR: Your first recording was part of Fish’s “Outpatients” CD and thence on to Guaranteed Pure. How did that come about? When did you actually start recording songs?
RW: I recorded the album Swing Your Bag at Fish’s studio in Haddington, Scotland. He heard Swing Your Bag and asked if he could add it to the Outpatients CD, which contained recordings from artists who had worked at his studio.
TWR: You had a career mapped out and an album with your own band; Cut with whom you toured in 1999. What happened to Cut after that?
RW: They went their own way. The option for a second album wasn’t taken up by Virgin so we didn’t have much choice at the time. I then took a couple of years out of music to re-think things.
TWR: With Genesis and yourself tied into a contract, when did it become apparent that the band had effectively called it a day and what were your feelings at the time?
RW: When Tony Smith called me to tell me this, I think it was in the autumn of 1999, but I can’t quite remember. I thought it was the wrong decision, I felt we should have at least recorded the second album and made an attempt to build the new Genesis. Looking back, I still feel the same way and there is still a chance to do this, but I don’t think Mike would want this but I’m not completely sure.
TWR: Your first releases after the demise of Cut were acoustic live albums, did you find this an easier way to get your feet back under the musical table so to speak?
RW: Basically yes, I had to try and find a new direction after Genesis. It seemed obvious to go back to my roots and play some acoustic shows, tell stories and just have fun again. It was a good decision for me.
TWR: Your first solo album, Change has a decidedly folky feel to it. Was that a deliberate decision?
RW: I guess this was a continuation of the acoustic feel I had been working on at live concerts. I wanted to write songs that I could perform solo or with a band. I wanted a more singer/songwriter feel. That was my thinking at the time.
TWR: Tell us about the evolution of some of the tracks on the album. The lyrics to Change itself, for instance seem to be almost a statement of intent…
RW: Change was a song of defiance, self belief and determination. It was a song for the time that’s for sure. Along The Way also had this theme although less directly. It was a song written by my brother and I guess it was his observation of my reality. Beach is also a special song on this album, Goodbye Baby Blue also.
TWR: Beach was written about an actual news report, wasn’t it?
RW: It was actually written because of a story Paul Holmes (keyboard player with Cut) told me. He had been living in Norway and told me about two small children who had been killed on a crowded beach. I’m not sure of the full facts behind it but the song came from this story, told to me by Paul my former keyboard player.
TWR: Your next album, The Next Best Thing is an altogether darker album, was this a reflection of your own circumstances and your surroundings at the time?
RW: I guess it was dark because I recorded it in a basement in wintertime! (laughs) So my mood would have been dark. This was actually a good time in my life, I had married Tyla and we were enjoying life. I think the songs were more reflective than current. Alone and The Actor were songs I really enjoyed.
TWR: Why did you decided to include the new version of Inside and a handful of tracks from the Cut album on this one?
RW: God knows! I guess I had limited time to release the album. Inside was a mistake. Adolescent Breakdown, however, is a really nice song, so it made sense to put a new version of it on the album.
TWR: How High has a decidedly U2-ish feel to it, tell us a bit about that one.
RW: It was written with Scott Spence. He created the music and we worked on the lyric and vocal together. We worked with a lot of percussive ideas from hitting the wall with drum sticks to vocal percussion ideas and droning. It was a fun song to create.
TWR: Adolescent Breakdown has appeared as one of the tracks on the Cut single, what was the inspiration behind that one?
RW: It was inspired by the old Stiltskin drummer. He is a great guy but would go from being extremely full of energy and happy, to very low and introvert. Peter Lawlor would constantly put him down, saying he had no talent, which wasn’t true. That was just Peter being Peter.
TWR: What prompted the move to Poland?
RW: Love! Best decision I ever made. It’s a great country.
TWR: Propaganda Man… intriguing title for an album. What’s the story behind it?
RW: I can’t remember where the initial spark came from. I guess there are so many examples of propaganda, both in politics and every day life. I think I was drawing a parallel between the two.
TWR: The Brakes Are Gone sounds to me like it could have been a potential theme song for a Bond movie, have you ever considered writing film music?
RW: I think many artists create songs that they can envisage being used in a film. I seem to remember Calling All Stations being discussed for Armageddon which would have worked well. Although Aerosmith’s I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing was brilliant.
TWR: Given the problems you had with Stiltskin, why did you decide to reform the band? Was it an element of unfinished business perhaps?
RW: It was simply to reflect the rockier side of my music. When we recorded She, this was suggested. So it has been the band’s name since 2006.
TWR: This one showcases the rockier side of your music, was it a case of letting that side of your music out?
RW: I have often been torn between the two sides of my musical character. Many people enjoy me singing rockier songs and others don’t. So I do both. Some solo and some with Stiltskin.
TWR: How did you meet up with Peter Hoff?
RW: My product manager from Virgin Germany contacted me and asked if I would sing a song for a German movie. I went to Stuttgart to do this and I met Peter. We hit it off straight away and still work together to this day.
TWR: There was some understandable bitterness with regard to the way in which Genesis finally ended after the Calling All Stations tour. Why did you decide to undertake the World Of Genesis tour instead of putting it all behind you?
RW: When I look back on that tour I see it being six years too early. What I do now with the Genesis Klassik show is so much better than what we did then. The blend of the string quartet, classical piano and the band really works for me. The World of Genesis tour didn’t work, simply because my heart wasn’t in it. If we did it now, it would be a different story for sure.
TWR: You eventually followed this up with the Genesis Klassik album and live album and you have toured regularly with it in Europe. How does working in th orchestral format compare to your more usual rock background?
RW: I wouldn’t say it is “orchestral”. We simply took the synthesiser parts and played them with classical piano and a string quartet. I feel it is also important to keep the original flavour of the songs, which I feel we do. Some songs work extremely well and some are just good versions.
TWR: What were your feelings when Genesis reformed in 2007?
RW: I thought it was a good thing but I felt that they should have involved Steve Hackett and it would have been nice to have me singing a few songs from Calling All Stations even as a guest at one show. I would have also liked them to have recorded something new for the tour, even one or two new songs like The Eagles did with Hell Freezes Over.
TWR: Unfulfilment, your second Stiltskin album definitely showcased your eye for social commentary, particularly on songs like American Beauty and Guns Of God, tell us a bit about the background to those songs and to a couple more, which hav intrigued me since I first heard the album; Tales From A Small Town and 14th March 1962...
RW: I was thinking about how a US soldier must feel fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. What does he feel about his American Dream when he is fighting and killing people he doesn’t know and may well have no personal issue with? Simply fighting because of different beliefs and because of the actions of extremists against his country. America has achieved so much and done so many great things, but when George Bush arrived on the scene, some of the actions were shameful. Thankfully, President Obama is doing his best to change this. Although his task isn’t easy.
Guns of God speaks for itself I think. Anyone killing in the name of God is contradicting what my idea of faith is.
Tales From A Small Town was inspired by living in Poland and travelling and performing in some smaller towns. It’s really just a fairy tale based on the life of a dancer who dreams of escaping to the big city and being famous.
TWR: Your latest album, Chasing Rainbows has a more reflective quality to it, and in places an autobiographical feel to it. Were there any particular ghosts that you decided to exorcise through the song writing this time round?
RW: Not at all. There have been on previous albums, but not this one.
TWR: Walk us through the idea behind some of the songs on the album…
RW: Take It Slow was inspired by a friend of mine in Edinburgh, who taught me that a more careful and controlled approach to life would allow me to move forward faster spiritually.
No Dreams Are Made Of This simply states :”as you think, so shall you be”. Being positive and believing you can achieve what you need in life, can be greatly enhanced by thinking and believing life will serve you well, if you will help it to.
TWR: You have a great band of musicians with you, tell us a little bit about the guys in the band…
RW: I agree with you. It has taken years to get such a good team and we have such a great time working together. It’s not only the band but also the team in the background, from my assistant, drivers, production guys and so on. I feel blessed right now.
TWR: How does the writing process begin?
RW: These days I work with writers Peter Hoff, Uwe Metzler and Scott Spence. They send me musical ideas and I write lyrics and melody. I do also write songs with the guitar, like Show Me The Way, Change, Another Day and so on, but I enjoy working in a team much more these days.
TWR: You seem to be almost perpetually on the road, when do you find time to write new songs?
RW: August normally. I never write on the road, only when I am at home for a few days here and there.
TWR: How did you become involved with Steve Hackett’s Genesis Revisited II project and shows? Did you enjoy performing and singing those songs with the band?
RW: Steve asked me if I would like to sing a couple of tracks with him at a few shows and later asked me about singing Carpet Crawlers for the CD. The answer was simple for me. I think his show is great. Fans of the early years really love it. He also has a great band. Good guys to work with and good players too.
TWR: Future plans? What do you have in the pipeline at the moment? You seem to be almost constantly on the road, any plans for UK shows?
RW: I am writing again for the next project. I have a DVD coming out in the autumn and I have no idea if I will be in the UK. I would be happy to tour there again, especially now that the show is so good, we shall see.
And with that tantalising prospect we come to the end of this chat with Ray. I hope you found it interesting. My thanks to Ray for taking the time to answer the questions and to his assistant, Iwona Subotka for organising everything for us.