And then there were… five? The photo at left is no trick of the tale, for you’re indeed seeing the five key members of Genesis — from the top of the stairs down, Phil Collins, Tony Banks, Steve Hackett, Peter Gabriel, and Mike Rutherford — together again for the first time in many years. No, they’re not reforming, but rather have come together to celebrate the career-spanning documentary Genesis: Sum of the Parts airing on Showtime October 10 (and expected to see home release sometime in November), as well commemorate the September 30 release of R-KIVE (Rhino), a 37-track, three-CD set spanning 42 years of both band and solo material. “I know, who’d have thought there’d be all of this activity at my age?” laughs Mike Rutherford, a mainstay of the band through all of its incarnations. “But when you see all these songs side by side, like ‘Turn It on Again’ with [Collins’] ‘In the Air Tonight,’ [Gabriel’s] ‘Biko,’ and [Mike + The Mechanics’] ‘The Living Years’ — you go, ‘Wow, that’s a great body of songwriting.’ ”
Full-bodied, you might even say. Recently, Rutherford, 63, spoke with me about a number of intriguing Genesis-related topics, such as when the band hit its sound quality stride (“[Producer] Hugh Padgham [who came aboard with Abacab, in 1981] made us sound like we would sound in a room together. He got the bigger sound. It was always there in the first place, but Hugh really got it…. Hugh understood about capturing the atmosphere”), why the sonically epic “Supper’s Ready” still endures (“It continues to stand up as a very strong piece…. It’s one of our first pieces that goes through such huge changes, especially in the last third with the long instrumental solo and the huge landing”), and the secrets behind the band’s live prowess (“We were always very good at making a set work. Put a song in the wrong place, and it’ll just die”).
In this HRAC Exclusive Q&A, Rutherford touches on early Genesis recording mistakes, the band’s creative process, the future of Mike + The Mechanics, and his favorite LP.
Mike Mettler: In the early days of Genesis, you’d play new songs live before you went into the studio.
Mike Rutherford: The first Genesis album was all played live before we cut it, yes. We played a bit too long, however; we played them as a whole set, and they were slightly played out. We should have done two or three songs that way so they’d all have been still slightly fresh, just to learn how to play them and not hammer them to death.
Mettler: One thing I like about the idea of presenting the material on R-KIVE chronologically is the sequencing choices you made. Disc 1, where you have “The Knife,” “The Musical Box,” “Supper’s Ready” and “The Cinema Show” — that’s a great set, right there. And the middle of Disc 2 is powerful in a different manner, going from [Gabriel’s] “Biko” to “Turn it on Again” to [Collins’] “In the Air Tonight.”
Rutherford: Yes, and that’s one of the reasons we did it that way. When you view it as a body of work, it sends quite a nice message. It reminds people of all the different songs and the variety of the material: “Wow, that was one band!” It’s a quite nice thing to do, putting solo and group work together.
Mettler: How much of the band’s creative process do you discuss in your autobiography that’s coming out next year [The Living Years: The First Genesis Memoir, slated for U.S. release in February 2015]?
Rutherford: A lot of that information is already out there, so I try to talk about the stuff that’s not so well known. Mostly it’s the behind the scenes individual interplay between all the people, really. How the songs happened, and the arguments where you know you’re right and they’re wrong. Schoolboy stuff it was, in those days. When you’re young, you’re a bit more intense about it, and as you get older, you find you enjoy it a bit more.
Mettler: Mike + The Mechanics will be on the road in North America in 2015. How different is a Mechanics tour from a Genesis tour?
Rutherford: The Mechanics tour is done in a pretty simple way, different from Genesis. Our whole philosophy is to take two guitars, a few keyboard rigs, and off we go. And I like that. The Mechanics are so sparse, and you become a band by just doing it, you know?
Mettler: That’s the only way to really become a cohesive group, yes.
Rutherford: When we did the first album, we barely knew each other, but now that we know who everybody is, it gets a bit easier. And I do have some writing plans over the autumn. I want to have some new material to play next year with the band. I’m tempted to actually write the songs and play them live first before recording them.
Mettler: I like that idea. You’re also putting out a Mechanics anthology next February, The Living Years – Deluxe Edition.
Rutherford: Yeah, and a couple of the songs were on cassette! The obvious tracks are on there — all recorded on tape, which has a certain quality to it.
Mettler: Cool. And there’s a live disc included, too. You found all of those tracks in the vaults at The Farm [Genesis’ longtime recording studio in Surrey, England], right?
Rutherford: Yeah, we’ve got boxes of all the old Genesis live stuff, lots of cassettes. And the Mechanics too — we recorded just about every show.
Mettler: Tell me about “Living Years 2014″ and how you updated that song.
Rutherford: When a song works so well, you can’t try and better it; you have to do something different instead. I recorded it in Cape Town with the South African Isango Choir and Andrew Roachford on vocals, and gave it an African feel. It’s another version, a variation. You can’t replace the original. The live version that’s on the Deluxe Edition [on Disc 2, recorded on the Mechanics’ 1989 U.K. tour] — I wouldn’t change that when performing it. It’s too classic a song.
Mettler: Do you make song-by-song decisions in terms of the live arrangements? Like you said about “The Living Years,” some of them have indelible blueprints.
Rutherford: I like things to change when I can. It’s good to move on a little bit. But that one [“Living Years”] you can’t change very much.
Mettler: When we were talking about your book, you mentioned how The Beatles were such an important part of the cultural shift in Britain in the ’60s. The Beatles in Mono vinyl box set just came out. Is mono your preferred way to listen to them?
Rutherford: Yeah, I think so, actually. Their songs had such a great sound coming out of one speaker. I don’t mind the stereo mixes, but you just can’t compare. They’re different.
Mettler: Mono was always their intention, right up through The White Album.
Rutherford: You know what I’d like to hear that way? The Police would be great in mono — you know, the early songs.
Mettler: Yeah, it would be interesting to hear fold-down mono mixes of Outlandos D’Amour and Regatta de Blanc, I agree! Ok, well, to wrap it up: Is there one record that you grew up with that’s your personal favorite, the one that still endures all these years later?
Rutherford: (pauses) Well, I bought every single Beatles record ever made (MM laughs), so maybe I’ll say the first Hendrix album [Are You Experienced?, released in the U.K. on May 12, 1967]. That one’s still pretty astonishing.