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An Interview with Ray Wilson

Dresden, 21st August 2010

In many interviews you have this natural distance between the asking and the answering part. It's different when we have an interview with Ray. In Dresden, Christian Gerhardts from Genesis News Com met once again a relaxed Ray Wilson. They know each other quite well now, and they were both in a good mood. Ray himself has lost weight and with almost 42 he seems to be fitter than he has been for a long time. For nearly an hour, Ray sat down and talked about his life and career in the afternoon before his Genesis Klassik Show in Dresden.

GNC: Last time we met for an interview was in 2006 in Heiligenhaus

Ray: … I remember that day - it was hot.

GNC: Yes. 36°C. That was four years ago, but we want to talk about the future first. You will release a new album next year. Can you tell us more about that? Will it be more acoustic, more electric or more Stiltskin-like?

Ray: More Stiltskin. To be honest - and it surprised me as well, the new album happens very fast. I hadn't written anything since two months ago. I got in contact again with Uwe Metzler, Peter Hoff and Scott Spence, who wrote She and Taking Time with me. So I told them, I want to write some new stuff, so send me some ideas. I got some ideas and started writing, it feels good, I'm really pleased. At the moment I got nine songs, demos - so good ideas. My intention is to write more and choose the best for the CD. I'm very pleased so far. I'm happier as well - I don't know if that's a good thing. But it is, I'm afraid - the music is a little bit happier.

"One of the reasons why we started Genesis Klassik was to do something different"

GNC: Do you have some leftovers from the last Stiltskin session?

Ray: Nothing. I have nothing left over from anything at all. One of the reasons why we started Genesis Klassik was to do something different. I've been doing the same thing every year, was touring Propaganda Man for two years and needed to do something else.

GNC: Propaganda Man has a track called Bless Me

Ray: …that was from the Stiltskin session. It was originally my idea, the guitar thing, and Show Me The Way - these two songs I wrote almost on my own, musically. All the other songs were mainly from Uwe, Peter or Scott.

GNC: Regarding the album Propaganda Man, when did you decide not to do another Stiltskin record?

Ray: I don't think I really decide these things. I think these things decide me. I don't sit down and say 'ok, I'm going to do this kind of record'. The last Stiltskin album was a very good album, I'm very happy with it. But it was so difficult to do that - financially and logistically. I was working with people I have never worked with before. And once I did that and did the tour and all these things, I felt like I have enough, you know? And then I just wanted to go back to my acoustic guitar and sit in the corner of the room - which is my default position as a human being. When things get stressful I want everybody just to fuck off and I want to sit in the corner of the room and tell stories and play songs. So my natural instinct is to go back to this position. So whenever my life is shit - that's where I end up going, somehow. But when I'm feeling better about things and communicating with people better then, other things seem to happen.
Propaganda Man was written during my separation and divorce from Tyla. That obviously brings in some kind of emotion. I was on my own doing it, I wrote most of it, I recorded most of it, just in my own space. I even spend Christmas day writing it and drinking Jägermeister - even on Christmas day - on my own. So that was a difficult time in my life. But now I'm working with other people and it's better that way. I am better with other people than I am on my own.

GNC: Have you thought about including different musicians on the new album?

Ray: Well, you know, I work with the boys. I've been working with the guys for quite a long time now. Lawrie and Ash [McMillan, the editors] and Ali [Ferguson] play with me for 4-5 years now. Steve [Wilson] is now back again, and Filip [Walcerz] obviously came in for the Genesis thing - but he fits nicely into the band, so I work with these guys for Stiltskin. And Uwe [Metzler] of course is a very good, very creative guitarist, so I get him to play some bits as well, but I don't really intend to work with other people, unless there is a feature, that maybe I need an unusual voice or someone to play a specific instrument. It's a little bit too early to tell. At the moment I am writing the demos, and then I am going to start recording in January or February. I will not do any concerts for … once in my life …

GNC: … for two months.

Ray: (laughs) yes, I get two months off in my life. So I will be in the studio for two months and we'll see what happens. I really don't know. I am always interested in working with people, but I am not a very sociable person, you know? You probably know that (laughing). If I am in the wrong frame of mind, I just don't want anybody near me. But as I said at the moment I feel quite good and I am open to ideas.

"I think doing something with Steve Hackett makes total sense at some stage."

4GNC: The question about working with other people came from some comments in our forum. I remember someone saying, Steve Hackett's new album is quite nice, but it lacks some kind of Ray Wilson voice…

Ray: Steve's stuff? Well, he's the guitarist that I am not, and I am the singer he is not. I think that's a fair assessment.

GNC: So could you imagine doing something with him in the future?

Ray: Not on the Stiltskin album, but I would quite happily work with him, yes. He's a great guitarist and musician. Well, actually I thought with Genesis Klassik I would like Steve doing something, because it makes sense for that. He's a member of Genesis, so am I … or we both were, should I say… I think that would be a good idea for him to do that. And the other thing you've got to remember is not only you need to create something, you need to promote it. You need to sell it - it's an unfortunate fact of life.

I think doing something with Steve makes total sense at some stage. I know he seems to be interested in the idea, I certainly am, so why not? Although I've only met him once, I do not really know the man very much.

GNC: Are you interested in doing completely different projects, such as soundtracks. Or are you too young for that right now?

Ray: (laughs) I'm not dead yet … Again, these types of things find you. Something happens and it will put you in this space. Like Peter Hoff, he's doing some kind of chill out ambient type thing at the moment that he wanted me to write some ideas for, which I have - I did one or two and it's a completely different side of my character. When I sing, I try not to sound like me. I don't think that project will go anywhere necessarily, but I am always open to the idea of doing things like that. I also work with DJs, which is almost a crime in some countries to do that but I like to try different things. First of all, I am a singer and it makes sense to put the voice in different styles of music.

"I don't like the idea of being signed to a record company"

GNC: Do you miss the support of a record label or to say it the other way - would you prefer to have another major hit or do you prefer to have a career on a solid level?

Ray: Good question! I think there is obviously a certain advantage to signing to a record label that I don't have. And there are disadvantages being without a label that I do have. But then, I can do anything I want any time I want and I don't have to ask anybody other than the audience. My boss is them. If they don't come anymore…

But I think I don't like the idea of being signed to a record company, I have to say. It just does not fit with my character to be controlled. So the better way is to do what I do, to have distribution and do the marketing independently. I know that does not give me the opportunity to be very successful - but do I need that anyway? No, I don't need that …

There's nothing wrong with my career - I am very happy - people come to the shows, they're getting busier and busier. It seems to me there's nothing a record company could give me that I can't give myself other than have the opportunity to be heard on SWR3 on daytime. But they play my music anyway - it's just they play it at night. (laughing)

GNC: One of the strange things recently is that Pete has done an album with covers with an orchestra, Phil has done a cover album and you cover quite a lot of songs during our shows, such as material from Leonard Cohen or Chris Rea. Did you ever consider recording a cover album with your favorite tracks from David Bowie and all these people?

Ray: I don't think so. As I said before I am a singer, first and foremost. And I know that. I love great songs and singers. That's what I am interested in. Artists like Leonard Cohen - I've seen him two days ago…

GNC: … I saw you were interviewed on TV

Ray: … oh you saw it? ok. You know, I watched and I thought 'Wow, the man is amazing'

GNC: he's almost double your age

Ray: yeah - but what a guy, my god. 76 years old and he creates such a magic, I've never seen anybody create such a magic. It was absolutely amazing. I think for me I like to write new songs and new material. And sometimes I don't like writing and I don't do it. But it's also important to be inspired. Especially lyrically, I want to say something. Rather than just defaulting to the boy-girl stuff. It's very difficult when you break out of these stereotype topics for writing songs to write something else. You need to have experience of life to have something to write about.

GNC: … like boy-boy stuff for example

Ray: yeah, boy-boy stuff (laughs) - why not? But you know, relationship-stuff actually is what I mean. But actually, besides playing some other songs during the shows and doing the Genesis Klassik shows, that's enough, I don't need to cover anybody else's career on a record. People do understand why I do what I do although not everybody agrees with it, I know.

3GNC: ok, I'll ask the question again in 10 years…

Ray: ... ok, when I've just done a David Bowie cover album. (laughs)

GNC: Some people, who are not familiar with your music, often ask for a best of or some kind of introduction to Ray Wilson album. Have you ever thought about some kind of Greatest Hits album?

Ray: I thought about it, but I can't really do a Greatest Hits, because I didn't have that may hits, but a 'best of' would do it. But you know when you record a song and you play it live it takes a new life. Propaganda Man is a good example. The live version is better than the recording and I know that. So it would be nice to rerecord it with the live version and use that for a 'best of'. So I would like to do it like that. And obviously I've never done a DVD and people keep asking me what and when and I keep saying I am not interested.

GNC: … that's the next question. So what about the Live-DVD. I heard rumours you may be filming tonight.

Ray: Only with one camera. We actually asked if we could film it but they wouldn't let us. And obviously you need to do multitrack.
Generally, I just feel I never had the reason for doing that yet. I never really got what I wanted - I never got it right. I don't feel I've ever got it right. I do feel now, however, I'm getting it right. It's coming … and that's when you want a document - your 'best of' or your live DVD. But I actually think the Genesis Klassik Show is something that could be filmed now. It's finished. I'm not going to make any changes to it this year. We have 40 or 50 shows - so it could be filmed. And musically I'm happy with it as well. There's no part that I want to change or I feel isn't right. With regard to the Stiltskin thing, that's not really ready yet. I think I'd like to do the new album and continue performing. We only had 2 gigs this year and we've spent most of the time trying to remember the songs. So that's not a time to film it. So realistically, nothing will happen before the autumn next year, if at all. I'm not in any rush to record things, to be honest. Come to the gigs… that's my view. The negative thing about a DVD is - as we talked about Cohen and I bought his DVD and double-CD - you go to the gig and you know what to expect. And that takes some of the magic out of the gig for me. I wish I haven't listened to it before. I didn't want to know what he was gonna say or sing. And that's the problem with DVDs. I rather have people go to the shows than sitting in an armchair watching a DVD.

With Genesis Klassik, it's kind of different, because I know we can change the show completely in 2 years. Simply because we have a big catalogue of their songs and more songs from Calling All Stations that I can do. So I could change the setlist. I do one DVD and then I change it. But with Stiltskin … not yet.
I also wanted to do a "my life" thing, with all the footage from my life and from different shows I've done but I would like to do it properly. I do feel now, however, I'm getting it right. It's coming … and that's when you want a document - your best of or your live DVD. I have lots of video footage and stuff of my entire career but I think time will tell me when it's right to do that. It can't be far away. But still I'm only 41, so there's still time to make more mistakes.

GNC: The live set. Few years ago you said it clearly "I hate Congo"

Ray: yes and now I am playing it.

GNC: yes, what's the reason for the change of mind?

Ray: I'm just a liar (laughing). Actually - obviously I live in Poland now. And I'm always being asked for Congo in Poland. The Genesis album did very well there, the show was broadcasted on the main TV station. There are many fans of that song in Poland. And I occasionally I had some requests in Germany as well. But not so much. But Poland - all the time. And I said, ok - let's see if we could do a version of Congo that sounds good. And I think we have a version of Congo that sounds good. I'm very pleased with it now. The first 2-3 times I felt a little bit self conscious. But now I think we've got something in between the Calling All Stations version of the song and the Klassik way we do it. We seem to have something working now. So I am actually really enjoying the song. I like it more live than I ever did on the record.

"Genesis Klassik is the best gig I've ever done in my life"

GNC: The other tracks, like One Man's Fool, The Dividing Line, Small Talk or There Must Be Some Other Way - you don't play that live anymore. Is there a chance to hear these songs again?

Ray: I think there is now, actually whenever I played a Genesis song it had to be different. I wasn't interested to do it the same way it was. Whenever I tried to do it like they did, it sounded wrong, like a cover band. So I did acoustic versions of Carpet Crawlers and stuff and always felt quite good about that. Now with the full band - basically, we have taken Tony's keyboard parts and put them into a string arrangement. So there is a new unique element to it whereas when the band plays it, it's pretty close to how Genesis played it. And it's this thing. The string arrangement instead of Tony's keyboards, the band playing it a bit like Genesis did and my voice instead of Phil's or Peter's. It seems to work - I am enjoying it. This is actually the best gig I've ever done in my life - what we're now doing. We've got it right. That opens the door for doing other songs from Calling All Stations. At the moment we play 4 of them, Calling All Stations, Congo and the usual two [Shipwrecked and Not About Us], but I think There Must Be Some Other Way would be quite nice as well. It also depends on whether or not that kind of Genesis Fan starts to watch my gig. That's the question. That's not really the Genesis Fan who comes to my gig.

GNC: So do you think stuff like The Dividing Line would be too demanding for your audience?

Ray: Well, if I went and played in Italy, I would play The Dividing Line. It may not be the best example, but they like stuff that a little more a reminiscent of the 70ies. When you get into Germany, there is an audience for that early part of Genesis, but it's not my audience. There's maybe one or two - but predominantly I can see people get bored when I play something like that. So from my point of view, I'd rather play Constantly Reminded as a song they've never heard before rather than play Uncertain Weather. I would rather play something I have written. However, if that changes and more people come to my shows who watch The Musical Box, you know, that audience, then yes of course then I have an argument for playing the longer Genesis songs.

GNC: What about a poll about that topic on your website?

Ray: ...but you know what you get is fans go to the website choosing songs, but they do not necessarily come to the concerts. That's the problem. I met many Genesis Fans in my life who like different times of the band and they are quite different obviously, like Phil's time and then the early years with Steve Hackett and Peter Gabriel. These fans are different people. I know that Genesis themselves had the same kind of problem. Whenever they do a gig, they think who do we please? The commercial era fans or the early Genesis fans, which may be the minority. I know that's what they feel because that's what they said.

"Italy is so different to anywhere else for Genesis music"

2GNC: Do you think they found a compromise with the 2007 setlist? You saw them in Hannover…

Ray: I think they did actually find a compromise. It's true to say that. Yeah, you're right. But it took them time. I know when they went to places like Italy … Italy sticks out, it's so different to anywhere else for Genesis that I experienced. They were almost booing when you play Invisible Touch, you know - or people were even leaving. Whereas when you get into London they love it. And that was always their problem. But I do believe they got the balance right in 2007, yes.

GNC: I saw one of the pure Stiltskin shows in 2006 in Essen, with Uwe in the band. You didn't even play one Genesis song. Can you imagine to leave that all behind and only play you own stuff in the future?

Ray: To be honest the Stiltskin shows have been like that because I've been able to do that. When I started my career with a mix of acoustic Genesis songs and my own songs like Change, I kind of felt compelled to continue that way, with this kind of hybrid type gig and I've always felt that the show needed it.

I would say now though, like the last proper Stiltskin gig was in the Bluesgarage and I don't think we played anything from Genesis, maybe Follow You Follow Me and Not About Us but I don't mind Not About Us, because it's pretty much my song. But we purposely leave out everything and people were very happy with it. In other places, like festival type environment, you need a bit of that other stuff. When it's my audience like Bluesgarage or Downtown Bluesclub in Hamburg or Worpswede or Berlin, I feel quite comfortable to focus only on my stuff. But I haven't always felt that way and I only felt it probably in the last while that I can do that and it's because I have Genesis Klassik now, which is a Genesis show so people know if they want to listen to me playing Genesis songs, they go to Genesis Klassik. And when you go to a Stiltskin gig, you won't get all the Genesis stuff.

GNC: A lot of fans think the Millionairhead album contains the strongest material you've done so far. Unfortunately you do not play the songs people want to hear from the album, such as No Place For A Loser or the title track. You obviously play Sarah quite often…

Ray: … yeah I'm kind of stuck with certain songs. Actually in Berlin I am playing Hey Hey again and I haven't played that for a while and I love that song, it's Tony Bank's favorite as well, I remember him telling me. And somebody asked for Adolescent Breakdown as well which was from the same session, but only a bonus track on the record. And I get emails from people saying - play this, play that. I think with No Place For A Loser it's certainly … when did we play that? We played it with Nir and that's it? Never again…

"5.1 Mix of Calling All Stations? They never sent it to me"

GNC: It's an "All The Young Dudes" kind of song ...

Ray: yeah, you're absolutely right, that's where the inspiration came from. It's got that whole feel about it. I just need to be prompted, reminded or kicked…

1GNC:  No Place For A Loser was 'Track of the Week' in our forum a couple of weeks ago and some people were asking, why is that not part of the setlist?

Ray: No Place For A Loser … hmm, I should remember that. I just need to be reminded to do things. You do tend to settle in familiarity. I think a lot of artists are guilty in that. And I am also … I always try to do my different things and I forget these things.

GNC: Did you ever hear the 5.1 mix of Calling All Stations?

Ray: They never sent it to me

GNC: ... ah, so you didn't buy the record?

Ray: I didn't buy it, no. It's even not so easy to buy the record. I did expect them to send it to me, I thought that would be a reasonable request to send a copy to me. Nick Davis sent me a CD-R.

GNC: … possibly only the stereo mix.

Ray: yes, true. But then, I wouldn't have anything to play that 5.1 Mix, so … I'm not too interested in that - even DVDs, I watch in stereo.

"For North America, I never get any requests"

GNC: What about live shows in other countries, such as North America, UK, Southern Europe…

Ray: hmm … I think the reality is if I had a pot full of money to lose. Then I am quite happy to do it and can go and play those places. Whenever I go to the UK I lose money, apart from the Edinburgh festival, because I was there I had a house there - which I don't have anymore … but that was the only time when I played in the UK and managed to earn anything. And I kind of lost interest now. It's a shame because I get a lot of mails from the UK saying when are you coming over to play. Unfortunately they're scattered all over the UK, if they were all in the same city…

Even when I played in London last year, the majority of the audience was Polish and German. Regarding Spain, I did a charity thing in Valencia recently and I met some guys from the Marillion fanclub there who said they could organize a gig which is great when you know that 200 people are coming and you can at least pay for hotels and flights. I'm quite happy to do it, I don't need to make money from it, I just don't want to lose 1000 Pounds per gig, you know? I have to market my own albums and pay for all my stuff. I would love to go elsewhere. North America I never get any requests. I had one request for Canada at one time…

GNC: … 10th anniversary of Calling All Stations?

Ray: Is that what it was?

GNC: ... you told us last time, if I remember correctly.

Ray: Ok. I had a request for that and it didn't work. And I knew what they would want to listen to and I just didn't play it - so what's the point? I actually never had a Genesis-type gig, that I felt I could really take anywhere. I mean we took it to South America where they knew me for the Genesis time only and we did it, but it wasn't really very good, to be honest with myself. And I think only now we have something that is really good. So now I would quite happily take it somewhere. Unfortunately there are ten musicians…

GNC: We still have people asking, what happened in Grönmitz - what's the story behind that?

Ray: That was a f**** disaster. I got there and there was nobody there. Something like 8 people. So I got there, I had driven for 8 hours or even longer, which was ridiculous, and I was so angry with my agent, so I just turned around and went away. I've never done that before in my life. I guess I was wrong doing it, to be fair, but I was really pissed off. I had to make a statement to them and I did that. Unfortunately a few people were pissed off with me and you know … what can I say? They were right and I was wrong. But that's why. They've sent me in the middle of nowhere with no promotion, no marketing and just everything there was wrong. So I didn't want to do it.

"One thing Germany has been traditionally good at is creating good rock and roll clubs"

GNC: Is there a favorite city where you prefer playing?

Ray: I've always liked the working class areas. Like Dortmund, Essen, you know - the Ruhr area. I love that. It's the same in Britain, Newcastle, Liverpool or Manchester. These are good locations for music. I'm a big fan of going into that type of environment. I think it's more about clubs, though than necessarily areas. One thing Germany has been traditionally good at is creating good rock and roll clubs. Much better than the UK. Places like Bluesgarage, the Downtown Bluesclub or the Colos-Saal in Aschaffenburg and the Spectrum in Augsburg, Germany has got a good circuit of good clubs. You get there and the guy who owns it looks like he's the rock star. I love that. It's also great for our business, because if it wasn't for those people, I wouldn't have a career at all.

GNC: Do you miss Scotland?

Ray: I miss … the air (laughs). Does that sound stupid? I went to Edinburgh last week. I had five days, Gosia was working in England, so I went to Edinburgh. One thing I've always noticed about Scotland is as soon as you get off the plane it's like (breathes in) wow! The air … it's so rich and green and by the sea. Now I live in the center of Poland. And - ok it's green but there's no sea anywhere. I guess the only time when I get that is when I am in the baltic region like Stralsund and Rostock. I miss the air and the city of course. Edinburgh is for me one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. But I'm also quite happy to leave. Just to spend some time and go.

GNC: Do you feel home in Poland now?

Ray: Well I feel home in my tourbus, that's a simple answer to the question. It doesn't have to be Poland. If I had a choice of where to live I'd live in Berlin, that's my favorite city. I like the polish people very much, I have to say. But my home is the bus. Also, I know so many people in so many places now, predominantly in Germany and Poland. I'm always happy to arrive in Augsburg or Aschaffenburg …

GNC: Last time I asked you what kind of music you were listening to. Back then you said Breaks Co-Op and after that I bought the CD and share your opinion - it's great stuff. So what are you listening to now?

cohen coverRay: The last thing I bought was Leonard Cohens Live-Album, which I think is one of the best Live-Albums I've ever heard. Certainly the best thing I've heard in ten years. I was always aware of him as a writer, but I would never say I was a big fan. But then I listened to that and I thought this is just amazing. Musically, how it works - the space, the arrangements. His bass player, I don't know his name, but I know he arranges the stuff, I was absolutely blown away by the whole occasion - his poetry, how he introduces songs, so that's the album that sticks out. Recently I also bought David Gray's latest album but I didn't really have the chance to listen to it. But it seems he did it in a little room in his house somewhere, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I tend to go for singer/songwriters. That's what I'm interested in. It's that comfort thing. When life goes wrong, I want to sit in the corner with my acoustic guitar. And then a band called Archive. I think they are an amazing band. A little bit like Radiohead, but different to that.

GNC: If you had to stop making music tomorrow, are you still eager to do the lawnmower thing in Edinburgh?

Ray: The Lawnmower thing (laughs) - yeah! I haven't had that feeling for a while, like the Forrest Gump moment…

GNC: or do you have a specific hobby now?

Ray: No, I still don't have any hobbies, I'm afraid. I'm still … music, music and more music. Pretty boring guy. I think I would have to do something so extremely different to music. Like fishing or something. But I'm not interested in fishing, I have to say. So it' still riding the lawnmower, listening to I know what I Like through my headphones.

"After years sitting on the fence I feel I can make the right decisions."

GNC: Are you pleased with the development of your live-shows and the number of people who come to see you? Do you feel okay with your album sales?

Ray: Well the numbers are increasing, but to be fair they are increasing because I'm doing a Genesis Klassik show, I'm not stupid… I have to say also, the last Stiltskin show was the best we've ever done. I finally was doing what I should be doing and it felt so good to do, rather than compromising, which I've been guilty of for nine years. I've had good reasons to do that, but I don't feel I have to do it anymore and that's a good feeling. I actually feel I can play what I want to play and it's gonna be ok. And that's because I've given the different gigs a title and a place. And people who like me performing know which gig is which and they are not surprised when they turn up and don't hear a Genesis song because it's a Stiltskin show. So I feel after years sitting on the fence I feel I can make the right decisions.

GNC: Ok, Ray - thank you for this interview, was a pleasure as always. Good luck with your projects.

Ray: Thanks, it's always a pleasure!

Interview & transcription: Christian Gerhardts
Photos: Petra Buttmann


Genesis Klassik: Live in Berlin - CD review
Ray Wilson tour dates 2010

Ray Wilson album reviews
- Propaganda Man
- She
- The Next Best Thing
- Change
- Millionairhead

Ray Wilson concert reports
- Four Shows in Poland 2008 - 2010
- Tour Report 2007/2008
- Ray Wilson & Band in Heiligenhaus 2006
- Live in Essen (KKC 2005)
- The Next Best Thing Tour - report
- Change Tour - report
- Gelsenkirchen - Unplugged 2002
- Edinburg Festival - 13 shows at Madogs 2001

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