"Another Chiddingfold Afternoon" - Ray Wilson, Mike Rutherford and Nir Z talk about the new Genesis album and about their forthcoming tour. Interview by Alan Hewitt, Simon Pound and Ian Jones, conducted at the Chiddingfold Working Men's Club on Thursday, September 25, 1997. Photos by Ian Jones and Dale Newman.TWR: How long have you been in rehearsal; two or three weeks?
RW: Yeah, its... let me think... we are coming to the end of the second week, tomorrow will be the tenth day but I think the first two or three days is like a school band and you donít count them really but it is coming together. We have got about thirty songs... too many really and we have done all of them twice and some of them thrice! (laughter). To be honest, the second time around there are a few of them instantly work fine and you know they are going to be good and there are others that take a bit more time and effort. The newer songs, generally the songs off the new album, because we've never played them live before are, generally speaking the harder ones to get going. They are not the harder ones to sing because obviously I am the one singing them, but they are the harder ones to get right musically, but it is coming along well.
TWR: We noticed that you were playing a much slower version of "Calling All Stations" while we were waiting out here...?
RW: Was it slower? I don't know if it is slower or not. It is quite interesting that you said that because for us, obviously it is... there's a loop through "Calling All Stations" which has a certain tempo to it.
TWR: The tracks that work best on the album seem to be the ones you had involvement with and which gave your voice that really breathy quality which is typified by "Calling All Stations"...
RW: And how did it work? Hearing it, I know it was kinda rough but be critical; I donít want you to be...
TWR: We enjoyed hearing your voice, the track seemed heavier to us, there was a lot more punch with the drums at the bottom end which the track needs...
RW: Yeah, it... I think the song takes... it needs a lot of balls and when you hear it you go; "Fucking hell!" that's the impact it has on me; it's the title track of the album. It's the first song with me on it, the new front person and stuff, and the song has to have that kind of "Wow!" thing about it and it'll take time to get it but it's only the second time we have gone through it.
TWR: That should have been the first single - everyone we know has said this...
Some of the TWR staff with some of Genesis
(Photo - I. Jones/TWR)
RW: Should I tell you why it wasn't used? It's too long.
TWR: That has never stopped Genesis before...
RW: I know, and I agree with you, but the problem is... It is my favourite song on the album and so let's say that I am in complete agreement with you, but the reasons why are because this time round, especially in America, Genesis this time round are a little bit under dig-ish. Phil has gone and quite frankly even if Phil was still here it would be quite difficult because the mood of America has changed towards more established artists - people like Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams, Tina Turner and I am not saying that Genesis are in that genre, but they are still an established group, and I don't know of many expectations at the moment and Genesis... we are struggling like fuck in America, really struggling.
TWR: Does that affect the tour...?
RW: Yeah, it does. We will do it but it will be smaller... I think that you look at... you try and think well, why is that? You listen to the album and you think it is a good album I don't think there is any doubt about that so why isn't it stocked in the shops? Why don't you see it everywhere like we did with "We Can't Dance"? I was kind of involved, although not too involved in making decisions and the band tended to let the record company make these decisions, and obviously Tony Smith has an input and he tells us what is happening but the record company has to be enthusiastic and so you kind of let them go with what they feel to a degree.
If we completely disagree then there is no point, but the single "Congo" has never been my favourite song, I make no bones about that. It is a bit too quirky for me and I think there are better alternatives, but the idea was that they wanted to establish the band in rock radio, you know. There are so many formats and they wanted to give the band the credibility tag that maybe they had lost with the "Pop" element on the last couple of albums, and the feeling was that maybe we could hit the rock radio format with a song that fitted the four minute playing format. So that they wouldn't have an excuse not to play it, and establish ourselves as a rock act again, and the credibility would feed through to top forty radio and so on and so forth, but my personal tastes of the moment are really the alternative rock bands - Radiohead, things like that are the things that I like. It's a bit Progressive, but it is Nineties Progressive and more guitar based than Genesis are, an I didn't see how "Congo" fitted that at all.
For me, it's a rock song, yes, but it doesn't have that, whatever... it is; that aura about it, whatever it is that just doesn't happen and I donít see the point in selling something to a format that doesn't fit that format. The idea was to establish us as a rock act and so to put out a single that wasn't the obvious ballad which for me are the more obvious singles, and I include "Shipwrecked" as a ballad, and so those... "Shipwrecked", "Not About Us", "If That's What You Need", although that may be a bit stringy for the Nineties, I don't know. I regard one of those songs as being the best single option but if we'd started with that it would have given the wrong impression, and made people think "More fucking middle of the road Genesis, here we go!" and really the album isn't middle of the road, it has got a lot of stuff on it that is definitely not middle of the road, although there are one or two songs there that are. But I think "Calling All Stations", "The Dividing Line", and "There Must be Some Other Way", they aren't middle of the road songs. They are Rock songs of a Genesis type for me. And I thought it was right to start off saying "This is a rock band" and "this is a rock album" and to get the message across and by doing that we have really suffered on airplay because the song... the stations that will play us... the commercial stations, like Capitol FM, they listed it and the more commercial stations, in Britain anyway are the ones who are going to play the band, and "Congo" has proved a little too heavy for some of them, and so we released it to give a rock credibility to the band, and no bugger will play it!
TWR: So, Ray, what is the feeling within the band about what has "gone wrong" for you in America this time round...?
RW: Well, we just feel that it is not being played and people don't know it is out because they are not hearing it. It is obviously difficult for the record company to convince retailers that this is a "good bet" when it isn't being played on radio, so I think that again, going back to trying to establish the band as a rock act by releasing a ballad which would have instantly got... more people would have played it, they would have gone... "What a lovely song, a Genesis track..." which gives it clout as well and we went with the rock song.
The rock song has never been taken to top forty radio in America either, it was never taken there... we haven't been refused there yet.. it was taken to rock radio and they didn't think it was worth taking it to top forty radio on the response from rock radio and so, that is where we are at and so now, what we are saying is that "Not About Us" has been discussed as the next single in America and "Shipwrecked" is the next single here and what they are saying is that "Not About Us" is a bit more contemporary, a bit more across the board, guitar based and everybody is guitar mad in America, and it has got an American sound to it and that's the concensus of opinion from us and we are going to take that to top forty radio and that will really be our first attempt at top forty radio, and if we get accepted on top forty radio and they start playing it, I have no doubt that it will be a reasonable hit, because it is a good enough song to be a hit and given the fact that it is Genesis as well, should help it. The name and what they have done and achieved through the years should help it, but it is a minefield.
I think with this album we are caught somewhere between what the band has done more recently and what they have done in the past. When it came to singing Mike's songs I had a freer rein than when I was singing Tony's and that is because Mike doesn't know what he wants until he hears it, whereas Tony knows what he wants in the first place, so that is the difference! (laughter). If he has got a melody you know, he is very musical and he knows the notes he wants to fit within the chords that are being played and that's fine. I understand that, so that takes my voice somewhere it is not naturally meant to go sometimes, and sometimes that is a good thing.. It takes me places where I wouldnít normally go so there are plus and minus points and I think that is something that will develop as he begins to understand how I sing and incorporates that within the way he writes his melodies.
There was no point me going in there - twenty eight years old as I was then, and saying "I know better than you do" because I obviously don't, and that is why I felt it was necessary to keep an open mind about it and it is fine with hindsight to say "it could have been done this way..." Mike and Tony did it the right way and learned from it and hopefully the next album will be better, because of it. That is the way I want to try and look at it. The American thing is obviously, very disappointing but we will play them. If we have to play smaller shows then fuck it - we will play smaller shows, but we will play them! All they give a fuck about is that the places we play are busy - they don't want to play to a half empty arena, stadium or anything. The way we look at it is if we have to do theatres in America, let's do FULL theatres rather than do half empty arenas.
TWR: Dipping a little further back, Ray. What actual input did you have to the actual album itself?
RW: My input was pretty small. I mean, I suppose when I did my second audition... the first audition I sang old songs, I donít know if you knew that? That got me the next audition, myself and a guy called Dave were singing with the band at that point and Dave sounded more like Phil and I sounded more like Peter but I had a bit of character of my own so when we went into the second audition, Mike and Tony were playing musical ideas and they said "just sing anything..." which was a great feeling! (laughter) and they were playing bits and I was "dah de dah..." just humming and making any old shit up, quite honestly (laughter) and out of that audition comes "There Must Be Some Other Way" and I was like "where am I?" (laughter)that was really what it was like (laughter) and Tony's verses used that idea and that's what the song is about now.
With regard to "Not About Us", I think I was singing the line: "A little piece of something, falling gently down, down, down..." that type of thing and so the verse idea comes from me; bits of lyrics and it is Mike's chorus. "Small Talk" I wrote all the lyrics to it and it is all the guys' music, and there are a couple of other B Sides; "Run Out Of Time" was a song that did run out of time! (laughter). I was given a B-list - a few bits of music I was given to write to which the guys will openly admit to, and "Small Talk" wasn't one those, it was a good backing; it sounded a bit like "Sledgehammer"-ish to me and I thought I really like this, I hope I can write something worthwhile and I felt with the song I almost got it but not quite. It misses a hook for me. If it had one it could have been a great single bit it is still a good song and I am happy with it.
"Banjo Man" is something I have never liked, but Mike and Tony stuck by it but I never liked it, but I wrote all the lyrics and based it on a busker I had seen somewhere. "Nowhere Else To Turn" I wrote about... God knows how I would rather forget about these songs! (laughter). "Anything Now" you would like that one, it is very... a lot of people thought that should have been on the album quite honestly, and it will be a B-Side but it will be a waste of a B-Side because it had more of an EP feel to it and there area few of them. There is one called "Sign Your Life Away", and there is another and what I think will happen with these, is that "Not About Us" will be the third or fourth single in Europe and they will probably make an EP out of it, that is what I think they will do. They haven't said that, but they have talked about a possible EP and so maybe do an EP when the European tour is about to start, or in the middle of it. That's what I think they might do but they might do something completely different! (laughter).
TWR: How have the rehearsals themselves been going, Ray?
RW: It has been like everything else I have done with this band; it has been hard work but easy going and it is only easy because everybody knows what they are doing and that's it. It is not easy because everybody is sitting around scratching their arse, we are really working hard at it and everybody knows their bit. Nir has worked hard on the stuff; Anthony Drennan has got the biggest nightmare really because he has got to follow Mike and Tony which is no easy thing, because Mike and Tony kind of make.... They remember things as they go along and that is the way they do it and with the rest of us, we want to know absolutely everything from the word go and we have done our work and Mike and Tony are kind of doing it as they go along which is fine because they have done it all before anyway. What inevitably happened was that, as I said, for the first couple of days, it was like a school band and now that everybody is remembering their bits, the guys are experimenting a bit and it is sounding good.
TWR: You said that you have rehearsed forty songs; does that mean we will hear most of the new album?
RW: I don't know really. The songs we have rehearsed are: "Calling All Stations", "There Must Be Some Other Way", "One Man's Fool", "Shipwrecked", "Not About Us", "The Dividing Line", and I think that is about it.
TWR: Any older songs...?
RW: We've got "Domino", "Home By The Sea", songs like that and you can't really do them and "One Man's Fool" and "Alien Afternoon". One of our concerns with "Supper's Ready", we are not going to do it all but we want to do a bit of it, and we know fans are going to expect us to do it all, and we just can't play it all, and I expect we will do a bit of it as part of something in some kind of medley.
I mean, I am trying to get the guys to do things they haven't played or that they donít regard as popular, and we are talking about maybe a bit of "Dancing With The Moonlit Knight", maybe a bit of that and maybe... there is a bunch of them we could do and we are jogging their memories by playing bits of "A Trick Of The Tail" (laughter) and I was saying "why don't we do a bit of 'Entangled' or 'Ripples'?" I like that kind of stuff and I am not a diehard Genesis fan and wouldnít claim to be but I had a few albums and I know "Ripples" for Christ's sake! What we are thinking of doing is; obviously the band do a medley to try and cover a few songs and what we are thinking about is maybe doing an acoustic type medley as well and that will involve different songs because you can't do "In The Cage" acoustically, so we are looking for new ideas and something special happens and it has already happened when we were doing the stuff acoustically, and I think we even tried "Throwing It All Away" acoustically, and we have tried a few things acoustically and the next stage is to ask: "Well, are there any others...?"
I am trying to persuade Tony to do a couple of things on piano and we will forget the acoustic thing and just do a couple of things with just piano and voice which would be a nice feature as well, to just go over to Tony and sing with Tony on his own and then have Tony play acoustic guitar which he does, and then maybe... I mean Phil had the drums, he could go and do that and it is a bit frustrating for me because I have been playing the guitar since I was sixteen and I'll be doing "Not About Us" obviously, maybe I will start it but given the lack of time and everything, and having Anthony who is a great guitarist with a lot of Daryl's characteristics and he is very musical, and it is lovely to listen to, so this time round that will be the situation, and I would imagine that as we go through this tour I will begin to think of other things I can do.
And at this point we were joined by the Chief Mechanic himself - and now we shall hear what Mike's thoughts are about the band's tour and album. Over to you, Mike...
TWR: When we heard that Phil had left and that you were carrying on, we all thought that you were being incredibly brave. Did it actually feel like that to yourself and Tony when you made the decision to carry on...?
MR: No, we are not brave. I just think you know, we didn't really ask the question, we just wrote some music really, that's when we decided whether it was worth carrying on or not, and the last gig at the Cowdrey Ruins wasn't really a farewell to Phil at all, we hadn't thought about it. At this stage of your career, every tour is your last! (laughter)
RW: Tony would say though, that he really thought that "Fading Lights", when he wrote that, he thought it was the end...
TWR: We are glad that it wasn't! So how are the rehearsals going, Mike...?
MR: Quite good actually. I think the new guys are better rehearsed than Tony or I (laughter). Nir has worked out well and Anthony is coming down a little bit later, and he has done well because he didnít know what key we were working in and it is difficult to learn it and he had learned it in the normal key and we had kind of warned him but it is difficult to learn it seriously you know. I play most of my stuff with a tuned down guitar.
TWR: Do you still tune down E to D...?
MR: Yeah, I can't play it in normal tuning... well I can but it is easier this way. Yeah, the rehearsals are going really well and there's a good vibe although America has been a bit funny this time round, but the rest of the world has gone really...
(Photo - A. Hewitt/TWR)
TWR: Yeah, we have just been talking about the situation in the States, we can't understand it...
MR: A lot of people are having problems in America, the turnover of certain established artists has been down and they can't find a niche so to speak. But we are going to battle on. We have got to get a vibe going and at the moment things are a bit cold. The trouble is, until they hear something, until they hear Ray they canít get excited about it and it is all based on hearsay.
RW: Or they have heard me and didn't get excited about it! (laughter).
TWR: When do the rehearsals move on to... is it Bray Studios, now...?
MR: We have got another two weeks here after this week, and the new stage set up will probably be used in Europe so you will be alright! (laughter) and we have got a much stronger idea for the screens this time. It was not traditional lighting last time and last time the biggest crisis was to get it working, actually because the technology is so much simpler. What used to run the screens was an incredibly complicated thing, but this time it is just a little PC really, and it was on laser disc last time which was very inflexible, but this time things are much more flexible... we hope! (laughter).
TWR: So, how are you feeling, are you excited about this new project?
MR: Live I donít think there is any question about it but then we haven't done anything yet, but live is always somehow easier.
TWR: Yeah, we were talking earlier about earlier tours and how it was having to tour to promote the new album rather than the other way round...?
MR: I suppose so, especially in the States. America is pissing me off because it is spoiling my enjoyment of everywhere else really, and if it hadn't been released it would be easier but that's life, I think. Because I have been quite impressed with the feeling of the fans before they have even heard it, and in America it will start to grow. It takes people time to get into Ray and how he sings. I think I remember the first tour with Phil and the past gets further away on tour and you establish the present more I think, and people will only have part of the story from the live show.
TWR: In terms of the tour, obviously you are doing the States before Christmas, and Europe early next year. Are there any plans to include other places...?
MR: Well, we will see how it is going. Tony and I are both keen to see new places and it will really be decided by how well the album does and we may do something else in the summer, who knows?
TWR: Will any of the gigs be filmed?
MR: I would think so, we will record everything and probably film some shows, it depends.
RW: I hope so, if only to show my mum if nothing else! (laughter)
TWR: Tony was saying that he really wanted to hammer the point home by getting back into the studio as soon as possible to record another album...?
MR: I think we will see what happens, and there is too much going on between "now" and "then" so we shall see...
RW: It is good to know that you guys... when we do interviews and people ask "what if this album doesn't sell as well as the last one... will you be disappointed..?" and it canít sell as well as the last one, you know. I couldn't come in and replace Phil and expect to sell eleven million albums, it just doesn't make sense, and my view always was of it, if people who really love Genesis, like you guys obviously do, and you know a lot of people who do as well. If these people like the album, then I have achieved it. It has been a success, and it is good to hear you guys saying you enjoy it and genuinely saying you enjoy it, because in all the disappointment of America, that certainly keeps your spirits up... it keeps mine up!
MR: We are glad you like the album, it always helps.
And now we are joined by Nir Z; the band's new drummer, for his perspective on the band and tour...
TWR: How does it feel to be working with a band like Genesis...?
NZ: Awful! (laughter). They just donít feed me! (laughter). It's great, it is really, really great musically first of all, these people have been doing music for so long and it is great to have the ability to try things, especially with Tony and Mike, you know. They are very easy going, very open minded.
TWR: How did you become involved with the new album...?
NZ: It started when the band's manager saw me in New York in a band. I used to have my own band over there, and at the same time I did a lot of gigs and sessions, and Tony saw me and remembered me, and he heard that I had left the band and decided to give Mike and Tony some CDs and they decided to check me out, and I came to The Farm and we jammed some music and that was before the album and was just instrumental.
TWR: So, you were involved with the album before Ray was taken on board...?
NZ: I was given a lot of space to create drum parts and they had just a basic drone machine you know, and I was experimenting and improvising different stuff and they basically didnít know the songs when we recorded them and they wanted to keep it that way. It wasn't an album where we went in and rehearsed, and I knew exactly the X and Y different sections. Sometimes you have that freedom to play certain patterns and fills but it is not always as open as it was with Tony and Mike.
Some of the TWR staff with Nir Z.
(Photo - I. Jones/TWR)
TWR: Were you nervous about working with people who have been in the business for such a long, long time...?
NZ: I could have been... "Hey, wait a second..." or see it as just three guys who have had experience of three great drummers: Phil, Chester and Bill Bruford, but they never let me feel that it was such a big deal and now we have got the pressure of playing live and OK, Phil Collins is not there and you wonder how you are going to plug that gap?
TWR: Have you played to big crowds before...?
NZ: Yes, as you know, I am from Israel originally and I have played drums for years, and I played drums with all the top artists before I left Israel, so I know what it is like, and even with Genesis I feel comfortable with it. I am playing drums for the group so I am at the heart of it.
TWR: How are the rehearsals going and how long have you been rehearsing...?
NZ: Great. This is the second week now, the end of the second week and you know we have a lot of songs and we are getting on with the songs and not dealing too much with detail and we are very close to getting a set together and deciding what songs we want to play, and what songs we don't want to play, and we will take it from there.
TWR: Which songs do you particularly enjoy playing?
NZ: "The Dividing Line" is a pain in the butt! (laughter). It was just one of those experimental jam sessions in the studio and I have no idea what I played and before we started rehearsals I said "Ok, let's listen to it now..." There is a lot of movement there, a lot of toms and there's a drum solo in there and it will probably be longer in the live show! There is a lot of old stuff like "In The Cage", "Carpet Crawl", "Turn It On Again" where I am not really playing the song and there are different "spots" for you as the drummer.
TWR: How familiar are you with the older material?
NZ: I was familiar with the hits and stuff like "Selling England By The Pound", a lot of the Gabriel stuff. I never had Genesis records but I always heard the on the radio and I just had to listen to that stuff to learn it and that is how I have done it.
That wraps up this extremely interesting look behind the scenes at the band's rehearsals and our thanks to Ray, Mike and Nir for giving up so much of their time to speak to us so candidly and so entertainingly. Thanks also to Dale Newman for all his assistance and encouragment.