Keep running, keep running
From Music Express Sound, December 1991 – by Alan Wilman
uestion: What sort of car does one drive, who’s keyboarder of a band that has been selling 85 million albums and will be playing in front of over 2 million fans next summer? Ferrari? Rolly Royce? A fat Mercedes? Wrong. Tony Banks, keyboarder by profession in Genesis and a passionate camping-tripper since his childhood, swears by a nine year old Volkswagen-bus and a no less tottery Saab.
Not really befitting the rank for somebody who could buy a Testarossa with his petty-cash, but Tony doesn’t bother about it: “My family and I went to Ireland, France and on a tour through England. To be honest – my wife is not as keen on the camper as I am. Whenever we are away with it, she’s permanently leafing through hotel-guides and giving me a broad hint, and from time to time she gets her way. But I really like the bus. I’m not so mad about luxury anyway, and this way I’m able to sleep wherever I want.”
Even inside the bus there’s no sign of golden chemical toilettes, the interieur shines with this hot chic of the seventies: wood imitation, orange-brown cushions, and a boldly patterned carpet. Tony doesn’t care about it, he’s a pragmatic: “Campers are much more manoeuvrable and compact than caravans. The ground plan is really ideal, that’s why I bought the VW: fridge, cooker, sink, cupboards and four places to sleep. Furthermore the roof is well-finished and the reselling price not too bad.”
His other car – for daily use – is as unspectacular as the camper – an eight year old Saab 900 with a rickety door and 90.000 km on its plate.
“I bought it because of its distinctive shape”, Tony explains. “If you are nowadays searching for a sporty car with some get-up-and-go unter its bonnet and that isn’t totally drowned on a car park, you haven’t got much choice. Aerodynamics may have a positive influence on the handling of the car, but however the cars have totally lost their individuality. Just take a look at this new Rover – absolutely no personality.”
ony usually parks his two car-personalities in the garage next to the Genesis studios – a former farmhouse in Surrey. Where once cows stood there’s now a high tech recording studio. Bundles of hay had to give way to stage equipment and heaps of golden and platinum records by the hundredweight. In case that some estate agent might want to ruin this idylle with some semi-detached houses right in front of the threshold, Phil Collins & Co. bought lots and lots of hectares of the green and lovely surrounding landscape.
This mixture of music, manure heap and money is the final result of a twenty year long, extremly successful career in rock business. Nevertheless the Italian sports car industry hasn’t made one single dollar on Tony to date. To him, Ferraris are on closer examination nothing more than metallic tins with four wheels. The rest of the band have likewise pragmatical attitudes towards this topic: Mike Rutherford drives Range Rover, and Phil Collins keeps his older 7-BMW.
Although the new hit-album “We Can’t Dance” will bless Tony with further comfortable “money-showers”, local car dealers won’t recognize it.
“They don’t make much money on me”, Tony laughs, “once I’ve found a good car, I keep it. They always tell you: ‘Buy our new model because of this or that improvement’ , but most of these changes have only cosmetical values for me. Who needs a stronger engine? I don’t want to drive faster. An average punter as I am will only use 10% of the whole capacity of the car.”
Tony Banks is sitting in the direction room of the Genesis studios, surrounded by enough electronic to start a spaceship and wails over technical antics in cars. He hates electronical window raisers (“useless, as long as the engine doesn’t work”), modern stereos are much too complicated for him. In his bus you can only find an old-fashioned radio and a cassette recorder on which he sometimes listens to unfinished songs and, from time to time, to older Genesis albums.
No wonder that Tony and his boneshakes only once got in conflict with court: “Once they caught me. That was in a small village in the neighbourhood. I was driving 65, but only 50 were allowed.”
From Music Express Sound, December 1991 – by Nick Gibson
The videos scattered about in the well-appointed lounge between fireside and a gigantic stereo tell a lot about the hobbies of their owners. Tapes like “How to choose the right polo pony” surely belong to Mike Rutherford, comedys rather to Tony Banks. Beside some tapes with unreleased Genesis-material there’s also a video with jazz-drummer Steve Gadd. Should Phil Collins take private lessons?
“No,” Phil laughs, “I never watched it. The tape was sent by a firm, they thought, I should also do things like that. Unfortunately I can’t talk about playing drums, I’m only doing it.”
“Steve Gadd played on one of my solo records,” Tony Banks throws in. “I hate people beating wildly around. Steve has taste.”
Phil: “Unlike me, you mean..?”
ric Clapton recalled, after playing on some of the solo recordings of Guns ‘n’ Roses-guitarist Slash, it must have been one of his most taxing sessions of his whole career. “I’ve never been that nervous,” he confessed. “It took me ages until I finally coped with the parts. It was really embarrassing.”
On his search for musicians to play on his solo-record, Tony Banks had to fight with similar difficulties. “The scales fall from your eyes when you see how other people tackle their job. Many gifted musicians master their thing brilliantly – but fail miserably when it comes to playing something else.”
Mike Rutherford gives a concrete example for this: “Stewart Copeland, the old drummer of Police, is a typical case. He’s a great drummer, as long as he’s playing his stuff. He’s getting in trouble when there’s Straighte Tempi to play.”
Collins, whose drum-patterns in the early Genesis days caused for some sensation, believes that modern technique has already replaced the “real musician” anyway: “Nowadays you are able to reproduce the sound of a whole orchestra with one single key on your keyboard. The era of big bands is over.” [check out Phil’s Big Band schedule for summer 1998 :-]
The “We Can’t Dance” material was written, rehearsed and recorded during a period of six months. In early summer they withdrew themselves to the rural seclusion of the Genesis studios. The result of this work contains 70 minutes full of music that surprisingly often reminds of older Genesis albums. ‘Driving The Last Spike’, for example, that moves slowly towards a bombastic climax, seems to be a resemblance to “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway”. Furthermore there are some melancholic ballads like ‘No Son Of Mine’, ‘Never A Time’ and ‘Since I Lost You’, Collins’ tribute to Clapton’s son Connor, who tragically died early this year. The biggest surprise, however, is the single ‘I Can’t Dance’, a thrifty blues riff with lyrics that have an ironic look on the affected coolness of these Levi’s spots.
“‘I Can’t Dance’ is probably the most minimalistic piece we’ve ever done,” Tony believes, and Phil adds: “The track more or less sounds like we originally recorded it. Tony and I were playing around a bit, because Mike had a salmonellae poison and couldn’t come into the studio for a few days. Tony was playing drums, and it took me for about one hour to write the lyrics. It never went that fast. If we had given the song the typical Genesis treatment, we would have destroyed it. ‘I Can’t Dance’ is my comment on these beaus in those Jeans spots, that all look so cool and sexy – unless they open their mouths. I know plenty of them. They’re permanently posing in front of the mirror, but in their heads there’s nothing going on.”
On “We Can’t Dance” one can find a lot of samples, African instruments and unusual sounds that give the album an almost ethnic atmosphere.
“On these recordings we tried very consciously to create a balance between the traditional Genesis sound and more modern musical styles,” Tony explains, “sometimes we even quoted from other albums of other musicians.”
For their sustain and flowing passages, their former trademark, Genesis made use of Andy Warhol’s “Cut & Paste”-technique in the old days. Phil: “‘The Lamb’ and ‘Supper’s Ready’ both developed from this remedy.” “When we came into the studio these days, none of us had a complete song in mind,” Mike recalls, “we would improvise for hours and finally take the fragments together to a complete jigsaw.” 25 years after their first “gig” in the music hall of Charterhouse Public School, the band is now basically working on this method again.
Phil:”We meet on day 1 with no complete song. Sometimes we play one piece a whole day and finally erase it, simply because we can’t play it how we’d like it to sound. We record our rehearsels on DAT-tapes and in the end we take the pick of the bunch. During the recordings for ‘We Can’t Dance’, we filled 20 DAT-tapes. Half of them sound awful, lots of wrong notes and hot chords, but on the rest there are some of the best things we’ve probably ever done.”
“Perhaps that’s also the reason why Genesis still exists,” Mike points out. “We have the freedom to realize our solo projects – but when we do something together, we are a band – three guys bombarding each other with ideas.”
At the tender age of 14 the future Genesis members rather bombarded each other with their fists. “Me and Anthony Phillips had a band called The Anon, whereas Tony and Peter Gabriel competed with their Garden Wall, and after school we used to fight for the piano.”
While his bandmates decided on the music business quite early, Collins headed in a very different direction. At the age of 12 he performed in London’s West End in the musical “Oliver”. Nevertheless, a career would not develop. “I got problems in finding jobs as a teenager, because I got older, and when I started with playing drums in bands and finally ended up in Genesis, I didn’t think about acting anymore. Only when I got a part in Miami Vice I enjoyed it again. Afterwards thousands of Hollywood’s agents knocked at my door to swamp me with scripts.”
Next spring, one is able to admire Collins in Spielberg’s 50 million dollar production “Hook”, next to stars like Michael Jackson, Dustin Hoffman, Julia Roberts, Robin Williams and Bob Hoskins. In a small part, as Collins, the modest, stresses (rumour has it, he called a British journalist to complain about a too positive review about one of his concerts).
“I have already watched three TV shows claiming I am the star of the whole film. But I can only be seen for two minutes! I play a policeman. It’s a tiny part. I don’t want the people to watch the film and then be dissapointed. Probably they will believe that they cut out my parts, because I was too bad.”
In the meantime, Collins has a quite reassuring bank account. Albums and tours have already brought in 90 million dollars. In the very beginning of Genesis his only ambition was to be elected as “Drummer of the year” by the readers of New Musical Express.
“Many people know me from the yellow press or films, but actually I’m just a drummer in a band.”
Four years ago, the Invisible Touch tour, grossing about 10 million dollars and with 111 concerts in 59 cities in 16 states, was certainly the biggest in the band’s history (and probably Mike earned more than the 10 pounds (25 DM) he got for his first gig with Genesis in 1969). The following tour, leading them to Germany in July, will be similar. Do Collins and the others not fear the great competitors (U2, Dire Straits, Prince, to mention just a few)?
“Wait and see,” Collins says calmly. “Certainly a lot is depending on the success of the new album. We try to avoid coming out with an album at the same time when others do, but when it comes to touring there’s only the law of the jungle: Only the fittest survive.”
In public, Phil Collins is the epitome of a self-confident rocker. Hardly anyone knows that even he is suffering from a banal stage fright in stadiums and theatres.
“After some weeks on tour the stage becomes your living room. Each night everything is placed on the same spot as the night before, and you feel safe and comfortable. Everything is wonderful – until I move to the very edge of the stage, where the carpet finishes. That’s the point where I suddenly get a paranoia. In most of the big stadiums there are platforms on both sides leading directly into the audience. When you are standing at that spot, you are confronted with millions of faces staring at you, and from one minute to the next you feel so vulnerable. With a band in your back there’s no problem, you can hide behind the music. But in that very moment you are leaving the carpet, you will enter unknown territory.”
In March 92 he will have to enter it again. That’s when in England the next tour starts.
Thanks to Kirsten Burghardt in Germany for translating and providing these interesting articles.