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Interview of Tony Banks

Tony BanksQ: What was your inspiration at the time in the 70s musically speaking, literature, and type of drugs?

TONY: We didn't have any drugs (laughs). I've never taken drugs. I'm not interested in drugs, apart from alcohol, which I quite enjoy. It's never been a thing for me. You could never play Genesis music on stage, certainly from the 70s period, under the influence of drugs. One or two people tried and it didn't work at all (laughs). It was a combination of musical influences, really - I think in the 60s obviously the Beatles and the Beach Boys and groups like that, I think, and later, perhaps Pink Floyd... uh, not Pink Floyd not so much as Purple Harem (?) and Family (?) and groups like that. And they suggested a certain way you could go, and combining that with various bits of classical music and show music and all the rest of it. Plus, just, you know, fiddling around, produced a sort of result which I suppose that influences various, for anything we heard I think was sort of an influence at the time and we were able at that stage in our careers to pretty much do what we liked. I've always been a reader since I can remember. Obviously sometimes we'd stole from the classics... a lot of Ovid (?) was there and various other bits and pieces and various writers. Some people lent themselves to some lyrical thing, you know... T.S. Elliot and stuff, we stole a bit from that, you know. I mean, it wasn't just stealing. And science fiction was another thing. Watcher Of The Skies obviously was a sort of Arthur C. Clark kind of influence, and lyric, I suppose. I just, you know, read a lot, and certainly often, that's a way you can start from - you can get a phrase from a book or something and that sets you off in a certain... well, Louis Carrol (sp) obviously was influence for The Musical Box in particular, I suppose. Yeah, that can add a sort of slight insanity to, uh, surreal quality to the writing which, I suppose, we did use a bit, you know. But fantasy novels of all kinds, I mean I've always had a... I like fantasy stuff very much, although in more recent kind of lyrics that haven't been so much of a part of it. We sort of felt we kind of did it for a long time, there, I think, the sort of fantasy lyric, and we decided to kind of get a bit more ... well, it just happened for us I think. We started to get more comfortable writing more realistically.

Q: Can you compare the different periods working with Peter Gabriel, and then Phil Collins and Ray Wilson? Can you compare the different musical approach of these lead singers?

TONY: Well, the difference, really, when Phil took over from Pete, there was really no change actually. We just carried on exactly as we always had done. It didn't make much difference to the way we wrote music. It's just that we have one less person putting in ideas, because obviously the music of Genesis is very much written by all people in the room at the time. And, you know, I would say that The Lamb was quite a difficult album to do 'cause there was a certain amount of ... conflict, I suppose. But when Trick Of The Tail, by comparison, was very easy - we'd seen hundreds of ideas and everything seemed to go really well on that album. In a sense it was quite nice to have a change of singer. Different things sounded good, actually. I'm a big fan of Pete's voice - I've always loved it and I've loved all the music he's done since he left the group. But I'm also a big fan of Phil's voice, actually, and his voice sort of developed during the time he was with us, and he sort of got his own style, I suppose, around the early 80s, which was something we could really use. When we did things like More Fool Me he was singing a certain kind of song - he was doing his sort of James Taylor bit, you know. And when he had to sing on Trick Of The Tail, he had to try to sing in a way that he'd never sung before, and, you know, try to sing more aggressively on things like Squonk. It was, I think, reasonably successful on that, but what happened was later on, by the time we got into 1980 and he started singing his own material for Face Value, he sort of developed a harder voice, I think. Also, we were able to use studio equipment that really seemed to help him, in particular, compressors and limiters on his voice that gave it much more edge and bite, which changed it. Once he realized he could sing like that, he started shouting, really, and that became his style after that. It's a confidence thing - he had 5 years in which to get confident as being a singer at the front of a group that was traveling 'round the world. Live singing, doing it every night, recording three or four albums ... It all meant that he learnt how to use his voice. He always had a great natural ability to sing, but he needed something to make it special and that sort of came over the years, I think. The switch to Ray, again, was fun for the same reason, really. You had a new singer, new voice. Different things sounded good - certain things that would have sounded really good with Phil that didn't sound good with Ray, and other things where Ray could make a couple of notes sound really special just because he had a certain quality to his voice that was very attractive.

Q: Your friends say that Abacab was a big turning point, musically speaking. In what way?

Tony BanksTONY: Well, I think before, the turning point of a sort was Duke, where the songs, particularly Turn It On Again, Duchess, Behind The Lines, suggested a more direct approach, I think - a bit more straight-forward. I think when we got to ABACAB, we just felt that we kind of done it, really. We'd done so many of this... we were kind of repeating ourselves just a little bit. We had the big songs, big reprise of one of the songs on the album, slow tempos with tambourines and lots of epic chords and stuff. We just thought, well, we can do another album like that, but would it be more fun to try and see what else we can do. So, we decided to change the approach, really, and to make the drums much bigger, which is something that we always wanted, I think. We were big fans of Led Zepplin songs like Kashmir.... to make the drums a much more prominent feature and to minimalize the keyboards a bit smaller and see what that would do. ABACAB I think was an experiment in many ways and it was quite successful from that point of view - much more streamlined, almost got a bit of abstract quality, which we tried to demonstrate with the cover as well, going away from the sort of pretty covers, to something which was just very blatant and straightforward. That was the sort of the aim, really, and I think maybe the albums that came after ABACAB brought a little bit of the old stuff back in sometimes. But it was a necessary change for us to do, otherwise I don't think we would have survived.

Q: You should have plenty of time now to listen to music. What kind of music do you listen to?

TONY: Well, I've always listened to more classical music, really, over the last few years more than anything else. I've listened to a lot of different composers - there's so much around, really. You find people you like, a few classic albums... I buy a few greatest hits albums. I've got the Four Seasons greatest hits in my car now, I think. I bought Sting's new album. There's a few people I like to listen to. My greatest pleasure, I think, is really from classical music.

Q: What do you think about electronic music, techno, in general? Do you listen to those kind of records?

TONY: Not really. I don't really listen to anything, actually (laughs), in terms of modern pop music. I mean, I hear the odd song that I like, you know, but it tends to be more melody-based. I've never been very impressed by techno, because I think once you fiddle around with the computer you realize pretty quickly that that stuff is very easy to do. I have no differentiation, I can't tell what's good and what's bad. It just doesn't do anything to me, it doesn't move me at all, so I won't pretend that I'm young and trendy, because I'm not. It just doesn't give me any pleasure and I don't really listen, actually. I honestly don't listen to much rock music or pop music. I haven't really for about 20 years, actually, so (laughs), I'm not really the person to talk about it. I think when you've been in the business, you kind of know all the tricks. It's like you can see behind the curtains. You know what's being done, and it's more difficult to be a fan. I know some people stay fans while they're in the business, but I know a lot of people don't. It's difficult because you're too involved in music yourself, and you just don't get the time or quite the pleasure out of listening to other people's stuff that you might have done.

Tony BanksQ: Does it mean that you find that the actual rock scene is not very attractive?

TONY: I've never really liked the business myself at all, and I think now I find it has gone back to the way it was I think back in the 50s where it's very much personality-led. If you're a film star or a TV personality, you can put out anything and you'll have a hit, I think. And if you can maintain yourself as a media personality, you will do well. If you can combine that with a good song, you're on to a real winner. Robin Williams I think is very good at manipulation of the media, but he does good songs as well, and that is a good combination. But most of it is very personality-led, I think.

Transcribed by Matt Lathrum

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