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The Classical conversion of Tony Banks

With his new album '5,' Tony Banks finds the genesis of a new career.
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Interviewed by Lee Zimmerman, Tony Banks explains the genesis of a new career with the new album 5.

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As a personality, Tony Banks added the modest component to a band known for its sizzle and spark. Although he was one of Genesis’ primarily composers, the elaborate arrangements and sweeping soundscapes that he contributed stood in stark contrast to his otherwise unassuming identity. Nevertheless, that didn’t diminish his ambitions, which helped spike the band to international acclaim and its well deserved reputation as one of the most daring progressive ensembles of all time.

These days, Banks is taking his career at a decidedly less frenzied clip. After all, he can afford to work only when he wants. His initial solo album, A Curious Feeling, marked the first foray of any current Genesis member beyond the band’s bounds. Nevertheless, his efforts drew only modest attention compared to the attention accorded Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford when they ventured out on their own, Collins as a reinvented pop star and Rutherford in the company of Mike + The Mechanics. Still, that hasn’t tempered Banks’ ambitions. He scored several films and in recent years, has turned his attention to composing classical music both on his own and at the behest of others. His new album, 5 — named not for how it falls in his solo trajectory, but rather for the fact that it boasts five extended movements — is the latest realization of his desire to venture further within those realms.

Written and recorded in conjunction with producer Nick Davis and orchestrator/conductor Nick Ingman, 5 was constructed intermittently over the course of 18 months. It was worked up in stages, from Banks’ early demos to the recording as performed by The Czech National Symphony Orchestra and Choir under Ingman’s direction. With Banks’ piano and celeste retained from the original sketches, the final result encompasses a series of suites of grand proportions, as driven and dynamic as any in the current classical noir.

While some might think Banks has made an abrupt change in his trajectory, it is in fact, a return to his roots in many respects. “When I was about 13, I really got into pop music for four or five years,” Banks explains. “Then I came back to classical music when I was about 20 or so, and then again in 2002 when I did the first of these orchestral albums. I’ve always loved classical music, and with Genesis, I was always able to inject my classical influences into our music. The first classical recording I did was well received, so it led me to do another and now to do this one. Its something I love to do, and it works well for me, and I’ve managed to get other people interested as well.”

Nevertheless, Banks admits that seguing out of one genre into another isn’t always easy.

“It’s difficult to break into that world, because there can be a slight attitude involved, especially when someone from the rock world tries to do something in the classical world,” he surmises. “You just have to believe in yourself. As long as you believe in yourself, it doesn’t really matter. It’s great if you’re successful, but if you’re not, at least you’ve failed on your own terms. At least that’s the way I look at it. I had great success with Genesis and limited success with my solo career, but these classical pieces have attracted more attention than I thought they would.”

Naturally, many of those who see Banks’ name on the cover will seek it out for the Genesis connection only. Likewise, Banks agrees that certain elements of the band’s progressive period might make for some sort of connection. “Melody is a very strong aspect of this record,” he insists, while noting the fact that the cover clearly states it is a work performed by orchestra and choir.

“As long as they’re not expecting a rock group, I think they should be quite happy,” he adds.

The above excerpt is taken from the May 2018 issue of Goldmine Magazine, on the newsstand now until May 7 (at select Barnes & Noble, Books A Million and record stores in the U.S.) Read more of this interview in the new issue — especially Banks' remarks on the possibility of a Genesis reunion. To get an issue, click below for more information.

Goldmine’s May 2018 issue celebrates Record Store Day and focuses on ‘Elvis: The Searcher’