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Ray Wilson interview 2021

Ray Wilson Interview 2021: Him, like us

Ray talks about Brexit, Covid, concerts and The Weight Of Man

I, Like You - that's one of his strongest tracks on the new album The Weight Of Man. As far apart as the COVID crisis put us, in many ways we were the same. He, like us, was limited to few contacts, very little culture and a lot of uncertainty. During this time, Ray Wilson has written a new album, which has meanwhile reached the first fans. It will be released in stores at the end of August. The Weight Of Man, but also the Brexit, his situation in the Covid crisis - there were enough topics and so Christian Gerhardts conducted an extensive interview with Ray Wilson on 20th Jul 2021 - via ZOOM.

Genesis News Com: Hi Ray - good to see you, it's been a while

Ray Wilson: The last time was in a church before the soundcheck in Dresden years ago, wasn't it?

GNC: Apparently we did an interview after that - in Leipzig in 2016.

Ray: Ah yes, that was the last time. Anyway - fire away!

GNC: Two years ago you did the compilation Upon My Life, and just before that you told me you don't want to do a new album before the Brexit would have happened. Then of course, the Brexit was delayed, the compilation with two new tracks was released anyway and the COVID crises came and like all musicians, you were suddenly grounded and couldn't play live - which you had done intensely. What effect had that on you, being a musician who literally lives on stage?

Ray: To be honest it was a relief, in some ways. It was nice to stop, for a while. Obviously I didn't want a pandemic to happen, but actually I enjoyed the free time at home. I was happy not to be touring all the time. Like everybody in a normal job, you sometimes get a little bit on a rollercoaster and sometimes it's hard to stop. And when COVID happened, we were forced to stop - all of us. I didn't mind, I have to say. I felt ok with it. We did a few concerts in the summer after the first lockdown, which was nice - it's always nice playing in the summer, being outside. It's a nice experience for everybody when you can play outside and the weather is ok. So we did them and then we started to go back inside for a few concerts in Dresden, Leipzig and also Karpacz in Poland. I have to say it kind of felt uncomfortable. We knew the covid cases were started to accelerate a lot and I was happy to stop again. It's not only the risk of getting COVID yourself, it's also passing it on to other people you love. It's not just about you, it's about other people as well.

Also, I had a period of five months, after the summer last year, when I didn't play guitar at all - I completely stopped. I had an injury on my right arm for a couple of years and I couldn't really get rid of it. It was just because I was playing and playing, for so many years, and I developed a repetitive strain injury in my arm and it never really got better. My osteopath kept saying to me, you have to stop playing guitar and I said I can't stop, it's my job. So it gave me an opportunity to stop. Obviously singing was not a problem but I didn't have to play guitar, for a while. On the new album, I don't play guitar at all. I wasn't involved in any playing, only singing. So I let my body recover.

Nobody wanted a pandemic, but there were some positive things that came out of it - pause for thought, your body recovers etc.

GNC: When did you start to write new songs after the last studio albums?

Ray: Almost Famous was written quite a while ago. The new single, this acoustic song. That was written maybe three or four years ago. Apart from that nothing was written until the first COVID lockdown. I had some atmospheric playbacks from Jethro Bodean on my computer and I was trying to work on them, which was difficult and a little different for me, as it was simply ambient music. You know after the trance remix was done for Another Day, I got a lot of trance musicians asking me 'can I send you some music to write to' and I said 'yeah sure'. But I could never write to that. I realized I got nothing from it musically. It didn't touch me or move me at all. But of course when someone like Armin Van Buuren took my song and remixed it, that's another story. The process is the other way round.

Anyway with this album I had a bunch of ideas on the computer and it was different this time. I didn't really know, if what I was creating, was good or not. I sang a bunch of melodies, on this ambient music, to see what happened. As the songs developed I would send my ideas to Ali Ferguson first. He's got a great feel for that kind of music, the way he plays fits that genre very well. He would play to the ambient tracks and what I’d created on them, and that's when these songs started to come alive. When he added his ideas, it was like 'ah, now I hear it'.

1In the past, when I worked with musicians, I would often edit and rearrange ideas from one track and some from other tracks. And I didn't really do that this time. I thought – let’s just leave it as it is. Let Ali do his thing and leave it like it is. He created some great ideas. I really like his work on this album.

It then went to Nir Z and of course Nir really tries to live with the music for a while, before he plays to it. He would send me five or six different drum takes for each song, and I would listen to them and always thought every single one is good. I could have taken any of them. There was very little editing involved. This album started off with ambient playbacks and they didn't really do much for me, at first, and then Ali got involved and Nir got involved and Lawrie played bass and it all came together. Now I listen to the ambience and I love it.

I decided not to listen to the songs too many times, while recording. This also helped me to resist the temptation to edit too much. I didn't want to spend all this time with editing and pasting etc. I had a nice distance from the songs on this album. Sometimes there was like two months between doing individual songs. So sometimes the song sits for a while and I never listened to it. It kept my excitement for the song alive and also allowing everybody to do their thing, without me interfering. And now I listen to the album and it sounds great - it's like - "wow, that's cool". Everybody made this special. And all I did was to create melodies and lyrics and sing.

GNC: Although I am a huge fan of SHE, I think it's your best album so far.

Ray: Yes, SHE was a nice one as well

GNC: You said nearly all of the tracks were recorded during the COVID-time. You did these Un-Tour tracks and here you also said, those would not end up on the new album. With one exception obviously, which was Almost Famous. Were these other tracks also written during the lockdown time?

Ray: The Un-Tour tracks ... Look What You Made Us Be is quite an old idea. Scott sends ideas all the time. He sends five tracks, four are so-so and then one is wonderful. That track is one of the older ideas. I'm Going Home was written during the COVID time as well and the other one, Something I Hold On To with Filip Walcerz is also very nice. But these tracks didn't fit this album, they don't belong there. I wasn't too sure about Almost Famous either until Uwe Metzler played some nice guitar stuff and Nir added his magic. But it still probably doesn't belong on the album. It was a nice song though so it ended up there. I am happy it did.

GNC: When you listen to the album - it starts with three tracks that are already available as singles and then you have a very strong middle section, almost proggy at times - Amelia is very proggy, and then you came back to a lighter sound with Almost Famous and then you have two tracks in the Song For A Friend style towards the end.

Ray: Yes, we basically had the first seven songs that were supposed to be the true sound of the album. I did have another song, created with Jethro, called Cry Wolf, it was a great track also, but never was completed. That was also in the same style, as the first seven songs. But we could never get it quite right. In all honesty, I ran out of ideas and steam for that type of musical style. But I couldn't release an album with only seven songs on it. That's when further tracks were added. The Beatles song at the end happened by accident really.

GNC: So you had 12 tracks and there are no left overs?

Ray: This Cry Wolf song, which potentially is fantastic, but I could never get it right, something was missing. I wanted this to be a bit like ... what's the track on Peter Gabriel IV - The Rhythm Of The Heat, when it gets really tribal. That one! It's a bit like that, the same feeling. But anyway, it's not finished. Nir played a lot of drum takes, also some tribal ideas. It was just one of those songs, we couldn’t get right. Ah well,– never mind.

Anyway, I got seven tracks, didn't have the energy for continuing this kind of style, so we added Almost Famous and Symptomatic, which are both great tracks. Then Cold Like Stone appeared. I wrote that song on acoustic guitar in Thailand. That was written just before the Covid-lockdown. It was basically written on the beach. Then I asked Uwe Metzler to take this and play some guitar so that it sounds better than what I can play. So Uwe took that song, to where it needed to go. And then finally the Beatles track. Five or six years ago a friend of Uwe's was doing a Beatles covers album and he asked me to sing one of the songs. He had asked for Golden Slumbers and I know that Phil Collins did it as well, on the In My Life project by George Martin. Anyway, they sent me the song and I sang it. So, six years later, Uwe said why not take this Beatles song and put it at the end of the album, like we did with the Floyd song, High Hopes, on the Song For A Friend album. Then Luca Biondi, who does the online stuff for me plus the album artwork, said that it was quite synchronistic to put Golden Slumbers at the end. I had asked him - what do you think, should I put this at the end of this album or not and he thought it was a good idea. And he said that on the Abbey Road album, where this track is from, it runs into ...

GNC: ... Carry That Weight!

Ray: Exactly - Carry That Weight - The Weight Of Man ...

GNC: That came into my mind immediately as well and I thought you did that on purpose.

Ray: It is absolutely unintentional. Luca said did you know what? Carry That Weight is reportedly to be about Paul carrying the weight of the Beatles, at that Abbey Road time. And then we have that song on our album, The Weight Of Man, the weight of the world. So it's a great coincidence that the theme of this album is closed by this specific Beatles track, Golden Slumbers. I didn't think about it for a minute, at the time, but there it is.

GNC: I also thought it was a nice move to put this at the end. Everybody who knows the Beatles would see this link ... Carry That Weight being a logical conclusion for the album

Ray: I would like to take credit for that, yeah I am cool and knew what I was doing - but it was a complete accident. It's a great story nevertheless.


GNC: When did you decide to start a crowdfunding campaign instead of simply recording an album and releasing it?

Ray: I thought ... everything was uncertain at that time. I decided to do it and I kind of regretted it. At the time I had my office here, Kasia and Basia both working for me. It was a good business structure. Then Basia left for a different job and then Kasia left and I had no one to help with work at all. And I thought oh Jesus, I got all of these orders to process. I have a Polish and a German company. I don't speak German and I don't speak Polish and I thought how the hell am I gonna carry this on? Sending out CDs is time consuming, the address has to be in Polish as well, regardless of where you send it, in the world - and I was like "oh this is a nightmare".

I thought about sending them to Britain, to be posted from there, and I went to the post office and they wanted me to fill customs forms to send the stuff to Britain. It became a nightmare. But I have done it and I had to send out the records to people. In the end it was okay, we found a way to do it, with the help of Gosia’s Mum. Some people received them twice (laughs), so it was even better for them. But the crowdfunding thing ... I wasn't sure about it at all but it is what it is. The plus side of it: It does cover costs when I am making the album. It isn't such a bad idea to have some money available to do that, for a particular project. There was little money coming in from anything apart from royalties, GEMA or whatever but it's not enough to have a good life, that's for sure, unless you're Brit ... oh I was going to say Britney Spears (laughs) - that would have been odd.

GNC: Were you pleased with the response to the crowdfunding ?

Ray: I have to say, when we did the Un Tour gigs, at the beginning of Covid - it was all online and people donated to the band, it was interesting to find out what kind of fanbase you really have. You never really know. It was actually quite breathtaking what some people contributed to help the guys. Wow – many people were really generous and kind. And I know many people were worried about losing their own jobs, other can't afford something like that at all - so it never was an obligation. It was quite interesting, that side of it. We got a lot of support and it was really heartwarming. I know that is true for a lot of artists. Everybody knew we couldn't work. Even now it's difficult. Try to sell tickets, it's hard. People are nervous etc. It's tough out there. It's okay, but it's not easy. And then you look at the autumn and think - are we gonna go back to where we were? Will we have social distance? That would make touring impossible, you can't cover the costs with half the audience. The whole crowdfunding idea, for the album ... I don't like it a lot, I felt uncomfortable, but having said that, I think we have a good product and the booklet wasn't the cheapest way to produce, it costs more money to do the artwork like that. I tried to make it nice, like I did with Song For A Friend and Makes Me Think Of Home. So I feel fine now that they have the product. A lot effort and money had gone into this album so in the end it was a good decision, although it made me feel a bit uncomfortable.

GNC: Let's talk about the album. I saw Ali wasn't credited. Based on what you said earlier about his input, that seems a bit odd.

Ray: It is debatable, yes. There are a couple of tracks where he's done amazing things. But it's always a fine line whether one contributes to writing or not. I didn't write the music either so I don't have the right to make that decision. I wrote the lyrics and melody lines, apart from the song Cold Like Stone - and there I did credit Uwe as a writer because he did contribute, but I could not make that decision for the rest of the album, because I didn’t write the music.

GNC: One name is interesting - Jethro Bodean...

Ray: Yes Jethro - that's Peter Hoff's colleague.

GNC: So you know him through Peter then

Ray: I don't know him at all, I never met him. It's a social distance contact. He brought in ideas and Peter said you should listen to that stuff and I did, but I never met him.

GNC: He's credited on a lot of tracks on the album. What was his major role?

Ray: He created the basic music for six tracks. They start with the ambient soundtrack. Six of the first seven songs started like that, apart from We Knew The Truth Once. Sometimes they had some rhythm and drums and some guitar sounds, so they had good substance. But these playbacks really developed when we added the other musicians.

GNC: Let's talk about the tracks. I, Like You is the first "new" track when you listen to the album. What is it about? Someone wrote today in our forum that the albums sounds like you have spread the quality of the track Makes Me Think Of Home to the length of a whole album ...

Ray: That could be true Ironically, Makes Me Think Of Home started off with an ambient playback, from Peter Hoff. It was a very similar process, but I rearranged that song a bit. As with I, Like You. It was the only track I rearranged on the new album. I needed to find something to write to. So I moved it around until the song idea appeared. It was a similar process with Makes Me Think Of Home. And I, Like You has some fabulous drumming by Nir. Vocally, the line "be as a friend" was an idea that got stuck in my head, it became almost annoying. First time I sang it, I did it in a more operatic fashion (sings it), but then I thought this was too much so I had to re-do it, make it simpler. But it really started off like a Pavarotti or Freddie Mercury thing. It's has become one of my favorite songs. It's not as obvious a song, as something like Almost Famous, that's an obvious song and arrangement. I Like You isn’t like that, you don't know what will come next. I am very happy with it.

GNC: Amelia is also something you haven't done before in this style.

2Ray: Yes! You know, Peter Gabriel IV was always one of my favorite albums. I think that played quite a large part in the way I was thinking when I was doing one or two of these songs. I could hear elements ... I mean in my mind it feels like a similar concept although obviously I have no idea what was going through Peter's mind when he did his album. I created some of these songs with that style, in mind. Amelia is one of them and I, Like You for sure is another one. And Cry Wolf as well. Those songs made me think of Peter Gabriel IV. Which is a great album.

GNC: What are these two songs about?

Ray: Nothing in particular. Amelia doesn't mean anything specific really. In the beginning I was singing "Himalaya". I started singing it like that. I was thinking about the spirit of the mountains. There is no strong storyline really. It's more about atmospheres. And I, Like You looks at different things: Honesty and also the lack of it, in society. It also has sarcastic elements. And 'Be as a friend' ... that had a lot to do with this time and the need for an audience again. The feeling when you perform - to see familiar faces and seeing people singing your songs. When you're in the room and experiencing that feeling, as one. The magic behind that is in the song. It's about needing the people who give me that feeling of strength and energy.

GNC: You did decide early on to call the album The Weight Of Man. Was that before you wrote the track or after?

Ray: I can't remember really. But I think it's the correct title for the album. That song is my favorite song. When I was singing that melody, I wasn't really sure it was good enough and now that I listen to it I adore it. It's the one song I want to play over and over again. And of course the message about what's going on in the world and a lot of references about todays world, The Weight Of Man really does some up what I wanted to say. And then the album cover, which was done by Luca Biondi and is actually a photograph, looks to me like a man made of water suspended in the sky. That's how I see it. Different people will see different things, but that's what I see. It fits the album title and apparently Luca told me it's a water droplet. But I see a body of a man.

GNC: That a good time to discuss the album cover. Helmut Janisch and I were discussing what this could be and we didn't see anything particular. You know Helmut likes to kind of dismantle artwork and put it back together again for our website to illustrate reviews etc, but this time he failed and he asked be "what the hell was going on in their minds when they did this cover"?

Ray: So we succeeded (laughs). Haven't seen Helmut for a long time ... It's really a photograph and I absolutely love it. It just says everything I wanted to say. And that's the thing with art. It's subjective. You don't have to like it. But I do!

GNC: The Last Laugh .... that's my favorite. It starts with a classical strong structure but then you add in more, there are at least two strong melody lines. What was the idea to do that this way?

Ray: It's not what I thought about, it just happened that way. I always try to look for something that's not in any way obvious. When I write with Uwe, it's different, because there is a song structure to work on. With these ambient tracks it's more difficult to grab it and come across with ideas. It may not be that predictable. You have ideas and don't know if they are good or bad. It was a tough and challenging process. It's a bit like what I saw a documentary on YouTube about Bowie. He said something like "If I feel comfortable with what I am doing, then I am doing the wrong thing". He needed to feel that he was going into areas he didn't feel comfortable with. That was going through my mind all the time. I am obviously a big Bowie fan. So often I would say I'm not comfortable with this, but I will try it and get the ideas developed. That also was exciting, especially when you hear the results.

Regarding The Last Laugh, which is ironically my least favorite on the album - but then again that's art and being subjective. It was the song when I thought  .... I'm not sure. Lyrically I wasn't too convinced ... but what you said about the structure - I never thought about that this way. It's kind of a bit 'Back To Front' and that might give it a bit of charm, But I do like the way the music comes in on that song. I was writing about politics and religion. An uncomfortable mix. If you see Trump or the world I am living in ... it's really an uncomfortable mix. I don't know who will have the last laugh, but maybe it's Mother Earth.

GNC: You haven't done any of those tracks live so far ...

Ray: That's not true, we did two of them last weekend in Wilhelmshaven. We did You Could Have Been Someone and Almost Famous acoustically.

GNC: Ok, but of course you want to do these with the whole band. How much do you want to do live?

3Ray: I would really like to do a lot of it. It's obvious that I need Ali and Lawrie for this. Who knows when we can get the guys over and do things properly. I certainly would like to do quite a lot of the album, it's too good not to play it. With my smaller line-up I can do stripped down versions. If that British experiment of letting everyone get infected, works, we might be able to do concerts in the autumn and be allowed to fill rooms with people, maybe with Covid passes etc. If we can't do it this autumn, I suppose we are looking into next year.

GNC: What do you expect? How will things evolve regarding COVID and concerts?

Ray: This situation really put a lot of strain on people, but obviously with musicians I see a real dejection. Throughout my life, I was always the one who had the motivation and drive. That's my character. Sometimes I've driven it into a wall, the wrong way or whatever, but I have always pushed and never stopped. I tried to be in control so that nobody could damage the journey. I wanted to keep it moving all the time. I feel this dejection now when we came back on stage from the second lockdown. It really was tough. I see the guys and I see an emptiness in their eyes. Of course they want to play again. But there is fear, nervousness and it's not nice. Same with promoters. Putting concerts on sale, can't sell tickets, can't bring British artists across etc. I know it's not only my profession suffering and there are also other professions doing well because of it. I don't ever want to come across as if I'm feeling sorry for myself, because I don't. But I do worry about the damage this does to the business. It's not nice out there. You have these rules, be vaccinated, tested or recovered. Then you have people who don't want to be vaccinated at all. The guys in my live band are all vaccinated actually. So we all have our covid vaccination pass. And some people don't want that and then you think what a mess. On the other hand, in Weert, where we were playing recently, they wanted to do it in the club and I suggested: why don't we do it in the garden outside? They agreed to do this which was great. When we played there, the Dutch PM had just introduced a whole set of new rules again because the numbers were going crazy there. So all who were there were either vaccinated or were being tested that day and it was a nice feeling to be in an environment where you feel pretty safe. I don't know how this is all gonna end up. It's an uncertain time in my business. It's difficult and not always fun. It's not like it used to be. Some of the guys started working for amazon, supermarkets or in music shops - there's nothing wrong with it, I worked in a fish'n'chips shop, years ago, as you know. Those jobs are not bad. It's just such a shame for talented musicians to be faced with that. And then add to the equation BREXIT which is just fucking horrible, and what Britain (not Scotland) has done is an embarrassment. I feel ashamed. You can't even go to Britain, as a non Brit, without the risk of being questioned in the room for an hour about your motives for being there. That is not what we are about. I am utterly ashamed of what has happened in Britain. And then you have people from the business like Bruce Dickinson and Roger Daltrey who even voted to leave. Unbelievable. It's embarrassing.

So add this to the list ... I mean as if you needed any more problems. You can't sell tickets, then concerts are booked, then cancelled again and then vaccination pass etc. Where does this end up? I've got a new album and can't even play it properly. It's frustrating, On the positive side you have fans supporting their artists and this is really heartwarming. And needed. What crazy times...

GNC: And then you live in Poland being a British citizen...

Ray: I applied for citizenship in Poland - but that takes time. Before I became a permanent resident I couldn’t work in Germany, even though I have a company there. So the embassy told me I am allowed to work, In Germany, being a permanent resident in Poland, for 90 days. My brother again lives in Germany and is a German permanent resident, he can work for 30 days in Poland. Some other countries are really complicated. France is pretty easy. So when you add up all that plus Covid etc.

Thankfully I have a fanbase and they come to the shows. So it's ok. There are enough people who make this work for me at the moment.

GNC: Are you following what’s going on in the UK? Steve and Genesis will do their tours this autumn.

Ray: That’s pretty ambitious for Genesis to start in September. I mean this herd immunity they are trying to achieve in the UK is a gamble. I understand the logic. And if that works, I imagine everybody else will follow them. The UK is probably 4-6 weeks ahead in this Covid crises. So it will be interesting to see what happens there and then we can make decisions based on that. I hope for Britain’s sake that this gamble pays off and won't produce more variants and long covid symptoms.

For me, when someone says he doesn't want to get vaccinated I always think what's wrong with them? We are all not enthusiastic about this, but let's be honest: The reality we face is - what choice do we have? We get all sorts of vaccinations when we go to different places in the world. You just do it because you have to do it and that's the situation now. So do it and then let's go on with our lives.

GNC: Ok, we're through - thanks for the chat and see you soon, hopefully in concert. Good luck with the album!

Ray: Thank you, always a pleasure, take care!

Interview & Transcript: Christian Gerhardts

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