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Mike Rutherford on Genesis

August 1, 2007
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BRITISH PROG-ROCK TITANS GENESIS RECENTLY BROKE A 15-YEAR NORTH AMERICAN gigging silence with the surprise announcement of a fall arena and stadium tour. Comprising the late-’70s and onwards, hit-wielding line-up of guitarist and bassist Mike Rutherford, vocalist and drummer Phil Collins, and keyboardist Tony Banks (as well as touring guitarist/ bassist Daryl Stuermer), the group plans on performing a cross-section of music that goes well beyond its many Top-10 radio staples, such as “I Can’t Dance” and “Invisible Touch.” Several storied, darker epics of its early-to-mid-’70s incarnation, including “Carpet Crawlers,” “In the Cage,” “I Know What I Like,” and “Ripples” are up for consideration.

“When we were tourning a lot, Genesis songs on the radio represented the lighter side of the group,” says Rutherford. “That was balanced out by the fact that a large part of the shows featured the heavier, longer songs. Since we haven’t toured for so long, some have forgotten about the more expansive side of what Genesis is about. It’s going to be great to remind old fans and new generations that haven’t seen us before of how different the live set is to the perception radio projects of us.”

The tour is in support of a series of three boxed sets that chronicles the group’s entire 13-album studio output to date. The first release, Genesis: 1976-1982, collects all five discs from 1976’s A Trick of the Tail through 1981’s Abacab, and pairs each with a DVD containing a surround mix, videos, concert clips, and other bonus material. However, the initial impetus for the forthcoming shows stemmed from a desire to revisit an earlier incarnation of the band.

“It began with a meeting two years ago to reform the early-’70s, five-man line-up with Peter Gabriel on vocals and Steve Hackett on guitars to restage 1974’s The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway,” explains Rutherford. “That idea was put to one side because Peter has his own tour and album on the way. So, we said, ‘Maybe, one day, we’ll get around to that, so let’s do the line-up with Phil, Tony, and myself for now—which represents the main part of our career anyway.’”

Rutherford is using his late-’80s Eric Clapton Model Fender Stratocaster for the majority of his lead-guitar duties on the tour, which cover the post-Hackett, 1978-and-beyond material.

“I love the Strat because it can play the roles of many guitars,” says Rutherford. “You can access such a diverse range of tones—which makes it extremely attractive as a touring instrument. It’s also a simple case of habit and familiarity. I’ve been playing Strats for decades, and, at this point, I’d feel wrong playing anything else. I also decided to have a new double-neck made that combines two guitars I really like for playing the earlier Genesis material, as opposed to going with a totally custom job where you don’t know what you’re going to get until it’s complete. I got a British luthier team called Charlie Chandler’s Guitar Experience to take the 12-string top half of a Gibson EDS-1275 double-neck, and combine it with a Yamaha TRB-4P bass for the bottom half. We went with the Gibson EDS-1275 because there are so very few solidbody 12-strings made these days that we could marry to a solidbody bass. You lose some of the resonance when you go this route, but the overall sound of both instruments is still mostly there.”

During Genesis’ early days, Rutherford employed many alternate tunings, but his current approach is more streamlined.

“I had all kinds of weird tunings on older songs such as ‘Cinema Show’ and ‘Ripples,’ and it got so complicated,” says Rutherford. “When we’d come back to tour after a break, I sometimes couldn’t remember the tunings, so I finally said, ‘Right—I’m done with that.’ The one thing I always do, however, is tune the low E down to D. That makes the minor chords sound harder, and the rest of the chords sound richer, which really suits the character of most Genesis songs.”

The tour also finds Rutherford reuniting with longtime Genesis touring guitarist Stuermer, who shoulders the entirety of Hackett’s guitar parts. He replicates Hackett’s signature sounds with modern updates of the band’s old gear.

“When I first joined in 1978, I used Colorsound Tone Benders—which Steve employed for his nice, long sustain and any kind of overdrive,” says Stuermer, who just released two new solo CDs—Go, a crunchy jazz-rock record and Rewired: The Electric Collection, a compilation of his earlier fusion work. “Today, Fulltone makes a pedal called the Soul-Bender that’s a replica of the Tone Bender—but it’s much less noisy and it’s true bypass—which is what I use now to get Steve’s sounds. But I’ve also moved away from some of the classic sounds, which is why I use the Radial Tonebone Hot British Distortion for its fatter, more modern sound. I used to employ Echoplex tape delays, but they would break down all the time, and they were pretty inaccurate in terms of timing and tempo. These days, I use the Boss DD-5 Digital Delay.”

As for his guitar of choice, Stuermer primarily relies on a Godin LGXT.

“It’s a fantastic-sounding solidbody that has both magnetic and piezo pickups, as well as 13-pin synth output,” says Stuermer. “I think it’s great to have a guitar that’s multi-faceted. If I want an acoustic sound, I use the piezo pickup. If I want it to have a Fender Strat sound, I use the pickup selector to choose a single-coil. If I’m looking for a Les Paul sound, I’ll just use the humbuckers. The flexibility is amazing.”

There was some heavy competition when Stuermer auditioned for Genesis after Hackett departed in 1977. Having a note-perfect memory of the songs helped land the gig—a skill Rutherford relies on him for to this day.

“Pat Thrall and Elliott Randall from Steely Dan also auditioned,” says Rutherford. “Both were fabulous players, but I was after someone who really understood Genesis. For instance, I would give Elliott a few songs to play, and he would say, ‘Do you want it to sound like rock, or do you want it a little jazzy?’ When Daryl arrived, he understood the essence of what we’re about, as well as the textures and sounds of the songs. He didn’t ask how he should play them—he already knew. Because Daryl comes from the jazz world—having played with Jean-Luc Ponty—he also brought the technical skills we demand. He’s such an incredibly fluid, fast, and natural player. In addition, Daryl knows all the chords to all the songs, and I often forget how they go, so I can always ask him.”

For Stuermer, helping rev up the group as it starts to propel forward after such a long hiatus is a pleasure, not a chore.

“I think I’m the only one in the band who works on the songs in advance of rehearsals,” says Stuermer, with a chuckle. “I’ll spend three weeks before we get together with board mixes from earlier shows, and I’ll run through the material and practice all my parts. I’ll even learn some of the keyboard or bass parts. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a fun and satisfying process for me. The other guys in the band are more comfortable just coming in and starting from scratch. Not me. I have to be totally prepared and ready to go. I could probably almost play the entire show on the first day—it’s just the way I approach things. So, it’s true—a lot of them will ask me what went wrong if a song falls apart during rehearsals. Occasionally, we’ll be waiting for Phil to sing a specific line that cues some musical thing, and he’ll stop and say, ‘What’s going on here?’ And I’ll say, ‘You forgot to sing blah, blah, blah.’ So, they look at me almost like I’m a musical director. But there’s no big ego trip here or anything. It’s just the way I am.”

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