Tony Banks is interviewed about A Curious Feeling, and to some extent Genesis!
first published in a Dutch music paper, Muziekkrant OOR (Music Magazine OOR) on the 3rd October 1979.
(Many thanks to Jeff Kaa for this interview)
Note: Translated by Stefan Many thanks for this translation!
(TIME OF) TONY BANKS “I’m not a big fan of typical keyboard albums”
Tony Banks is still his usual, balanced self: the English intellectual, speaking in calm, pondered sentences, never to be provoked. Tony says exactly what he wants to say, which is usually not very shocking. His private life is nobody’s business, and we can only learn about his inner life indirectly, through his records.
The keyboard player of Genesis releases a solo album this week, the first of any band member: A Curious Feeling.
His record company allows us to exchange thoughts for one hour in a fancy London hotel room. We are supposed to mainly discuss his solo album, as it must sell.
So before we address the present, past, and future of Genesis, we first inquire about A Curious Feeling. Except Tony himself, drummer Chester Thompson and vocalist Kim Beacon collaborate on the album. While we know the former from several Genesis concerts, the latter is only known to insiders as the singer of the band String Driven Thing in its final phase.
“Initially, I wanted to have a well-known singer and started asking around. But the first thing that always came up was money, and that would immediately put an end to it for me. Whom I approached? I don’t think I should mention any names (typically Tony, BvdK). In any case, I realised that I would really prefer an unknown singer, and out of a series of tapes that I had received, I was struck by one on which Kim sang. His musical preferences are not mine, but I love his way of singing: very soulful. He had no trouble with any of the melodies I put to him, but he had never done double tracking: repeatedly overdubbing a vocal track. That was our only problem, but after a few times he got the hang of it.”
Tony’s solo album is named A Curious Feeling, and its eleven tracks tell a complete story.
“It’s the story of a man who knowingly gradually loses his mind, and ends up a simpleton. This because of a traumatic youth experience, which essentially is completely fictitious.
Of course there is more. There is a love story that plays out on side two. He falls in love, but problems arise and he has to let her go. Yes, it’s all rather sad, indeed.”
Musically, the record is not shocking, unlike the average Genesis album.
“That may be true, yes.”
So the fans now get four Genesis albums instead of one?
“I don’t know if you can put it that way. Phil’s solo album is not finished by a long shot, I don’t know when it will appear. Mike’s album is only released next spring, and the new group album also has to be made, and I don’t know how that will turn out. I hope all these albums will be quite different. Every record will have its own sound, but inevitable there will be similarities with the Genesis sound. My record has a few songs that Genesis would never play. The vocals on my record are very unlike Genesis, only my keyboard sound is similar.”
You did not really try out something different with your record, you stayed on familiar terrain.
“Genesis makes the music that I love, I don’t need to do something completely different. For example,
I’m not a big fan of typical keyboard albums.”
No Keith Emerson piano concerts for you?
“No. I hesitate to undertake such a pretentious endeavour, regardless of whether I could. I am at my best with songs and short pieces. I may do something very ambitious in the distant future, but certainly not now. When you operate in the idiom of a rock album, you have to take into account that the people who listen to you are primarily interested in rock music.
And I think I do that best.”
In private, you love classical music, you told me last time.
“That’s true, but to compose yourself is something very different. I prefer to let the influence it has on me subtly pervade my music, rather than produce something pseudo-classical.
I don’t care much about the use of “classical” instruments in rock music. All those experiments of big rock bands with orchestras have failed in my opinion. This album has some instrumental passages in which you can detect the influence of classical music that I listen to.”
When I ask Tony which Genesis songs he prefers, his answer reveals a striking contrast with Collins. Whereas Phil has stated that songs played “live” are those that the band members like most, the ones Tony loves most are those that the band has never performed “live”: “There is only that one record version, which is kind of nice.”
“Fortunately, when making this record, I didn’t have to be concerned with performing any of the songs
“live”, which made things easier.”
You will not go “on the road” with your own band to plug your album?
“No, I don’t care much about touring anyway. A necessary evil, in my opinion. I enjoy recording much more.”
Does a band like Genesis suffer much from external pressure to make records and tour?
“We have that very much under control. We have a manager who knows what we want. We have a contract for a certain number of records, but a schedule is not stipulated. So we are not in a hurry. We could start touring the USA like crazy, where we are still not a top band (for example, we hardly sell in the southern states), but we decided not to force those things. We don’t need to, we are very content with what we’ve got.”
Soon you will have to return to the studio with Genesis. Do you have enough new material, or did you spend all you creativity on this new solo album?
“I have some things ready. After finishing the solo album, I immediately concentrated on the next group LP. That’s how I am. I love writing songs, and am always more interested in the next project than the one I’ve just finished. But I find it difficult to concentrate on something new, when I’ve not completely finished something else. I find it hard to concentrate on more than one thing.”
Phil told me you do not meet each other very often in private anymore.
“Not really. Now I live approximately 35 miles outside London, and Phil and Mike live nearby. Mike and I both have a child, and our wives regularly meet.
We still get along very well in private. No problem.”
I noticed you attended a Brand X concert last week. How do you like their music?
“It was the first time I saw them. They are not really my cup of tea (well-known English expression for: not liking something very much – BvdK).
I have never been able to identify myself with that way of making music. But they are very good at it, I’ve got to admit. The set was built up quite nicely.
At the start it was all rather nervous, but near the end it really sounded quite nice. The Venue was a really weird place, I could never play there myself.”
What is your opinion about contemporary pop music?
“I find the quality of the current Top 30 much higher than a few years ago. However, it has become more difficult for typical LP bands to make a breakthrough without a hit single,
like we did with Genesis. We were probably the last band to have succeeded in that way.”
You also drew a lot of attention with theatrical effects.
“That’s true. We gave the press something to write about. We had a very spectacular stage show.”
That later changed. With Peter Gabriel’s departure the theatrical effects also disappeared. Many thought that it would be over with the band’s successes, but the contrary happened.
“Naturally, that was a pleasant surprise for us too. We fully concentrated on the music, with only some tasteful lighting on stage. Apparently, there was an audience for that, it wasn’t only about the show.”
One could call your music “typically English”, it is very recognisable as such.
“Yes, whatever that means. A lot of typically English music doesn’t do well abroad. Things like Wuthering Heights and Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick were big hits here,
but completely failed to make a mark in the USA. They probably thought it was too bizarre.
The American AM-stations don’t play that kind of things. Our records are also hardly played, the songs are too long or too strange. We had some airplay with the single Follow You Follow Me, and it promptly appeared in the American hit parade. It is very much the question whether we will have a single on our next album that is “acceptable” for the American market. I do not know. That remains uncertain.
Many thanks (again) to Stefan.
Further note: If Tony had seen the Brand X concert it would have been either Saturday 15th or Sunday 16th September 1979 at The Venue Club in London