What do musical milestones mean to someone like Mike Rutherford? When you have invested nearly fifty years in one of the most iconic rock bands in the world, charted dozens of singles and sold 150 million+ albums, helped revolutionize the music video format, toured the world’s stadiums dozens of times over, and finally landed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame… where else is there to go? What else could you possibly do?
You just keep going. Mike Rutherford doesn’t like to live in the past. And while he is about to embark on a thirtieth anniversary tour with his band Mike + The Mechanics, he feels reflective rather than nostalgic. As Genesis was hitting their peak of worldwide pop stardom, Rutherford’s solo project became one of the most successful bands of the ‘80s. To celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of The Living Years album, and the thirtieth anniversary of The Mechanics, Rutherford re-recorded his biggest hit, the Ivor Award-winning single of the same name. The remastered The Living Years (released on February 10) also includes rare recordings from a 1989 tour, the inclusion of which inspired Rutherford to embark not only on a 2015 Mechanics tour, but to give some brand new songs of his a live stage.
On top of all of these musical milestones, Rutherford published The Living Years: The First Genesis Memoir. Far from being a Keith Richards-style tell-all, the book does delve deeply into the inside story of his musical life, as one might expect. But it diverges from there into a personal fascination of his: the parallels he discovered between his father’s memoirs and his own, and the stark generational divide that colored the relationship between the distinguished naval officer from his rock star son. It’s a unique take on the usual rock star tell-all that keeps things interesting.
As Mike + The Mechanics get ready to embark on their massive U.S. and European tour that kicks off at The Birchmere and ends in Belgium, Rutherford touched on a lot of different topics in our interview: from the transformation of Genesis from progressive rockers to pop superstars, to how he prefers to record his albums, to what it’s like to make old songs feel new again for audiences all over the world.
When I was in England some years ago, I went on a coach tour through the countryside. We saw all sorts of beautiful ruins and other ancient architecture. Then the driver stopped our bus by your old school and announced, very seriously, “This is the school where Mike Rutherford and Peter Gabriel and Tony Banks and Anthony Phillips formed the band Genesis.”
Oh! Charterhouse, yeah! We live a few minutes away, so it’s still part of our world, yeah.
Growing up in the ‘80s, the Mechanics and Genesis were all over Top 40 radio. Did you ever feel any conflict about going from prog rock to a more pop-oriented sound? It seemed like a surprisingly natural progression.
Funnily enough, it didn’t quite feel like that to us, because when Peter left, the first two albums after—Trick of the Tail, Wind & Wuthering—were more progressive, so it happened over two or three albums, really. And then I still sort of questioned… well, what happened was a change in public perception. In the ‘80s, MTV came in and the hit single was so everywhere. The singles then had such a huge profile that they overshadowed the rest of the album. Of course, the singles tend to stick in people’s minds, so I think what happened was quite natural to me.
Some would argue that the mid-‘60s to early-‘80s was a unique period of time in popular music where the album was what was most popular; everything before and since has been about the singles.
Yeah, that’s true.
Speaking of singles, I listened to the new recording of “The Living Years” and wondered, how does that song resonate with you now, so many years from the emotions that inspired it?
I think the new track is paying respect to the anniversary. You can’t beat the original one, ever. It’s still very special to me. In a sense, the reason The Mechanics are touring is because about four years ago during some live shows I couldn’t believe how well some of the Mechanics’ songs went down on stage because The Mechanics… we hardly ever toured! We never did much touring ever so, in a sense, it was a new thing for me to hear all these Mechanics songs played on stage… and the audience really connected with them.