Name: Ray Wilson
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When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started seriously writing when I was 19. I had been in many bands by this time, but I still hadn't developed a writing style yet. It wasn't until my time with Stiltskin in 1994, that I really found a style that was true to my character and that I could call my own. I had been influenced by many musical styles, over the years, but I would say that David Bowie was my real inspiration as a teenager and later on, in the 90's, band's like Radiohead, Live, The Eels, Jeff Buckley, Cracker.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I think it's important to copy at first, unless you are just a natural genius, which I am not. I did emulate Bowie as a singer, in my youth, but very quickly found my own voice and style. Everytime you cover an artist, you automatically sing as you hear the artist singing the song, but through time you start to develop your own style and delivery.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Just learning how to record a song and how to mix it. It is obviously a real challenge at first and it helps to work with people who know better and learn from them. Songs always sound different in your head than they do once recorded. Sometimes the are better in the head, sometimes better recorded. Once again it takes time, trial and error, to learn how to create your own sound and style. There is no alternative to hard work, that's for sure. You have to keep on at it, till it's right. I learned live performance long before I learned studio recording.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
I started with a small 4 track recorder and 2 DAT machines and I bounced the tracks back and forth, to try and create the idea. You always end up putting too much in the mix, at first, and through time you learn that what you leave out of a recording can be equally as important as what you put into it. It was a lot of fun recording, but I always loved performing live much more. I don't have the patience required to be a really good engineer, so I now leave that to others.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Technology can be very helpful of course. I do feel that the performance can sometimes be lost because of technology. In these times there is too much technology in recordings. They mostly sound sterile and manufactured. I cannot listen to recordings in these days. I always end up going back to the 90's and 70's when rock music was much better, for me. I think recordings sound mostly horrible these days, with a few exceptions, but not many.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
I try to move away from the tools as much as possible. Focus on good playing, good basic sound and dynamics and good players. There are many recording devices these days, but for me the performance is what matters most. Again it depends on the style of music you produce. I am a singer songwriter and rock musician, so that is the style I am referring to. A band like Radiohead use technology better than most.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I am lucky to have a good band and also good musicians that I write with. We often send ideas to each other and file share. It's great to get an idea from someone and add your own ideas to it. Over the last ten years I have developed most of my songs that way. Writing together with others. My most recent work is a bit more of my own personal creation, but it is all at an early stage, so that may change.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
When I am not touring, during the week mostly, I go to the gym in the morning, then do business office stuff late morning into the afternoon. In the evening I normally play guitar, sometimes write ideas or watch a movie. When I am on tour I am either in a bus, backstage or performing. I never write songs on the road.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
I am never really sure where ideas come from. It's all in the hands of the Gods. I find that I have to work at being creative. I need to get into the right frame of mind and to exercise my mind into being creative. It often happens that you sit and try to create something for hours and then once you stop and go for a walk, the idea finally comes to you. I can seldom remember where the inspiration for a song came from. I can only read the lyrics and then it becomes more clear to me where the emotion and idea came from. There are obviously times when you sit and write about something specifically, but more often than not a song developes from a few words or an idea that is in the back of your head and that you were not really focusing on. I find when you try too hard to create, nothing happens. When you let the mind go free, the ideas come. I always write the music first, hence the reason the idea comes through vocally and lyrically inprovising to the music. I try to let the ideas simply flow, even if at first they don't make much sense lyrically.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Well drugs have played a part in many great songs, though not for me. I am a drug free zone. I rely on divine intervention. I think you simply have to be alone and play for hours and hours or jam with the band. Both approaches can create bits of magic. If I have been sent musical ideas from one of the guys, I simply put the headphones on and sing to it straight away, without being too familiar with the piece. I find things happen more spotaneous, that way.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
I don't see the two as being very connected actually. I certainly get ideas from touring and meeting people, from life in general. But the gigs are full of songs already written, so I don't get much from this, creatively speaking. I need to get into a creative zone. Gigs are a performance zone. Different energy.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
I am not someone who is good with sounds. I leave that to others. I am very much a vocal melody and lyric writer. Nearly every song I write is on the acoustic guitar. The sounds and textures are normally created by the other musicians and producers I work with.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
Art is my whole life. My family are all musicians or painters, my girlfriend a dancer, so I see and live art from many different perspectives. I fall in and out of love with art. I am sometimes exhausted with it and other times excited by it. I try not to be too political with art, even though the world is experiencing a very difficult time politically and environmentally, especially for someone liberally minded, like me. People look disillusioned and frustrated with life and you can see that society has been designed only to benefit a few, not the many. If I think about it too much, I get depressed, so I try to look forward and focus on the simple things in life. Not to complicate life too much. Art is like a pill that you can take, that will elevate you out of your world for a while. It gives you a much needed escape. Live concerts are becoming better and better, mostly because people are coming to shows and really trying to forget life's challenges and to enjoy the music and escape for a while.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
Not really. I am sure there will always be someone doing something new and cool and if not, there is so much music out there to enjoy past and present, depending on your taste. I enjoy being 50, but I would love to be 20 again, simply to discover so much great music all over again.