At least a couple decades have passed since Mike + The Mechanics last visited America, but the group started by guitar great Mike Rutherford (also a founding and continuous member of Genesis) is rapidly making up for the absence.
In addition to releasing Living Years Deluxe Edition (Rhino) on February 10 in honor of its 25th anniversary (featuring a remastered edition of the groundbreaking album, a new version of the chart-topping title tune and a ten track live recording from the original tour), the same date also bears the leader’s fittingly titled autobiography The Living Years: The First Genesis Memoir (Thomas Dunne).
Given that surge of attention, coupled with the fact the Mechanics collectively turn 30 this year, Mike and company are finally mounting a new U.S. tour (concluding with two Park West performances March 20 and 21) supported by longtime Genesis concert collaborator/Phil Collins axe-slinger Daryl Stuermer. Here are some abridged highlights from a transatlantic telephone conversation between IE and the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, including flashbacks and updates about both of his groundbreaking bands.
Illinois Entertainer: The Mechanics haven’t come to the States since the 1980s. What accounted for such a lengthy break?
Mike Rutherford: First of all, I miss America. I spent a lot of my life touring there, have wonderful memories there and lately I haven’t come that much…I guess the main thing with the Mechanics is we never toured much. We did two American tours – we did ’86 and ’89 – because [around 1991’s Word Of Mouth], I also did a Genesis record [We Can’t Dance], which took me about a year, followed by a long Genesis tour…We hardly toured, it wasn’t in our make-up, and then basically the Mechanics kind of ground to a halt when [vocalist/percussionist] Paul Young died [in 2000] and [fellow vocalist/keyboard player] Paul Carrack and I split amicably and sort of stopped. And then I wrote some songs and thought ‘hang on, these are Mechanics songs,’ so I found two different singers again – Andrew Roachford, which would be the R&B voice, and Tim Howar, the rock voice – and I started doing some live shows. I was kind of blown away by how many old songs there were: "All I Need Is A Miracle," "The Living Years," "Word Of Mouth." There were so many songs and I thought we could create more songs [starting with 2011’s The Road]. There’s a certain energy now in the live show. It’s more relevant and more happening. I can’t really explain how it’s working, but here we are.
IE: How does the latest line-up compare and contrast to the Paul Carrack/Paul Young era?
MR: The funny thing is the songs are the songs and that’s the real selling point. The other thing is the Mechanics always had two lead singers, which has always been a plus, energy-wise, on stage. You can’t compare it…You can just tell it really works.
IE: What are the similarities and differences in playing to home versus playing to here?
MR: I actually don’t know. I’m about to find out. In a sense, I’m wondering if some songs are known better over here [in the UK], so I’m trying to work out what to do song wise [in the U.S.] But I do feel like the Mechanics are at this stage now where we could play songs that no one’s ever heard before and make it work. We’ve really gained confidence to make a song come to life. I think a good live song is a good live song even if it isn’t very well known, so we will see.
IE: Will the two shows in Chicago be the same or will you be shuffling up the set list each night?
MR: I have no idea. Good question. Basically I’ve got some new songs and I’m going to use the American leg of the tour’s sound checks to try them out, work them in, and maybe try a new song a night to test them out. So when we come to Chicago, we’ll be twice in the same place to do that.
IE: What type of fresh perspective came from assembling the deluxe edition of Living Years?
MR: I don’t look back very much, but when you look back doing these sort of box sets and the remastering, I enjoy appreciating the breadth of songwriting. The songs really work well and I especially like the live recordings. Even though we didn’t tour much, they are actually all from the American tour. They came from cassettes and they sounded quite good actually.
IE: Back when you started the Mechanics, why was it so important for you to establish its identity anonymously without referencing your other band?
MR: Good question. I was certainly linked to Genesis at that point in my career and I thought "I can be judged solely on the music"…I decided to be new again- we’d never been acquainted- so suddenly my music could have a chance to be heard kind of fresh. It could be anybody…
IE: After the group’s self-titled debut came out, were you able to keep your identity a secret any longer or did it get out pretty quick?
MR: Pretty quick, but you know to this day, I meet guys who say ‘you’re with Mike + the Mechanics?’ People don’t know sometimes. And I meet guys who say ‘oh, you’re with Genesis,’ but they really don’t quite know who’s who. It’s kind of okay too. You’re in the [industry] world so you know, but basically I believe people just like songs they like.
IE: You talk about fame and your family almost equally throughout your memoir and seem like a really relatable person. How have you managed to stay so grounded throughout all of your success?
MR: …Being in a band with guys you went to school with since age 14, it’s kind of hard to act badly because they’ll say "Oh, well, what do you know?" You can’t sort of carry a grudge around. And the other thing is being married to Angie for 38 years. It all sort of somewhat keeps me on the ground, you know?
IE: How often do you get asked about Genesis reunion prospects, regardless of the line-up?
MR: Every interview of course (chuckle). There are no plans. The [BBC turned DVD] documentary [Sum Of The Parts] was fun to do. I really enjoyed spending time with Peter [Gabriel], Phil [Collins], Tony [Banks] and Steve [Hackett]. It was just nice to remember all the good times, but there are no plans at the moment. I’ve always said, you know, we’re friends and we’ve remained friends, but there are no plans to.
© Illinois Entertainer, by Andy Argyrakis