“Still Life” - Tony Banks in conversation about his solo career with Alan Hewitt.

TWR: What was the rationale behind using so many singers on Still?

TB: Well, this was the chance to go through the whole catalogue of possibilities! (laughter) The problem was that I had decided it didn't matter what I did in terms of commercial success and so I decided to do an album and use whatever singer I want to use including ones I knew and liked and those who might be interested. That was the reason for it really. Nik Kershaw is someone who I have always admired and when it comes to writing, if you like sophisticated pop songs: I mean he is one of the best that there is and I just rang him up out of the blue and said how do you fancy doing it?

So, we did two or three songs one of which he wrote the lyrics for. Then there was Janey Klimek who I had already worked with and there was Andy Duncan who was a singer who I had heard off a tape. Then there was Fish and I had always enjoyed working with him and always thought that if there was another record I would like to use him again, perhaps doing something a little bit like you might expect from us; a slightly old fashioned type of song. I had this other song where I thought the sound and quality of his voice would sound good on it. That had a very structured melody about it and to varying degrees they all worked I think. I was also at one point working with another singer on The Gift but unfortunately the record company didn't want to use him so I ended up using Andy on that one as welland I think his voice suited it quite well. Apart from that it was nice to have the voices for the songs.

On Bankstatement there was one song where the voice was so inappropriate and that was on Raincloud which I had originally intnded to being sung by a black voice with a very light touch, and Alastair Gordon just wasn't right for it at all. As I was trying to keep to this band situation I thought….well he can do This but I wasn't very happy with it at all. I felt that I didn’t want to go through that again, so I thought I would get the right singers.I thought of Nik Kershaw particularly when I wrote the song Red Day On Blue Street as it is the kind of thing that relates to his sort of writing and I just thought he would be a perfect voice for it, so that is why I wanted him on that, I let him write the lyrics for that as I love the lyrics he writes anyhow, and that is what he did.

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Again; working with all these different singers brought out different things. Nik's ability is extraordinary; he could sing a hundred versions of the thing and they would all be spot on. He will do harmonies as well; instant harmonies. Now the chorus chords on that are pretty complicated and he would sing these harmony parts that were weaving all over the place absolutely spot on, hitting all the chords. I couldn't believe it! (laughter). It was just unlike anyone I had ever worked with before. He can always feel sound and with Nik, he always had something in his head which wasn't the keyboards because he doesn't play the keyboard; it's the guitar I suppose. He is just a natural musician.

So, it was fun to have all these people to work with and it is one of the great things about doing solo records is that apart from all these singers I have worked with all these drummers as well I have worked with some of the best drummers in the world, obviously with Phil and Chester and Bill Bruford, but there's also been Steve Gadd and Tony Beard who I was going to use as a producer on Still. He is a brilliant drummer. That is one of the things I have enjoyed the most about solo work is the people I have worked with and it was another chance to work with Daryl again. I had worked with him on Bankstatement but Steve Hillage was the guitarist on that and in fact he didn't play that much guitar on the album but it was great fun to do. For me personally, where I stand ..and it is a totally undetached viewpoint, I know; but of all my albums, the two I am most satisfied with are: A Curious Feeling and Still in terms of coming closest to what I wanted to do.

The other day I was listening to some of it while playing it to somebody else and I was very pleased. My favourite song off the album is Water Out Of Wine with Janey Klimek on vocals again. I wrote it solely with her in mind and it has a slightly doomy quality to it - music to slash your wrists to! (laughter). Along with Still It Takes me By Surprise which was a nice sort of thing to write a genuine kind of lyric. I am not writing in the first person it is third person and it was a love song, but from a slightly different angle. As I have said, the song Another Murder of A Day was a chance to do something which had some of the qualities of a Genesis song but not quite in the three blocks;rather through just the idea of going through the different moods and the keyboard solo and tunes from the early days and I was quite pleased with it.

TWR: It is an album of great depth; it takes several listenings before you begin to derive any benefit from it.

TB: Well.. I think the trouble is, it does take quite a few listenings with everything I have done. I remember having this conversation before with people because people judge music very much on first hearing and I think perhaps, traditionally music has had to be like this but it has proven so often to be wrong. That has happened especially if a piece is in the slightest bit innovative, the audience will express disapproval. The great thing about it is that you can hear it again and again and I think with Genesis music over the years ,even with the later albums; people tend to think well… this is all superficial. I think that is not true necessarily and with more listens you become more aware. Some of the songs, with repeated listens begin to grow on you and I don't know why. I think it is because a lot of it is to do with harmony and chords and if you use unusual chord changes especially to people who aren't into music, they will hear them almost as dischords in fact, and will find it difficult to tell what is going on at times. Then when you have heard it four or five times it no longer sounds discordant and it starts to really move you and some people will get there quicker than others, obviously, but there is no way that someone doing a review who listens to the whole of the first track, the whole of the second ,a bit of the end one can then really write a review. Certainly there is no way with my stuff that you can do that. Perhaps you can with some of Phil's stuff but not with Genesis and certainly not the stuff I do on my own. It requires a bigger listen and the problem is that if you haven't got people prepared enough to take the thing then they won't get anything out of it.

TWR: That brings us up to date except for the one remaining question about what you are up to at the moment...?

TB: Well, in terms of the solo records I will be doing another album contrary to things I have expressed in the past (laughter). Like a politician I am allowed to change my mind. I am hoping to come in here in September (1994) and record another one with Nick Davis again as producer. In terms of vocalists I haven't got a clue as to who I am going to use. The other things I am trying to do at the moment is to get back into this film stuff although as yet there is nothing concrete but there are wheels in motion and there is a chance of something happening. I have written a lot of potentially for that; a lot of instrumental music some of which is more complex in terms of the stuff that is on the records. The one thing with the drum machine era is that we no longer tend to write in time signatures and I have tried to do a little bit of that. When you use the computer you are even more locked in sometimes, computers are so sophisticated now that you can still use time signatures and the other benefits that they bring and so I like that. So, yes… there should be another record out sometime next year. In terms of my actual sales, they went up slightly With Still, not by much but there you go.

TWR: I Wanna Change The Score nearly made it into the charts.

TB: I think the thing we didn’t realise was that there are two factors here. Nik Kershaw as a singer seems to have become very unfashionable; people seem to have him put down as an ex-weenybopper! And he has got saddled with it. I don't know if you ever heard his album The Works, but I think it is a brilliant album. I love it and the song Cowboys And Indians is one of my favourite songs, and yet that album has done nothing. The other thing was that he himself didn't want to get back into the limelight and he realised after he had agreed to do the singing that it might involve him in the video and the promotional side and he didn't want to do that. He would have done if the song had been a hit but he didn’t want to do the stuff before that could happen.
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In terms of singles I don't know what people want; the audience that buys these things is so small and most people that want to buy anything by me will buy the album. It’s a vicious circle and somehow you have got to break out of that. I never expected to have a particularly monster sort of solo career, I am more of a natural backroom kind of person really. That's how I see my role and I am happy with that but the system does seem sometimes as if you are being sucked into it and there's nothing you can do about it. It's a frustrating feeling you know because there are a lot of people out there who say they love a song like Afterglow and yet on my solo records I have done tracks that have the same emotion as that and it is just tucked away on an album that most people have never heard. I find that very sad because as a writer you want to communicate, I suppose. But with my position with Genesis I have been able to do far more of it than many people who strive and just get nowhere.

Our thanks again to Tony for giving up so much of his time on our behalf. We hope that you found it interesting and we look forward to hearing Tony's new album in the very near future.