There are likely comparatively few music fans who think of Mike Rutherford for his work as the founder of Mike + The Mechanics over his efforts as a member of Genesis.
But – believe it or not – Rutherford has had the same number of chart-topping hits in the U.S. with both groups: one. Oh, sure, Genesis may have had far more hit singles overall, but they only hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 once, and that was with "Invisible Touch" in 1986, while Mike + The Mechanics ascended to the top spot with "The Living Years" in 1989.
We mention this for three reasons: 1) to remind you that Mr. Rutherford’s side project was pretty formidable in the charts back in the day, 2) to have an excuse to mention that we just reissued Mike + The Mechanics’ Living Years album in a deluxe edition with a bonus disc, and 3) to make sure you’re aware that Mr. Rutherford and his Mechanics are just about to hit the road for their first American tour in many moons. In advance of this much-anticipated jaunt, Rutherford hopped on the phone with Rhino, kindly giving us first crack at him on a day before beginning a big day of proper interviews.
Rhino: How are you this morning?
Mike Rutherford: I’m fine! You’re first up, so you’ve got a very fresh me. [Laughs.]
Beautiful. First of all, it’s great news that you’re going to be touring America. How long has it been since Mike + The Mechanics last toured the States?
MR: Oh, ’89 was the last time we toured. But the Mechanics, we never toured much. We hardly did any touring at all with it. We made the records, and then…I guess by that stage Genesis was due to start again, so we sort of went back to Genesis, really. So touring has been a really small part of our life.
Rhino: Are you excited at the prospect of bringing the live performance to the States?
MR: Yeah! I mean, what really kind of got me going was that The Mechanics stopped for awhile, and then I sort of started a bit just with some new songs, and then I thought… I played some of the old stuff live, and of course I didn’t quite realize how well some of the songs like "Living Years," "Silent Running," and "Miracle" worked on stage. So that kind of inspired me to really get back on the road a bit.
Rhino: With the new songs, are you writing them on your own, or are you collaborating?
MR: I’m always collaborating. I always do. A bit with Andrew Roachford, Tim Howar a bit, and a few new songwriters, English guys who are mainly songwriters. So I’ve got about four or five songs, and I want to try during the American thing to work ‘em in on days off, at sound checks, and maybe try the odd song at the odd show.
Rhino: With the set list for the tour, will it be a mixture of tracks from all the studio albums?
MR: Well, you kind of… [Hesistates.] It’s a fairly obvious choice, really. Most of it, two-thirds of it, is obvious songs, really. The well-known songs. And then probably one from the last album we had, three years ago – The Road – and then I’ll do a couple of Genesis songs. And Andrew Roachford, he was quite a big hit in the ‘90s in the UK. I’m not sure if he got to America much.
Rhino: He did have at least one hit.
MR: "Cuddly Toy"?
Rhino: That’s the one.
MR: Well, we’ll play that. That’s the point, you know: it’s a nice evening of the history of those on the stage, sort of.
Rhino: Your mention of Roachford brings to mind another question: who’s in the touring lineup of the Mechanics?
MR: Well, we’ve had the same drummer for many years, and that’s Gary Wallis; Andrew Roachford, who’s joined us, he’s the R&B voice – we’ve always got two singers – and Tim Howar, who’s not that well-known, at least not outside of the theater world, he’s our rock voice; Luke Juby, he’s the keyboard arranger of the team; and on guitar and bass, supplementing me, is Anthony Drennan, who’s been with The Corrs a lot.
Rhino: The deluxe edition of Living Years just hit stores, with a second disc of live material. Did you have a hand in digging through the archives for those tracks?
MR: Yeah, I chose ‘em. Most of those songs came from the American tour we did, probably in ’88 or ’89.
Rhino: ’89, I think it is.
MR: Yeah, okay. I had them on cassette. [Laughs.] They were board tapes on cassette! In a funny way, I think if the Mechanics had toured more… The songs tended to change and in some ways get better live, but we never really had that chance very often.
Rhino: The performances on that disc certainly sound great.
MR: No, I agree, they’re nice. I was surprised myself at how nice they sounded. [Laughs.]
Rhino: The band’s back catalog has also finally made it to iTunes in the States. I’m sure you’re glad the material is finally available for fans to revisit.
MR: Well, yeah, sure. But the one good thing about the internet is that…well, it changes the way music is sold these days, but it means that people can find anything, which is quite nice.
Rhino: As far as the later albums go, they were obviously more commercially successful in the UK than they were in the States. Is there a later album that you’d recommend to casual fans to investigate?
MR: Yeah, I’d recommend Beggar on a Beach of Gold as an album. I’m not sure how much radio success it had in America, but that’s an album that was popular in the UK.
Rhino: I actually investigated that album based on the positive press it received from the British press. They can be harsh at times, but on that one they had quite a lot of good things to say.
MR: Yeah. Makes for a change. [Laughs.]
Rhino: As far as those later albums go, were you surprised when Word of Mouth didn’t hit the same level of success as Living Years?
MR: Well, you know, you can’t really work out how these things happen sometimes. I think that what happened in America was that we came on the scene with that song "Silent Running," which is very much in the rock-radio mold, and then by the time we got to "The Living Years," it was such a sort of global hit – they played it on every station: rock, pop, what they used to call MOR – that you sort of lose something in the process. It’s funny. It’s a bit like Foreigner after "I Want to Know What Love Is." After that, the band’s setting sort of changed a bit. But it happened, and then basically America didn’t do so much, and then Europe kind of took over.
Rhino: Yeah, the title track of "Word of Mouth" was a pretty big hit in the UK, but it only hit the lower reaches of the US chart. That’s a surprising disconnect after the success of "The Living Years."
MR: You know, I can’t remember what I thought about it at the time. I expect I was a bit disappointed, in a sense. [Laughs.] But I knew it was going to be hard after "The Living Years," in a way.
Rhino: Was there ever any temptation to try and actively reproduce the success of "The Living Years," or did you just write whatever you were going to write?
MR: You can’t work that way. What comes out comes out, really. But I suppose another thing that went on at time was that, you know, it was an era then where, for about 10 years, we sort of went mad with what we did. Solo career, Genesis albums, tours… There was so much going on, you sort of got so that you’d just finish one thing and go straight on to the next thing without stopping or even having time to think.
Rhino: Just to take a quick look back at some of the Mechanics’ singles, "All I Need is a Miracle" was a big chart hit, but the video was pretty successful as well.
MR: Yeah, it was. That kind of tied in the whole thing about when Genesis was just starting to get very popular on MTV, so if you could do something good – or in my case, if it was a matter of who was important – it was advantageous all around. I think that particular song, "Miracle," is quite an up, happy song without being sweet, ‘cause very often when you write a happy song, it gets a bit sweet and sugary. That one was a nice balance, I think.
Rhino: Was the process of making videos something that you tolerated, or did you actually enjoy making them?
MR: Well, it was part of the day. For some bands, it was a big deal for them, you know what I mean? They got excited about it. In our case, it was, like, you do the best you can with the director and the storyboard and the ideas. It was never really a big part of what we did. But when it worked, it was great.
Rhino: That video in particular was a lot of fun: you had both Victor Spinetti and Roy Kinnear in the mix.
MR: Yeah, that was great!
Rhino: You had a certain amount of success with "Nobody’s Perfect" in the States, but it was more successful in the UK, apparently in part because it was used in a beer ad.
MR: It was, yeah. That was always a great chorus. I made a mistake, though, because there are three verses, and each verse is different. I hadn’t thought about that. [Laughs.] But the chorus is always a strong musical moment.
Rhino: Is there a song that didn’t necessarily make it as a huge hit single that you always thought should’ve been?
MR: There’s a song that never gets recognition – it’s on the Living Years album – called "Nobody Knows," and it’s a song I really love. We played it on stage on the last Mechanics tour, and it sounds fabulous, but for some reason… It’s weird, but it doesn’t connect. It’s a lovely sonic moment, but for some reason, I don’t know what it is, it doesn’t quite… It should be better than it is.
Rhino: When you released the Hits collection, you included an updated version of "All I Need is a Miracle." What was the decision behind that?
MR: Well, what it was… It’s somewhat of an interesting story, but in the days when they did the 12" remix versions of songs, someone did a version of "Miracle" that added a whole new section. It’s a section that was already there, but they moved it around, and it gave me an idea of putting on another section at the end, which works nicely. So, anyway, that was the justification there.
Rhino: With Genesis’s R-Kive collection, I have to admit, I was mildly disappointed that you didn’t include anything from Acting Very Strange as one of your individual contributions.
MR: Well, yeah, I mean, the problem is that you’ve got three songs per solo artist, and I had trouble choosing the Mechanics songs! [Laughs.] I wish I could’ve had a song, really, from… I took a song from each era, which just made sense, really. I wish I’d had a song with Paul Young singing, but you can’t get it all on, you know?
Rhino: If you had included a song from your actual solo career, is there one in particular you would’ve picked?
MR: [Long pause.] To be honest, I haven’t really heard those songs for a long time, and I’m not really sure what they were! [Laughs.] It comes with the gray hair!
Rhino: Does R-Kive effectively close the door on Genesis, or is there still always the potential for revisiting the group?
MR: Well, I mean, in terms of sort of an album release, catalog release, I suppose it closes that chapter. There’s no plans for anything more with Genesis. But it was a nice process. We’re all still good friends, and I think the process of doing the documentary (Sum of the Parts) was quite a nice time we spent together.
Rhino: You guys certainly looked happy enough.
MR: Well, we were! [Laughs.] We never fell out. We always remained friends, and I value that very much.
Rhino: Lastly, just to circle back to something you mentioned earlier, now that you’re writing new songs, has there been any discussion of actually doing a new Mike + The Mechanics studio album?
MR: Well, yeah, I mean, I think… [Sighs.] God, doing an album… I just don’t quite know what we do these days, artists at my stage. I’m very conscious of that, as I think older artists should be, that when fans buy something new, they tend to buy new artists. That’s what I do these days. So album sales for the likes of us, it’s hard to make sense of. But having said that, I mean, I need to write some music, I’ve got some new songs, so maybe a project. An album? An EP? I’m not sure how we’d put it out.
Rhino: Digital singles seem to be a viable model.
MR: Yeah, and the Mechanics have always got on with radio, so when we get these new songs ready, we’ll record them, and…I suppose we’ll see how radio takes them!
© Rhino, by Will Harris