A Conversation with Genesis’ Mike Rutherford – HuffPost 10.31.14

Mike Ragogna: Mike, Genesis’ new anthology, R-Kive, is an overview of the musical creativity of not only Genesis but it includes the works of each member of the band as well. How did it come together?

Mike Rutherford: It started, really, with the documentary. Eagle Rock wanted to make a documentary of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and I said, “Well maybe one day, but at the moment there’s a much better story to tell.” No one quite ties in the fact that actually from this one band you’ve got the Collins career, the Gabriel career, the Mechanics, everything. Some people don’t tie it in. People start at a certain time in someone’s career. Some people I meet say, “Did Phil play drums? I didn’t know.” I met some guy who was surprised that Peter Gabriel was in Genesis. People don’t quite tie it in. They say, “You’re Mike from the Mechanics?” In a way it’s justified doing, I think. Plus you’ll see “In The Air Tonight,” “Biko,” “Living Years,” “Invisible Touch,” put it side-by-side and it’s quite a strong summarizing combination.

Ragogna: The choices made for this package seem like everything could have been considered “Genesis.” How were the solo tracks chosen?

Rutherford: The individual tracks were chosen by the individuals. It was their choice. I would’ve loved to have “Sledgehammer” on it but Pete chose his three songs so we went with what he wanted to put on. Funny enough when you put the solo tracks alongside Genesis they fit closer than I thought in a funny way. In my mind I imagined the tracks to be more different, but they’re not.

Ragogna: This also comes off like an audio documentary. Did you listen to this from top to bottom and have any new opinions of Genesis or everyone’s careers?

Rutherford: I didn’t before it came out. I went for a three hour drive the other day up in Norwich and I played CDs two and three and quite enjoyed it. I wouldn’t say I’d listen at home but in the car it was quite good. The timing of things was interesting. I’d forgotten that Steve Hackett’s first solo album was before A Trick Of The Tail. You forget these things, you know.

Ragogna: Right. Were there any revelations or what-ifs that came out of listening to resulting anthology?

Rutherford: The choice wasn’t very hard, but in a sense, it’s all what-ifs. “If that track isn’t on, then what of those ones?” It’s an option, you have to choose. You could’ve chosen differently, but I think it’s a nice balance in the end.

Ragogna: What about with career decisions? Is there anything that the package really spotlights as far as potential direction or whatever when it comes to combining Genesis material with the solo works?

Rutherford: I think so. It’s an interesting overview of our songwriting, which I think is quite nice. It shows how it’s changed and developed but remained in a certain framework because it’s us, really.

Ragogna: When you’re creating, do you have a goal or are you just in the moment of, “I’m feeling this, so I’m writing this.”

Rutherford: I see it more now as time goes by. Genesis came out of that generational change in the sixties. There was a huge social change in England in the sixties and pop music came out, the Beatles, the Stones. For the first time young ment wanted to be different from their fathers. I think our parents’ generation was stunned by two world wars, they were in shock and tired and then we came along. England is a very old-fashioned country unlike America which is more forward-thinking. England had a lot of old rules and traditions that were due to be changed. I feel the result of the two world wars and the timing meant our generation suddenly kicked in and took a bit of a left turn. The music relates to that, but it’s also relevant to the social change, too.

Ragogna: Don’t you think “No Son Of Mine” fits in as the other side of the coin in that respect?

Rutherford: Absolutely. I hadn’t a clue until you mentioned it, funnily enough, but yeah. We always discuss issues lyrically without banging on the head, which I sort of like in a way.

Ragogna: You’ve weathered various periods of creativity in the band, you went from the Peter Gabriel years right up through And Then There Were Three and into Abacab until Phil left. Genesis weathered all of these periods and ended up huger than any of you probably imagined. How did you do it?

Rutherford: I think in a way you never look for change. It was sad that Peter left, but when change happens it brings a new beginning and you regenerate and re-find yourself, which in a way over a thirty three or thirty four year career is surely handy. Otherwise if you think about it it would be kind of hard. The solo careers gave us variety and I think we used the distance from each other all the time. Ultimately I always get back to this and it’s a bit obvious but you need good songwriting. We were a five-piece, down to a four- and then a three- but the remainder was still good writers. The songwriting has to be good.

Ragogna: So it’s all about the song when it comes to Genesis, even from the beginning.

Rutherford: I’ll tell you one thing that’s interesting, I think it was on CD two you go through a certain period where you go from the Genesis album with “Mama” on it to “Invisible Touch” and “The Living Years” and you get a little rub where we thought we were on. It was always on, but this was really strong. I was impressed by the energy coming off it.

Ragogna: To me, there are sister albums such as Duke and Abacab. It seems there was something Genesis was doing that was amalgam of what you all had gone through to that point, like they were the graduation albums.

Rutherford: I agree. Abacab, sonically, was the first time where we sounded like we really did. The band on record had never sounded as good as it had sounded in the practice room. If you walked into our studio and we were rehearsing our songs or recording them you would’ve gone, “That’s a great sound.” Go into the control room and it never quite had that power. Then Hugh Padgham came along and suddenly we sounded like we did in the room.

Ragogna: Did that affect the creativity?

Rutherford: Yeah. We had our own studios, too, so we could write and record at the same time. We felt a sort of freedom which was great for us.

Ragogna: You’ve mentioned how you all brought things from your solo careers back to Genesis. Did it ever get dangerous, where you were feeling a lot more creative independently and wanted to really fly solo for evolution’s sake?

Rutherford: No, I think all three of us would say, “Definitely not.” I was always very aware, doing solo albums, because we’d do the drum parts and I’d say, “Phil would know what to do now.” I had a rough idea, but when you regrouped you appreciated what the others had their confidence of. On all the Genesis albums, the drumming couldn’t be better, but on my solo albums sometimes it was good, soemtimes it wasn’t quite as good. You enjoyed the variety and the new players and the new cowriters but you’d enjoy going back to Genesis just as much. It made it more enjoyable.

Ragogna: Are there any periods that you personally enjoy best?

Rutherford: There was a run from ’85 to ’92 when it just all felt strong. Would you realize that in that period we did, I don’t know, three or four band albums, we did three or four solo albums, we did seven tours, it was a crazy work time but when it’s going down so well, it doesn’t feel like hard work.

Ragogna: And you also had all the thematic videos. You had to act as well.

Rutherford: Well, I wouldn’t call it acting, but yeah.

Ragogna: [laughs] Appearing in front of the camera is another level of demand.

Rutherford: Looking back, it’s funny because some bands take videos very seriously, but we never did, really. We’d have a day off on a tour and say, “We’re going to be in Atlanta, let’s do a day.” It was a little bit second drawer down for us. But we had good directors and when it worked it was good, plus Phil was very good in front of the camera always.

Ragogna: You guys reached pinnacles where it seemed like you said, “Well, we did the best that we could possibly do with this particular paradigm, let’s mix it up a little bit.” Did that happen? Is that when some people went solo?

Rutherford: Not intentionally, but looking back I think you can see why Peter, for lots of reasons both personal and musical, left the band. I’ve always said having written virtually all the lyrics it would be hard to go back to working a four-way. He had reached a point where he’d done all he could in the band I think. I can see it better now.

Ragogna: Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill” ended up on the anthology. I heard that song is his creative explanation of why he left. Is that true?

Rutherford: I’m not sure about that, I think it’s a more positive message. Looking back it was a funny time for me because suddenly Peter left and the papers said, “Well, that’s it for Genesis.” Then we came out with “Trick Of The Tail” with Phil singing and it was a big success and the papers said, “What did Gabriel do?” It turns like that, the press. Then, of course, “Solsbury Hill” came out and it was a wonderful time, really.

Ragogna: I didn’t mean that in any gossippy way. It’s probably my favorite recording of Peter, but my absorption of it was that he was joyfully moving on. Life was coming to put him another position now.

Rutherford: Moving on, yeah. It’s also a positive and happy song without being sweet. It’s quite hard doing that.

Ragogna: Did you end up reaching a saturation point with Genesis at any point?

Rutherford: No, I think that’s why the solo albums helped us. So many bands do solo albums because someone’s unhappy or frustrated in the band. In our case, we were having a great time. It was like, “Well this is wonderful but it’s been twenty years or more so let’s just try something else, we need a bit of variety.” It gave us a rest from each other so that come the next album I was always excited about doing it.

Ragogna: Do you have a favorite Genesis album?

Rutherford: Having done my book this last year–It’s called Living Years, it’s all about me and my father–I listened to all the music while doing the book, and now with R-Kive I know my own songs so much better now. “Supper’s Ready” is a favorite to me from the Gabriel era. It’s a twenty three minute song. Actually hearing Invisible Touch, because it was such a hit and played everywhere you thought of it much more in terms of hit records. When you hear the song, “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight,” our songwriting really worked at that time. It’s great stuff.

Ragogna: Looking back at Genesis’ many years together, what are your thoughts about it all?

Rutherford: That’s a big question, isn’t it? Has our documentary come out in America yet? It’s on Showtime and it ties into R-Kive. In that, I say one of the things I’m proud about is that we’re still friends. In the documentary, we’re together chatting about the past and I think, “Wow, we’re still friends.” I think that’s important.

Ragogna: Mike, do you have any advice for new aritsts?

Rutherford: Yeah, just be patient. Believe in yourself and remember when you’re writing songs, it’s not how many songs you’ve got, it’s how many good ones. I meet guys who say to me, “I’ve got a hundred songs,” and I say to them, “You’ve probably got five good ones. The rest you should be throwing away.” Discard more than you keep, and be patient.

Ragogna: Did you guys discard more than you kept?

Rutherford: Yeah, lots. After the Peter era we’d improvise and jam and then if something didn’t work, that would be out the door and you’d never hear it again.

Ragogna: Are there melodies where you’re now like, “Hmm, maybe these needs to be fininshed.”

Rutherford: Not me. I always live in the now. Forget the old stuff, you know.

Ragogna: What about Mike & The Mechanics, were you able to achieve what you needed to creatively?

Rutherford: Yeah, it was great. I had a run of periods with the first two albums and then later on I enjoyed writing with Peter Robinson and Chris Neil and Paul Carrack really. It was a little harder because in a sense we never toured much. You’d record and then I wouldn’t see them for two years. Basically, I was doing Genesis album and then a year of touring and there wasn’t much time left before I was doing another genesis album. The Mechanics stopped about ten years ago really, Paul Young died and then Paul Carrack and I thought the chemistry wasn’t quite the same doing tours without him. We started about a three years ago with Andrew Roachford and Tim Howar. We’ve always had two R&B voices and a rock voice and we started with an album of live work. I thought, “These songs haven’t been played live ever, really.” I’ve quite enjoyed that process. I’m doing my first American tour since ’89 next year.

Ragogna: When you were writing “The Living Years,” considering the subject, it must have been a real passion project.

Rutherford: Yeah, it was. The story, if you don’t know, is that I found my father’s unpublished memoirs in his trunks in my attic. They’re about his life in the royal navy. I used some of his passages in my book. What’s interesting is that I learned so much about him, and secondly, I realized our lives aren’t rather different. He traveled the road, away from home for years working with a team of different people on the battleships, it’s not that different from what I do in a way.

Ragogna: [laughs] Is there anything that you discovered about your father that you hadn’t put together until then?

Rutherford: In doing a book, I did a little research with the naval archives and the royal navy. They were very helpful about what he did. The arhcives are incredible. Handwritten reports of him when he was twenty five. It’s just strange, reading things about your father’s life that you never knew. He worked on the battleships, he was quite a brave man, heavily awarded. I knew only half of it, too.

Ragogna: What is the future for Mike Rutherford and for Genesis?

Rutherford: Genesis has no plans at the moment, as you know. We had a nice time over the last couple months getting close again with Phil and Peter and Steve. It’s been nice to reconnect a bit. We’re always in touch but life is busy. It’s nice seeing Phil in such a good mood. In terms of the interview, watch the documentary on Showtime. It will be informative. It has good information on the band. As far as Mike + The Mechanics, I’m going to try a little month-tour of America next year in February and March, just in the northeast and just see what happens. What we’ve found in England and Europe is that everybody knows the songs, but they’re not quite sure who the band is. We always hear from the crowds, “God, I knew all those songs, I didn’t realize it was you!” It’s like forty five years ago when I’d go out and play live and prove to people that we were a good band live. Of course, the songs carry you through an awful lot. So we’re going to try America and see if the same process works.

Ragogna: I have your import Hits album and to your point, my kid pointed at the guy at the gas pump on the cover and he said, “Is that Mike?”

Rutherford: We’re faceless. Everyone knows the songs but not the band. We’ve gone three years in England now, it’s nice, it wasn’t sold out the first year but now we’re doing well, so I’m going to try America. I don’t quite know, we haven’t got much history of touring there, so we’ll have to see.

Ragogna: The future’s wide open?

Rutherford: Yeah, I’ve got an American tour and English tour and a Europoean tour. And I’m goingt o write some more songs beforehand, actually.

Ragogna: With the goal of getting back into the studio?

Rutherford: Yeah, I’m just not sure on making an album anymore. The amount of work you put in these days with new music on the radio… I’m writing but I’m just not sure. For an artist in my position with The Mechanics, the amount of works it takes is hardly justified.

Ragogna: Well, there are labels that have surprised me, like Frontiers, that are somehow able to put groups like Journey on the road.

Rutherford: I’m going to do some writing but for now I’m quite enjoying it and people who are going to live shows now are quite enjoying it.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne

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