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Interview with Mike + The Mechanics

 

About "The Road", masterplans, touring and whistling


Sometimes history seems to repeat itself. Some 15 years ago, Mike decided to keep going with his band, despite the fact they had to replace the frontman. Now, he decided to do it again - with his highly successful solo project. The all new Mike + The Mechanics did a promo-show at London's Hard Rock Cafe on 23rd March 2011 to promote the new album The Road, due for release in April and followed by a theatre tour in the UK an Germany. After the soundcheck, Christian Gerhardts from GNC had the opportunity to do an exclusive interview with Mike, Tim and Andrew.


Q: When did you start with the new Mechanics project, and why?

Mike Rutherford (MR): Well, I think, very simply. A couple of guys, Brian Rawlings, who is a producer at Metrophonic, a friend and our ex-publisher John Crawley said „What are the Mechanics doing?“ I said „We've probably sort of stopped because Paul Carrack left, too. You know, he's doing solo stuff, really, now, and felt right doing it, and then … why don't you go back to the first concept of the Mechanics to write some good songs and get a group of people together and some good singers, get a project sort of thing going and see where it takes you. So that was started a couple of years ago, write some bits like that at home. Tim came down, Andrew both came down, we messed around, wrote some stuff, and it felt ... it kind of came easy and we sort of started doing The Road really.


Q: So when did you two get involved in the project?

Tim Howar (TH): Was it me? Was it you? ….
Andrew Roachford (AR): It was still warm, so... I got a call saying would I come down and meet Mike and just have a chat and everything at his place. I said, yeah, I love some stuff I have known from the Mechanics and obviously Genesis, big tunes that I grew up with. I said, yeah, it'd be an honour. We met up and started doing the music almost instantly, within an hour or so. For me, it's … you can talk until the cows come home, but it's about: Do you have a chemistry within the music? And we did, so I was, yeah, this is good.


Q: So who of you came first?

TH: I think it was at the same time, because what had happened. I was doing some song writing at Metrophonic, and Brian said, I know Mike well, and want to start this project but it's kind of a project that's open. At the time I don't think they'd really chosen the singers, so there were a lot of people possibly involved in things. It was kind of: Go down, have a meeting, and sing through it to see whether this kind of stuff would sit with my voice. I think Mike's already said it early on. He didn't want it to be an absolute replication of what I'd done before, but something slightly new, but had to still give a kind of life to the songs. So we did that, and it was like Roachford, it was a kind of similar time when we just came down, sat down with Mike. Mike threw a bunch of songs at us, snippets of songs, and then the kind of writing came about and so we brought in other people to finish it. We came in almost at the same time, we came in from different directions, and then we met and it was like „Oh, cool, this is really ...“ Recording the stuff was really good, really cool vibes, to see the different elements of the band come together.


Q: How many songs did you write together?

TH: We did quite a few, we did …
AR: Six?
MR: It's great that people get involved in the writing, that's half the fun, I think, really. It went very easy, really.
AR: It wasn't even like a plan „well, you do this song or that“, it was very loose, very open, and started off with one song, then two, then whatever works, you know. There was a song, "Do You Wanna Dance" (I don't Do Love, editor's note) for example, where I sang some bits and Tim sang other bits depending on what voices worked. That's something we've incorporated a lot into our live show. Working with two voices gives all of the songs a good contrast, it's great.
MR: Having two lead singers on stage is not that common, actually. It's a great kind of work. And then they said „Don't you worry that they will both fall out?“ and I said „It's so not that way“, I think it's people like someone to sing the one half and someone the other. It's a very interesting concept on stage.


Q: I've heard the album quite some time ago already, and there is obviously a third singer on the album, Arno Carstens. What happened to him?

MR: The whole thing is not like you make a great plan. You just mess around and get some ideas. Arno came down first, because he's managed by John Giddings, our promoter. I messed around with him and he sang ... I kind of knew ... The other thing, I suppose, you got to go on tour in this day and age, and I wanna do it, play some of the old songs. Arno's more of a singer/songwriter, really, he's not really – he couldn't see at the other songs, if you know what I mean, and we don't need three singers on stage. So I thought he'd be involved with things like the writing.


Q: Did you think about these guys because they have a different approach to music, like the two Pauls?

MR: It was always well before you always got this soul, r'n'b feel. Andrew is now singing for the Mechanics, singing Mechanics-type songs, that's kind of less normal of what he normally sings, you know. And then a rock voice like Tim, it's a great combination, yeah. But it wasn't in stone.
AR: It was complete fluke and luck.
TH: It's nice to have a lot of r'n'b, but it's also nice to cross over a bit and kind of back each other up. and that's what is exciting for me. That kind of tradition of the band is still there.


Q: So who's gonna sing Arno Carstens' songs live?

AR: Both of us!
MR: Whoever gets to the microphone first. - My problem is there are probably four or five songs on the album and a lot of old songs and we're kind of over-subscribed with the Mechanics songs, and some of Andrew's songs. We've got more than we can handle.
AR: There's no hard and fast rule that you have to do all the new songs from the album. You know you don't wanna be playing for three hours.


1Q: I wouldn't complain ...

AR: Yeah! So that's called: encores. You wanna give people a flavour and taste of the new feel, and obviously people wanna hear the old songs, and there are only so many hours in the day. We just choose the ones that first we've sung on that and take it.
TH: We may very well change that if we feel like there's something we can add the other tunes then obviously we'll put them in so that gives us a bit of leeway on tour and we're not going to be overplaying our own stuff. There's a lot of fans out there who wanna hear Living Years and All I Need Is A Miracle, and they deserve to hear that. They deserve to hear that in a huge theatre or auditorium. That's the main thing. They gotta pay tribute to what Mike's created before. We go out there to introduce them, and then got the mystery revealed on the album and say this is the song I've heard before, and then I think we'll have the old fans back and hopefully some new ones.


Q: I'd like to get back to the live set a bit later on. Meanwhile, you have quite a career, you're actually still in it - whereas you are kind of the new guy, who's name was not that familiar. Was that part of the concept? To have a name that is familiar and one that is quite new?

MR: There is no concept! If you make this big master plan – I've always avoided it because then things might go wrong, you know? Go where it goes. There are no kind of rules. Just that someone feels right you're doing it. This all takes an organic shape.
AR: Mike, for me, is very intuitive, and he's working things, he feels them, and he is very … oh I talk about him in the second person (laughter) I actually think that's the best way to work. You can't always know the outcome of everything beforehand, so you got to go „Well, let's see... this feels good, let's go with it“ rather than have this plan that's fixed because you're setting yourself up for problems if it doesn't work out the way you want it to. It's good to be flexible.


Q: Mike, you've been in this situation before, with a completely new band and an old concept. Why does it feel different this time? Last time you said you didn't want to go on tour again all this time and...

MR: I didn't say that! That was the singer.


Q: I meant in Genesis after the period with Ray Wilson.

MR: Ah, oh yeah. I'll tell you why. For instance, Phil was in the band for so long as the singer, we covered so much ground – in people's minds... the knew such a strong personality, too, it was really quite hard to replace that. It would have meant tour after tour to kind of get going with the new one and I think I was a bit too old actually to do it. The Mechanics were never that well-known on stage. People knew the songs but don't know the people so well. Kind of makes it easier to move on like we do.


Q: Speaking of the writing process – someone in our fanclub noticed that you've never written a song on your own since you've started the Mechanics project. You always collaborated.

MR: That's my real pleasure. I don't think I couldn't. It was always better with someone else, actually, more fun. On my own I can get locked in the corner a bit, It's mor fun, I love interaction. I play something, someone sings, someone plays something, they kind of interact and takes it to its own place. I like that.


Q: What about the other musicians on the album? Did you meet them, too, during the recording sessions?

AR: I didn't know Gary [Wallis] or Anthony [Drennan] until we started rehearsing for the shows. It was very much like ... I came in and did some bits because they weren't involved in the initial writing stage. So we started putting them ideas down and so they would come in and … I met them after.
MR: Gary only came two days. He was in the middle of a Tom Jones tour. He came in two days to do all the tracks. He just great - I like that, not kind of thinking about it. He wouldn't play the songs beforehand. He just plays it and he knows which chord is coming. He never heard it before in his life. It's great. I like that.
TH: It was shocking to see how much of it was done, but obviously Chris and Mike are comfortable to players and bring in the right guys for the job and a lot of stuff was just laid down and then we came back and added little colours to it decide what was the background and kind of figured out that map But there was such a solid foundation on the drums...
MR: It took a bit longer, actually, because during the process you find the people. If we were doing it now, having found everybody, it would take about a quarter of the time.


2Q: Did you record more songs than just the eleven on the album?

AR: Yeah, we started a few.
MR: Yeah, some, a few songs floating around and didn't get done.


Q: Will they be released in some way, as a B-side or something? On the Beggar album you had a lot of B-sides.

MR: B-sides of what?


Q: You could do put it out on iTunes or so ...

AR: As an extra, yeah.
MR: Let's see how it goes, the other songs are not quite finished, yeah.


Q: Let's come to the tour. We're very pleased that you'll go out on tour at least for one and a half months. Are there any plans to go beyond Europe, I mean beyond the UK and Germany? Southern Europe? North America ...

MR: Wait a minute. We gotta get out there. We haven't done it. The Mechanics haven't done much touring for a long time. I think you have to get out there and show people that it's really good, a good live set, good live players, and then I think things might go from there. You gotta prove some of that, actually?


Q: Have you decided which songs from your past you're gonna be playing? This is obviously very interesting for the fans... We know that you are going to do some songs from Andrew's career. Fans keep asking for songs like The Ghost Of Sex And You, House Of Many Rooms, Why Me? is very popular. Has there been a discussion about that?

MR: Those are three songs, hard live songs and they are only in the back of my head. They ain't gonny be easy to play. But no, we've got so many things to be looking at, we haven't rehearsed actually. We've done so much. We're gonna rehearse in a few weeks time. We've got lots of music to look at. Things like Nobody Knows … we'll try it. Nobody Knows can be a great two-parter There's one from the last album, the Paul Carrack, the Rewired thing, which is a very dodgy album, I dunno where I went. There's a couple of nice songs in there … could be lovely, we'll try and see. We'll push it out there, rehearse it, play what we need, and see how it works. If songs are easy, we're gonna do them (laughter). No, but really, some songs just play themselves, like tonight we're going two new songs, called The Road and Try To Save Me and the first tim we played them, they sounded good. And that's just a great thing.


Q: You played that in Manchester first, right ?

AR: Yes, we did the Manchester thing. You've done your homework!

Q: What about vanTramp - you've got your own band, what's gonna happen with that?

TH: Yes, we are a bit overdue - we just started writing different bits… I will get back with a couple of my mates to do some stuff. They are also writing at Metrophonic now and it's a nice kind of group. But obviously The Mechanics take a good bit of energy to get things going and that's where my energy is sticking to right now - to make this work. We wil be on the road, to do the best show we can … and what is really inspiring about the Mechanics - it is about the songs. There's some kind of anonymity to Roachford and I and the song is the most important thing. The more songs we do, the more I get this machine going. I love that. It's just fun.

 

Q: Will you include solo stuff from your music?

TH: I don't know if that makes sense - my stuff is really rocky … like Bon Jovi meet The Black Crowes. And I'm not sure whether that vibe is good. But there's some of the Paul Young stuff that you can give a bit of a scream to … and it needs that rock energy - but I don't know whether my stuff would fit in.


Q: Do you think about songs from your first two solo albums?

MR: Why do you wanna do those? We got more songs than we can fit in. We're really oversubscribed so, we gonna do those songs first.


Q: And a Genesis song?

MR: Do I wanna tell you this? You'll be surprised!
TH: Could be - maybe? Maybe not … It's a mystery!
MR: We do something we've never done before.


3Q: Regarding the project in general. Is that the new band now or is it just a thing for one album ?

MR: Well it's about the same thing, we'll see how it works and may then carry on, if we do well. Otherwise it was a … waste of work – no (laughter) - no, but what I mean, we all have other stuff to do. Andrew has solo stuff, Tim also. So it would not be one after another album. But I like that. And for this tour, I feel a real big energy with these two singing - more than ever before, and I think it will be good live so we'll try to keep going.


Q: What about all these pther guys involved in the project? I also noticed that you son Harry was involved!

MR: For me, besides working with Tim and Andrew on the album, is having my son Harry in the team - which is geat. It's a real pleasure working with him, with you kids. And another pleasure is to see he's got a real ability.
TH: Yeah, he's a great engineer and will be a great producer… MR: It was really great to see he's got the ears. You can hardly learn that. You just have it TH: And also, Harry is a drummer. So if he's not hearing something he needs, he just goes down there and plays something. And that's this profession that he's got - and he also got a band of his own. And in some ways it's great to have these ears.
MR: Have you heared of Livingston? He's working with them.


Q: What happened to The Farm studios actually, did you record the album there completely?

MR: Yeah! It's now back in action with bands end up and make an album there. People are now going there and using it. You don't make any money, but it's nice to have it working now.
AR: It's a great energy - you can feel when you're going there, there's a lot of music been written there. Some studios are really sterile and feel like offices, that studio feels like a musician's place. The place got a history.


Q: Were you familiar with the history of The Mechanics?

TH: Yes, absolutely. We were picking up the albums at the time and I kind of like these suprgroups like Traveling Wilburys and that type of thing. This collaboration thing - and the Mechanics had that. Actually there were huge songs of the Mechanics in the US and you couldn't avoid it really. But it's nice to go back and be able to hear some other stuff. There are some lovely tunes, absolutely.


Q: What are your favourites?

AR: Only recently I heared the song Nobody Knows. Ilove that song. And obviously Living Years, Shoulder, I remember putting out my first solo single and The Living Years came out. It went to number one straight away. That was an amzing tune - and lyrically – puuhhh
TH: Yes, it's a brillant song, really…

Mike gets nervous - sort of and interrupts.

MR: But I mean live - it's not me saying we're doing this or that. I oppose things, then it depends on the engery. So we just try things. And if it feels good … then we do it. There's nobody forcing someone.


Q: Can you imagine to ask fans in the forums "what do you want to hear"? and then consider some of the chosen tracks?

MR: I'm never mad about doing that. Not because I'm unfriendly, it's just … you do it for yourself, because you care. That effort, caring … that's what we give the fans.
AR: And you know what you can do best, as well. it's like a jukebox for the fans. But for the artist you just feel what songs are good for performing at that time. And where you can give your best - that's what's important. When they see the show, they feel like they got the best of you.


4Q: And why was Rewired dodgy?

MR: Well, I look back at it and you know … we made the record, I didn't think too much about it, but later - I probably should not have done it. The chemistry with Carrack and Young was great, then we lost Paul Young and I kind of battled on - with some nice songs. I shouldn't have done it. And the sound on that - I don't like it.


Q: Well, some fans just like THAT sound, because it's different …

MR: Well, smetimes you create something you find interesting, but then you don't feel that any more after some time.


Q: Any plans for a live DVD or a Live-album for that tour?

MR: Haven't got that far, really. We always record things. We record most shows.
TH: I'm sure we'll have some footage …


Q: Let's talk about the live Keyboarder you have chosen from a pretty large list of keyboarders who play on the record...

MR: It looks like, there are a lot of guys playing, because you go a lot of names… sometimes they only got a small part and then it looks complicated on the list, you know? The guy Luke Juby is playing keyboards - a great guy, very together - and also a great vocalist.
TH: But more importantly, he can whistle… (laghter)
AR: Yes, I'm terrible at whistling - Over My Shoulder in the Royal Albert Hall
TH: He failed on that part
MR: First time we played it, and then the whistling part came, we all thought - shit! But it works now with Luke. We always had one Paul singing, and he other one dong backing vocals. Now we have two singers and Luke, which means two backing vocals.


Q: What about Jamie Moses and Anthony Drennan's involvement

MR: Jamie had a small part, we didn't use much of it in the end. Anthony came down later and played quite a bit. he's kind of wild-melodic.


Q: How did that happen, you know him from the Calling All Stations tour.

MR: I called him, Anthony came down and it felt great


Q: A rather unusual question to come to the end: The car on the album cover: Is that the same car that Peter Gabriel used for his first album

MR: Ahh, you noticed that? (laughter) - of course I don't know . Is it the same car?


Q: Yes, same colour, same typr of car

AR: You know I think we should be interviewing you, as you know more about the album and the band than we do.


Q: Well, that's my job here.

AR: And you do very good! Wo wohnst du in Deutschland? (Andrew asked in German where in Germany do you live?)

 

Q: In Dresden

AR: Ah East Germany.


Q: I will see the Berlin show and maybe Leipzig.

MR: Great! See you there

Q: Thanks for the interview and for taking some time. Was a pleasure!
All: Yes, was great fun, thank you.


Interview / Transcript: Christian Gerhardts
Transcript assistance: Martin Klinkhardt
Technical Support: Marcel Mansfeld
Photos: Maurizio Vicedomini
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