30 years ago today: Genesis at the Pacific Coliseum, Mike Rutherford on the phone
Thirty years ago today–on January 9, 1984–British prog-rock legends Genesis played the Pacific Coliseum. The band—composed of lead vocalist/drummer Phil Collins, guitarist-bassist Mike Rutherford, and keyboardist Tony Bank—was touring behind its new self-titled album, which boasted the singles “Mama” (its biggest U.K. hit), “That’s All” (its first U.S. Top 10 hit), “Illegal Alien”, and “Taking It All Too Hard”.
My fave tune was actually “Home By the Sea”, if I recall correctly.
Before the show—which also featured touring members Daryl Steurmer on guitar and Chester Thompson on drums—I interviewed Rutherford on the phone from a tour stop in Florida. Here’s our chat.
It’s been 17 years since the nucleus of Genesis was first formed…
Not 17. Please not 17. Not quite 17.
It thought it was ’66?
Well, we knew each other then. We didn’t really start till ’67, ’68.
In your eyes, what have been the biggest highlights of the band’s career?
It’s very difficult to say, because my memory’s gone. No… one remembers the last two or three years much more vividly. I’ll mention some albums that were, to me, highlights of our careers, starting with Foxtrot and Supper’s Ready. Then The Lamb [Lies Down on Broadway].
I thought Selling England By the Pound was a really good album.
As a band we never liked that one that much—it had a lot of highs and a lot of lows. We liked “Cinema Show", “Firth of Fifth”, and “Epping Forest”, but there were some low moments. It was very inconsistent. The Lamb, I think, was one of our best albums. And then Trick of the Tail, because that was quite the challenge, of Pete leaving and Phil taking over the vocals. And then to me Dune, Abacab, and the last one I feel very close to.
Genesis have obviously done well with their present lineup. But do you ever wonder how the band would sound today if it still included Peter and Steve?
It just wouldn’t be possible. You name me a band that’s been going for quite a number of years that’s had five strong individuals who all write a lot of music and all have strong ideas. Bands like the Stones and the Who–they’ve got one or two writers. No band has five strong writers and can last that long–it’s just not possible.
Were the transitions, first from a five- to a four-piece, and then from a four- to a three-piece, hard ones for Genesis to make?
Not really. Five to a four was harder than four to three, because perfecting the voice is always harder.
Was there a lot of pressure on you, when Steve Hackett left in ’77, in handling both bass and guitar?
There was, but a large chunk of the guitar-written material had been written by me, actually. People never really knew who wrote what until we started writing it down. And I normally play half guitar and half bass, so it was only the lead work that was difficult.
Had you picked up much from Steve as far as lead is concerned?
Oh I must have done, yes. I’m sure I must have started with his influence in mind. But I’ve gone in a very different direction now–I feel much more away from the effects. I’ve gone much more for a natural guitar sound, probably because I think that, with all the keyboard sounds, you want the guitar to sound like a guitar these days. I stands out more that way.
What about in concert? Does Daryl Steurmer play guitar as well?
Yes. Daryl’s a brilliant guitarist. We alternate. I tend to play guitar on the new stuff and he plays guitar on the older stuff.
So he plays some bass too, then?
He plays very good bass now.
And is Chester Thompson touring with you as well?
Chester’s drumming again, yeah. It feels very much like a five-piece band on the road–has done for quite a long time.
Last year you recorded your second solo album, Acting Very Strange. I haven’t had the opportunity to hear it yet—what’s the music like on it?
Brilliant. No, it’s interesting—it’s starting to move away from Genesis. The first album I did on my own was very like Genesis, and on Acting Very Strange I feel I’m moving away. I sang for the first time on it, and I learned so much from that. I’ve always thought it would take me two or three albums to actually know where the hell I’m going outside Genesis.
Have you become more confident as a singer in recent years?
I wouldn’t say I am confident, but I’ve gained more confidence, yes. I learnt so much about it. I had only sung backing harmonies, and I discovered that a lot of the stuff I’d written was really hard for me to sing. Whereas now I only write the stuff that I can sing well.
It’s been approximately 10 years since Peter Gabriel called it quits.
Yeah, a long time actually.
What’s your honest opinion of the music he’s made since then?
I think it’s very very good. I like his third album best of all.
Last year Peter and Steve joined the current lineup for a one-time reunion performance in Britain. How did that gig go?
Great. It was a charity show. Peter got involved in a music festival involving music from all around the world that got him into very bad debt. I’m not a great one for reunions, but this time there was a good reason for having it.
Did the magic from the old days come back?
It was very nostalgic. That’s why I was very very keen not to record or film it. There must have been almost 60,000 there, and they flew from all around the world. It was a very magical night. But we didn’t play that brilliantly. You don’t, you know, the first gig together like that. There were mistakes.
I think the strongest thing about it was the atmosphere and the emotion, and that never comes out on film. I think for those that were there it was a fantastic night–us included. But I’m happy, though. I’m almost glad that we’re where we are and Pete’s where he is now.
I wanted to ask you about the first single from the new album, “Mama”. What is it about?
It takes place in a brothel. There’s a very strong feeling of heat and steam and sweaty bodies. And this young guy has an obsession with this old hooker, and she doesn’t reciprocate.
So it’s not about a real “mother”.
No. A lot of people thought it was an anti-abortion song, ’cause if you listen to the song with that in mind, it’s good too.
I’ve seen your video for “Mama”. Are there plans for more videos?
We’ve made one for “That’s All” that they’re showing on the telly now. And the best one of all, “Illegal Alien”, is coming out next.
Why the self-titled album? It’s your first one.
Well, it’s the first album we’ve actually written together totally from scratch. No sort of prewritten material, you know, like no bits from me or songs from anyone. We just went in and wrote it with nothing in our heads—just from jamming and improvising.
It’s been quite a few years. How much longer do you think Genesis can keep on going?
Let me see, as I look at my watch we’ll probably make it through tonight’s show. No—I don’t know. For the last 14 albums, every time we go in to write it I think the future of the band is in the balance. We have to write something good in the first five to ten days that makes us think there’s a reason for being together, you know. That incites us to carry on. And so far it’s happened.
But every time we write a new album I think we ask those questions. It’ll happen next time. It happened this time.