Tony Banks Interviews from the Past


    Keep in mind these are not Tony's original words, but his words translated into German and back to English again!

    I also guess that Tony's grammar and choice of vocabulary are much better than mine... (Srendi)

    SZaW: Mr.Banks, I am completely dazzled.

    Banks: Why?

    SZaW: Its so beautiful here!

    Banks: Where?

    SZaW: Well, here, at The Farm! Surrey in general! Next time Ill arrive with a furniture van.

    Banks: Oh, its getting louder all the time. And more crowded. More and more people are coming here.

    SZaW: If thats the only thing you have to worry about

    Banks: You have to understand, Ive been living here for many years, nearly all of my life. A few miles down the meadow theres Charterhouse boarding school - where we founded Genesis. In those days a car drove through the village maybe two times a day.

    SZaW: When was that exactly?

    Banks: Let me think. . . 1963! Hmm. . .

    SZaW: Whats wrong?

    Banks: How long ago that was.

    SZaW: You dont give the impression that you are old and frustrated.

    Banks: I thank you. No, I really cant say Im frustrated. But Im getting old.

    SZaW: Are you serious? You are just 54. Also, you are smiling so strangely.

    Banks: Yes, Im serious.

    SZaW: How do you feel your age?

    Banks: You are getting hm unexcited. A lot of things well are absolutely all the same to you.

    SZaW: Frustrating?

    Banks: No, not at all, in fact. You are just slowly losing interest in everything new. Im even less impressed by everything loud and exciting than I used to be in former times.

    SZaW: With your keyboards you used to transform the largest concert arenas into cathedrals. The music was often very emotional, even irrational at times. However, you always gave a different impression, Mr.Banks: Logical. Collected.

    Banks: Well, I probably was never part of this rock'n'roll machine.

    SZaW: You were the logistician.

    Banks: Yes, on the keyboards I had control over logistics, if you want to see it that way. It was my task to let the singer look good. With Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins we had two great performers at the front. All those years I was placed in such a way that I was facing them. Rather not the audience.

    SZaW: You never felt drawn to the center?

    Banks: No.

    SZaW: But you knew theres thousands of people who are looking at you.

    Banks: They were rather hearing me instead of seeing me. And whenever I saw these masses of people, it struck me as somewhat unreal, for example at the stadium concerts. I always thought: Oops, why does it have to be THAT many?

    SZaW: Nevertheless, it was you who had the whole sound under control, as it were.

    Banks: If I played a bum note on the keyboards, which occurred, it was always very audible, due to the often complicated nature of our songs. You know, some of our pieces were quite difficult - they were based on these percussion-like, hammering keyboard passages. There really was a high demand of precision from me.

    SZaW: What do you do if you hit a wrong note in front of 100.000 people at the finale of a three-hour show? You cant just shoot yourself, can you?

    Banks: No, one shouldnt do that, at least not on stage.

    SZaW: So what do you do then?

    Banks: Just dont let on! Never! A hard and fast rule in the concert halls of this world. Its always the singer who has to carry the can for the others mistakes anyway.

    SZaW: How did Collins carry the can?

    Banks: Professionally, of course. I remember his darn drum box for "Man On The Corner", a really beautiful, but rhythmically complicated song. At the beginning Phil would start this small drum computer, so there was something like tch dip tch dip in the off beat, and then: zi-dipp! zi-dipp! I always had to join arrhythmically at the first zi-dipp, but occasionally it happened that I started at the second zi-dipp. Phil then looked over to me like a dog that doesnt understand. With his funny face.

    SZaW: And you?

    Banks: I looked back as indifferently as possible. I think he gladly would have smacked me one.

    SZaW: And you stayed totally cool?

    Banks: Yes, on the outside. Inside as well, actually. Its no use to get upset during a concert. Just makes everything fall apart.

    SZaW: You acted, as if nothing had happened?

    Banks: I acted as if nothing had happened. We took our time for a few bars, I then began with the first zi-dipp - and everything was alright again.

    SZaW: God, that takes a fair bit of nerve.

    Banks: Later on the song changes its rhythm once more, again owing to that darn drum box, this time it was usually Mike (Rutherford) who played a wrong guitar note. Splaaaaaash! A beautiful song that sounds so simple but in truth we counted ourselves to death on stage! Three, four, three, four, zi-dipp! F*ck! Wrong! And so on. Poor little Phil. But that asynchronous drum box he had fallen in love with since "In The Air Tonight" was his idea, not ours, so...

    SZaW: Wasn't he annoyed? After the concert?

    Banks: No, he rarely was annoyed.

    SZaW: You wrote a suite for the London Philharmonic Orchestra that was released on CD recently. Even if the CD reminds me of very old Genesis compositions: it's a completely new territory for you.

    Banks: On the one hand, yes. On the other hand, no. Genesis did have its classical elements, didnt it?

    SZaW: On the one hand, yes, on the other hand, no. In the end Genesis songs were still songs, very English, werent they?

    Banks: Yes, you are right there, actually. I had a problem with this art rock thing. Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and that stuff, showing off your skills - I think we did not belong to it.

    [I have no clue how to translate Leistungsschau, but I guess thats what he meant.]

    SZaW: So are your songs from the heart rather than the head?

    Banks: The songs I wrote for Genesis on my own - "Afterglow" and "One For The Vine" - probably came from the heart rather than the head. Music should not be brainy [top heavy?]. It should move you. I mean, even the guys from Radiohead or Coldplay point out how strongly we have influenced them with our earlier stuff. If my children play Radioheads "OK Computer", it sometimes feels as if theyre playing a track with my keyboard parts from the Lamb Lies Down On Broadway session.

    SZaW: Back to your classical CD. It sounds romantic, even old-fashioned, if you like. Is it possible that you have always been a very conservative person deep down in your heart?

    Banks: How do you mean that?

    SZaW: As a person.

    Banks: Politically?

    SZaW: For example.

    Banks: No, not politically.

    SZaW: You voted for Blair.

    Banks: No, neither the Tories nor Blair. Like so many people here in England, however, I am surprised about Blairs huge interest in constantly waging war. Possibly a psychological thing. . .

    SZaW: And otherwise?

    Banks: Well, Ive been married with the same woman for 30 years, I nearly have spent my whole life here in Surrey.

    SZaW: Could one say that you are one of the most unspectacular guys the rock industry has ever produced?

    Banks: Hmm. . .

    SZaW: Hmm?

    Banks: Yes, probably. I am so unspectacular I wouldnt even have noticed myself, if you had not mentioned it to me! That probably hasnt been easy for the music journalists, either, during all those years: Ive always been the nerd behind the keys.

    SZaW: That should leave you cold, though, shouldnt it? You are considered one of the cleverest keyboardists in rock history.

    Banks: Thanks, but we also were considered as indescribably boring normals by many of your colleagues. Particularly, after Peter (Gabriel) had left us.

    SZaW: But you could live with it, couldnt you?

    Banks: Yes, I actually could. I never did care about it. But Phil usually got bashed in a manner that was really adventurous.

    SZaW: The journalists hated him.

    Banks: Yes, I sometimes had the impression it was some kind of competition: Hey, if you still havent given Collins a roasting today, just join in! In principle you could say: We were loved by many musicians and by our fans - but hardly by the press. I still remember how proud we were when Lennon praised us to the skies at the beginning of the 70s.

    SZaW: Is it more difficult for young bands today?

    Banks: With Genesis we needed ten years, until 1979, before we were making money for the first time. The record company spent an awful lot of money on us, for the tours, for the albums. They didnt earn a cent with Genesis. Would a record company bother with a band for such a long time these days? No. The young ones dont have it easier today, within no area, the pressure is higher than it used to be.

    SZaW: How do you spend your life here in the country?

    Banks: I read. Boyd, Rushdie, actually a lot of novels. I drive to London and visit exhibitions. Then I think about what I see. As you said, nothing spectacular.

    SZaW: To live here in Surrey, to sit and read in one of these attractive gardens with a weather like today, to drive to London in the afternoon to visit a beautiful exhibition, to be rich. Mr.Banks - that IS spectacular!

    Banks: Do you think so?

    SZaW: Yes.

    Banks: Well. Then its all a question of relation again, probably. But I really dont feel like complaining.

    SZaW: What kind of exhibitions do you visit in London?

    Banks: The whole traditional stuff, of course, 18th and 19th century. Newer things as well: The Saatchie Gallery may be a big hype, but Damien Hirst and Tracy Emin are fascinating. Last year I was at the Turner Prize Competition, great stuff again. Oh well.

    SZaW: I would not associate you with punk art straightaway.

    Banks: I think theres a lot of great things in the field of fine arts! Punk music, on the other hand, was a bit overrated, dont you think so?

    SZaW: It has always been the correct thing to listen to the Sex Pistols, of course.

  • Banks: Yes, as far as common sense is concerned. If you, as a journalist, say I think the Sex Pistols are great, you are still on the right side today. Is that spectacular? Isnt that rather conservative? I dont know. What I know is: The Sex Pistols defined themselves through a clothing shop. They were rather funny. And after one year they had had their chips. People always say the influence of the Pistols was so immense. What was it again that emerged after the Pistols?

    SZaW: Hmm. . .

    Banks: Spandau Ballet, wasnt it?

    SZaW: There was a Genesis Song - Whodunnit? - that was a punk song to a certain extent. Don't you think so?

    Banks: Aaah, I remember the tour of 81, where we played it. Phil stood on some kind of column [pillar?] and made a noise. I still like the song very much. Everybody hated it. People would put their hands over their ears. They assumed we were giving hostages to fortune.

    [Translated word for word its actually: They thought we wanted to take them hostage. But somehow that doesnt seem to make a lot of sense to me (or I just dont get it). So my theory is TB used the set phrase hostages to fortune, but the German translator didnt get it.Whatever.]

    SZaW: So, in a way, it was an easier change for you to work with a classical orchestra. Old Genesis fans will find some familiar elements in your suite "Seven".

    Banks: This change has not always been easy: It is easy to convince two other band members of your ideas. But now there was an orchestra with more than 70 people in front of me. It would never have been possible without the arranger and conductor Mike Dixon.

    SZaW: Did you feel intimidated?

    Banks: I was indeed slightly nervous. Of course, in the world of classical music a rock musician is usually suspected to be trivial. Often quite rightly so.

    SZaW: How did the orchestra behave towards you?

    Banks: The orchestra only behaved as an orchestra when Dixon conducted it. It is a truly unbelievable experience, if you see 70 very different people suddenly turn into one being.

    SZaW: Did individual musicians of the orchestra approach you about Genesis?

    Banks: Yes. Before the recording started some of them came to me and said: Hey, we are fans, what an honour!' Others were more pragmatic. In every orchestra there seems to be the typical trumpeter, who reads the Daily Mail, makes "toooooooot" when its his turn, then puts the trumpet away and continues to read the Daily Mail.

    SZaW: Oh, isnt that terrible?

    Banks: No, thats totally okay, "toooooooot" is the only thing that matters in this case. After all you cant see the Daily Mail on record.

    SZaW: Does it insult you if I say the CD sounds like film music?

    Banks: No, not at all. I have already written film scores and cant see a problem with them. If you find an ambitious and good director, tell him to phone me!

    SZaW: That surely wouldnt be too difficult. It would be more difficult for the good directors producer to pay you.

    Banks: I am perfectly reasonable, my dear man, I dont do anything for the money anymore.

    SZaW: Could it be that changes can hardly harm you?

    Banks: Well, it depends. I could not cope with a change in my family. I always wish everybody keeps staying together. I already was like that with Genesis. Thats the one thing. The other thing is: I am interested in less and less things. You dont want to decode [analyze?] anything anymore.

    SZaW: Can you explain that?

    Banks: Take black music, for example. Im still associating it with early Stevie Wonder, with Wilson Pickett, all this stuff. Yet all of this hasnt got anything to do anymore with what you see on MTV today. This whole rap stuff is not really stupid, much poetry and so on, but where are the great melodies?

    SZaW: So you do not want to solve the mystery then?

    Banks: No. Instead Ill go into the garden and read. How old are you?

    SZaW: 38, soon.

    Banks: Just wait about ten years.

    SZaW: And then?

    Banks: Then youll go reading in the garden, too.

    SZaW: Well, Id love to be spectacularly conservative here in Surrey.

    Banks: Oh, but now I have something for you!

    SZaW: Okay.

    Banks: I heard two songs on the radio yesterday that actually set me thinking.

    SZaW: Which ones?

    Banks: One was by Abba - and the other one by Blondie.

    SZaW: Why did they set you thinking?

    Banks: I found both bands a bit silly at the time, the end of the 70s. But yesterday I thought: These two songs are actually very fine indeed, very good arrangements, great melodies. And Debbie Harrys voice! Absolutely unique!

    SZaW: Which songs exactly?

    Banks: . . .

    SZaW: Huh?

    Banks: Forgotten.

    SZaW: You forgot the titles?

    Banks: Yes. . . But dont worry: Im all well and healthy.

  • Interview on the Christmas Edition of Record Collector:

    - Will you revamp any other solo albums?
    - If I do, I'll do a best-of from the others.

    Is there anything unreleased?
    - No. We never recorded as The Garden Wall, and I'd never seen a tape recorder till Genesis. In those early days I recorded a few bits, sound on sound, but nothing's survived. There may be a few from later solo albums, but I've not checked. And there wasn't anything on the DVD front either - only low-quality footage, and bits like Knebworth 1990. But Phil had a video camera in the 70s and that's on the Genesis DVD box set - about 40 minutes. But the barrel's dry now.

    - Have you been writing of late?
    - I'm close to completing a composition, and am working on orchestration for a piece out in 2010, and maybe a regular rock album

    - Do you have a collection?
    - I've still got vinyl, and I download the odd thing that I haven't got, like Nik Kershaw's The Works, but it's mostly CDs. SACD sounds so much better on the heavy tracks of our early albums.

    - Did you have a favourite record shop back in the day?
    - Record Corner in Godalming, Surrey, which is still there. It used to have listening booths and I remember listening to The Beatles' Rubber Soul. It was an exciting moment in my life, though the first album I bought was With The Beatles, after Twist And Shout. The booths have gone, but it's still independent, and a good shop.

    - What would you ask your own music hero?
    - I'd like to know why Brian Wilson didn't do a bit more when he was good. But he probably took a few too many drugs.

    - Has anyone taken music forward in the last 10 years?
    - I like things that go on a bit, and Radiohead have tried it, and I like Coldplay and Snow Patrol, and Muse are interesting. But no one's writing songs like Firth of Fifth anymore. But I'm out of touch. I haven't read NME since 1976, and I'm not a great live music fan. I saw Led Zeppelin at the O2, and it was quite entertaining. Kashmir was good, though not as good as it might have been.

    - What about you would surprise fans?
    - If I had to listen to a genre for a day, it'd be heavy metal. I like the riffs and intensity.

    - Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?
    - To have made a mark outside Genesis with film, classical and solo music.

    On touring with Genesis again:
    - No plans, but you never say never. Phil is getting better, and hopefully he can get back to the stage where he can play, though whether he'll want to, time will tell.
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