"Strictly In Conversation" - Tony Banks talks about his new album, Strictly Inc, to Alan Hewitt at The Farm studio on Saturday 29th July 1995.

TWR: This time, Tony we are here to talk about your new album you will have to tell us about, because we haven't heard it yet!

TB: I Haven't talked about it yet either so I will have to make the answers up as we go along! (laughter)

TWR: First of all, what's the title?

TB: Strictly Inc. We were going to call it Strictly Incognito but there is a group called Incognito who seem to have a reasonably high profile so the feeling was that to cal it that would be confusing to anybody and where you have to be careful about that because you tend to get sued so we thought it best to avoid that and so Strictly Inc was probably the best way round that.

How many tracks are there on the album?

TB: I think there are ten but the tenth track is eighteen minutes long and contains quite a few bits and pieces… its more of a piece than on my last album where Another Murder Of A Day was a suite of three pieces and this is more of asong that develops the themes in it. Anyhow, the other nine songs are more of a conventional sort of length.

TWR: Can you tell us a little bit about each track?

TB: Well, they are all great, obviously! (laughter). I think the album starts at the simpler end and ends up more complicated. The opening track is more up tempo, a kind of heavy reggae feel to it’s a bit like This Is Love or Sledgehammer which I like quite a lot. The album features Jack Hues as the singer throughout and he was the singer with Wang Chung back in the mid Eighties. I remembered a couple of their hits but they weren't a group that particularly stayed in my brain and the reason I chose him was his solo album which he had done with Nick Davis and which never came out but I had heard some of the tracks and I thought he had a good voice. His voice actually is a bit like mine only better, and he can do all the things I want to be able to do. The sort of manic quality is there which I used on the first track.

The second track is called Walls Of Sound which is the exact opposite of what the title suggests; it is a romantic sort of rocker-ballad really with all that sort of feel and melody. The third track is the first single… Only Seventeen which is more of a programme track than many of the others. It tells the tale of a girl who gets involved in certain things that perhaps she shouldn't be involved with and has a sort of straight sort of middle class background but also has another side which you are not sure will bring her down or not and the song probably ends up a lot more twisty than that. We have done a video for that which is an animated video and shows the two sides; good and bad. It is perhaps different from the singles I have done in the past. Chordally it goes all over the place, actually, and it is harmonically quite a surprising sound but it sounds deceptively simple and that is the nature of it as I said; the programmed nature of it.

I play everything on the track apart from a little bit of guitar and drums and that gives it a slightly different character I think. It sounds quite contemporary but whether it will appeal to anyone on a wider level, I just don't know, and so much depends on the few radio producers who will respond to anything like it but it might intrigue some people. I always wanted it to be the single and this is the first time in my career that my choice has coincided with everyone else's, but whether that is good or bad I don't know, because my choice of singles is usually pretty poor. I don't know, when we were working on it we felt that it had a sort of thing about it and when we played it to people probably because it sounded good at the instrumental stage. I originally began it as an improvisation, I had this little idea; just a sound with an echo with I got while we were recording the last Genesis album: We Can't Dance, and I liked it a lot but the others weren't too keen so we didn’t develop it at that point.
What I actually did was, I didn't use any of the bits that I had done with Genesis. I just improvised. I had a twenty minute improvisation at one stage and it sounded really good like that actually. Then what I did was select a few bits and pieces out of it and made a song out of it and there were some bits repeated - it was a slightly different way for me to do it actually. I wanted to try and get the essence of what the improvisation had which was a kind of flowing quality but nevertheless make it musically more interesting, and make more of a song out of it. It is quite different from everything else and if you heard that track on its own you might like it or you might not.

The fourth track is called The Serpent Said which is a sort of heavy thing. I have always liked slow and heavy tracks like Kashmir by Led Zeppelin which was always a big favourite of mine back in those days. It is probably what you might call a more traditional song and it is about temptation. I think it is probably about the Lottery (laughs). It's about that kind of thing and winning all that money and what it would be like. It's not so simple as that but I did write it when all of that was coming to the fore.

The fifth track is called Never Let Me Know which is another sort of romantic song about love going wrong and it is probably the second most complicated song, there is an extended instrumental which goes through many changes. Its one of my favourites actually, slower but a little more Bluesy.

Charity Balls is the next one (laughter) and it is probably the simplest track on the album with just a repeated riff. Lyrically it is quite fun I suppose, it is all about Tory sleaze and it is not just related to politicians but to everybody who has got something to hide, and it is also a pun on "balls". It is the most humorous lyric and there is not much else to say about it really. For me while I was writing the stuff, it was the idea and I didn't think it was going to go very far and we started doing it in the studio and it sounded quite good with the drums on it. Jack came into the studio to sing it and he said it was one of his favourite things on it and so I started thinking about it quite differently and it is one of those that took off a bit more. Sometimes when you are writing things you think; "this is good" or "this is throwaway". I mean, we have done that in the past with I Can't Dance, that was a throwaway thing; a joke and it turned out good and those sort of things do sometimes develop and this one did.

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After that, the next one is called Something To Live For which is written in 7/4 time which I hadn't done for quite a long time actually, and it was fun to do because I have never really done it with a drum machine before and set up the drum box rhythm and get it going in 7/4 time and then just sort of improvised on it. I got three distinct ideas from it and used the seven in a few different ways, and I was really excited by it actually. The problem is when you are writing with a drummer is that they get bored (laughs) whereas I am quite happy to keep playing the same thing for hours and hours on end. The great thing about drum machines is that they are relentless; they just keep on playing the same thing forever and you just keep on playing on it and develop these ideas.

Using the computer you can get various ideas and slot them together and see how they sound with I quite like and so that sort of developed out of that really. The way the drum box rhythm worked; there is one all the way through and the real drums come in quite early on and are quite a big feature on it really, and it actually sounds like drums because the rhythm changes and gives a different emphasis all the way through it. As to the meaning of the song, the title tells you really. When people are criticising what you do in any field, you keep doing what you do, I suppose.

The next track is called A Piece Of You and this track and the one after it; which is Strictly Incognito, which is the title track; both have lyrics written by Jack. The first one tells the story of a photographer and the idea that when you take a picture, you take a little piece of the person, and the great thing about having singers singing their own lyrics is that they seem to get their tongues around them much more easily. The song itself is probably more simple and related to the more recent Genesis stuff. The verse part of it probably relates more to things like Hold On My Heart and stuff like that but then it goes into an extended middle section and then it comes back to the simple stuff at the end, it's an effective song, actually.

Then the next one is the title track; Strictly Incognito which again, had a lyric by Jack and is slightly more topical. It tells the story of where this guy was had up for having sex with an under age girl because she was a woman with multiple personas and one of them was that of a fourteen year old girl. He actually went to gaol for ten years. It is a cautionary tale, you should watch out; if your waitress looks you in the eye then look out! It is quite fun and I think it works quite well. It is a complicated idea which comes across in the lyric quite well and as the lyric was written after the music it is surprising how well it fits together.

So, that's them; and then the final track is an eighteen minute opus. With the others I kept myself pretty much in check but with this one I just went for it really (laughs). It starts off with a three or four minute piano introduction and then develops into a song which is fairly concise and developed by the drum box. The song tells, not really a story .but more the idea of when you arrive at a certain point where everything seems fantastic; you have tried and striven and you find yourself at a point in your life like in South Africa, for example, were they have tried and driven Apartheid out. Then, as the song progresses, you get the next bit of vocal questioning… "can it stay like this…?" and then the final part where things are definitely not going right and do you have the will to carry on.
There are also repeated themes. There is a soft theme that comes in with the first verse and is the first hint if you like that things can go wrong, and at the end it comes back as a big thing with a guitar solo and it is the major theme of the song. It was a chance to introduce a bit of what I hadn't done on the last couple of solo albums ; the big drama, the vocals are intense and it has a kind of moody feel to it and then going into the guitar solo which relates to…if any… early songs such as Firth Of Fifth because the theme is repeated loud and soft. It is a definite Genesis kind of thing but a lot of the stuff in between is non repetitive and some of them were just piano improvisations which I took just as I played them actually, and I never played them again and I thought they worked quite nicely. It is also the first time that I have used a real piano on a solo album for quite a while.

The problem with computers is that you have a terrible tendency to use that because you can do it at home and get the whole thing down and so I tend to use the samples. Then there is a tendency to use the effects bits and like on the last album on Still It Takes Me By Surprise where I ended up playing all the stuff into the computer and then you play it yourself and you have to get it perfectly in time and I think it loses something by doing that and fortunately now technology has got to the stage where on this album I was able to combine the computer with real recorded sounds as well which you can use almost like they are.

So, I could just play the real piano just like that and into the computer and then use it like that and it gives a totally different feel when you hear it, you can tell its real piano; it's only me playing it and it is not perfectly in time and that is part of the charm of playing it because things aren't perfectly in time. That is the basis of the whole thing; everything is piano based although the piano gets quite lost in some of it. It is about forty percent vocals and a lot of instrumental parts. It has got two big vocal sections. I had a few ideas which wouldn't contain themselves so it is a long song.
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I put it at the end of the album because people who want to hear it will get to it. People are much more… resistant to longer things actually so it is more self-indulgent but it was a chance to explore certain ideas. The song itself you could probably take out and it would stand on its own but I did sit down and I wanted to try and write something that could include all these bits. If you do a longer thing it makes you do things which you would not otherwise do … you are not restricted. I had this theme which again developed out of a little idea; a one or two bar melodic phrase which I had from the We Can't Dance album which everybody liked but we just didn’t use, and so I took that and developed it into a big theme.

And on that theme, we have to leave this part of our interview with Tony. Next time Tony will continue his discussion of the new album so until then our thanks to Tony for taking the time out to talk to us, and to Carol Willis for organising things for us. We appreciate it.