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Ray Wilson The Unfulfilled Stiltskin Interview

Dresden, August 11, 2011


Ray has been rehearsing in a small club in Dresden, Germany, for the upcoming Stiltskin show with his band. Particular stress was laid on songs from his new album Unfulfillment. Before the interview could take place at the end of the rehearsals Ray, his band and his sound engineers Peter Hoff (who also co-produced the album) were looking for the right mix. They tested various guitar sounds, fine-tuned the balance between keyboard and guitars and tried various guitar presences. The band would play whole songs from the album without the vocals. Only few songs were rehearsed with vocals, and when they did, Ray sounded excellent. It all left a very good impression, and all the songs have gained even more strength and power.

After the full production rehearsal was finished, Ray talked to Christian Gerhardts in detail about Unfulfillment and the needs of a good marketing.


it: When did you start to write songs for the new album?

Ray: I started just over a year ago. Must have been in the summertime - May, June or July, I can't remember exactly. First of all, Uwe Metzler sent me some ideas and I think the first thing I wrote was Guns Of God, it was that song we just did at the rehearsals with the narratives of the Conscientious Objectors - so that was the first song I wrote. And when I wrote that song, I thought - great! A rock album. And then Peter Hoff started to send some ideas, and they were a little lighter, like Tale From A Small Town, so in the end the album ended up somewhere in the middle.


it: So that means that after you wrote Guns Of God you decided to do a Stiltskin record and not a Ray Wilson solo record?

Ray: Well I don't think I made any decision then, I just started writing songs. After I'd written a few songs, I thought - ok, it became obvious that I would do something with the band, so subsequently it became a Stiltskin record. Because I wanted to work with everyone in the band this time, from the beginning of the recording process. It's quite interesting - me and the boys have been working together now for 7 years and this is the first album that we've all done completely together. Because before, we had Nir Z [former Genesis and Cut-drummer] performing on some tracks or Steve wasn't available or I was in Stuttgart, so I used a different bass player, so that was the situation before. And there were financial reasons for that. Back then it was more practical to work with some people who where local, rather than flying the guys in for a week. But now that things were definitely going very well in my career and obviously the boys are all part of that. It became obvious that that was what I should do and looking back now, it was the right decision.


it: What about Nir Z? Did you just decide not to include him again for practical reasons or did you just want to move on with the band?

Stiltskin 2011Ray: Well, this time I had the resources to do the album properly - so with my own band. The problem has always been - I live in Poland, producers live in Stuttgart, the boys live in Scotland. And of course when you're in a recording studio it is expensive to spend time there. You have hotel costs, wages for the boys, the studio itself, hiring instruments, it's a very expensive exercise. And I don't have Sony or Universal or something like that behind me, so I have to do it myself.  So I was quite simply just in a better position to do it, we worked really hard last year. I basically used the money we made to record the album. That's the best way I can use it - and to do the marketing. I believe in it.


it: Have you spoken to some of the original Stiltskin members recently - or has someone maybe listened to SHE and gave you some feedback?

Ray: I had communication with Ross, our former drummer, a few years ago. But you know we were never really friends anyway. Before Stiltskin, Peter and James knew each other, James knew Ross, because they were working together in Glasgow but I didn't know any of them. Although I was the third person involved. Peter was involved with James first and then me and then Ross. That was the way the original lineup came together. But I didn't really know the guys. And I mean that was 17 years ago now.


it: Who was involved in this project apart from your band?

Ray: Obviously the writers are Peter Hoff, Uwe Metzler and me. I had some ideas from Scott Spence again, but I didn't feel it was right on this occasion. Last time he wrote She and Taking Time and other songs, but on this occasion he was a little bit slow to come up with ideas. In terms of other musicians we've got Eva [Leticia-Padilla], who is a crazy Latina-Czech - she's a great singer and she's on the First Day Of Change video as well and she does basically all the backing vocals. I have string arrangements which were very important on this album. Obviously because I've been doing Genesis Classic shows for the past couple of years. I started to enjoy the strings and the sound of them and enjoy what they did to the songs - it's interesting what a good string arrangement can do for a song. And also what a bad string arrangement can do to a song. I started without that idea in mind but then when we got to the song First Day of Change, which is the second single - I thought this would be really lovely with a good string arrangement. On this occasion, I've asked the guy who did the Genesis Classic arrangements and he came up with something, but I only liked the top melody. With the Genesis songs, the song already exists - the keyboard line is there. So you're taking Tony's melody ideas and you are improvising with them. But when you take a Stiltskin song, it doesn't have any keyboard ideas and it's brand new. So I just felt maybe it's better to work with someone else. We were looking around for someone. In the end, we found this young guy called Philipp Thimm. He was recommended to us be Peter's former assistant engineer. Philipp plays cello and guitar and writes musical scores. When he came with First Day of Change we were like 'oh yeah, this guy really understands this'. And we gave him another song and it was like "wow". It was every time he sent something. I wanted to put string arrangements in every song and I may also use some of these songs in the Genesis Klassik show. And I got to the point after the fifth song, and Peter Hoff was sending them to me every time he got something. After five songs I said, 'look, just forget sending them, this guy is a genius. Everyting he does is magnificent. It made a big difference. You can hear them better on the recording than live.

I did four of the songs on the new album in Mid-Nite-Mixes. And basically these are versions of the songs you would listen to at midnight, you know? Maybe with a cigarette or a glass of wine - whatever your thing is. It's only strings, piano, acoustic guitar and voice. It's the same songs, we just took four of them and produced these totally stripped down versions. In these versions we use all of the string arrangements. In the full versions, we don't use all of the string arrangements, because sometimes it's too much. And these Mid-Nite versions are really beautiful. The reason for these mixes is that I will now have all my catalogue on iTunes and other digital download services from September 12th. It's everything I own the rights to. I did a deal with a distributer for online services of that kind. These 4 Mid-Nite versions are only avaiable on iTunes and other download services. The reason is that they need something exclusive to them to give us better marketing. So I said ok, we do these special mixes for you. And we gave them two songs each that you cannot buy anywhere else, you have to download there. Maybe after a period of time I can also put them on a special edition of the album, we'll see. I don't know how long I have to wait for that.

The music business is now different - you have to adapt to all the different situations to make it work and get it out there. As long as it's available - that's the main thing.


it: Speaking about that: You were on German TV and the guy showed the first Genesis Classic CD and you could not buy it anywhere

Ray: Yeah, that was cool [laughs]. The only artist that has gone on major Germany TV on two occasions with something you could not buy in shops.


it: Will you also release the old albums physically somewhere? So can you buy them at amazon or in shops?

Ray: You cannot buy the old CDs physically, not yet. Quite simply because I haven't pressed them. So they don't exist. So things like the double live album, and Live And Acoustic, even Cut - they are sold out now. Of Change, I have about 20 copies left. So there's not much. I'll probably get round to doing that at some stage. But at the moment - if I press physical copies of the records, there's not really much logic in doing that because the shops would not take them. So if they do not put them on the shelves, what's the point? Amazon you could do, but even there people are selling second hand copies of them anyway. You can always find it if you want. But I will get round to it. But right now, I have put all my energy into marketing this.


it: But the new album and the Genesis Classic CD-Set will be available physically?

Genesis vs StiltskinRay: This special pack Genesis vs Stiltskin is only available in a shop that registers for a chart position, that's it in a nutshell. The reason for that is you get retail interested enough to actually taking stuff from you to make some kind of impact, like Saturn or Media Markt. So if we do well enough to get in the Top 40 after one week the only way to get them take enough is to do something exclusive for them. So I thought I make this special package for these retail outlets for a limited period of time. It's just to see if we can make some kind of impact into the market. It's also good for fans. So the idea is to put these two things together and sell it for the price of one and put it only in shops. So people have to go to the shops to buy them. And the reason is not that I am a nasty person but just to try making some kind of impact. So if we sell enough in the beginning, then maybe we have the possibility to sell the old records in shops and to convince them to take more products from you and that will encourage the radio to play the singles which encourages magazines to write about you. So, unfortunately, the music business is a business. So when I write songs and record them, I am just a musician enjoying it and I feel good about it. And once the product is finished and in a box, it's kind of gone. It's gone from your life, like a baby goes to school and it becomes affected by the outside world. And I feel like that, for me it's gone now. I want people to like it, but I am not too bothered about that. So the business side is relevant, as it allows me to do something more expensive in the future, like for example do some Genesis ClassiC with an orchestra. But that's a very expensive thing to do, but I want to do it. But no record label will give me the money, and the guys from Genesis also won't give me the money, so I have to earn it (laughs).


it: Tell us something about the title of the new album - Unfulfillment - that sounds quite unusual.

Ray: Unfulfillment came from a dance project that my girl friend was involved with. It was called Nienasycenie, and that means 'Unfulfillment' in English. I loved this performance, it's dark, a bit edgy, but really cool. Kind of an independent production. So I watched it a couple of times and asked her what it means and she said it's Unfulfillment and I thought what a great title - it fits my whole mood as a human being. I started to think about it.

I've written on the album 'stay inspired and always unfulfilled'. And this again came from my girlfriend, it wasn't from me. She said that to me in a text message. And that is so right. A lovely line. It's important to stay on the edge, always want to do better and to go further. The meaning of life is the journey, in my opinion. So, to be always unfulfilled is important to always recognize the importance of imperfection. Nothing is ever totally right or complete - and it shouldn't be. The best analogy of that is Leonard Cohen saying in his song Anthem: 'ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in'. And I was like ... goosebumps - even now, thinking of it. He's so right, it's the imperfection that makes us special and different. You buy a new car and you get a scratch on the side of it and think "oh shit", but it needs that, it needs a character. And Unfulfillment is a similar concept. You need that hunger, being unfulfilled to go forward. When you have everything like when I was with Genesis - that period after the tour was a terrible time for me. It was not their fault, at that time we were still continuing, wanted to record a new album. But I remember this time, being totally uninspired, kind of fed up. And the reason was I felt I had everything, you know? I had money, a nice house, a nice car, basically within reason I could have what I want. And that really didn't fit with me. I'm a working class boy and never had everything I wanted to have. So when I was in that situation, I was in the end so totally unfulfilled. And that's strange. And when I lost it all I had to dig in deep and had to find something in myself. There are many stories of people who hit the bottom and then realise what they need to make their lives special.


it: Five years ago you told me that you were very pleased with SHE and the way it was produced and obviously the song material was also better than on previous albums. So what's the main difference between SHE and Unfulfillment?

Ray: Like Whisky, you get better with age. I certainly am a late starter as a writer and a musician. Not as a singer, I was a young starter as a singer. I just could open my mouth and it worked. But when it came to creating music, to understanding music, even playing guitar, I was a late developer. And it wasn't really until my late 20s that I started to create music that I thought is quite good. Like the Millionairhead album had some really good songs and ideas. The production was a little bit naive when I listen back to it - it would have been nice to have someone a little more experienced to produce that album, a proper producer, rather than me doing it with the boys. And then with Change I kept it very basic, because I felt I had a limitation as a producer so I worked in my limitations. The Next Best Thing ... I don't think we produced that very good at all to be honest. Just a few nice songs... I don't really like the sound of that. It's my least favorite album.


it: Songs like Pumpkinhead sound a bit empty.

Ray: Yes, like a teenage school band. I can hear that of course. I wanted to do it, but didn't know how to do it. When I came to SHE I was working with people like Peter Hoff who understood certain things far better. Then Uwe's guitar playing which is superior to mine, his whole style as well. Like I told you before, I've always been a kind of loner, isolated myself. But I think for example I like Propaganda Man, that's when I got back to my limitations, to the acoustic sound, it's still a good one, I like it. Expecially Frequency that I did with Ali is a wonderful song and Razorlite was nice, some good moments. But this time, I've got this bunch of people that I can work with. I'm also better now than before. And we've introduced things like string arrangments. And then Ali's guitar playing - he' such a wonderful guitarist. He reminds me a bit of Anthony Drennan, the way he plays the guitar. Uwe is more of a chords guy - he can always find a chord that fits - always and I love watching it and I think how the hell can you play this with his fingers stretched. So Uwe's is a totally different style.

In Tale From A Small Town, which was actually written by Peter - the piano part and it has this Carpet Crawlers effect. It wasn't meant to be like that, it's just the way he wrote it. So I've got good people around me. The bottom line is, I simply got better in writing and also producing. Whether this is the album that makes a difference to my life or not I don't know but it certainly is something I'm very happy with and it's a step forward, that's very important. The last Stiltskin album was quite good, and this is more mature, a bit better, not so heavy, not quite such a rock album, even though songs like Guns of God and Old Man And The Portrait are quite progressive songs, You Ought To Be Resting is a progressive song. I've left these songs to later in the album, a bit like Genesis would have done. You have some more poprock songs, shorter ones at the beginning. It's easier to access and the second half is more like you have to listen to it more often to get into it. And that makes sense.

Also Genesis fans who like the longer stuff got into things like Land Of Confusion, which is a really great song, very clever song the way it's done.


it: SHE has a lot of songs about relationships and then Propaganda Man was kind of your divorce album.

Ray: Yes, a bit like Phil Collins - just writing songs about women. [laughs]


coverit: I have received the lyrics just yesterday so I didn't have the time to look at them yet. So what are the new songs about?

Ray: They are not relationship songs. Some of them have these moments - because everybody should write about love - or should do it, it's the most important thing. I've written about ... Guns of God is interesting, I got inspired by browsing the net and I came across the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both people feel strongly about their position in this conflict. They both have their story to stell. But I don't want to tell them how they should live their lives and what they should think, I'm not so stupid or arrogant to do that and believe they would give a damn about what I say. But I came across these conscientious objectors. And these are young israelian kids, like 17 and 18, who refuse to join the military - because it's compulsory obviously. They refused and subsequently they were jailed for this. There a lot of quotations from them saying why they don't want to join the military. I think it seems wrong in a democracy to jail people for not wanting to join the military. I'm really angry about that. I understand why the government does that, but it's simply not right to me. So I wrote that song, Guns of God, it's about how people use God as a reason to shoot or bomb someone and it's such a contradiction. I think I didn't want to take a stand that was anti-something. I'm not in a place I can do that. But I felt this issue about young people not wanting to join the military was something to write about. And it's certainly no boy meets girl stuff.

Tale From A Small Town is about a young dancer who cannot get out of the town for financial contraints, family etc. And the girl has a dream and wants to escape. People have said it's about my girlfriend, but no - I can understand why they would think that. But I didn't have that in mind when I wrote it. I was more inspired by driving through little towns in Poland, the Czech republic, even eastern Germany, there's a character to these places that's different, the people are different. I got the idea from these places.

First Day Of Change is important. Not only for me, also for people who are dealing with a difficult time in their life, maybe due to death, lost jobs or being a drug addict - so this is about the first day when all is being changed. This is when they stop to start again. That song is also about the importance of friendships when life is hard for you - about the important role of a good friend in that situation. It's a special song, I am really pleased with that song. When I did the video, I wanted to show friendship. The video will presumably be released in January and there ae 12 people in the video and it captures this friendship thing. It's a very natural, very well done video.


it: When you write something like First Day Of Change - do you think in terms like "I cannot use this title becuse I have already songs that have Change in their name"?

Ray: Actually it's the opposite. I came to the point where I put 'change' in every album I write. it's somewhere either in the lyric or the song title. It's about my life simply. A lot of people fear change... they are stuck. I rather stay miserable than facing the unpredictable alternatives, with might go wrong. Of course they can go wrong. But they can also be magical. They may take you somewhere were you always wanted to be. So if you do not feel right, change it. Sometimes it's touch - but then it's touch - but do it. We're in a democracy, you can do it. I know some people have a hard life, lost jobs and things, so I understand it's difficult but just have the confidence to change things. That's why I use this word so often.


it: Ok, so there is No Place For A Loser here...

Ray: Exactly ... you seem to like that song (laughs)


it: Will there be Cut songs included in your live set and will that particular song be played?

Ray: 'No' is the answer because I got 8 new songs from the new album to play, but they are so bloody good so I will do them anyway. And because a lot of fans of what I do have enough of hearing Genesis Classic or whatever, I know they have, although it became so popular and I really enjoy doing it, I wanted to make this tour about my own music only. So we have 8 new songs and Cut  - I like No Place For A Loser too and yes I will get round to doing it for sure, but not on this tour. I don't think now is the time. I need some familiarity amongs all the new songs. Especially on this tour. And what would be Change, Constantly Reminded, Lemon Yellow Sun, Inside etc. Normally I choose between 22 and 25 songs and if you got 8 of them new, it's difficult for the dynamics of the show. First of all I want to entertain people. I want to make sure people come back next time, so everybody is involved, light engineer, soundman - they know that. And if someone screws it up - I am a nightmare to be with. It simply matters to me. If these people stop buying the ticket, my career is over...

So, the dynamics of the show are important, you need familiarities and mix them with some new stuff and I think to go back to Cut at the moment ... that's not the most important thing. Only for you maybe because you like No Place For A Loser - it's great song though - I love All The Young Dudes, that's what inspired me, but you know that, I told you that before ...


it: Since you do a combination between Stiltskin and the Genesis Classic stuff, will you also include Genesis songs in the Stiltskin set or not?

Ray: I am definitely not going to do that. If I do a Genesis song in the Stiltskin set it will be a song that I did with them like Congo or Calling All Stations or Not About Us, something from that album. But the whole idea is different. Last year, when I didn't do a lot of Stiltskin shows, I decided how to do it. With the Genesis stuff, I found a way to present this material in its box. If you like that go to Genesis Classic. Many people love it, others may have never listened to it or whatever.

Stiltskin shows are about original material plus one or two I did with Genesis. This is the system from now on.


it: Last time we spoke you talked about the collaboration with Steve Hackett. You said you had contact. Any news about that?

Ray: Not really, I've contacted him and asked if he's interested, he was busy and told me to contact him again at the beginning of 2011 and he was very friendly but I think it's now not the time, there so much happening, he's also got a new album out in September. I'm very open to that, if the time is right. If there's something that makes sense for both of us to do. I always thought it would be nice to have him in the Genesis Klassik shows to have him play stuff that he did with Genesis. But I also know he's got his way that he wants things to happen and that's fine. But it would be nice ... and I want basically every member of Genesis to play the Genesis Klassik thing with me, it would be nice - and it might happen, when we play football stadiums you'll be surprised how interested people might become (laughs). But you never know... I mean look at The Musical Box, they did a very good show and the guys helped them and supported them. So it would be nice to also have Mike and Tony around for it. All of them, I'd love to do it with that classical feel as they never did that! We have some nice versions of these songs, some are good, some are great - when you hear Ripples, which is a great song anyway, with the strings, it's just beautiful. And I would love Tony to sit there and play the piano or Steve to do the guitar, but I don't think it's going to happen now, just give it a year or two. Things can change.


it: Thanks Ray, stay inspired and always unfulfilled

Ray: Thanks, was a pleasure.


Interview and transcript: Christian Gerhardts


Links:
Ray Wilson & Stiltskin: Unfulfillment - CD review
Ray Wilson: Genesis Classic Live In Poznan - 2CD/DVD review

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