"What The Band Said" - A look at some of the radio interviews given to promote the Abacab album. Hallam Rock interview 28th September 1981.
INT: This week finds me at Shepperton Film Studios where Genesis are currently in rehearsal and with me is the wizard of the keyboards; Tony Banks. Tony, thanks for inviting me down once again, I came down last year and spoke to Mike while you were rehearsing for your last tour. A year and a bit on and a new album; Abacab and some fairly intensive dates coming up although this time you are not touring the whole country it is mainly two central locations, why is that?
TB: Well, we can’t really tour everywhere every year that's the thing and last year we didn't tour in Europe at all and so this year we are doing an extensive tour in Europe which means we have less time to tour in England so we are just doing three in London and four in Birmingham. We would like to do more but we really can't do the kind of tour we did last year in England otherwise you couldn't play everywhere.
INT: Even so, rehearsing here at Shepperton you still have to put just as much work into those dates as if you were doing twenty or thirty.
TB: Obviously we look at the whole tour as one we have the European tour which is thirty or forty gigs and another thirty or so in the States before we get round to the seven in England. Hopefully by the time we get back here we should be fairly well rehearsed! (laughs).
INT: When do you actually embark on the tour?
TB: We start I think on 25th September in Barcelona in a bullring and so that will be chaos whatever happens.
INT: That's an open air gig?
TB: yeah, that's an open air gig in Spain which tends to be quite exciting.
INT: I can't remember the exact dates but you end up back in England towards the end of December?
TB: That's right.
INT: I see there have been record applications for the 75,000 tickets for the English dates, they are all sold out. Have you actually planned further ahead to when you will be doing further dates in England is that something you have planned for 1982 or are you looking further ahead to 1983?
TB: we don't really plan that far ahead but I would say that after a year like this one when we are not doing much in England then next year we would like to do much more and as I said we were planned up to December this year and we have vague plans for an exotic tour next March a sort of Argentina and Japan and New Zealand and possibly the West Coast of America but we have nothing else scheduled at all and we are playing it a bit by ear when we get there.
INT: Moving on to the album and I suppose the logical place to start is track one on side one; Abacab. I know there has been a lot of talk among djs and so on about the title being musical notation, chord sequences etc , is that the true story behind the title?
TB: Actually, it is made up of three bits the song, right; A, B and C we just gave them those names and that was the original order we put them in; AB, AC, AB but the final version ended up as something unpronounceable and so we kept the name Abacab and when it came to writing the lyrics we kept the word because it had a nice flow to it.
INT: Still on the subject of touring, you have in the past when you have toured in the past, it is easy for you when it is just the three of you working in the studio to do overdubs and stuff but live you have augmented the band with Chester and Daryl are you using them again?
TB: Yeah, we are using them again. We really like working with them and they enjoy doing the gigs which works out well for them on a part-time basis; they can do other things in the meanwhile and yes, we have got them back again.
INT: Talking of doing other things, the three of you have in the past eighteen months or so done your own solo albums, the most recent was Phil's Face Value your own goes a bit further back doesn't it?
TB: Mine was the first one. We intend to pursue the solo projects I think we are trying to leave more time within the group curriculum to do that and so we are hoping to be able to do that; start thinking about basic ideas in the early part of next year and then maybe start getting down to doing something a bit later and try and avoid doing things all at the same time. We found it very helpful I think, all of us doing individual things it makes us come back to a Genesis album realising what the other people can give you and what you can get out of the group thing and so on this album in fact, most of the tracks were group written and that was a conscious attempt to try and do things together again. Because we had all managed to get quite a lot of individual material on the solo albums it was quite an easy decision to make you don't feel as if this is your only outlet where you have to get the stuff out on this one album. So we were able to do a lot more group writing which is what we feel we do best.
INT: Notwithstanding you have each got one of your solo compositions although obviously it is a group effort when it gets into the studio so, your own is a song called Me And Sarah Jane , can you tell us a bit about the song?
TB: Musically it was just the idea of going through a number of changes on one drum box pattern as originally I just did it on one of the Roland rhythm box that I am quite fond of.
INT: is that the one that was called "Frank" on the Duke album? I remember it being introduced onstage…
TB: We introduced it quite a few times yes, but we have all got one of these things and we have all done quite a lot of work with them and they do make you play in a certain kind of way and you haven't got to keep the beat up yourself when you are writing a song and so you can play around with the tempo a bit more. It also allowed me to do a couple of different things like the Reggae bit in the middle of the song which I hadn't tried before and I was quite pleased with that. Lyrically it is the idea of a sort of… it’s the way I tend to write lyrics and the way they come together. The first part of the song is just a lot of random ideas with no real connection to them and then gradually the idea of this girl with this silly girl's name; Sarah Jane took shape and then the idea of a relationship in the mind between Me And Sarah Jane took shape and became a strong theme.
INT: Is there any underlying theme or way of thinking to Abacab as an album? Duke although it wasn't a concept album, it did have one particular group of tracks which ran together to form the "Duke Suite" ….
TB: yeah, Duke's Travels and Dukes End which were the two instrumental tracks and sometimes if they haven't got an obvious mood then what you call them can be arbitrary and the only thing with Duke's Travels was that it seemed to go through a lot of ..it had Scottish and other flavours to it and so we thought the Duke's Travels idea was quite a nice one. There wasn't supposed to be any particular thematic relationship between the songs in any way and on this album there isn't either there is no concept at all. We have only ever done that once and that was with The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, all the other albums have been totally separate.
INT: Do you find that when you are putting an album together because you have all worked individually and together for such a long time that there is an excess of material that you have a really tough time deciding which songs are going to appear on the album?
TB: That is one of the reasons why we tried to get back to the songs we wrote together. Most of these songs were spontaneous things we wrote in the rehearsals for the album. Obviously the individual songs were things we came to the rehearsals with but we tried to get away from that. Obviously at the time of And Then There Were Three before we had done any of the solo albums and we all had masses of material and it was a question of fighting over what we felt were the best of the solo tracks and since then we have been trying more and more to get back to writing stuff as a group because that gives the group a reason for being there otherwise you might as well get anybody to play your songs because on some of the songs you are doing little more than working as a session musician on the other guy's song but with this everybody had equal enthusiasm for every track if it is a group written track and that is a much stronger feel to it.
INT: Tony, talking about your field; the keyboards; people have different tastes as regards musical instruments; there are guitar heroes; there are drum heroes and there are keyboard heroes; we have got one of each. What about the technical side of playing; in the last few years we have seen a lot of innovations with the introduction first of monophonic synthesisers and then polyphonic synthesisers and so on. How do you find it keeping up with all the technology? Do you try and keep your own keyboards as simple as possible or do you go along with the technology…?
TB: Well, to some extent the two are linked because the new keyboards are capable of so much more that they simplify the set up a lot. On stage you will notice that I am using a Prophet 10 which is capable of doing everything that the Prophet 5s were doing and they were a really good partially polyphonic synthesiser. With the Prophet 10 it is just two of them mounted together but they can be combined in all sorts of ways which makes it very interesting to use. With that I am able to completely replace all the organ parts I used to do on stage because you can get those tones without any trouble at all. It simplified things because I managed to get rid of my Hammond and yet I have still got the sounds. I try to be aware of what is happening but you can't listen to everything that comes along and people come to you with recommendations and come to you with ideas. The roadies tend to come up with ideas about what is around and then you can try and get things to try them out. So, I keep ahead to some extent but I am more interested in the writing side of things and I tend to write most things on the piano and so the other side of it comes a bit later really.
INT: So, when you are writing you do it in the simplest possible way on a good old fashioned acoustic piano and then afterwards think about the voicings and…
TB: Saying that it isn't quite the truth anymore. I used to write virtually everything on the piano but now I do tend to write a certain amount on the electronic keyboards. I used to find them a little bit difficult to write on and I didn't feel that comfortable playing them but particularly with the Prophet it is actually an easy instrument to play a very comfortable instrument to play. It has nice features on it which mean you can write on it. Also writing with the group; I tend to write most of the stuff on the electronic keyboard because they are there at my disposal and also when you have got a drummer in the room it is in a way easier to use the electronic keyboards to write the song which has just contradicted what I said before but it was true up until a while ago that all the stuff I used to do on the piano.
INT: Is there a particular track on the album which demonstrates the Prophet 10 or any of the other keyboards?
TB: I don't really know actually! (laughs) The actual album is actually our least technical album ever, definitely. The strength of the songs is much more in the basic feel of the tracks rather than any particular playing on them. I don't know really; the track Who Dunnit is based on a rather sort of abuse of the Prophet 5 and there are only three things on it in fact which are; drums, guitar and the Prophet 5. It sounds like there are a lot of other things going on because the synthesiser is going through a lot of peculiar sounds but it was a fun thing to do. That demonstrates something but I don’t think any one track could demonstrate the variety of the album. I think the album does that itself really.
INT: Tony, Abacab itself as we know is already a big hit single, what are the plans for a follow up single?
TB: Yes, it changes a bit. At one point we were going to go with Who Dunnit but the response (laughs) has been somewhat mixed to the track; people either love it or hate it a bit. We might still go with it, I don't know. At this point I think we are intending to go with the track Keep It Dark but with us we tend to sell a lot of copies of the album particularly when it first comes out and I don't know… the second singles from our albums don’t tend to do very much as a rule. I think you have lost the momentum with the first single people are interested in what you have been doing and even if they are going to buy the album they might like the single as well and so you hope that there is a track on the album that might appeal to people who might not otherwise like the group and certainly Keep It Dark is proving to be popular with a lot of people.
INT: The hit singles that you have had in the past have opened up a new aspect for Genesis in the past up until a few years ago you were never seen on television; you would never do Top Of The Pops and now you are doing ridiculous things like TISWAS and really getting into the public eye and the more commercial aspects of the media if you like. Do you think, personally that that is a good thing for you and the band?
TB: Well, it is certainly fun but you can't go on doing it the same way forever and we find that changing the approach slightly keeps you fresh. We find that what we write is more applicable to singles now and not the other way round; we didn’t try to write singles we found that with something like Follow You Follow Me, the first sort of real single that we ever wrote and that was just a jam which evolved while we were jamming and maybe we are writing stuff that is more acceptable to the public now. My own taste, there weren't many singles from the early '70's that I liked whereas now there are a lot of singles that I do like so maybe we are more in tune now maybe than we were eight or nine years ago. We have always had the shorter songs throughout our career; I Know What I Like for example and the reason that wasn't a bigger hit was that it was a rather bizarre production as well as everything else. The actual song done in a much straighter way would probably have been a much bigger hit. Until we were considered as a potential singles band we didn't get much radio play or anything. I think there were tracks on The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway which could have been singles; tracks like Counting Out Time which we tried and The Carpet Crawlers which is one of my favourites and The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging all of which could have been successful if they had been released by a band with the reputation of releasing hit singles and maybe they would have done something. We broke the ground with Follow You Follow Me which was a definite single and once you have done that people start to think 'oh, maybe we should play the next single' and with Turn It On Again and Abacab there has been so much more response from the radio people.
INT: In fact I think it has worked both ways in that you have made yourselves more accessible to people like me from radio over the last couple of years, inviting us down to your rehearsals on the last tour and Radio Hallam actually recorded your Sheffield concert on the last tour and these are things that you wouldn't necessarily have done years ago…
TB: It has worked both way I think it is an attitude in the mind as to how you see groups and I think we are going to get some stick for this album because I don't think it is going to be what people expect and it is a different kind of sound and it is best to listen to it to find out what the difference is and I think for people who are expecting things from our past such as virtuoso playing on Cinema Show or the lush sound on Firth Of Fifth are going to be disappointed by an album like this because we have gone almost as far as we can with that kind of thing and if we do it again we will be repeating ourselves and it is difficult to do it and with each album we are trying to expand ourselves a bit and this album is the biggest change yet.
INT: Well, on the album there is virtually every facet of Genesis reflected in the very soft ballads; the long songs and one or two which are pretty heavy, aren’t they I mean Abacab itself is and the one which opens side two, I say one track its actually two; Dodo/Lurker which is actually the longest track on the album. What's the story behind that one?
TB: Yeah, well originally we had four tracks which we joined together of which these are the first two and the other two we decided to shelve because they weren't very strong and so in a way we consider them as separate songs in fact there is a definite break point and then you are into a different kind of feel. The Dodo track, the lyrics were ones which sounded good when a person sang them rather than worrying about what they actually meant and that is true of quite a few of the tracks in a way. That is why we haven't got the lyrics written on the album because we have wanted to steer things away from the emphasis on what they mean and put it on what they sound like.
INT: Using the voice as an instrument?
TB: Yeah, that;s not to say that the lyrics don't mean anything and in the case of Dodo it's more like the phrases that mean something; there is a prevailing theme in them and in the main it was designed thinking around the way Phil would sing it and how it would sound good.
INT: Tony, you have already said that you are pretty well planned out even though you have said that you don't like to plan too far ahead with a weird and wonderful (laughs) world tour coming up in the next year. Are there any other plans or concepts which Genesis have hidden up their sleeves that are likely to be unleashed. I am sure there must be certain pressures on you to transfer yourselves to celluloid and do a Genesis film at some point. I am sure the powers that be would love to see that happen….
TB: Well, there was a rather bad film of us done about the time that Bill Bruford was with us which… well it was bad, I think; it was terrible actually! (laughs) There were a couple of things in it that worked but mainly it didn’t work and the thing about live groups on stage, I mean on film I don’t really like it very much. We are not perhaps the bast kind of group for clever little videos which some groups do very well I think. We haven't really thought about doing anything in films and I don't think there's much pressure on us to do it because of that previous film. It worked to some extent but we felt that the director was unsympathetic to the use of the music and some directors use music so well rather than the people who think about it at the last minute which was what this guy did and so that was the end of it.
INT: Have you got an idea perhaps for a film, a plot perhaps or something for which you could write particularly well. Would you like to write for love stories, or spies and murder or something particularly artistic or terribly beautiful from a photographic point of view?
TB: I haven’t really thought specifically, you know there have been a couple of film scripts sent through and a couple which we felt were really good but nothing ever happened with the films. It is a different thing with movies it would be something interesting to get involved in and if somebody was getting the musicians involved at that stage then they have obviously. Any kind of film could be a challenge I suppose.
INT: How did you and Mike feel about Phil's solo success with Face Value? Did you have any slight apprehension that it might reflect in any way on Genesis?
TB: We weren't too worried about a reflection on Genesis, I mean its kind of weird when one of your members suddenly does so well but the album is very different from any Genesis thing really apart from the song In The Air Tonight which has a slight sort of feel of Genesis to it. The other tracks are very different. It’s just one of those things, isn't it; luck I suppose. I think there is also a lot of interest in what Phil does because he is the singer in the group and it was a very commercial album. For me it is something separate and we might have a bit of trouble on the road if people want to hear those songs and we don' t intend to do anything from it and we get lynched for that (laughs) that's the only risk I suppose. It is Phil's thing and we don't want to get too involved in it and as far as I am concerned the Genesis thing is still going and we have so many tracks to choose from, from our own repertoire that we don't want to get involved in that sort of thing. Yes, we were obviously pleased for Phil but also obviously slightly jealous as well you can't help being, can you.
INT: Perhaps an incentive for you to do so well with your next solo album?
TB: The thing is that what I write is completely wrong really. Phil has certainly got an ear for writing hit singles now. On my own I don't know really. It is not something that I particularly want to do on my own. I feel that I get enough commercial success with Genesis really and with what I do on my own I prefer to go down obscure paths in many ways but I can't really come up with an album full of attempts at a hit single! (laughs).
INT: I mentioned abstract a few moments ago in a different context but that reminded me about the sleeve to the album which is a very simple design just abstract colours and the other thing I found out today is that there are four different sleeves with different colour combinations, what is the thinking behind that?
TB: Well, really because it looked nice in the original four colours he did it in and then the guy who was designing it did it in lots of different colours to see which one we liked best and we thought it looked good in lots of them and also with the thought of store displays. I suppose some people will think that we did it because we wanted people to buy four copies of the album! (Laughs). I think people can get hold of the other three covers without buying the album if they really want to but they better be quick because I think that after a certain number of copies they are only going to print one variation. Being an abstract cover it lent itself to doing it in very bright colours.
The reason why the album is an abstract cover and an abstract title and everything is because it removes the emphasis from the lyrics to make the meanings of the songs rather more abstract which doesn't mean that they don't have meanings as I said before but it isn’t as obvious with each of them.
INT: Time is short here at Shepperton but we have managed to corner Mike Rutherford for a few pressed minutes. Mike last time I talked to you down here you were rehearsing for a tour and we talked about Genesis and also about Smallcreep's Day which was your own solo album at the time, have you any plans for another solo project?
MR: Yeah, I think so. Our plans are slightly looser than people imagine, I mean we haven't really thought about next year too much. I think probably the next thing I do will be an album by myself again. I don't know if Tony mentioned it, but for Genesis now it is very important for us to have these; not because of any frustrations within Genesis because I am very satisfied with Genesis at the moment but because over the years you need more challenges and that fulfils that role really; gives you more scope.
INT: One question that I put to Tony about the success of Phil's album and singles which did extremely well. Do you have your own personal sights set on similar success with hit singles and monster albums of your own or would you prefer to, as it were indulge yourself in a solo project and not worry about the commercial success?
MR: I would like to indulge myself AND have great success! (laughs) The next album I do will be very different, I think the first album you do outside the band and Peter is a great example; his first album sounded the most like Genesis and each one since he has moved away and the last one I thought was great and it was very different and I similarly think myself that my next album I put my feet down on the ground and making the last one actually I wasn't even sure I could do it and the next album will be braver and will move away more from Genesis.
INT: Of course, that last one of yours was very much a concept album and have you got another concept in mind or do you just want to go away and write four minute songs totally unrelated and put them together?
MR: No, I have a whole lot of bits and the style of work that I have never been quite brave enough to use and so it could be totally disastrous, its one of those kinds of things like …. Its how I write at home and with the new Genesis album that has a rougher edge to it and it is a more basic way of working that I might just try on some songs next time. I have a little studio at home and I would like to work a lot more there and take songs and take songs a bit further because you capture something there but what form it will take, I don't know.
INT: Another dilemma for you as you move away from the band to do your solo project is who else do you use on your solo album? Obviously you have the studio and you can do so much there yourself with guitars and basses and whatever other weird and wonderful instruments you choose to play! Phil brought in some very big names on his album. If the choice was entirely yours, and everyone in the world was available, do you have a shortlist of musicians you would love to work with in such a utopian situation?
MR: I would love to work with them all but it just depends on the song and depends on what is needed. It is no good bringing in someone because they have a name, you know I think that's wrong and it doesn't bring much to it unless it lends itself to someone . It didn't help that I recorded most of it in Sweden which is a bit far away.
INT: Well we heard on No Reply At All on the new Genesis album that you have used the EWF Horns, who Phil used to great effect on his new album and that is a great departure for a Genesis album, using ANY outsiders. Do you think you are going to be making more use, not necessarily of that particular outfit but those type of musicians on future Genesis albums?
MR: Possibly because it was a big step for us and the energy to use the horns definitely came from Phil I will admit that I was fame but he provided the energy and it often happens that way. I went over there to do it with him and I don't think that Tony was too sure about it but I think he liked the end result very much. Yes, it has been amazing how little it changed… it changed the song a lot but it spoilt the song very little. It actually saved the song because it wasn't really happening and it really brought the song to life but it didn't take away anything that was there already; it added to it which was very good.
INT: We have spoken to Tony and we have spoken to Mike and finally we manage to corner Phil for a couple of minutes. Phil, you visited Hallam not so long ago when Face Value was riding high with all the singles; a very successful period for you which is going to put a little bit of pressure on you because people are going to say; 'OK; now do it again' Do you have any plans to?
PC: I am definitely going to do it again. I see me at the moment I am my most important thing; I don't mean that egotistically; its just that I tended to…ever since I did my record really and before it was successful I would stand in the middle here and I choose to do all these other things; I choose to be in Genesis the group that I am in and I choose to do things with John Martyn or whatever but basically it is not just a solo career it's … ME. "Solo" implies that it is an excursion from something else and I really guess that a lot of people seem me with Genesis and MY thing is the most important to me and so is Genesis and so there will definitely be another album but it isn’t written yet. I am waiting for something to strike me. It is going to be a bit weird on stage I think because people might shout out for my tunes which is going to be a drag but I am very pleased and the group is really strong now and it was a very enjoyable album to make; Abacab and there is a good psychological situation in the band now; everybody has changed a bit; I have got a lot more confident and Tony and Mike have got a lot more looser and the music on the album shows the change. I think a lot of people might not be ready for that change and we might lose a few fans or bother a few fans or confuse them a bit. Basically they are not going to be ready for some of the music that is on the album. Hopefully there will be a whole bunch of people who didn't like Genesis or who think they don't like Genesis that COULD like Genesis! It is that different. I did intend to try and get the horns on the album because I felt it would be different for the band and I think the result… there's another track actually which isn't on the album but which they played on and which will come out at a later date but it is very different for us and I think that can only be a good thing and a lot of people won't like it because the feedback I had from certain disc jockeys on radio stations when I played the EWF stuff and they were saying 'how come you like Disco bands?' and they are not a Disco band at all; they are one of the best bands in the world; I think and so it was just one of those things. I had a lot of energy for it and Tony wasn't too sure in fact if I hadn't suggested it he would have been quite happy (laughs) and rather than bring them over here to a semi-negative vibe; I went over there to do it with Mike and a tape and Hugh Padgham and we did it and they loved it and they wanted to come on the road with us, they were really into it.
|INT: Now you mentioned it might be a slight problem when you are doing your gigs that people might be calling out for I Missed Again and In the Air Tonight. Do you foresee a time possibly next year which I gather is going to be a fairly light one and that there will be periods when Genesis won't be busy and you might consider putting a band together and doing some select gigs of your own?|
PC: Oh yeah. I nearly did something around June of this year. Basically the priority is getting the right musicians. I mean I wouldn't do it with someone who didn't play on the album; the horn players want to do it; Shankar; Alphonso Johnson and I will get Chester to play drums on it; Daryl will definitely do it and Pete Robinson would help me out on the keyboards so I would get the people who played on the album and it is then down to availability. I think the only availability problem would be the Earth Wind & Fire people they are a big band and need to play and so they can't really change their schedule but I would definitely like to do some stuff after we finish in April-May-ish I intend to… I want to do another album before I do gigs so that I can play some new stuff and some old stuff; at the moment all I have got is old stuff i.e. the first album and it won't harm Genesis it's not like it has to be one or the other; I am quite capable of doing both as I have done for years with Brand X and there is no need for anybody to worry and start to think that… actually people thought I had left the group when I did my album
And there we must leave this fascinating look behind the scenes of the Abacab album. My thanks to Mike Jackson for providing the source tape for this transcript.