Mike Rutherford Talks New Music, Reuniting With Phil Collins and More: Exclusive Interview
In our recent interview with former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett, he suggested that each of the band members “probably could have inhabited 10 different bands in 10 different genres,” thanks to the diversity of their individual musical tastes.
His former bandmate Mike Rutherford has kept things economical, splitting his time between only two bands: Genesis and Mike + The Mechanics. On the Genesis side of things, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the legendary prog-turned-pop group. But Rutherford and his Mechanics have been going for a long time too -- 32 years later, they’re still making new music and celebrating the arrival of Let Me Fly, the group’s eighth album.
The record finds the veteran guitarist pushing ahead with a revised lineup, now featuring singers Andrew Roachford and Tim Howar splitting lead vocals, and joined by keyboardist Luke Juby, drummer Gary Wallis and guitarist Anthony Drennan. That band made its recorded debut in 2010 with the release of The Road, but they’ve had a lot of time since then to play shows and actually become a proper group.
"We’ve had four or five years on the road now with their voices, and I know what we can do a bit better," Rutherford tells Ultimate Classic Rock. "So about a year and a half ago, a friend of mine who is a producer [Brian Rawling] got involved as someone to come and just help me choose material, throw stuff out and ask questions."
Rutherford found himself collaborating with both Roachford and Howar, longtime friend Fraser T. Smith and others, including former Johnny Hates Jazz vocalist Clark Datchler, whom Rawling introduced as a potential songwriting partner. They made demos and sent them around, working in pieces to develop each song layer by layer.
“We just started writing, and we’d do three or four songs, and then we’d throw one out and keep working on them,” he explains. “We didn’t really record until we had quite a few songs -- not all of them -- but once we had four songs, we’d record those.”
The title track laid out plenty of inspiration for the striking visual that became the album cover. “It’s a strong sort of statement,” he says. “It’s the first song we ever wrote. It’s a song about positivity and going for things: Never look back and regret that you didn’t try something.”
When Rutherford first began entertaining the idea of relaunching the Mechanics and moving forward without longtime collaborator Paul Carrack, he wondered about the idea of essentially starting the project over and rebuilding it from the ground up, which would mean going back to small clubs to build a new story.
“The Mechanics hardly ever toured much anyway with Paul Carrack and Paul Young,” he points out. “Everyone knew all of the songs, but never quite knew who we were. So to start out again, it’s like the old days, you’ve got to build it up. You play smaller places, small theaters and clubs and bigger theaters, which is lovely. But it’s been a bit like what I did 40 years ago. I was thinking, Am I sure I should be doing this at my age? But it’s been fun. The band are great and I love playing with them.”
But the first time they played together was a nerve-wracking experience for the new guys, Rutherford says. It was on his 60th birthday, and they were performing at a "teeny club in London, and the stage was about as small as you could get. All of my friends were there. They got onstage, and there’s [David] Gilmour, there’s Ringo [Starr] and all sorts of people. The very first time they played together, [it was] in front of all of these people they’d admired so much.”
New tracks like “Wonder” and “The Letter” sound like classic Mechanics. Even as Let Me Fly arrives in stores, Rutherford is already looking forward to the next album, which speaks to the confidence he has in the material he’s been turning out lately -- something that hasn't always been the case in recent years, when he wondered if he still had creative ideas that were worth exploring.
He admits that’s something he still thinks about when he’s writing. "Normally, if I finish an album and I go onto the next album, I dump everything from the past,” he says. “This time, I had a couple of lyrics that I think actually are very strong and that I could make them work [but] they need new music. So I came away thinking, I knew the songs were strong. The only problem really is that it’s me against me, proving to myself that I can still write good songs, or good enough songs to be worth doing. My worry actually is that I write a bunch of average songs, and I’ll end up thinking, What’s the point at this stage in my career of doing that, you know? I have to write songs that have something a little bit special about them. Otherwise, I shouldn’t be doing it.”
Already touring overseas in support of the album, Mike + the Mechanics are playing a large amount of Let Me Fly, with about six songs from the record in their current set. After touring the U.S. in 2015 for the first time in years, Rutherford says they'll probably return in 2018. Their current touring commitments will keep them plenty busy until then.
One of those shows is a June gig at Hyde Park that will find the Mechanics sharing support duties with Blondie, and opening for Phil Collins. Rutherford is looking forward to the show -- though he’s hesitant about the chances of performing with his old friend.
“The focus is on him doing his thing, but you never know. We’ll see," he says. "It’s certainly great to see Phil out doing stuff. I think it’s going to be very good for him. He’s too strong of a talent to not be doing something in the world. I just know I’m going to have good fun hanging out with him.”
Looking back 50 years to the time when he and Collins first came together to start working on what would become Genesis, Rutherford is, not surprisingly, reflective and appreciative. “I did a book about me and my father called The Living Years about four years ago, and Phil did a book last year,” he says.
“I think both of us have gone through this [period of] slightly looking back in our lives in writing the book. I came away, as he did too, with a feeling of what an incredible time we’ve had. How lucky we’ve been. And more importantly, what a great friendship we’ve had. Obviously, all of us, but especially the three of us: myself, him and Tony [Banks]. It was quite a special relationship.”
As far as whether or not there's any new Genesis activity on the horizon, Rutherford won’t close any doors, but admits he doesn’t know what the future holds. “With Phil retired, we never wanted to go on. But we’ll see,” he says. “I do appreciate the fact that we’re all very good friends, which is nice, especially the three of us. Who knows?”
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