“In conversation” - TWR talks to Mike Rutherford about new albums and life on the road. Interviews conducted by Alan Hewitt and Katherine Stratton on Tuesday 21st February 2017. Photographs by Katherine Stratton, Alan Hewitt and Stuart Barnes.
KS: Obviously we have not heard the new album yet, what can you tell us about it?
MR: It’s fabulous [laughs]. It’s kind of like the first two Mechanics albums, I think. There was a nice start to this thing. Brian Rawling who runs Metrophonic, the production studio, he’s got these sort of good ears, you know what I mean? He’s a songwriter, he’s mad about music and songwriting, and he said: look, let’s go back to how you started, where you start with your sort of quirky demos, and I’d do these weird little loop things, and sound effects, an atmospheric style, and then get another co-writer. He recommended Clark Datchler, who was Johnny Hates Jazz. He was a songwriter before he ever started doing the band thing, and we got together and it kind of clicked again, really. A bit like B.A., in a sense. He brought something very different to the table, and then Roachford obviously. Roachford’s involved in the songs and Tim [Howar], and so rather than go in to record a dozen songs like we used to, I didn’t record anything until I had actually written four or five songs. Then I wrote them a lot more. I rewrote them, threw some out, I changed some choruses and some verses, you know, all that sort of stuff. Until we were happy with the songs, we didn’t go near a studio. And then when we got happy with the songs, we didn’t really get them through like we used to. I did my demo at home with Harry, engineering, and then I sent that to Brian with a good guide vocal. They work on the track, send it back. I liked some things, threw some things out, we sort of just back and forwards, slowly building the song up. After we did four, we did another three, bit by bit, but it was the songwriting that we spent more time on this time.
KS: There was one song I remember reading about, “When the World Stops Loving You”, what happened to that one? Did it become something else?
MR: I couldn’t make it work. Funnily enough, I think the lyric actually might be re - I don’t normally reuse things - I don’t really reuse music, the next time around I won’t reuse the same songs. Lyrically it was quite interesting and quite strong, but the music didn’t quite work. I think the level of quality of songwriting [on this album] is a lot, lot better than we’ve done for a long time. Bringing Clark in was very good, he’s a sort of bona fide songwriter and it made a big difference, I think.
KS: Which ones are your favourite tracks?
MR: Probably “Let Me Fly” is the favourite track. It’s about four and a half, five minutes long, and they asked recently to do a radio and TV edit to three minutes, three and a half and I thought “F**k knows, I’ll let Brian do that” and we’ve got this big choir that comes in in the end, gospel choir, and we brought it in in the first and second chorus, and actually it’s rather good! So it works, sure, but I mean, yeah, that’s my song. “Don’t Know What Came Over Me” is a song I really like. It’s got a same sort of feel as “Coffee”. It’s a nice idea about this chap, you know, he’s got a perfect life, he’s married or with somebody, and life is good. He goes out one night and it ends up being a huge, large night out, he doesn’t know what happens, and he misbehaves and he wakes in the morning and is a bit like “what came over me?” That sort of feeling of “why?”, it’s such an unimportant thing, but he did it. So that was not autobiographical… [laughs]. Then I wrote “High Life”, which is a little acoustic song, with a guy called Ed Drewett who Brian recommended. He’s actually done some One Direction hits, but he’s a very nice, quirky guy too. And Fraser T Smith, who is a bit on a roll these days, but he’s a friend more than anything. Actually we were going to do some more, but he got locked away with Gorillaz and Stormzy, so we didn’t have enough time. But I definitely think that the standard is pretty good.
KS: It certainly sounds like it so far.
AH: It’s definitely got the vibe of the first couple albums.
MR: Yeah, and I said to Brian: it’s great, you’re right, you’re right, we’ll throw songs out that are no good, and when that happens I’m like “Oh no! Are you sure?” but he’s kind of right, you know? Because normally you go into the studio and maybe four out of the twelve songs, however many you do, are good and the others just aren’t quite written right, and I think if they’re written correctly and you work on them and rework on them, then by the time you record them they’re easy to record.
KS: How has the tour been going so far, how do you think the songs have been received by audiences?
MR: Good, yeah! We did “Let Me Fly” last time, but we’re not doing it with the choir this time because until people have heard it, why put a choir in it, you know? We’re doing about five new songs, six new songs, which is quite a lot, really. The set’s quite long, and I was concerned, but actually I think it’s just under 2 hours, and it doesn’t feel it. Tony Smith came and my wife Angie came – and she’ll tell you like it is - and it doesn’t feel too long at all. I think it’s felt really good.
KS: Why did you end up calling it the Word of Mouth tour?
MR: I don’t know. I didn’t know they did until it was done. We have an album called “Let Me Fly” coming out and it’s called the “Word of Mouth” tour, but of course we hadn’t got the thing by then.
KS: A lot of your songs are very emotionally charged - Living Years being the prime example - do these songs still move you after all this time?
MR: Well, Living Years especially. I mean you often have people in the front rows crying. I wouldn’t say it’s a great feeling, but you think how nice to be involved in a thing like that, you know. So we do balance between doing the old favourites, you’ve got to do it, but there’s six new songs and there’s one that is quite a heavy song, but that’s another one, called “The Letter”. We haven’t put it in yet, but we will do during the tour. It’s quite a big, dark - I got this idea to do a, not Wishbone Ash sort of thing, but a two guitar part, Anto and I. We never used to do two guitar parts together, so we’ll get around to that.
KS: What do you enjoy most about being in the Mechanics right now?
MR: Well I’m glad we’ve done some new songs, that was definitely due. We couldn’t keep doing the same set really, so it’s good to get some new stuff from new blood into the stage show. They’re a great bunch of guys. On stage the two front men are just a powerhouse, really, and they work so well together. The balance is right, I think.
KS: Do you have any plans to release any live material after this, whether a DVD or otherwise?
MR: I’d like to. Harry mixed all of the last tour. We’ve signed to BMG, BMG rights, they’re quite a small label, smallish label. It’s like an old record label, all the guys have been in the business for a while, not that they’re old, but they’re not just like young kids suddenly excited by the whole thing, they’ve all done well out of their careers, by the sounds of it and they feel - honestly, selling records is hard - but they feel good at the moment. They might do some stuff with the old stuff, maybe a live thing. It would be nice to.
KS: What are some of your favourite songs, lesser known songs, from the back catalogue?
MR: I’ll tell you one of my favourite songs is “Nobody Knows”. We did it live a few years ago, and I love it. But with the crowd, it doesn’t really happen, it goes over their heads. Well they get it, but you know you’re not really connecting. There’s a song a little bit not unlike it, “Don’t Know What Came Over Me”, which we started playing and dropped a couple of shows ago, because it’s fine but it’s not really connecting - it doesn’t really go anywhere. On the record it’s probably better, but live it doesn’t really have a journey, so we just didn’t do that one.
KS: Do you have any favourite anecdotes from your touring days with the Mechanics?
AH: Keep it clean!
MR: I’ll just summarize it by saying: the Paul Young stories. I’m still hearing stories. Gary Wallis is still releasing stories to me that he’s kept secret until recently.
KS: Is there one thing that you haven’t done in your career yet that you would really like to do?
MR: I’m sure. I think what really drives me on is just trying to write a good song, and it gets harder and harder. Really, for me, doing an album, it sounds selfish, but it’s basically me trying to prove to me that I can still do it. It’s as simple as that. That is the angle to the whole thing. When guys say “I do records for myself, I don’t care about what the public thinks”, that’s absolute crap. They don’t mean that at all. They never mean that. They actually mean that they’re pretending. The public’s reaction is satisfying, when people play it and like it, it’s almost like a confirmation that you can still write good songs.
KS: Did you think you’d be here when you started with The Road, did you feel the chemistry and think that you’d come this far?
MR: I never make a plan, and no I didn’t. With The Road we’d just met, and the album’s okay but looking back I think it’s got some nice songs, but once again it was just early days, we had barely met.
KS: And it kind of feels like your first one, with more people involved.
MR: Yeah. It feels like we started from a much better point [this time]. I knew the voices really well, and I’m very fussy about recording and voices. I want to know the sounds and what they can do. So having spent so much time on the road with them, I know their voices so well. What’s nice about recording still is that there’s still that lovely intangible thing. Roachford on the last tour sang “Let Me Fly” every night fantastically. Live, it was always brilliant. In the studio, it was good but it wasn’t cutting it. It was okay but it wasn’t special enough, and then suddenly one day he came in, he sang “Let Me Fly”, and Harry and I were sitting at the desk just behind, and we kind of look at each other and go “Wow, this is it! Don’t say a thing, don’t go ‘great!’, just record it.” We did about three takes and that’s most of the album.
SB: We’ve heard a rumble that there are reissues of Mechanics albums on their way.
MR: I don’t know. I mean hopefully, BMG have the catalogue and this is a whole new thing, so hopefully they’ll do some stuff, but what do you mean about reissues? Are they not available, or?
AH: The information we’ve had is that the Mechanics back catalogue is being reissued, that’s all we’ve heard.
MR: I’m hoping that basically, because it’s a new company, they’ll want to try and go back and do a bit of work on the old catalogue.
AH: But it begs the problem, of course, you released the hits, the singles collection, most of the B-sides, so what have BMG to add, if they do decide…
MR: I have no idea. The live stuff’s good to do, and it’s getting better all the time. I have no idea, really.
AH: Do you think there will possibly be any archival live recordings from the days when Mr. Carrack and Mr. Young were with you?
MR: There are a lot of those, I think, I forget which ones. Most of the live ones last time were with Roachford singing, I think. Yeah, it could be. I think when you go back, you encompass both varieties of the Mechanics, the old and the new Mechanics. So we could do, yeah. We’ve got some good recordings of it.
AH: I should hope so.
KS: What about future touring plans, I know you’re doing Europe later on in the year.
MR: September, yeah. Hopefully probably a third or half Germany, and then we might go and do places like Paris, Milan would be nice, Prague. Interesting places. It’s fun for us to go places as a band.
SB: Do you get to see much of these places when you tour there?
MR: Well you can if you want to. You get the odd day off, it doesn’t take a lot to make it feel like it’s fun. It’s interesting travelling-wise for the band too.
AH: You obviously have a couple of gigs coming up in the summer with young Mr. Collins, how do you feel about those again?
MR: Well it’s great for us. It’s two large crowds who are on our side, and it couldn’t be better for us. We have an album coming out on April 7.
AH: There’s a single as well, I believe.
MR: Well, it goes to radio.
AH: Oh it’s a radio thing.
MR: No, it’ll be a single, but I’m not sure how they sell them these days.
AH: Do you know which track it is?
MR: “Don’t Know What Came Over Me”. I think the best single is probably, well, to me the real key song is “Let Me Fly”, the album version. But because you’re coming in a bit cold, I think it’s best not to start with the strongest thing or you can get a bit lost. Ken Bruce will play it, and we’ll probably do the Chris Evans show, we’re talking about that, which would be nice. So by the time the album comes out you’ve built up interest, hopefully. That’s the idea, I guess.
KS: Any plans to go back to the US?
MR: Yes, possibly, next spring. There’s been some talk about doing something.
KS: You’re doing that cruise as well.
MR: We’re not doing the cruise, we’re doing two shows. I couldn’t do a cruise. They get one band who goes on and we’ll do, I think two shows, either the same day or – still on the land – and we’re on the boat for a night, but once it travels, we leave. We don’t go on a tour, I couldn’t do that.
It’s probably fun if you’re into it, but for me I don’t want to be trapped with everyone, it’s not my sort of thing. But it might be a launchpad for doing a bit of a tour over there.
There’s a mad panic suddenly. There’s a nice German TV show that does a live show, and one in New York too, where they record – I forget the names of them - the band play live and they record it, it’s quite good actually for us to do something live like that.
We’ve also got this thing where we were going to try and sell the album on the tour - you buy a sort of fridge sticker with a credit card, and you pay for the album and then on the day of the release, it gets sent to you. I think you get a free single if you do that. I think it’s all to do with - suddenly I’m “Marketing Rutherford” - I think it’s to do with the fact that if you just sell stuff on the tour, it doesn’t count towards the charts, but if you sell it like this, it does. You get it on the day of, and I think it can do some good for us.
And there the interview stops. Many thanks to Joanne Greenwood and Steve "Pud" Jones for helping to organise things.