Why Genesis Had to Keep Shedding Members: Exclusive Interview
For Genesis, chart success really was a matter of addition by subtraction. Originally a five-piece prog behemoth, the band scored its biggest hit singles after being pared to a threesome.
They lost the first key member – co-founding guitarist Anthony "Ant" Phillips – after just two studio projects. Phil Collins arrived next, but first just as the drummer. Three records after that, however, original singer Peter Gabriel left. Two albums later, Phillips' replacement Steve Hackett was gone too.
How Genesis would have fared with some combination of these former creative forces remains an interesting parlor game. Keyboardist Tony Banks – who has more recently focused on classical music, rather than full-band collaborations – says Genesis may have simply amassed too much creative talent for any one group to contain.
I often wonder how – or if – Genesis could have survived if Anthony Phillips had stayed in the band. Do you think there would have been too many songwriters over the long run?
That's a difficult question to answer. Ant's a good friend and a fantastic musician. He was almost the real instigator of the band's existence in the first place, really. He wanted to play live in a way that Peter and I weren't sure about at all, and Mike [Rutherford] was Ant's friend, and they worked together. Steve brought something to the band – if you take away what he did, it would have been very different. I think it could have worked with Ant, definitely. I think we had to get a different drummer – that's for sure. So, obviously Phil would have been there. I think we would have been a good band with Ant, yeah! You can't rewrite history. I think Steve was a more accomplished lead player than Ant was perhaps ever going to be. Ant's a fantastic musician with chords and melodies and all that stuff, but I don't know that he was ever going to be a lead guitarist in the way Steve was. Steve was also very imaginative with sound, which was another great contribution to that period when he was with us. So, who knows? One of the reasons we went down from five to four to three is because there were too many writers in the band. That happens.
Steve Hackett, of course, is out there doing his Genesis Revisited tours, and he's made some interesting choices with a few of the songs. He has a saxophone player and hearing him do the flute solo on "Firth of Fifth," for example, gives the song quite a new feel. Have you seen one of his shows?
I actually haven't seen anything he's done recently. I just haven't gotten around to it. I saw him many years ago, but not doing the Genesis stuff. It's a little strange for us to hear the Genesis stuff, but I like the idea that he's doing different arrangements. I've heard one or two things on the records. I'm all in favor of people doing different things with it. What we did at the time was because of what we had available. As a writer, I'm always interested in doing different versions of the same piece. We all really enjoyed Disturbed's version of "Land of Confusion". It's similar, but added a sort of rock-y element to it. I liked that. I'm always in favor of rearrangements if you can do something new. I'm amazed how much Steve is doing of Genesis music, but that's his choice, and good luck to him.
Two years ago, Peter performed a snippet of "Dancing With the Moonlit Knight" during his tour with Sting. A lot of Genesis fans, myself included, were pretty blown away. Did you see that? Did you talk to Peter about it?
I didn't see that. But Steve and Mike are allowed to play Genesis songs in the show. It's really nice that he did it. My only regret with Peter is that he hasn't done any original music in many years now, and it'd be nice to hear something. I'm not sure if he's going to do it now.
You need to tell him to get on that. It's been 16 years.
He's a very, very slow worker. I'm a very fast worker – and when we used to work together, we'd meet somewhere in the middle, and it worked out okay. Now that he's on his own, he takes any excuse to procrastinate. It's a shame, really, because he's written some wonderful songs and everything, but I think it's part of his makeup. Whether he'll do anything, I don't know.
You've been operating in the more pre-composed world of classical music for years now. Do you ever miss the organic process of playing with people in a room again?
I don't know, really. I've always been happy improvising on my own, in a way. When you're improvising with a group, there are these moments where you're playing something and it all comes together, and you get a little moment of magic. But a lot of the time you're improvising together, a lot of it's a pretty horrible sound. [Laughs.] It was great for us because no one was listening. It didn't matter if everyone was playing their own thing and it all went wrong. Sometimes you would play something, and you'd think, "That was pretty great, but I don't remember what it was." And then Mike's playing something completely counter to it that didn't work, so you didn't use it. That's what happens at home: You get moments where you think it's really working because it's just you. I can record it on the computer as I go along, so if I play something I think is good, I can hear it back immediately. I can also listen back to tapes – what I've played if I improvised for a half-hour, and sometimes you'll find things in there you didn't know you played that sound great. There are lots of different ways of writing.