"Still Strictly In Conversation …." - Continuing the interview
we began with Tony about his new album Strictly Inc in the last issue. Interview
conducted on Saturday 29th July 1995 by Alan Hewitt.
Who are the other musicians you have on the album?
Jack's a guitarist, so he played most of the guitar on the album although there are a couple of bits and pieces where… and he would be the first to admit …where he isn’t really a lead guitarist and on these I knew that I really wanted a lead guitarist solo and so I thought of Daryl and got him to do that and while he was down he did this other song: Walls Of Sound where I wanted a strumming guitar throughout it and going so fast that you have to be technically very good to do it quickly.
I mean, Jack is a good guitarist but he doesn't move around the chords which is easier on the keyboards, but on a guitar the whole thing shakes (laughter)and even Daryl was laughing as he played it but it gave it a nice feel and I wanted to try and get a bit of that. So Daryl played guitar on Walls Of Sound and the guitar solo on An Island In The Darkness.
The other major people were John Robinson who played drums throughout and he is probably best known for his drumming on the last Steve Winwood album…he is an American session drummer. I wanted to use Vinnie Colaiuta like on the last album but he was on tour with Sting at the time and it didn't quite work out so we decided to do some tracks with John and some with Vinnie but as it turned out John was just so good. It is a different kind of thing; amore intricate style of drumming and very musical and he does odd things with different time signatures which is good and makes things sound natural. John is a more natural kind of drummer with a great feel and the only track he had any trouble with was the one in seven but once he got that… and he was determined to get it, too. He said he kept thinking of his ex-wife (laughter) and it ended up probably as one of the best drum performances because he really went for it. Whereas the rest of it he heard the song once and he just played it and I thought: there's got to be more to it than that… we are paying you all this money! (laughter) but he is a really good drummer and he gave us a really solid basis for the album.
Most of the bass on the album I did but when Daryl came down, Nathan East came with him. They were both on tour with Phil at the time and so I ended up using him on four tracks and he played on Don't Take Me Back; Something To Live For which is the one in seven time; Charity Balls and... I can't remember the fourth one… it says on the album! But, as I said… most of the bass I did myself even on those tracks, some of it I did because when you are writing, the ideas come with it and it depends whether you want something of what a bass player can give it sometimes. Particularly on tracks like Walls Of Sound where it sounds like a fretless bass and I remember struggling to learn how to play bass guitar in the early days of A Curious Feeling but it just doesn’t come naturally to me because the strings were vibrating all the time and its such a big thing and I have only got small hands and it was so cumbersome I had to stick bits of foam under the strings and it was the same with the lead guitar and that was the other thing; there is a lot of what you actually think is lead guitar and it is actually me… I wanted guitar sounds particularly on the demos, and I wasn't sure who was going to play on the album and some of them I was sure I was going to carry right through so the guitar samples you can get on some of the keyboards are so good and there are times when you would swear it is a guitar and the guitar solos … I can’t remember all the song titles but on Never Let Me Know you will know them by the time you write this…you will probably know them all. And Something To Live For I suppose, although that sounds slightly more keyboards and Strictly Incognito sounds as if there is a lot of guitar all the way through and it is all keyboards; all the lead stuff.
Really the bulk of it is just done by the three of us; Jack; John and myself with little bits by Daryl and Nathan which were a luxury …well not so much luxury; the guitar solo stuff wasn't but Nathan's stuff was a bit of a luxury and I probably wouldn't have had to use it but I am very glad that I did because its great and he got that twinkle in his eye and his teeth flash, you know, and he does this trick and you are too busy watching his teeth that you don’t see what he does with his hands! (laughter).
You have mentioned all the tracks that were recorded for the album, were there any recorded over and above that?
Well, there was one other song which will probably end up as one of these extra tracks which will compel people who really have to have everything to buy two versions (Really, Tony? I am sure we don't know what you mean! AH) Completely unfair but unfortunately that's the way it is these days singles sell so little, even big hit singles and unfortunately that is the way of promoting the whole project.
This was a song that Nik Kershaw wrote the lyrics for and when I originally started this I thought I would get Nik to write a couple of lyrics and this s one of those that survived and ended up being the extra track. There's no particular reason for it although it is one that sounded more like I Wanna Change The Score from the last album and I think it is probably better than that but maybe it didn't kind of add much. I did also put down two instrumental things one of which I intended to add vocals to but never did, which was a quite pretty thing in 3/4; a sort of folky thing which might turn up as an instrumental. The other one was amore sort of orchestrated piece which relates more ,again to An Island In The Darkness, the last track, but I decided to keep it back because it is a good theme, but probably a bit wasted on an album like this; and it is the kind of thing which if I ever get the chance to do film stuff again I would like to use; but I have got lots of this kind of stuff over the years now, and at some point I will let it all out and clear the system; a sort of colonic irrigation! (Laughter).
You have mentioned the extra tracks and several old tracks have appeared on CD singles. Would it ever be possible to have the re-mix of For A While on one of these?
Well, when we re-mixed it in the end it was done by this guy and I don't think it really added very much to the song. The guy who was doing it: Clive Crawley who was involved with Charisma at that time and he really liked the album and felt that he could push something out of it and he liked the bass and found more of these bass parts and he pushed them right up in the mix and the reason why I didn't use them was that when you play something on the radio, the bass can sometimes take over but yeah…. It is a possibility.
The thing about B sides and extra tracks is that it is… in a way a way of introducing people to older material which they might not be aware of. The other thing is on this one is because the song… Only Seventeen lent itself obviously to that sort of treatment. There are a couple of club mixes on it, one of which …it is quite funny this because we sent this to a couple of people to do versions of and the fist guy did two versions and the other guy did one and I got the first guy's first version and it seemed to use so little of the track and I thought I must get more and the second version used virtually none of the track except for a spoken bit which they used quite extensively. So, I thought…OK… let's see the second guy's version…and the second guy's tape came back and there isn't a note on it that bears even the slightest resemblance to anything on the track and I thought… what is the point? I could given him any song and that is what he would have come up with!
After that we decided to do another version with Nick (Davis)… he got a guy; Steve Piggott and they did a version which used a few elements of the song and some other bits and so on. The first CD single I think there is the two mixed versions of which one is the Club mix which is quite good in itself although it doesn't have that much to do with my song, and the other is the one which Nick did with this other guy and you have got the conventional B Side which is The Serpent Said, and if there is a second CD single it will probably contain this Nik Kershaw one depending on what happens. If we get a lot of radio interest, we may use one of the 3/4 bits which might end up as a song I suppose. I always fancied putting out this eight minute version of the single Only Seventeen before I edited it down, but of course, that only exists in what you would call very rough demo versions.
People go for those kind of things… Phil for instance, has released quite a few of his demos on things…
Yeah, that's right but it is different with Phil because he sings and some of his things sound quite nice an some of his songs sound better when he is just doing the demo version and he puts more spirit into the demo version and it wouldn't be the same with these which are just instrumentals, but I felt it sounded pretty on its own but it has got a very peculiar kind of drumbox on it but I could go back to it and make the components sound a little more interesting perhaps.
Have the release dates been set yet for the album and single?
Everything keeps getting put back (laughter) although I think it is pretty much definite now that the single is coming out on August 29th… it is all done so they should be able to stick with that and they wanted to… well they are talking about putting the album out two weeks after but I think it should be left a little longer.. just in case. I would like to leave three or four weeks but the problem is that you find yourself getting lost among the big guys bringing out albums and singles but my feeling is that if the single is getting any kind of response then you leave it as long as possible otherwise it kills it totally when the album is released. Like when Mike's thing which was doing quite well and then as soon as the album comes out… mind you that hasn’t stopped them playing it…they are still playing it in fact!
How do you feel about the album?
Well, one is always confident about a thing. If you are not you would not even consider putting it out. I do feel very confident but I have felt that way with everything I have done ,so it still sounds very good to me now, and I still listen to it; but people are looking for different things in music and you have also got to get through that filter of the media…radio and so on which, as a rule, tends to be very negative about anything Genesis does and unless you have any other reason for getting over that like Phil because he is so big, if you like, and the group obviously; and Mike because he has the best relationship I you like with the media; he knows people and is friends with some of them and all the rest of it… So that can kind of help you through a bit and they always seem to like what he does right from the very first album when he put out Working In Line as a single and it got loads of radio play.
It didn't sell but the radio loved it and he has always had radio play and that is the main thing; if you don't have radio play you will still sell something but it helps if you have got them on your side. Initially it is going to the radio stations with no details of who it is; just to avoid the usual prejudice and so on; but once the single proper comes out …and the album.. it will have the details but the very first package to radio will have nothing on it as if we were a new band and I am not sure if it is a good idea or not. I don't know. Originally when it was called Strictly Incognito they thought it was too long and Strictly Inc sounded more snappy and you weren't sure what it stood for… "Incorporated" or "Incomprehensible" (laughs) maybe… it is whatever you want. It looks quite nice in print when you see it; "Strictly Inc" I think you probably think it was worth listening to and we have done a sort of radio edit of about four minutes because it is actually four fifty five; the main thing you lose is the introduction. It is always more difficult when something is a bit more challenging and then you have got to have someone who is on your side; and people who are prepared to give it a try.
I don’t think it is that exciting to get behind to get behind someone who has
been around a bit… it just isn't as exciting for them. If it is a new band then…
but if it is someone who has been around then there is not much interest but
there are people like Ray Davies say... if he put out a single it would get
airplay whereas someone like Justin Hayward did it probably he wouldn't. It
depends who you are and it is just image and I probably fall somewhere between
those two; but too close to the Justin Hayward end to attract the interest.
Jack Hues on the other hand, has probably got a little bit more of an interesting
image because Wang Chung, people remember and remember liking to some extent
and I don't know how far that will go. So, the initial thing is to promote it
without any particular name, emphasising the song and if that doesn't work;
then emphasising the duo nature of the thing; we are calling ourselves Strictly
Inc and there are just the two of us and that is how it stands.
What is the design for the album and single; will it be a photograph or has there been a cover designed?
What we have actually done for both the album and the single; is to use images that have come out of the video. The video is a combination of animation - drawn and computer animation; and the cover of the single is basically a still, combining drawn and computer animation of this dancing figure in front of a murky background, and for the album; they are using two rather insane looking characters that this guy drew for the video and it is quite a bizarre cover but going with the title Strictly Inc it is really in disguise stuff and I think it is quite striking, but whether you will like it; I don't know. It is more in the realm of a Duke type of cover.
Who is the artist who has done the cover work?
I can’t remember his name but he has done the actual drawn animation for the video and the idea is that when this girl is in this world surrounded by al these dubious characters; about ten of them and I thought they all looked fantastic, and I chose the two that I thought looked the best; one sort of mean-looking; thin faced and the other; a kind of female with a great big mouth and it is just arresting. I didn’t think it particularly relates to everything on the album but I think that you will remember it, if you see it… and CDs... because they are so small, you need to make sure that it is fairly powerful and they were trying to steer me towards using a photograph of me and Jack and every time I get steered towards it… and I came across the old illustrations with the guy from The Fugitive and the old designs are so much better. I don't like pictures of myself obviously; but I felt that The Fugitive was a particularly bad album cover and they had to get me on it one way or another; and I found this old one which was much more the idea of the fugitive; which was this little figure running in the distance. OK, it might be a bit cliched but it really looked good, and this time I decided having chosen these things and everyone was very enthusiastic, and then the pictures came and they started saying : "You really should use this…" and I found myself being pulled towards it and I finally said… "No" and apart from a couple of people at Virgin, most people were favourable, because it was so striking, so that is what you got.
You had Nick in again, producing?
Nick, yes we have got a good relationship. He is very supportive and very enthusiastic. He really wants to do well and he tries hard and I have worked with him on Still and We Can't Dance and we have got a very good working relationship. He wants exactly the same thing and we know exactly what we can say to each other. He always tries to take a chord out of me somewhere; here or there and he didn't do much of the production in terms of that. But in terms of the sound; I could although I didn't just leave him to do it and just criticise, in the end but we work quite well on things and in terms of choosing vocals and stuff; we do all that together I suppose.
Before this you have always had a different producer; is that because you have never found anyone you are happy with or…
Nobody wants to work with me again! (Laughter). I did A Curious Feeling with Dave Hentschel because he was our current producer at the time, and I needed someone I could really rely on; but as it actually transpired Dave actually had the mumps the first month so I actually ended up doing it with Dave Bascombe who became a quite well known engineer in his own right, but at the time he was simply a Tape Op and I did all the basic stuff of recording. I put that together and then Dave came but the problem was that Dave was also doing Mike's album and it became a bit of a funny thing actually. His preference was for Mike's album and there was a slightly strange feeling at the time really so, by the time I got into The Fugitive, Dave was history I suppose, and Steve Short was someone who I had worked with before at Trident and he was suggested.
It is difficult sometimes with solo projects; the big time people sometimes don't want to know and I only really wanted to work with an engineer and the only time I went against that was with Bankstatement when I had Steve Hillage in as a producer, but even that didn’t really work and it ended up being a co-production. I don't think they have any more idea what I want out of it than I do really but sometimes there is no doubt that producers can do things. I mean; look at Peter's albums; he has always used different people and they are quite good at containing him a bit certainly up to and including SO, all of the choices made were good ones, by the people around him; you know; and I don't think that is a bad thing find the people and I have got a bit of that with Nick; he hones me into shape slightly and in Genesis I get honed into shape especially by Mike because as you can tell by his solo albums; he is more straightforward kind of; whereas I tend to be a little too flowery and we work well because he channels me a bit more and that’s a bit of a production role within the writing but I suppose there have been a few different people although there is no reason for that. I perhaps would have liked to have worked with Hugh Padgham when I did Bankstatement but he was working with Sting, I think, so he wasn't available.
And that concludes our chat with Tony about his new album. By the time this issue goes to print, the album will be available and we hope it does well. My thanks to Tony for taking the time to talk to us again, and to Carol Willis for arranging things with consummate skill again, and to the Brothers Nagy for their photographic and driving skills.