Ray Wilson, formerly of Genesis: Something Else! Interview

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Ray Wilson is enjoying the best of both worlds these days, having just released a terrific new solo project even while joining Steve Hackett for a series of concerts focusing on classic-era Genesis.

Wilson, of course, is the underrated singer who got caught up in the undertow of following Phil Collins, producing a lone studio effort in 1997 that remains Genesis’s last album.

The new association with Hackett, who played guitar in the band from 1971-77, has perhaps offered a long-awaited sense of redemption — highlighted by the release this month of a new studio remake of “Carpet Crawlers,” originally from 1974’s The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Meanwhile, Wilson’s Chasing Rainbows builds on a separate solo catalog that got off to a hot start in the 1990s with Stiltskin, who scored a UK charttopper long before his career intersection with Genesis.

We joined Wilson for a Something Else! Sitdown, finding him — no surprise — in a relaxed and centered mood. After all, things finally seem to be breaking Wilson’s way again …

NICK DERISO: You titled this project Chasing Rainbows. Have you come to better understand your early ambitions? Do you wish you knew then what you know now?
RAY WILSON: Youth, and being naive, also have their good sides. I learned a great deal from the mistakes I made. Age, on the other hand, has been a good thing for me. I had most of my commercial success in my 20s, but it’s only been the last three or four years that I have really found my place, musically. I have a strong idea on what I want now, and it’s very satisfying to have this feeling of certainty. Being 44 is a good thing for me.

NICK DERISO: Songs like “Take It Slow” from the new album — and “The Actor,” from (2004’s) The Next Big Thing — seem to reference your time with Genesis. (Stream it!: “Take It Slow.”) Have you been able to channel your feelings about that period into your songs?
RAY WILSON: I channel most of my feelings into my songs. Genesis is only a part of my life, although I realize a big part. “The Actor” tells the story of a stage actor who has to come to terms with his lack of popularity, having previously been at the top. I feel many artists have to come to terms with that feeling at some stage in their career. The more successful you are, the harder you fall. The key is to come back from this and to win again, against the odds. That shows the true character of a person, whether they are an artist or not. My ambition, since the end of Genesis, was to build a steady career — not to have extreme highs and lows, like I experienced in my 20s. This is now what I have, and I consider myself very fortunate.

NICK DERISO: Stiltskin certainly burst onto the scene with “Inside,” which became a No. 1 UK hit in 1994 after it was used in a Levis commercial. Do you look back at that as a blessing or a curse? It seemed to create a lot of early pressure on the band from critics.
RAY WILSON: Both a blessing and a curse. The Levi advert was such a big marketing tool, that it was impossible to say no. For me, the song is a great song, with or without Levi, but the advertising power the company had made all the difference, for sure.

NICK DERISO: Was Chasing Rainbows, originally going to be a Stiltskin album — since almost everyone from the band is on board? Would that decision have been different if Uwe Metzler had been more involved?
RAY WILSON: Stiltskin albums need Uwe Metzler. It is a sound created by Uwe, Peter (Hoff, a German producer who has also worked with Beth Hart and Lou Bega, among others) and me, not only one or two of us. This time I wrote with Peter and not Uwe, so the album doesn’t have that Uwe guitar riff feel, so important to our Stiltskin sound — hence the reason it is a Ray Wilson album and not a Stiltskin one.

NICK DERISO: The new project also further combines strings into your composing aesthetic, expanding on something that has been a part of your last few Genesis-focused solo tours. Did this new sound palette change the way you approached the songs?
RAY WILSON: Not in the beginning. The string arrangements always come last, so the song, with my co-writer and band, is created first — and then the string arrangement takes it on its final journey. On this occasion, I also added saxophone at the end of the production process. This was another nice element to the songs.

NICK DERISO: You’ve often returned, in concert, to the underrated 1999 Cut_ album Millionairhead. Is it a project that you still feel deserves a wider audience?
RAY WILSON: The songs on that album are still very popular today and, of course, Armin Van Buuren had a big success with my song “Another Day” (Stream it!: “Another Day.”) so I look back on the album with a smile and with satisfaction. It’s a fact of life that many good songs or albums go undiscovered for some artists, but it doesn’t change how I feel about the music. The Cut_ album has many nice moments and memories for me.

[ONE TRACK MIND: Guitarist Steve Hackett discusses key contributions to Genesis, the short-lived supergroup GTR – and how he created the move that made Eddie Van Halen famous.]

NICK DERISO: More recently, you’ve been appearing on stage with Steve Hackett, a fellow Genesis alum but one from a different era. Has he given you new insights into their earlier music?
RAY WILSON: I have a lot of respect for Steve. He is a talented man, and a good person. I see the success he is having now and I am delighted for him. The early years of Genesis were magical. Most fans know this. Steve was a key part of that time, and it’s right that he is doing the “Genesis Revisited” show. I have been involved with several gigs now, and it’s great to be a small part of this.

NICK DERISO: Looking back now, what do you see as your part in the Genesis legacy? Are you proud of what you accomplished on Calling All Stations?
RAY WILSON: I look at it as an unfinished job. We made a good start and then they gave up, that’s my view. When replacing someone as talented and famous as Phil, it’s going to take time and patience. However, I think we did a good album together, so that’s what really matters to me.

NICK DERISO: Do you feel like you were put in an unfair position? One album didn’t seem like enough of an opportunity to establish your own voice within Genesis.
RAY WILSON: Yes, I wish we’d had more time, but I don’t see it as unfair. I knew what I was taking on and I knew that it would have good and bad moments. As I said before, I feel the music we created together was good — and also an important part of the Genesis catalog. We should have continued, no doubt, but that’s life. I’m 44, I do 130 shows a year and I love what I do. The name Genesis is one of the main reasons I am able to do this. I love writing and creating new music and performing those songs, but I also love playing the many great songs from the Genesis collection. So for me, life couldn’t be better.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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