The "A-to-Z" of Genesis - Tony Banks talks about the Invisible Touch and We Can't Dance albums. Interview by Alan Hewitt, Peter Morton and Jonathan Dann.
TB: "Invisible Touch" was one of those songs that began an album and which started off as this very simple song which everybody thought was straightforward but "Invisible Touch" is a very funny album; if you break it down really, about 50% of it is made up of things like "Domino", "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight" and "The Brazilian" which are all very traditional sorts of Genesis pieces, both in length and in breadth of them and the quirkiness of them... I think I would probably say that my favourite side of it lies within those for myself. So, I think that when we really got the shorter stuff together on this one more than any other.
"Land Of Confusion" was something that really worked for me and it was great taking something that was really simple and making it work and getting what we were after. We had always done simple songs in the past but missed it... things like "Your Own Special Way" for example, we didn't get out of it what we had put into it. It just didn't come out that way and I felt that with something like "Land Of Confusion" we really wanted to, and not everybody is going to like that kind of stuff, but that's a different matter, but with all these shorter songs on it, I suppose it became our most commercial album of all... it had five or so songs on it, all of which became hit singles. It wasn't quite as well received here as it was elsewhere. A good song which was left off the album was "Feeding The Fire" which I wanted on the album, but nothing came of it (laughter).
TWR: Why do you think it was such a success in America?
Alan with Tony Banks
TB: Why? Because it had so many hit singles on it. It was also back in a period when we had radio hits, which would also be chart hits in America. Funnily enough, in terms of sales, I don't think the numbers were that fantastic really; it sold relatively well with about 250,000 copies of the single and it got to number one; whereas with "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight", it sold about 400,000 copies and only go to number four that was because of radio. American charts add radio play figures in. We were very happy having a number one and it was a week or so before Peter (with the "Sledgehammer" single) or something and it was great that we suddenly seemed to dominate the charts and it was great to have four or five top five singles but that was when radio was important to a chart, a couple of singles off the next record sold as well but didn't chart as well but that was a genuine sales chart.
We have never really had a really big hit because people wait for the album, which is fair enough. The album seemed to be strong all the way through. I mean, we have already talked about the Genesis album and I think that the first four tracks on that album were great and the rest of it... there are some great moments, but there are some throwaway tracks on it as well, whereas on "Invisible Touch" I felt that all of the tracks were good for what they were trying to do. I mean, some songs were less ambitious; "Invisible Touch" itself was such a simple thing and it was great fun doing the video and it was a nice moment. It was a happy album; great fun to make and we had lots of ideas whereas we were struggling a bit on the Genesis album and there were days when we thought we would have to incorporate bits of solo material and we never had that problem with "Invisible Touch".
TWR: So, you were happy with every track?
TB: In its own way I was happy with every track. My favourite one is probably "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight" because it has the atmosphere and it has the chords in it! (laughter) here are the same chords in it every time and the drum box helps make an intense song out of it. The middle section of that we had to leave blank because we had to think of something to go in there and those are the kinds of things that appeal to me; a little bit more expansive I suppose and more in the mould of the traditional Genesis.
TWR: With "The Brazilian" as the final track on the album, were you trying to showcase your own particular sound?
TB: No, not really. It was just like an obvious place for it to go... the thing with instrumentals is that you either like them or you don't, and they are kind of like interludes if you like, and if you tuck one away at the end of an album you can take it off if you don't want to listen to it but the real toss up was whether to put "The Brazilian" or "Do The Neurotic" which sounded great to play. "The Brazilian" won in the end because it had more of the quirkiness which I like... that little sound which it starts off with was just something I made out of a loop of stuff on the Emulator; extraneous noises in the room; Mike and Phil were fiddling about and I just took a twenty second sample of it and just stuck it in and then stuck it in and then wrote and played on top of it again it was just trying to create some music out of nothing which sometimes acts as a catalyst and gets you going.
TWR: When you went out on tour for the album, there were several set changes; why weren't "Your Own Special Way" and "Follow You Follow Me" for example not played in Europe?
TB: Well, we did "Your Own Special Way" and "In Too Deep" in Australia because we had to use... they have this rule over there that you have to use local musicians, or as many Australian musicians as you have in your own band, and so we didn't want a support band and so the way we got round it was to have the string players on stage with us for those tracks. "Follow You Follow Me" was one of those we used to alternate and it was that or "That's All" depending on what we felt like on the day.
TWR: On the "We Can't Dance" album, the band certainly tried a wider range of musical styles. How did you balance the variety of music you were creating?
TB: Well, we just sat in the same room and we would write and get ideas and whatever came out... There are no rules or anything like that. I mean, there is nothing that we can't do, or won't do, or won't attempt. If there's something that doesn't appeal to one of us then OK, we won't do it. And we wrote together the longer, more traditional Genesis pieces, and I think we decided that we were going for compact disc length and so we thought obviously it would be nice to get back to a solo or two and so we had this really strong instrumental part to "Fading Lights" and we just thought 'We've got to use that' and the opposite of that was Mike playing this really weedy guitar riff and we thought it's got something and so, what we did was, we made a loop. We tried a really heavy version of it and Mike wouldn't stop playing it and this one time I had this new instrument at the time the JD800, and I started playing around with the percussion sounds on it just to see what it sounded like and all of a sudden it just took me off on a completely different line and it made it all sound so incredibly lightweight and Phil was sat in the corner going "Aaargh!" (laughter) and it was very simple and we just had this verse and we wondered what we were going to do with it because if we added anything to it, it would really spoil it, so we left it alone and we really recorded everything else with the same kind of thing and it just had a character and I know it was, for some Genesis fans, a little too extreme but we like both those things. There were some things that I didn't like. We tried to get some radio friendly songs on it as well as the more traditional Genesis songs like "Driving The Last Spike" and "No Son of Mine" which again, had simple chords and a great atmosphere and that is another favourite of mine.
TWR: How did you divide up the lyric writing between the three of you?
TB: On this one, Phil ended up writing more of the lyrics because Mike and I had used up a lot of our stuff on our solo projects and so, in a couple of weeks, Phil wrote a lot of lyrics and so on that album I ended up writing two of the lyrics which were "Fading Lights" and "Living Forever"; and Mike wrote three or four and Phil wrote the rest of the lyrics. That is just the way it worked out; the one song where I wasn't totally happy with the lyrics was "Tell Me Why" where I felt that Phil had covered that ground before, and I would have preferred a slightly less burdensome lyric, and he took it into a field where it didn't need to go and when he was just playing the instrumental and he was "nah-nah-ing" his way through the lyric it sounded great and we thought it cold have been the big single off the album but with that lyric it was just impossible to release it.
What we have worried about more and more over the years is not only to make a lyric sound good but actually mean something as well, and that was the problem we had with "The Battle Of Epping Forest". There was just too much lyric from a musical point of view, because there was so much going on. I think it is very important to have the lyric in keeping with the song... we had two or three others going which sort of fell by the wayside. We had loads of things going like we always have over the years and many of them have fallen by the wayside. So, a lot of the things due to the way we do things now; the creation in the writing is done once the thing is down in a framework. I write quite differently as an individual and that is one of the main justifications of the group and people can judge it as a body of work.
TWR: Do you decide which single is going to be released and what B-sides are used?
TB: We decide which one normally, as I said, the first single is always a track off the album, or two tracks off the album and then the next one will have one of these B sides to try and help it along; after all most people will already have the album. Sometimes we keep tracks back because I thought that "Paperlate" was a single and we kept that back to front an EP. We didn't play anything other than "No Son Of Mine" to the record company and said 'That's the single'. I don't necessarily think it was right. I do think we should have given the Americans something different like "I Can't Dance" and we always worry about it because in America they have all these weird radio stations: adult rock stations etc, and since our base is, if you like, in rock; I thought we should give them a rock track and it was a bigger hit for us over there than either "No Son Of Mine" or the other tracks and it was the second single which is something of a record for us; having a successful second single.
TWR: You also returned to the longer song format on this album...?
TB: Well, as I said before, it was the compact disc thing that gives you that little bit more room to breathe but there is a great difference between a ten minute song like "One For The Vine" and "Driving The Last Spike" which musically is a much simpler song; which stays in its kind of "feel" for much longer, whereas "One For The Vine" tends to chop and change around a bit more. I don't know really; there aren't any rules. I can't put my finger on it, but you just felt uncomfortable doing some of those things that were natural a long time ago. I don't think it is anything to do with age but there was never any kind of conscious decision to do things in a simpler way. It is all about what seems appropriate at the time. I mean, we go through different periods, like paintings really; Picasso's "Blue Period" you know! (laughter).
TWR: How much do you become involved in the creation of the stage presentation?
TB: A lot more in terms of what you see, once we had decided that we were going to use the screens - if we were going to use these screens. If we were going to do the open air shows. So we decided that we wanted to use them as a special effect like we had tried to do with "The Lamb"... but now we had the technology to do it properly, so we got a bloke in and we just went through all the possible things.The trouble was, that once things got started, it became a VERY expensive operation and time consuming, so what we decided to do was incorporate a lot of stock footage. Some of that stuff is very easy to do and looks VERY effective and because people had never seen it before in that situation I felt we could get away with some very simple ideas; the most obvious one being the "2001" effect and I thought; 'Why not?' It is a very simple thing to do; it is all computer generated, and the lines come towards you and you get the effect of travelling into a thing and I had always thought that effect would look great in Domino and so the guy came up with this stuff that looked like "2001" and it worked on the big screen and then there was the idea of sticking Phil up in the middle of it and suddenly he was where you weren't expecting him and it worked.
We worked very closely on it with the lighting as well, although the lighting was a bit secondary to the screens and that stuff and Mike and I have always been involved with that, and so on rehearsal day Mike and I spent up to five hours watching these bloody screens and I suppose with this one we didnít have as much emphasis on the lights themselves and we had a lighting designer who was very good and criticised what he had done more, but the screens themselves; we kept a very tight rein on what was on them because we felt that it was a very strong visual moment on all the visuals and that was the important thing. We have always had a strong feel for the visuals and it has been very difficult to get lighting designers to do things a little differently...
And with that, we round up our "A-to-Z" of the band as seen through Tony's perspective. We hope that you found it interesting, and our thanks again to Tony for giving up so much of his time and to Carol for organising the interview in the first place and to Dale Newman for his hospitality at The Farm.