Ray Wilson (of Stiltskin and Genesis) has embarked on a rather ambitious ‘double’ album project this year. Releasing 2 albums throughout the year, the first is Song for a Friend that is an acoustic heavy album followed up by the rock based Makes Me Think Of Home. We caught up with Ray for a chat on the 20th September via Skype. Ray called us from his home in Poland and after a minute or two of technical problems (of course) we jumped into a lively conversation about all things present, past, and future.
TEJ: I last saw you at Gainsborough at the Sands on the 29th September 2007…
RW: Good God!!
TEJ: Before that it was Milton Keynes in June of 2007 and the Victoria Bikers Pub in Coalville in May 2007.
RW: That was a long time ago.
TEJ: Well, I was going to interview you at The Victoria Bikers Pub but the interview didn’t go ahead at the time in part due to the weather which meant a lot of the Bikers stayed at home, which was a shame.
RW: Was I a grumpy bastard?
TEJ: No you were just being Ray.
TEJ: It’s quite strange because after the show at The Victoria Bikers pub we had a chat as you were packing away. You raised the idea of how you were going to do an acoustic album and a Rock album in the same year but with regard to the Rock album not in the same vein as Stiltskin, here we are in 2016 and that’s what you have done.
RW: It’s amazing, it must have been in my subconscious all that time.
TEJ: Earlier in the year you released Song For A Friend and you’re about to release (Makes me think of home).
RW: It was going to be a double in the beginning but by the time that Song For A Friend was finished and from my personal feelings I really fell in love with that album. It’s really what I wanted to do for so long; an album like this; and I wanted to give it a chance and against everyone’s advice I released it first. They said I should do it the other way around and I said no, this is the way I am going to do it because I want people who might be interested in that type of album to listen to it. That was my reasoning.
TEJ: I had heard of the original plan to release a double album, there were rumors on the grapevine. But obviously doing it this way the fans get to hear your other side in the form of acoustic whilst those who like your rock side get to hear the latest album in October and you were able to do what you wanted to do with that.
RW: Yeah absolutely, it was a more expensive way of doing it because I had to promote everything twice. But I think in hindsight I looked upon it as an kind of eight month campaign so going from March/April time all way through to effectively the end of the year continually trying to promote it and market it with interviews and social media and the usual outlets. That’s my master plan. Whilst giving it a six to eight month plan, because nowadays things are out for five minutes then they are gone. I wanted to try and have a different approach with this so that it had some longevity.
TEJ: This year you have become a lot more visible with your promotion campaign starting as early as it did and it’s been very vigorous with Sharon Chevin representing you in the UK and she is very proactive and on top of that. You also invested in some music videos which you had not done for some time.
RW: Well I hadn’t done them on this level before. It’s expensive doing music videos, that’s the reality of it and you don’t really get the money back from it directly because people don’t buy them they just watch them. I kind of thought to myself how do I go about doing this time with both albums. I had three music videos for the first one, which were not as expensive as the music videos for the second album but it still costs money. I thought the best way in these times; because nearly everybody knows what’s going on in the world through social media or YouTube etc; I thought if you’re going to be seen or heard then you really need to have something that’s worth watching and listening to on those platforms.
RW: That’s why I did six videos. The next one still to come is Makes Me Think of Home which I think is the best video of all of them. It certainly took eight months for the guys to do it, it was a real epic eight minute video and I think it’s a great job. I have to say it’s fantastic. It comes out in a week! [Out now, view it below]
TEJ: That’s quite an interesting scoop, for us. We were watching the video to Amen to That, and it is fantastic.
RW: It’s funny for sure.
TEJ: You do seem a lot more into that in all honesty.
RW: Well I am the main character obviously and I needed to be really up for it to make that work and I enjoyed it a lot. I have to say it’s been almost twenty years since I have been in acting school and I did acting school only for a year, so I have always been quite confident sitting in front of a camera – I am not in any way shy. But, when you’re trying to play a character even in a simple video like this you’ll want to do it quite well. When I look at it, it’s not exactly how I would have wanted it but it’s very good and the humor comes across and that’s what I was trying to achieve with this particular song. It’s a song with three guitar chords, it doesn’t have anything else in it, it’s a very simple song. I wanted to get the humor across.
TEJ: It’s is very humorous but it’s surprising to hear you’re not entirely happy with it.
RW: I am pleased with the end result; I just feel if I have a criticism of it I should have sung louder when I was being filmed. It’s my only criticism and that’s my fault.
TEJ: It certainly doesn’t look like it was done on the same day; in one scene you’re a hippy from the sixties.
TEJ: In another scene you’re an engineer or pipe fitter, then you’re molding clay on a potter’s wheel perhaps a homage to Ghost.
TEJ: You’re a schoolteacher, a fireman, a fashion photographer, a hairstylist, you’re a….
RW: Record salesman!
TEJ: Yes, I watched that just to check out which record you recommended it seems you’re a Harry Belafonte fan!
RW: Well it had to be. It couldn’t be like Dylan or Floyd it had to be a surprising choice, Harry Belafonte was a great star in his own right for sure. The humor of course was skipping Dylan and Floyd.
TEJ: It was a very funny moment with you skipping over the clichéd choices and choosing Harry Belafonte, king of the calypso instead. The part of the video where you portray a drag artist was a surprising choice.
RW: Well I had to reveal my transsexual desires at some stage!
RW: I couldn’t hide it forever!
TEJ: Of course the paradox to all of that is towards the end of the video when you’re a hairstylist shaving bearded women.
RW: That wasn’t my idea (he say’s unconvincingly) but I did it nevertheless!
TEJ: These where all interesting choices, you could’ve had yourself walking through in a pair of Levi 501’s as a homage to Inside.
RW: Well we threw a lot of ideas at it, at the end of the day the video director made the final choices because they had to be practically achievable. So it was his decision at the end of the day.
TEJ: This has a similar humour to Paul Simon’s “You can call me al” but it feels more genuine because you portray many realistic career choices. In some regards you’re left thinking are any of these career choices the one’s Ray might have taken up had he not been a singer songwriter?
RW: Well you’ll see in my EPK that I have just released (Facebook) that you do get an answer to that question. It’s on Facebook and it will be on YouTube you’ll find the answer on there as to what I really would do if I wasn’t doing music.
TEJ: The song Makes Me Think of Home, one could easily assume that you’re homesick for Edinburgh. That is until you delve deeper and you realize that you’re not homesick at all but it doesn’t mean that you do not reminisce.
RW: No I’m not homesick – it’s the opposite .
TEJ: I must say that I’ve been to Edinburgh and I like it, but I can understand it’s not for everybody.
RW: It’s not Edinburgh, it’s me, as I say in this EPK, I spent a lot of my time after the Genesis thing stopped and I did the acoustic shows at the Edinburgh festival. I had a basement studio in Leith that had no natural light, it was right in the heart of Leith and you could make a hell of a noise in there but there was no windows. I spent the best part of 3 or 4 years maybe even five years down there recording different albums, Cut / Change / The next best thing album and I didn’t realize how fucking depressed I was becoming in that basement.
TEJ: You had mentioned in previous interviews that you would try to get out to Arthur’s Seat.
RW: Yeah just to watch the guy cutting the grass with his lawnmower and have my coffee and sit in my van or my car whatever it was, and, I have to say I just remember a kind of darkness or melancholy emotion that was inside me at that time it wasn’t because of Edinburgh it was because of me. When I came here and I started a new life with Gosia it was like somebody has switched the light on and it was as simple as that, that’s what I am referring to. It’s not a downer on the place, it’s a downer on what I was feeling at the time.
RW: Makes me think of home, again it’s very well captured video that the guys did because you see the paint peeling off the wall and the walls closing in on you they have really got it, it really tells the story of what that song is about and I love that particular song it’s one of my favourites that I have ever written and I am really glad that they managed to capture it so well.
TEJ: It’s staggering what they can do with video production these days, but that said the video you appear in of Armin Van Buuren’s Yet Another Day where you catch on fire was pretty ahead of it’s time as well.
RW: Which you know everybody has to do once in their life…
TEJ: Whilst that video is old now, it was still quite ahead of its time.
RW: I thought it was very well done indeed, the guys that he worked with were really great. There was a guy who was actually set on fire, I watched him, it wasn’t me but it was someone made to look like me. The actual flames really did happen.
TEJ: So you didn’t entirely suffer for your art that day.
RW: Well the only suffering was the fact someone did a Trance version of my song that was the only suffering.
We take a short break and the topic was Ray’s involvement with Genesis in 1997/98 in particular how Calling All Stations faired in Germany verse’s the UK charts. He recounts how CAS did better in the UK than Germany correcting me on my assumption of it being the other way around.
TEJ: So tell us about Calling All Stations.
RW: The album sales as I recall we’re pretty substantial at 2 million. If you had that now you would be absolutely delighted, the issue was it came off the back of We Can’t Dance and Invisible Touch which were the two most commercial albums…
TEJ: Of the decade …
RW: Yeah most successful. Had it come off the back of the Mama album I don’t think it would have been quite such an issue but it came off the back of two massive albums effectively, not only in Britain but in America too.
TEJ: Sadly, I missed out on the album and tour at the time and I regret that, but I was only 17 at the time, but now I think shit I should have seen the tour.
RW: So you didn’t go to the tour?
TEJ: No sadly.
RW: (Laughter) My god!
TEJ: I was only 17 at the time!
RW: No that’s no excuse.
TEJ: The only way I can see what I missed is on the visual extras that came out with the Surround Sound edition from the red boxset. I’m sure there is more in the film cans than I have seen.
RW: In all honesty the stuff that’s best from that tour that I have seen was filmed in the Czech Republic and you can find that on youtube. There are good versions of the songs there so you can certainly get a feel for what works and what doesn’t if you like because they filmed it the best, also in Katowice they filmed it but some of the film is not so great in terms of quality. The Czech republic was the best one for those who want to know what it was like. Of course they can forge an opinion from there.
TEJ: This period with Genesis was after your time with Guaranteed Pure and Stiltskin. It became another chapter in your life, as you get older it starts to make a very large book.
RW: That’s what you should do I think, I know there are some artists who never play parts of their career or ignore parts of their career but I don’t see the logic. I play Calling All Stations, Not About Us and Congo along with other stuff very regularly. People love the songs and I get many requests, especially Calling All Stations, people love that song and it’s only music at the end of the day. What we found at that time is where the audience were younger we had the most, if you like, success because they didn’t have such preconceived ideas of what it could be. Of course if you had grown up with Peter and then Phil, then you listen to me joining the band of course it was a huge shock to hear this totally different voice, totally different character, it is a complete shock in a band like Genesis.
RW: But you hadn’t those preconceived ideas, which was the case in many of the Eastern Bloc countries. We started our tour in the east – it was a completely different reaction. They saw it for what it was, rather than something they thought it should be.
TEJ: You can certainly see it in the Katowice video. They’re so up for it with so much energy. They were excited because Genesis had come to Poland and that’s all they cared about.
TEJ: The first time I was able to see you live in the UK was at Leamington Spa on The World Of Genesis tour – 2006, and I loved it.
RW: I didn’t.
RW: I thought it was shit to be perfectly honest with you, I did that in a very half-hearted way it wasn’t something I really wanted to do.
TEJ: Which is strange for a man who didn’t want to do it in a very half-hearted way you were incredibly professional on stage.
RW: Oh for sure I did my job.
TEJ: You did a blistering version of Mama, it had such a raw energy and you had rearranged it to be quite menacing as well, that’s not to knock Phil’s versions but it just really worked that night. You had Irvin Duguid on keyboards as well.
RW: Yeah he is a great player.
TEJ: You did songs like Ripples but then when you brought in the Calling All Stations stuff it just had the right vibe, it’s a shame the tour wasn’t what you wanted it to be.
RW: I just felt that it was something that I was offered and I thought (sigh) I don’t know, I was offered… I kind of did it without properly preparing for it, where if I did it now it would be a completely different experience not just for me but for everybody and the audience.
TEJ: I assume that you’d go down the Genesis Classic route that you have visited recently.
RW: That’s for me a much higher level than the tour of the UK in 2006.
TEJ: For a start you now use a string quartet to great effect and they just add this extra dimension especially on the Calling All Stations material. One such example is Congo from the live CD. Congo sounds so much better with strings replacing the keyboards and Latin percussion giving it a more authentic feel, unlike the heavily processed effects on the album.
RW: Well that album for me with one of it’s failings not always but often it was the keyboard sounds that were used. I felt that they were really out of date even then and Tony has done some wonderful stuff over the years without a doubt and some great keyboard sounds on that album it was a very strange choice of sounds – really cheesy you know. This is my own personal point of view, but I feel when we were able to take these songs and do string arrangements of them and then kind of blend it with classical piano sound, if you like just a more traditional sound, as you weren’t listening to these cheesy sounds anymore and I think that benefits the material certainly from the Calling All Stations album. Whereas the sounds on Mama are magnificent. Those keyboard sounds on Mama and again on songs like Ripples and Carpet Crawlers and so on are wonderful sounds.
RW: Calling All Stations, I don’t know he didn’t have his finest moment when it came to the keyboard sounds, not for me.
TEJ: I would agree with you there in some cases. The keyboard samples and sounds could almost come from the previous album (We Can’t Dance). I think that a more classical piano sound or even simulated strings even back then could have improved the feel of the songs greatly.
RW: Absolutely I agree.
TEJ: Is there any chance of you touring Britain soon.
RW: I can tour in Britain easy enough, it’s just I have so many shows here (Poland). Good shows, and it’s just easier and it’s more financially rewarding. It’s like why would I want to sit in some small club half empty when I can play here in a bigger club that’s full of people… what’s the point you know.
TEJ: I can fully understand that, it’s not fun going to see an artist when half of the audience isn’t there. You try to compensate with clapping louder or cheering louder to make up for the 10 people who didn’t bother.
RW: They are quite often the best gigs. I’m 48 and I’m past that point of where I want to be. I want to get out play my music and enjoy myself, make enough money to pay myself and the production as I have two buses on tour and I just don’t see the point.
TEJ: An entirely fair comment, it’s show business, which means it, has to run at a profit.
RW: Of course, otherwise I cannot release albums or do videos and do all the things I am doing now.
TEJ: Ray it’s been nice thank you for giving up your time today.
RW: It’s been a pleasure and it’s been good to speak to you.
An exceptional thank you to both Ray Wilson and Sharon Chevin for making this interview possible!
To order your copy of Ray’s latest work visit raywilson.co.uk