Tony Banks interviewed on Rockline. Interview transcribed by Alan Hewitt. Memorabilia; TWR archive. Photographs courtesy of Esoteric Records.
An interesting interview this one from the promotional efforts made for Tony‘s 1991 album, Still, in which radio listeners provided what are some VERY interesting questions for Tony as you will see!
INT: I think your new album (Still) is the most cohesive of the four you have done, how do you feel about it?
TB: Thank you, I feel very strongly about it, I like it a lot. Whether it is the best only time will tell but I certainly like it a lot now. We are currently rehearsing with Genesis at the moment and we have found a place that is kind of big enough to hold our whole show because we are doing a stadium tour, as you know, and we are using a blimp hangar which is the only place that we could find that is big enough and it is a great place, we can get everything in there and we are able to rehearse lights and things in the daytime which was the idea of it.
INT: When you are in a blimp hangar to rehearse a show you are talking about a big production. Is it an extra challenge to do a stadium show? What can you give the guy in the last row during a stadium show?
TB: well that is what we are trying to do really. It is the whole idea to make the thing as large as possible not just in terms of size but in the way that it comes across because the problem with these kind of shows in the past was that what we tended to do was adapt an arena show and do it in a stadium but this time we want to do it because we are only doing a stadium tour this year so this show is completely constructed for it. And we are using the brightest screens we can get which are these Jumbotrons and I think the whole thing is going to be very impressive really.
INT: The tour begins at Texas Stadium in Dallas on May 8th and then into the Astrodome there in Houston which is where Tony is located tonight on May 9th then there is some time off, what do you do when you have this time to fill in on a stadium tour?
TB: Well we don’t usually get time off in between and the original plan was to rehearse in Texas and then take some time off and then start the tour but the manager’s decision was that we should do a gig at the end of the rehearsal period and then the idea of doing Dallas and Houston seemed logical to do them now rather than later as we are here already so that is the end of the rehearsal period and then we are going home for three or four days and then coming back and re-starting if you like in Miami.
INT: Let’s talk about your new CD, Still. There are actually five vocalists on this CD aren’t there?
TB: There are indeed, well if you can call me a vocalist! (laughs). The main reason for having the other vocalists is because I feel that my own voice is fairly limited although I do enjoy doing a bit of singing and also I use a girl singer on the record and that is obviously something I can’t do myself and the other three singers were ones that I liked and one of these, Nik Kershaw is someone some of you might have heard of although I think he has been more popular over here than in the States. He is a singer I have liked for a long time and the other singer, Fish is one I worked with a few years ago and he was with a group called Marillion until quite recently and I like his voice very much. So it was a chance for me just to work with a few different people and a few different voices and try to get voices to match the different styles of the songs.
INT: Did you have Fish in mind when you wrote the lyrics to Angel face?
TB: Well, I knew I was going to work with Fish but on this particular track I didn’t know who was going to sing it at the time. I wrote it originally for my own voice but not with the intention of singing it myself and we had one other song which Fish and I were going to do together on the record and I just felt that his kind of soulful approach suited the lyric very well and I really like the way it has turned out.
INT: In a previous interview you stated that Still would be your final solo album what brought on this decision?
TB: well, I didn’t really put it like that. What I said was that maybe, depending on how things go with this one maybe it would be the last time I would go for an album in this kind of approach, ie trying to do a sort of pop album if you like and there are lots of other approaches I could take to music. One would be to go more instrumental and another would be to concentrate on things like film writing or possibly TV writing and things like that all of which are things that I would enjoy. I have tried this approach for the last two or three albums and sometimes it is hard you know, you finish a record and you come out of it very enthusiastic and you don’t get the response you want. I am not saying that has been the case with this album but with the previous one and it is a difficult thing to take each time. Then you wonder how much longer you are going to go on doing it because that is not such a good feeling but. It depends on how things go.
INT: Is it difficult going between Genesis and your solo career?
TB: I don’t have any problems really because the approach we take is kind of different I suppose because all the music on the last three Genesis records and a lot of the stuff from before that has been written by the three of us together going in to a room with nothing prepared and just improvising and what you hear on the albums is a result of that improvisation whereas what I do on my own is stuff I write on my own so hat accumulates I suppose over the years a bit. I have got masses and masses of stuff and I could probably fill about ten albums with stuff but that has never seen the light of day so when you get to do a record you have a lot of choice and it is then a matter of working out what I want to do and how I want to do it. It is great fun to be able to follow an idea right through from the beginning to end with no compromising with other people and sometimes that is very pleasurable but I love working with Genesis but everything you do ends up being a combination effort if you like and it is a great feeling when you have done something totally on your own.
INT: Why haven’t you appeared on any of Peter Gabriel’s solo albums and why hasn’t he appeared on any of yours?
TB: We keep in touch. Well, in terms of us having played on each other’s stuff I think there’s always room for that in the future to be honest. I think the reason why we have kind of avoided it a bit is that it is nice to be working with different people I suppose and I spent about ten years of my musical life working with Peter and I guess it was just nice to move on to other people. In many ways I think we did do some quite special stuff together and I would like to do some things with him in the future but it is something I don’t think can be hurried.
INT: can you tell me a little about your formal musical training and bow that has influenced your playing?
TB: Well, I was taught at school like a lot of people are at the piano and a I learned it up to a certain standard but to be honest I never really got very good at it and at one point I almost gave up playing the piano but then I found playing by ear, if you like, when I was about twelve or thirteen and I found it was so much easier to do and I could just listen to a track and I could play it when I heard it and it was far more entertaining for me and I was a bit lazy I suppose and learning classical pieces I found a bit boring to be just doing that and you do grades and stuff in England and that was all it was and I found that by doing the music by ear as well meant you could play a thing almost instantly and that got my interest back and from then I got back into classical music again as well.
I think in the early days of Genesis introducing some classical style into rock music was kind of an original thing to do and it was one of the things that we started doing back in around 1970 and for that reason it was useful I think to provide something different and I still think it is great to have that classical knowledge behind you and the technique it involves.
INT: You mentioned a while ago that on the coming tour you will be doing a selection from older songs and I was wondering if you are going to be doing anything from Supper’ s Ready?
TB: Well, I really should answer yes to all these questions so then you come to the show! The problem with Supper’s ready is it is one of those songs, it is a long song, it is twenty six minutes long and as I am sure you know, we have got so many songs from over the years and trying to fit them all into the show so we are doing a section of old music that is almost as long as that but it doesn’t involve any of Supper’s Ready not on this tour. Maybe next tour, you just can’t do everything is the honest answer I’m afraid. We did it a few tours ago and we have done a section of it and it is a lovely song but the problem is when you are playing to a lot of people who have come to a slightly more recent albums to play them a twenty six minute song which is from a previous era, particularly if you are doing a stadium tour when it has got lots of quiet bits. Maybe if we were doing indoors it would be easier to do but outdoors, I think you would tend to lose people.
INT: Do you always work with a certain type of vocalist in mind?
TB: Sometimes it really depends a bit. Some lyrics I kind of know who is going to sing it and others I don’t know. On this record there are a couple of songs where I used a girl singer called Jayney Klimek and I wrote with her voice in mind because I had worked with her before and one of the songs I did with Nik Kershaw and I wrote with his voice in mind. It is a matter of …other songs… I often sing it myself which is the first thing I do and I listen to how that sounds and if that doesn’t sound too good which is normally the case (laughs) I think who would maybe sound better? And just look around and I had a choice of five singers on this record and it was easier to get the right person for each one.
INT: The vocalist who has not been mentioned is Andy Taylor and he is not the Andy Taylor of Duran Duran, correct?
TB: The problem with that is that people go out and buy the record who are Duran Duran fans (laughs) it’s not him, this is again another unknown English singer. I was looking for a particular kind of voice and I just loved his voice and thought it would be appropriate for the ballad, the song you mentioned before; Still It Takes Me By Surprise, the one you would like to play but can’t, that one! His voice sounded lovely on it and I wanted someone who had a kind of bluesy to do the ballad rather than do it in a straight manner and I think the effect is very good.
INT: Do you prefer the older Genesis stuff which appears to be stories or do you prefer to write from personal experiences?
TB: It took me a while to get to the stage where I could write things in a slightly more personal way. The stories are a way of hiding and it’s a fun way to write in fantasy which is what a lot of the early Genesis stuff was and it took me a while to write more realistic lyrics. I like both kinds of them really and we tend to deal more with realistic lyrics these days and that is just the way we kind of feel and to write about hobgoblins doesn’t seem right now. Whereas back in 1971 it seemed quite appropriate. Tines have changed and you feel differently about things and that is the nature of rock music, it does change over time. I think both things have their role and who knows, perhaps in five years’ time we will be back there with trolls and giants and all of that stuff. I don’t think so but it is always possible, you know.
INT: How is your album going to be promoted? Is your record company going to try and get it on top forty AOR radio, a video or maybe an unplugged performance because to be honest I haven’t heard much about Still even a review in Rolling Stone…
|TB: All I can say is that this album is out on Giant Records and they are certainly doing as much as they can. You can only do so much, you use what you can. The problem is if Madonna has an album out it is obviously more newsworthy than if Tony Banks has got an album out and you have to accept that really. I have made a couple of videos for this album and hopefully they will get shown and we do everything we can but obviously the music we are trying to put across is perhaps not quite so straight ahead as some other music and that is always a slight problem I think. It is always easier to sell certain kinds of things than other kinds of things and one has to say that perhaps this album is not as easy as some others but I hope that for people who have liked Genesis over the years I think it is worth checking out what I do because of those kind of chord changes and slightly longer songs and if that’s the stuff you like then there is certainly some of that there as well as some other stuff that is more straight ahead.|
INT: I know that you have worked with Toyah and Jayney Klimek. Have you ever considered working with Kate Bush?
TB: Well yes, I love Kate Bush’s voice actually. It is always a problem with all this incestuous stuff because Peter (Gabriel) did this song with Kate Bush, a beautiful song Don’t Give Up which is one of my favourite songs that Peter has ever done, and Kate has become quite associated with Peter and so for that reason I have never made an approach to her on this subject but she is a singer who I like very much and I like what she does on her own as well so she is someone I would never rule out you know.
INT: have you ever thought of doing a whole album with Fish?
TB: I can’t say I haven’t thought about it but I don’t think from his point of view he has his own career really. The thing is, probably for both of us, we both find it a bit limiting really because there are certain ways I want to drag him and there are certain thins he wants to do and I think … he does these things which I don’t know how to describe them but they are like heavy metal Scottish jigs (laughs) and I am not sure I could get into them you know. On the other hand some of the stuff I try to make him do… it took a lot of time to do Angel Face vocals with him because he finds it quite difficult to sing a written melody. It is much better for him if he can improvise them himself a bit which is what we did on Another Murder of A Day and we tied down his natural improvisations which is a nice way to work actually. I don’t know about doing a whole album of it but I never rule anything out.
INT: You have done some great instrumentals, Charm, Thirty Threes etc will you be integrating more of these into your rock albums?
TB: In the future, whatever I do I will be doing something, if I am allowed to at least! And the instrumental stuff… I like the instrumental stuff on my records and I always have done really bit they tent to get overlooked I suppose. It is an area that being an instrumentalist is something that I do a lot of and I have done a lot of work with films in the past and that is something I want to do more of. From The Undertow was actually from the soundtrack to a film called The Shout back in the ‘70’s and that area is something I would like to do more of.
INT: The extended jams on tracks such as Fading Lights and Living Forever, are they getting easier to do or are they still a lot of work?
TB: With those things it is a matter of trying to condense it down to something that is a reasonable length. Fading Lights for instance, we had improvisations for about three or four hours on that one riff you know which was fun to do. We have no problem with cooking up with those kind of things. The great thing about CD is that you have got seventy minutes of music on the We Can’t Dance album and so you feel that you can stretch out a bit more. With Invisible Touch we had our hands tied a little bit more and we didn’t want to put on too much of that kind of thing. This time a lot of good instrumental music was coming up and we decided we would get them on the record and I think Fading Lights the way it works, it is a strong piece of music the way it works because of that instrumental section in the middle and that’s the great thing about CD, you have more time to play with.
INT: What is the difference between the music industry in the UK and Europe and America and which do you prefer?
TB: Well the main difference is that you don’t get Garth Brooks anywhere near the top of the charts in Europe actually and Country music is very much an American thing and it just means nothing outside America which is extraordinary really. I don’t pay enough attention to what makes hit music I guess. My own favourite record at the moment is the Crowded House album which is doing very well in England but I don’t think it is doing so well over here but they keep on releasing the wring singles so it’s their own fault! (laughs). Who’s to say? I love Randy Newman and so what do I know. I wouldn’t say I am part of the mainstream at all. I am not excited by a lot of the things that end up being a big success on either side of the Atlantic to be honest. I think there is always slightly more chance in America because of the way radio is and you have so many radio stations and somebody can bubble up from one area and become a national success whereas in England you have really only got the one station that counts and if you don’t get played on that you haven’t got a chance.
INT: I noticed on the Duke album that you played twelve string guitar and “duck” what is the “duck”?
TB: Well Phil and I played the duck together and it was a way of triggering… this was in the early days before technology could give you all the things you wanted really and it was a way of triggering a Yamaha CS80 synthesiser and we triggered it using Phil’s voice but he used it… this was to try and get a brass sound for the tracks particularly Behind The Lines and the way of doing it was using a duck call and we used that into the microphone and it got just the right kind of sound so that was why we put it down in the credits!
INT: When did you start playing guitar and do you enjoy it as much as keyboards?
TB: I always enjoyed playing guitar. I played guitar when I was at school and on the early Genesis albums I played a lot and I wrote a lot of things on guitar back in those days and the opening part of Supper’s Ready was a guitar part of mine. I liked guitar because particularly in those days I didn’t know what I was playing at the time whereas on the keyboard I always know what I m about to do whereas on a guitar because I wasn’t so good at it, you could move your hands around and make noises that sounded good and you weren’t quite sure what you were playing. The nature of the guitar too, different chord shapes seem to come out than those that would do on a piano. I would call myself a sort of background rhythm guitarist really. I did try doing a bit of lead guitar on one of my solo albums, the first one: A Curious Feeling where I played all the guitar and bass as well in fact and the only way I could do it was by taping up half the strings and putting foam rubber under the other ones to stop all the strings resonating all the time so I don’t think I am a budding Eric Clapton! (laughs).
INT: There is an epic on Still, Another Murder Of A Day. Is this where you let Fish meander a little bit?
TB: Well, that’s right I let him write the lyrics for this because if I am long winded, he is even more long winded than I am you know! The great thing about this was I left, particularly on the first part of it, I left him to improvise melodies and then we went through all the improvisations and tied him down a bit and selected a few things and got a few notes in and it was quite a spontaneous piece of singing in that sense and I think it gets the best out of his voice rather than trying to tie him down too much as I had done on the other song.
INT: Another Murder Of A Day sounds like the kind of song Genesis might have recorded twenty years ago. Was that your intention?
TB: well, I did think that if I wanted to do that kind of song, the most logical with Fish was doing along song with him seemed the most obvious idea. It does recall early Genesis but it has other aspects to it as well the combination of us does produce something slightly different than what you got from an early Genesis track. I just think it is a nice piece of music and I like the way it ended up sounding. If it reminds people of something earlier, that’s great but its something that sounded great at the time.
INT: Will there be a live album/video from the next tour?
TB: There is a strong possibility that we might do a live album. We haven’t done one for a very long time and most of the things were are doing in his show will be different from what we did on the last one and it would be a good time to do one and it will be a nice time to do it. It is starting to sound very good and it would be a good moment to do one.
INT: What is the meaning behind Me & Sarah Jane?
TB: It was kind of a bit of dream really. You start off with an idea… here is no real meaning to it, it was like when you are trying to go to sleep and ideas keep buzzing round your head and it was just a thought process thing like that and this name Sarah Jane that got into my head just sort of got involved in the song and I thought well why not? It just fitted so well with the lyric and the music and I thought I’d make the thing based on that. It doesn’t really have a meaning, it is really a sort of continuity song where one idea leads to another and that was the idea of the lyric to that song.
INT: Are you just setting the two stages up at the blimp hangar or are you practicing there?
TB: We are practicing there. We are actually doing at least one rehearsal every day of the whole show and we are also going through video stuff and lighting stuff, we are working there all day. The real reason why we are at that place, because we did three or four weeks’ rehearsal back in England before we came out here of the music, so the music is fairly well rehearsed in fact. The main thing we are out there for is to get the lights and the other video effects together which is quite elaborate so there is quite a lot of work to be done there.
INT: After all these years and all these albums with no picture of you on them, you give us an album with your picture on it and with your eyes closed! Why, Tony?
TB: (laughs) Well that’s the thing isn’t it? It was much against my better judgement that a picture of me appeared on the cover at all but the guy who was involved with designing the cover came across this picture and he said it said “still” to him and he showed it to the record company and they said, you’ve got to have it and so grudgingly I said yes.
And there the interview ended. I am sure you will agree some excellent questions and some equally interesting (and amusing) answers from Tony!