From The Archives - Genesis talk about the vagaries of life in the studio and on the road during the We Can’t Dance Tour. Interview transcribed by Alan Hewitt. Memorabilia: TWR Archive. Photographs: Carl Studna, David Scheinmann and Brian Cutler.
INT: The last time I saw you was about a year ago at the Farm recording the album and you had only just started at that point and what astonished me was that there you were and there were no actual “songs” that you had constructed and you know of just messed around. It seemed to me an astonishing way of putting together an album that now, in retrospect, is probably one of your most cohesive albums to date.
MR: Well, honestly we think it’s alright. Luckily we know how to do it. In the past we have written things more individually or two people but the last two of the albums have been made this way and it works. Luckily enough for us we have the outlet and the solo stuff in whatever form it takes and so you can take songs and see them through. We kind of think it is nice to keep Genesis these days for this as you put it messing around and jamming and finding new ideas from scratch, together. I think what is good about it is, first and foremost it means that unless the creative process between the three of us works, we have got no album so what come sort has to be sort of happening.
INT: Very good answer! But it is a luxury that not very many bands can afford.
PC: I have spoken to a few people in major bands about it and they read it and they can’t believe that you do it. They just cannot understand that you go into a studio and write from thin air. They don’t do that. They usually go in with something, a song or something that they teach to the other guys. Sometimes it is a bit of a song as well.
INT: But what happens, I mean I am talking about specific songs, the current single, the inspiration for that (Jesus He Knows Me) and there you are sitting in The Farm and I know you have got satellite TV there and you are messing around. Where did it come from? Inspiration must strike from somewhere you can’t just pull it out of thin air?
TB: I think the point is you are normally going straight for the lyrics again and we are messing around and improvising and I’m talking about the music which includes melody lines and everything and a few lyrical lines but not really the final thing, you know and a lot of people think of a song with the lyric first before they think of the music but Genesis songs almost always are written music first and in this case for example, the line: “Jesus He Knows me” is something that Phil started singing early on …
INT: Well, where did it come from, Phil? Just out of your head?
PC: Yeah. I don ’ t know why but “Jesus he knows me and he knows I’m right…” and you start singing rhythms and you start singing words and it is something you get into and I have done it on all my solo stuff and you get into the habit of singing words rather than just la la laaaing you know you think things that could mean something else. In the past something like Home By The Sea was just a phrase and that triggered an idea that maybe Tony wrote a lyric about and dreaming While You Sleep was another one that triggered an idea that Mike wrote about and thank God those things come because they give you a pointer about what a lyric could be about.
People think we are religious but none of us are religious and it is not a dig at religion it is actually a dig at the people, in America, it is only really common to North America that make money out of religion and say “in the name of Jesus” you know, and there are obviously the genuine articles out there and the preachers but now it is on TV you have attracted all those kind of other rats that come with it and these people go out there and con people out of money and as long as some of it goes to where it supposed to go they don ’ t think people are going to worry about it. Weekly these people are being discovered.
INT: OK, let’s move away from the album and talk about the tour because obviously you are coming to Knebworth on August the second and Radio1 FM is going to be transmitting that live. How involved do you three get in the planning of the effects and the stage set?
TB: We get very involved in it really. It is like all aspects of the group whether it be videos or whatever, this is how people perceive you and it is very important that they perceive you in the right kind of way. On stage we spend a lot of time, we worked with this guy Mark Brickman on designing an actual stage and we wanted to get away from the standard rock “look” which is the sort of box around the group with some trusses above and it really felt that if it is open air we could try a few things different this time the first thing being placing the PA further apart which gives you a better stereo sound outside which seems to work very well. And the other thing is the screens, which with open air gigs, obviously they have used screens for quite a while now but they have usually used them for enhancing what is going on, on stage making a bigger version of what is happening there. We decided if we were going to use screens that we would like to put a few things on there which would explain the song a bit. So that is something that we worked on for a long time before the show before we even got round to rehearsing the music we were thinking for along time about what should go on the screens. I think that is where the most original part of this show comes from.
INT: And what about the actual musical set itself, because you have such a wonderful array of songs, it really is an embarrassment of riches so how do you go about choosing how the set is structured musically I mean?
MR: I’ve never heard it called an embarrassment of riches before I shall remember that! (laughs). We start with the new album and we try and play as much as will sound good and work on stage and that is the top of the ladder and then at the bottom of the ladder there are some songs from the last tour which you know like Abacab and That’s All which you kind of know are due for retirement, the In the Cage medley, you have played them for a long time. They might come back one day but right now they need a bit of a rest. Then you have the middle with the ones that you kind of want to play and you kind of feel what the balance is. Sometimes you end up with too much of one kind of song and so you have to drop something and bring in another kind of song.
PC: Also when you are playing stadiums you have to… to some extent you are playing to fifty or sixty thousand people a night, sometimes it is thirty thousand and others it is eighty thousand and a lot of those people are fans, obviously, and some of them are new fans and some of them are fringe fans, they’re curious so you have got to choose songs that whilst you are totally behind them, have to be things that communicate to them. And we have found a couple of songs such as Dreaming While You Sleep which is a song we love to play and it was going over people’s heads in America and they start to wander around and you have to … it’s a different attitude and in theatres you can make those songs work and we used to in the old days, when we played the likes of the Reading Festival and we had what we called a “festival set” which is the sort of hit them between the eyes for forty five minutes and while it is not that it is leaning more towards that more than we would do in a theatre.
INT: I wanted to talk about the situation on the road, it is a very rarefied atmosphere and a bizarre thing being on the road for as long as you are on the road you know, if its Friday then it must be Munich and someone, one of your road crew actually said that to me! It is not a real life is it, hotels, limos, outriders. It is a curious existence being on the road. How do you keep your feet on the ground?
PC: You go next door and there are about fifteen kids there. The families are travelling with the band and that obviously makes it more normal than five guys playing with each other (laughs).
INT: That is one way of putting it! But it is hardly normal flying in on private Lear Jets and hotel presidential suites …
TB: I think we have been doing this for along time and for us it is slightly normal, to be honest. There is a very different kind of life one leads on the road to what we live at home I think. And for myself who tends to be a very active physical person I find life on the road slows down my whole metabolism and you get used to doing a lot more waiting (Great - come and join us in TWR, Tony - ED) and the day is split by the flight to the next show and that means that the day is almost sort of written off because it is all taken up by that travelling aspect.
PC: Then you build up to the gig.
INT: I know that all of you are family, home loving men, and although you have got your families out with you it is still a very curious existence and there must still be moments of not only tedium, and not only boredom but where there is real frustration because they are inevitable, aren’t they?
MR: It’s a bit like yourself, and because we have been doing this for years we know what we are in for and you accept things but there are moments, and because this is only three months it is a very narrow distance and if you do only one thing every day which is get up, travel and do the show. The shows are wonderful and without the shows it would be a crazy life of promotion which is so hard. The gig is the reason for the whole day and you are very limited in what you can do. Sometimes we can get out and do a bit of sightseeing and it is always the same sights.
PC: Also the tour isn’t very long and you might as well make it for that reason. I mean this is a three month tour of America and Europe put very close together with a few days off between America and Europe in which you had a gig in Chicago and then a day off and then a gig in Brussels so that is why we are doing a short tour because we can’t really face doing this for ten months or a year so you just want to try and do other things and keep life interesting.
INT: The big gigs are what, fifty, sixty thousand, I mean it is seventy thousand out there (in Munich) tonight I just wonder if the three of you yearn to go back to the Marquee and just plug in the Fender?
PC: I think we are coming to the end of the period of the mega gigs, you know. It is great fun to have sixty or seventy thousand people doing it and getting them involved with things like Home By The Sea and trying to get in touch with the other world, that’s a great spectacle for us but most people out there and fortunately we have got a great sound engineer and the show looks great and we have taken a lot of trouble over it but where do you go after this? You know, you start going back to playing one or two nights at a theatre and who knows if that is not what we might do, you know.
TB: The thing about this is you have got to get to the stage where we have played to everybody who wants to see us, in the sort of cities we are playing and you have to get to the stage where perhaps you say we aren’t going to do that anymore, we’ll just play smaller shows and you just don’t make any attempt to play to the number of people who want to see you.
PC: You make it special for a couple of thousand people.
TB: a lot of people say oh why don’t you play the small places? And the reason why we don’t play the small places is because the show wouldn’t fit and the only way we could play shows in a place like Munich and even with the rescheduling it has been sold out for months so there are probably a lot more people who would like to see us here but if you went in and played a three thousand seater you would be playing to just nobody.
INT: I am actually asking you to think slightly more selfishly about what you as three musicians would want to do …
MR: We have followed our hearts from the word go and we have played clubs and arenas and then five days at the arenas and now we have reached the stage where there is no further to go. Genesis is not bound by any, without being unfair to the fans, who we appreciate very much, we never feel bound by what they might want us to do. We will be very selfish in what we want to do and that is one of the reasons why we are still going I think, to satisfy your own musical wishes first.
INT: Also it is getting immensely expensive, I mean one of the first numbers that came out of the Michael Jackson tour was that it cost $1.25 million a week just to keep that show on the road! Is your show roughly like that?
TB: It could be more because the things like the screens are just so expensive so it is an incredible amount of money.
PC: when you add on the crew rates which are about two hundred thousand a day and stuff.
TB: It makes a difference when you have off days which is why we have so few days off and one mustn’t overlook the fact that it is an awful lot of fun as well you know putting on this giant thing, and all the things you can do and it is a great feeling putting a show like this together with all the screens and the lights and you see the audience and particularly in a place like Germany where they tend to be so focused on the stage, it’s a great feeling.
MR: We are always up for a challenge and this time I feel that we have done something original again you see the show tonight and you might agree or disagree but we have done this and set a way that things might go in the future and for me something that hasn’t been done before.
INT: This summer we have had Dire Straits touring, Michael Jackson, Springsteen, U2 it has become a very expensive proposition.
TB: Well, I think it is very unfortunate that so many groups are touring this year whereas last year was a blanker year and what with the economic situation being as it is (some things never change, eh? ED) it is asking an awful lot of people and I think that is why some tours have come unstuck, you know and we have been lucky.
INT: I’d like to move off on to asking Phil, if I may a personal question; there have been reports in the newspapers about your voice where your voice has been a problem and you walked off stage at a gig in Tampa Bay and there has been this story that you can’t sing for more than an hour and have had cortisone injections to help your throat. What is the story because I know when you did your last solo tour there was the same problem, you were going to do an interview and your voice was not right …
PC: On my tour we were doing seven or eight shows on the run and that is too much to do for a three hour show which is what I was doing. I wanted to play all of my music that I wanted to play and I just couldn’t do it. So we started dropping a few songs and at the end it was down to about twenty five songs instead of thirty and it was just wear and tear and when your voice goes you need to rest it and you can’t rest it if you have twenty thousand people sitting outside waiting to come in! So you go to the doctor and say what can I do doctor? And he says well the only thing you can do to take the swelling down on your vocal chords is to give you a jab of cortisone and like steroids this has become a bad thing but unlike the bodybuilding ones, this takes the swelling down and so you get a jab of I don’t know how many milligrams and it takes the swelling down so you can sing.
The knock on effect is that the following night you have a little less than the night before and so you have to gauge it so you don’t take one step forwards and two steps back and in this instance in Tampa we rehearsed quite extensively for about six weeks and I was singing every day for several hours a day and the set takes a long time to get through and sometimes you would do some songs twice and I was going for it and the voice started to wear out a bit and we did a couple of shows and then we had five days off which is not as good idea to have that much time off when you have got the voice going and then I got a cold when I was in Los Angeles, I got a cold from my daughter and we came to Miami to play and it was OK but my voice started to go a bit and if anyone has tried to sing with a cold they will tell you that you can’t and Mike is only just getting over a cold now and he has the same problem. So, we went on at Tampa and did the sound check and I knew that it was bad but I didn’t know how bad. Sometimes it will be about the drug that I have been given at lunchtime which might not have kicked in and then we went on stage and we had the choice of letting people in or just cancelling it and so we thought let them in, they were already there, let ’em in and we will have a go but after we did Land Of Confusion which was scary because I couldn’t even hold a note and then No Son Of Mine which was worse and at the end of that I just said I can’t do this and we came off and you cry a little bit you know, I admit it I get upset that we had let everybody down.
And that’s what happens and then fortunately we went to Washington the next day and I got on a course, I had an infected throat and I had a course of antibiotics and my voice sounds pretty much like this every day now because I have lost a lot of my top range and I don’t sing any more than a couple of hours a night.
INT: But you have had to drop a couple of songs in this set, things like Mama …
PC: Which is a shame because Mama was a big hit in Germany..
INT: So what do the doctors say? Do they say that with rest after this tour it will come back … ?
PC: I don’t know . We are here and it is a long show and a lot of shouting and screaming and a lot of talking and this is the first interview that I have done for ages and you shouldn’t be talking before shows and all that kind of thing and there is nothing that anybody can do about it. Anybody can lose their voice and it just depends on how badly they lose it. Unfortunately I am not a trained singer, you know, Pavarotti didn’t sing with flu because he is a trained opera singer and I wouldn’t sound like me if I were a trained opera singer so.
INT: It must have scared you rigid though… ?
|PC: Well, it is upsetting. It didn’t scare me because I knew what to expect but when the papers grab hold of it they shake it like a dog with a bone and The Mirror printed something which was a load of bollocks. I only have these injections once in a while and the last time was two years ago on my tour half way through it when I went on a short course of it and I have had a couple of times on this tour but it is not what People have said. People write that kind of stuff and then my mother reads it and says what the hell is going on? You know, and all that kind of thing they don’t think about and it is a bit insensitive...|
INT: Mike, I know this is slightly delicate area and I don’t want you to think I am being rude but I have to ask you, Phil has always said “I am one third of Genesis” when you do interviews it is mandatory that we talk to the three of you because you are a band, and that is fair enough but do you think there is an element of maybe you wouldn’t be playing such huge venues and I know that there is a core of Genesis fans but there is also a lot of new fans who don’t know Squonk and the rest of that stuff (shame on them - ED), but who do know In The Air Tonight, But Seriously etc. Do you agree with that premise?
MR: I have never thought about it and I don’t know how you decide I am sure that is part of it and I think all of the stuff outside of Genesis it all helps. To be honest I would have thought that Genesis has been a pretty popular live act for quite a long time and our live figure around the world has been growing at quite a good rate and Phil’s success has helped that but I really wouldn’t know how much.
TB: I think it is fair to say that they all affect each other really. When we did Knebworth in 1978 there were 100,000 people there and that was before Phil had even released a solo album and I disagree with the premise that there are as many fans there now because of Phil’s success. I don’t think it has done any harm and I think that the two careers affect each other same as Mike & The Mechanics has affected Genesis and been affected by Genesis. You can’t isolate them all but if you look at Genesis and the way that anything was done outside of Genesis we have progressed over the years we have done it regardless of the other successes. Phil might have had a bigger album one time and a smaller one but Genesis kind of carries on in the same kind of way.
PC: And the reason we are playing big places and we are able to fill them when a lot of people aren’t I mean in America the last album had a top five record and a number one the album was in the charts for the whole year and this album has been in the charts since it came out and it hasn’t been out of the top twenty and a lot of people tend to forget how successful the band is and they just think of something that has always been there and had album success but it has changed a lot and we have had a lot of things which brings in people and if you have had a single in the charts there’s another type of fan that might have heard of you.
INT: Do you ever get fans at gigs shouting at you to sing In the Air Tonight?
PC: No. Never.
MR: I was amazed particularly when Phil had his success with his first album and we thought that when we came to tour that we might get that and he doesn’t get shouts for Genesis songs and in The Mechanics I never get shouts for Genesis songs and I think that people just accept the fact that it is what you do. I don’t know why people would expect it but it happens so rarely.
INT: It is an incredible balancing act that the three of you have managed to achieve as a group but also pursuing individual things there aren’t any other bands who have done it …
PC: There aren’t any and I think we have been very lucky but to us it is a very natural way of doing things when you get to our age although we are not our age! (laughs) if you haven’t branched out and done a few other things in your life then there is something wrong with you. I think the idea of keeping all our eggs in this one basket and having no other way to express ourselves whether it be acting or soundtracks or solo albums or forming another group like Mike did it just seems such an obvious thing to do. And the fact that we are probably one of the only groups to have survived, I mean a lot of bands have done it and people go out and do solo albums and they end up leaving if they have some sort of modicum of success or they come back.
TB: The basis of the thing is it is an ego thing, once somebody has had solo success it is very difficult for them to come back and be part of the original unit and then you get the problems within the group with the varying degrees of success and I think that is sometimes the problem with other groups when a person has been successful away from the group and they think well I don’t need to come back …
PC: We don’t have any hits that we would rather keep to ourselves we are always creating something that we couldn’t do on our own so the three of us have got something completely different to offer.
And there we wrap this one up. An interesting interview both in light of events shortly after it was made and ones of a much more recent vintage! Thanks to Mr Graham Drabble for the conversion work which enabled TWR to bring this one to you