Twenty years after the latest studio album in the discography of Genesis - "Calling All Stations" - Ray Wilson, the last vocalist of the legendary band, decided to have a look at his phonographic output from the perspective of time that has passed since. The double-disc record "Time & Distance" may well be the most representative choice of the artist's recordings in his biography. On the first disc we mostly get covers, which are a must on Ray's concerts not only with Genesis, but also with Peter Gabriel or Phil Collins. In turn, on the disc number two, there are predominantly Wilson's original compositions, with ideal balance between acoustic and electric sounds. And it is difficult to say whether the set, a total of 25 songs, will hold the definitive versions of these compositions. Because a characteristic trait of Ray Wilson's concert face is the fact that the performed songs continually evolve, changing their shape, instrumental appearance, the sound. I listen to the music from these records, I listen and I can't get enough, because one should not run away from beauty. Because the expressed emotions also affect the listeners' aesthetic spirit, the passion rubs off on the receiver since the very first sounds, and quality is inscribed in the canon of Ray's creative activity.
In the interview below, the protagonist of the text answers a few questions that are not only associated with music, but there is no denying that Ray Wilson is a person for whom music is the body of his life, a person who is incredibly authentic, natural, with charisma, and it is felt by the listeners, which results in positive vibes and respect they have towards this artist.
HMP: What made you and your brother Steven set up the band Guaranted Pure in 1993? The information shows that you have taken up prog metal and grunge. Have the three albums recorded under the banner of the formation achieved success?
Ray Wilson: I started Guaranteed Pure with a guy called Paul Holmes. He is a piano player and was playing in a Piano Bar in Edinburgh. I went in for a beer and got up to sing a song with him, this was the beginning of our friendship. Guaranteed Pure was more of a pop/singer songwriter band. Not prog at all.
Have you already been thinking about a professional music career then? Was the membership in Stiltskin the first major step in your artistic journey? Was Stiltskin a popular rock band at that time?
My love for performing came from my school years. I was in a band at school and performed concerts 3 times a year at band's nights. My first band was with my brother and also a piano player, called Fred. We did Bowie and Neil Young songs. The next band was a metal band called Electric Mistress, a name we took from an overdrive pedal that the guitarist used. We did metal, which I loved as a teenager. I was a fan of Motorhead, AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Thin Lizzy and so on. Our music was a bit mental for the time.
You have been living in Poland for many years, since 2012 you have been holding the title of the Ambassador of Poznań. Have you settled down in our country as a result of a conscious choice, or was it just an impulse? How did your relatives react to this decision?
I met my girlfried, Gosia Mielech, when i was here performing in Poznan, 9 years ago. She is a dancer and worked at Polish Dance Theatre at the time. This was my motivation for coming to Poznan. I settled in very well and quickly, but then I travel and tour in Europe for half the year, so it all felt quite natural to me, very quickly. I'm happy here, for now.
You have emphasized in many interviews that you feel well in Poland. Are you being recognized on the streets of Poznań and other cities, do you give in to requests for autographs or photos in such situations? Is such popularity annoying and burdensome for you, or is it very pleasant?
Yes it happens a lot these days, but it's ok. People are generally very nice. I guess it's part of the job I do.
You have already gotten to know some Poles. What do you find annoying in my peers, and what qualities do you like? Do Poles and Scots have something in common mentally?
We are very similar in many ways. Obviously the language is different, but we are all mostly the same, I think. We eat generally the same type of food and give it a different name, live, love, work and live life the same way. I think Scotland is more of an open society, probably because we have had many different nationalities living there for more years. Poland seems a bit inward looking, at the moment, in this regard.
I do not want to talk to you about politics, but I would only like to ask one question in this field. How do you perceive Brexit as a European?
I think it is bad for Britain and bad for Europe too. Ironically it will be the poorer sections of society who suffer most from the resulting downturn in the economy and they are the ones who mostly voted for it. It was mostly about Immigration from the East of Europe, it would seem. However, our country was built on Immigration and is a better country because of it. Brexit has a given a voice to a section of society who just want to close the doors to everyone and don't go anywhere except Spain once a year. I don't think this new division is good for anyone and just breeds hatred, resentment and anger. We need peace and bridges, not walls, as has been said by many great people lately, including the Pope of course.
But let's get back to the music. Your concert album "Time & Distance" is musically beautiful. For a listener who would like to get acquainted with your works, it's a type of a guide to the most important stages in your career. Was it your idea to divide the whole material into various parts? Disc One is Ray Wilson in the Genesis climate, more energetic, feisty at times Disco Two is definitely more reflexive, acoustic, more peaceful.
I feel it is a true representation of what I have been doing since I started a solo career in 2002. Mixing Genesis, Stiltskin and my own material. I do songs I love to sing, whether I wrote them or not. That is my motivation.
In both of these roles, you and the band perform splendidly. There is both power, dynamics, guitar playing on the one hand, and ballad atmosphere, gentleness on the other. In which of these conventions do you feel better?
I love the mix of emotions in the music I do. I have always had a feel for Melancholy music and I also love Anger and humour in music. So the music I do reflects these emotions. Ali Ferguson is a great guitarist, as you can hear on songs like Alone. Also Marcin Kajper on Sax, is quite a special player. Having my brother on guitar and backing vocals is also important to my sound and to my soul.
I do not want to be proclaiming too many raptures, but for me, Ray Wilson is a guarantee of one component of music - great melodies. How are they made? Is this partly arbitrary, or maybe the result of long searches? Are you using other people's help in this case?
I just do what I feel. Some people like this and some don't I guess, but I grew up with melody being prevalent in the music I listened to and it's now etched on my soul.
Do you think you can make music technically, cold, without passion or emotion? Does personal life affect the character of the compositions? Is it easy to express beauty, love, hate or pain through sound?
I think a lot of the commercial music out there is cold and meaningless. Some people like music that way, as it's less complicated for them and they don't have to think too much. I think some sections of society, in positions of power, would like us all not to think for ourselves, so they are not challenged. However, art must always ask questions and challenge us, that's the whole point of it, for me.
Your works are intergenerational, your music is listened to by everyone, regardless of age, from older gentlemen like me (60 this year) to youngsters. Where do you think is the source of the universality of your musical art?
Good songs are timeless. I see this in the Genesis music, in particular. I play Carpet Crawlers, written in 1972 and discover and loved by many young people, at my concerts. I guess production changes and modernises, but the song is the base that always needs to be there. Hence the reason new artists cover old songs.
How today, from a 20-year perspective, do you assess your start in the ranks of Genesis, a group that has set the trends for progressive rock's development? Can this stage in your artistic life be called a breakthrough? Can you briefly recollect how you became the singer of Genesis?
I'm not sure what it is. It's just a part of my life, that's all. What they created is timeless, of course. So, for me, it was just nice to be a part of it. They called me up and asked me to audition, which I did, then I got the job. It was that simple. I think Stiltskin were my real breakthrough, not Genesis. Genesis was important for me, of course, but just a part of my long musical career, to be honest.
From my point of view, as a listener, you are carrying out three projects; Stiltskin, Ray Wilson solo and Genesis Classic. Each of them moves on different rock grounds. Is any of them your priority? For what reason?
Not really. I love all of them for different reasons. Grunge, Prog, Rock and Singer Songwriter are all musical styles I love, so it's great to be able to encompass all of these styles in my shows.
Stiltskin is a band that favours rock music based on powerful, electric sound, expressive rhythm. How would you characterize the style of this band yourself?
It was influenced by Grunge and Celtic music. Songs like Rest in Peace were very Celtic, while Inside and Footsteps came from Grunge. There is a beautiful darkness to the music too. I love this.
On Ray Wilson's solo records we get to know a different face of the artist. A lot of acoustics, a muted, sometimes intimate mood, frugal arrangements. How do you feel in such a style?
My singer songwriter style comes from artists like Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne and so on. This music was played all through my youth, by my Father and I just grew to love it and feel for it. These artists wrote great lyrics about life and non religion based spiritualiity. I totally get that, as a person and artist.
Genesis Classic is a concert repertoire, not only from the biography of Genesis, because there are also your own compositions in the program. What is the decisive thing when you choose the songs for the concerts of this formation?
I mostly choose songs I think I'm good at. Hence the reason I add some Peter Gabriel music in there. We have a similar texture to our voices, so i find his songs very enjoyable to sing. He also writes great songs. Then there are other songs that just work well live, like "Home By The Sea", "Calling all stations" and "Congo". So the show is a mix of what I am good at and what works well live.
Where does the idea of introducing string instruments derive from? What was the purpose of this procedure? Does the effect satisfy you or do some elements need to be changed?
It was a pure accident. A promoter in Dresden asked me to add strings for a specific show in a beautiful castle called Schloss Pilnitz. I did it for fun and people loved it, so I did another 500 shows that way :-) The basic concept was to take the keyboard parts and replace them with a string quartet. Nothing more complicated than that.
When comparing the concert performance of the same songs I get the impression - and I have been to several of your live performances - that their structure evolves, undergoes some transformations. Is it a conscious action, or does it happen naturally on stage?
Yes I think the songs get better through time. You grow in to them, so to speak. There are others that don't work and are only played once or twice and then never played again.
Ray Wilson is also an author of lyrics. Where do you look for inspiration? Maybe it's provided by life, art, perhaps literature or film?
Life and the emotions we feel while dealing with the challenges of life. That what inspires me most.
The cover list includes such rock icons as Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins. Do you have any other favourite musicians, maybe someone tied to jazz, or classical music composers?
Bowie was my first inspiration as a young boy, also many of the American Singer Songwriters I mentioned before. Dylans lyrics were very inspiring, just like they are for most people.
Many listeners pay attention to your voice, so distinctive and recognizable, with a natural, warm timbre, even hypnotic. What do you do to keep your voice in good shape?
I just keep singing to keep it strong. No alcohol before a gig, no cigarettes and try and eat well. That's it!
Ray Wilson as an instrumentalist plays the acoustic guitar, lately I have also seen him play the electric one. Are you capable of creating accompaniments using other components of the instrument world?
I did write a few songs on piano, but not for some years now. I have had great piano players over the years, so they now do that magic for me now.
Does music, its creation, writing, concerts occupy all of your time, or do you still have a place in your life for other interests?
No my life is music, music and more music. Plus my Girlfriends career and my Cat.
In your repertoire you have many great ballads and also feisty songs. But sometimes you also make more elaborate forms, characteristic for progressive rock. Such is the excellent song "Makes Me Think Of Home". How was this multi-threaded, complex in composition song being made? Do you like such more elaborate forms? On the "Time & Distance" long-play you also present instrumentally rich tracks, such as "Alone" or "Propaganda Man".
I do like some prog stuff. Especially Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Genesis. Makes me think of home comes from Floyd and Zeppelin I think. It's great to feature the guys on the band in this song. It's a lot of fun to play. Alone comes from a similar place, but is more straightforward. It's all about mood and emotion. Propaganda Man developed a lot when we started playing it live. Filip Walcerz introduced a piano solo, years ago and we stuck with this concept. Then of course Ali Ferguson goes into his Freebird moment. I love that type of thing. Very retro.
How do you create songs that are your own compositions? Where do you usually start? Melody first, then lyrics or vice versa?
No rules. It just happens. You just have to work at it and keep on going till something happens. I also write with other people, which is good fun too.
Are you keen on listening to your older recordings, or does it happen occasionally? Is there a record that you are particularly proud of? Why such an evaluation?
Whenever I do, I just want to change things, so I try and avoid it. Sometimes I feel I got a song right, in the studio, but most of the time I feel I need to re record everything.
Which contemporary rock representatives have recently attracted your attention? What type of music do you dislike? Why?
There has been nothing exciting since the 90's for me. Muse are an exception. I loved the 70's and 90's. Radiohead, Live, Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, The Eels, Cracker, Floyd, Genesis, Bowie, Dylan, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen.
You feel nervous before a gig or does the experience help you not to think about it? Has there been a performance in your career which you would like to forget about as soon as possible?
I am only ever nervous when I play in Glasgow. It's not my home city, but the audlience are amongst the best in the world and they know there music. I played with Genesis, Stiltskin and more recently with Steve Hackett there. My heart is always racing when i do the shows.
What do you think is the current condition and the future of rock music?
It's fucked!!! Hopefully with all this protectionist bullshit going on around the world, Rock will come back and kick ass again. We need something to get angry and passionate about again.
Thank you very much for the conversation. I wish you many successful concerts, creative ideas in creative work and good luck, and happiness in life.
Thanks my friend. Best wishes