Mike Rutherford Interview: Genesis Guitarist Talks New Mike + the Mechanics Album
Image attributed to Mike Rutherford
Mike Rutherford is a founding member of the iconic English rock band Genesis. Genesis has sold 21.5 million RIAA-certified albums in the US, and their worldwide sales are estimated to be between 100 million and 150 million. In 1985, Rutherford formed Mike + the Mechanics to complement rather than replace the hit-making trio of himself, Tony Banks and Phil Collins. The band is known for the hits “All I Need Is a Miracle,” “Over My Shoulder,” “The Living Years” and “Another Cup of Coffee,” to mention a few.
Initially, Rutherford’s side project was rounded out by musicians Paul Carrack, Paul Young, Adrian Lee and Peter Van Hooke. Now, 32 years and eight albums later, Mike + the Mechanics have released their latest album, Let Me Fly, featuring 12 new tunes and reuniting Rutherford with songwriters Fraser T. Smith and Ed Drewett on some songs. It is the second record to feature the current Mike + the Mechanics lineup of Rutherford, Andrew Roachford, Tim Howar, Luke Juby, Gary Wallis and Anthony Drennan.
“I was probably five or six years old when I got a guitar. It was an exciting time, you know. There was a whole social and cultural change in England. My parents didn’t know what was going on really. They did see how obsessed I was and basically said, ‘Give it a go.’ I’m sure my father hoped to goodness I’d grow out of it in a couple of years.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Mike, Let Me Fly is the first new studio album in six years. Why the wait?
Mike Rutherford: We do an album, then we do the touring. Albums don’t sell too much these days with digital and all that, but I realized we needed new music. It could be two years too late, but it’s still okay.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I recall you saying in an interview that you don’t do “happy” songs very often. I think you were talking about “All I Need Is a Miracle,” and that it was a “positive attitude to life.” So, how would you describe the songs on this album?
Mike Rutherford: Well, they are actually, surprisingly upbeat in general. It’s positive. It’s uplifting. “Let Me Fly” is about how far I can go and who I can be. It’s an optimistic song about people taking a chance in life and not regretting anything. Just doing something, you know.
“I’ll see how far I can go if I don’t fly. Dream to see what I can be.” To me, it’s quite good. “Are You Ready” is the most uptempo song and talks about being ready to be who you are. It’s a positive song, a very catchy pop-rock song, which is good.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I understand that the song, “Let Me Fly,” not only provided the album’s title, but is the emotional center. Was that the first one written?
Mike Rutherford: Yeah. I co-wrote some songs with Clark Datchler. He was in a band a while back called Johnny Hates Jazz. We sat down together and it just worked from day one. We never had a slow day. It’s weird how something comes together after the first few chords.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The album’s composed of love songs, and then there’s “Don’t Know What Came Over Me,” which is about cheating?
Mike Rutherford: Well, a couple of songs are actually about a moment in life that you can’t forget. Some of them are about a happy life, and that happy life gets you in trouble unintentionally. You never plan it. Life is good, and you kind of fuck it up and say, “Oh my God, what have I done?” “The Letter” is based on Sliding Doors. You know that film Sliding Doors? It’s about a moment when something happens, you wish you could go back and not do it, not see it. But once you have, you can’t undo it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): On tour, do fans want to hear more hits than deeper album cuts?
Mike Rutherford: Always. But, that’s what you do. Actually, this tour we do a two-hour show, and we play six new songs.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Where did you get that early interest in music, and did your parents approve or your career choice?
Mike Rutherford: You’ve got to try and picture the climate in England in the 1960s. It was an exciting time for young kids certainly after two world wars. When we came on, the whole cultural revolution came on, and my generation appeared with pop music, long hair and drugs. It was the Beatles, the Who, the Kinks, the Stones.
I was probably five or six years old when I got a guitar. It was an exciting time, you know. There was a whole social and cultural change in England. My parents didn’t know what was going on really. They did see how obsessed I was and basically said, “Give it a go.” I’m sure my father hoped to goodness I’d grow out of it in a couple of years.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Any huge obstacles to overcome in the early years of Genesis?
Mike Rutherford: There weren’t that many of us. There weren’t that many bands. Now, everyone’s in a band. Everyone’s in a band or is a singer. There weren’t that many bands, and the other important thing to understand is that you could make a living just about by going around in the van or just playing a show. Because there was no high-profile MTV or Internet, you could do an apprenticeship every two or three years slowly and get a feel for it. But, once MTV came in, you’re seen around the world. Prior to that, we didn’t even play America.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): One of my favorite Genesis songs is “Keep It Dark” (1981).
Mike Rutherford: That’s not one I hear mentioned as a favorite song. I like it. It’s kind of a quirky song, yeah.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Why did you choose Paul Carrack as the vocalist in the early days of the Mechanics?
Mike Rutherford: We were never really a band at all until the first album was finished. I wrote a bunch of songs with two mates, but we had to answer the question of who was going to sing the songs. I knew Paul Carrack, but not very well. His voice was already known on the radio and had a distinct R&B sound. Paul Young came in on his first day and cut “All I Need Is a Miracle.” We ended up keeping Paul Carrack and Paul Young as vocalists, and it kind of worked. I thought the R&B and rock was a good mixture.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): “The Living Years” is such an emotional song about a son’s regret over unresolved conflict with his deceased father. Was this a story about your father?
Mike Rutherford: It was originally about B. A. Robertson’s father. But, we both lost our fathers the same year. My third child was born a year after dad’s death, and that’s when we wrote the song. Paul Carrack lost his father quite young, so it was about him, too.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I read that Steve Hackett is talking to Peter Gabriel about a Genesis reunion. Do you know anything about that, and are you interested?
Mike Rutherford: (laughs) That’s all news to me. I can’t see it happening in the near future. But, never say never. The Peter and Steve scenario would require Phil playing drums, and he can’t play drums anymore like he used to. So, it makes that one a bit unlikely, I think.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): In that same article, Phil has said he was interested only if he could sing. Would it work if Phil and Peter sang?
Mike Rutherford: It would be a lovely idea, people say. I think people are saying, “Well, Phil can do some of the hits.” They forget a lot of the songs people know are songs during the Peter Gabriel days. I mean, it’s nice to see Phil back in action, and we’re doing a couple of shows with him. We’re going to play Hyde Park with him. That’ll be fun.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): As that young 15-year-old just starting out, did you ever think that Genesis would literally rule the music world with such a large amount of success in the 70s and 80s?
Mike Rutherford: I never thought how it would be really. But, I never thought it would get on to 50 years, you know what I mean? That’s a bit mind blowing really.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Congratulations on being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Do you think there’s a shortage of progressive rock bands there?
Mike Rutherford: Well, I didn’t quite realize at the time that a certain kind of rock band was inducted. I’d forgotten how seriously Americans take their awards ceremonies. In a nice way, I mean. I like that. The English people are a bit too cynical. It means a lot to the Americans. It’s nice and I enjoyed it. I think any kind of award is nice.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How have your kids felt over the years about dad being a rock star?
Mike Rutherford: Dad can’t be a rock star because dad is dad, you know what I mean? He can’t really be a rock star. They had a lot of fun traveling the world, saw all these places in America and Australia. I think it broadened their horizons in a nice way.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What’s the hardest part of the music business now that you’ve gotten older?
Mike Rutherford: Packing suitcases (laughs). I’ve been on tour so long. Packing is the hardest part. But, I have no complaints.
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