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10 minutes with Mike Rutherford

Guitarist Mike Rutherford tells Goldmine about switching gears between his work with Genesis and Mike + The Mechanics.
Mike Rutherford on tour with the Mechanics in NYC, March 2015. Photo by Frank White.

Mike Rutherford on tour with the Mechanics in NYC, March 2015. Photo by Frank White

By Lee Zimmerman

Few Musiciansare fortunate enough to have one band that becomes so successful and it becomes a part of popular music’s ongoing legacy. Even fewer can claim two. Mike Rutherford is one of those rare musicians who can boast the latter distinction, courtesy of his work with Genesis and the efforts of Mike + The Mechanics, the band he started after the release of his two solo albums, “Smallcreep’s Day” and “Acting Very Strange” in 1980 and 1982, respectively. Indeed, Genesis was still in its prime when, in the mid ‘80s, Rutherford launched Mike + The Mechanics, but within a few years it became apparent that this side project would produce an ongoing series of top 40 hits, among them “The Living Years” (which garnered Rutherford the prestigious Ivor Novello Award), “All I Need Is a Miracle”, and “Word of Mouth.” For the duration of the ‘80s and throughout the ‘90s, Rutherford found himself in the enviable position of having two exceedingly successful bands, each of which could count on him as a major contributor. While Genesis eventually ground to a halt, Mike + The Mechanics grew stronger and more assured, thanks to the addition of key players.

Singer Paul Young’s sudden death from a heart attack in 2000 began to spell the end of the band, even though Rutherford continued to carry the banner well into the new millennium. After calling it quits in 2007, Rutherford relaunched the band, releasing a new album called “The Road” in 2011 and aptly enough, launching an extensive touring schedule. The recent re-release of the band’s classic “Living Years” album earlier this year, featuring a redo of the title song backed by a South African choir and a wealth of live material culled from recent concerts.

Thirty years later Mike + The Mechanics continue to make music and tour in celebration of major milestones. We caught up with Rutherford during the U.S. portion of the band’s current world tour.

GOLDMINE: This tour marks the 25th anniversary of the album release of“Living Years,” but it also marks the 30th anniversary of Mike + The Mechanics’ incarnation... At the time, most of your fans probably thought of the group as a one-off side project, but here it is, 30 years later and still going strong?
Mike Rutherford: Genesis is one of the few groups that I can think of that had its members doing solo projects alongside the main band. We did that for 15 or 20 years. It allowed us some variety, the ability to work with new players, and get some fresh air. It also gave us a break from each other, which was quite nice, because when you get back together, you’re quite happy to sort of carry on.

GM: Are there plans to record a new (Mike + The Mechanics)album at this point?
MR: Yes, I’ve got a bunch of new songs we’re kind of working on while we’re on the road now and we’ll probably play some of them when we’re touring in England. We’re really becoming a band now. The Mechanics were never a live band really. We never really got out on the road and worked, whereas in the last few years, we’ve made it a point to go out and actually play live.

GM: You’re very fortunate to have had two very successful bands in your résumé. Not many musicians can say that, can they?
MR: I agree. And how many musicians can claim a career that sprung from a single band, like Peter Gabriel’s career and Phil Collins’ career and of course Mike + The Mechanics. It’s amazing all that variety that came out of it.

GM: Do you sometimes pinch yourself and say, “Wow! Two successful bands under my belt!”
Yeah, I do actually. I’m very conscious of that. In that period of the ‘80s and ‘90s, when we were very busy and it was all going well, it was so much fun going from one to the other. I remember thinking, “I’m going to Genesis next, so all the drumming will be taken care of as far as that area’s concerned.” I think we all felt the same way.

GM: Was there ever a conflict when it came to scheduling?
MR: No, not at all. We had the same manager for everything, so that really helped. We did the band stuff, then we did our solo stuff, and then we regrouped. It was great.

GM: When you were writing your material, did you ever have to make choices as to which band would get which songs?
MR: Not really, because anything I’m working on goes into whatever I’m doing at the time. The other thing is, around the time Genesis was doing the “Invisible Touch” album and the “We Can’t Dance” album… we made a conscious decision to go into the studio with absolutely nothing. It was quite nerve-wracking. We just had bits of paper, so we arrived in the studio on day one with just some little bits and started jamming and grooving around.

GM: It was always amazing that there were only three of you in the band at that point, and yet, you created these glorious, elaborate arrangements.
MR: Three always seemed to be the right number. When Steve Hackett was in the band, he was always full of ideas, and some of the best ideas got lost because there was too much music coming out. So when we went down to a three piece, it seemed a natural fit, and there were still plenty of ideas.

GM: When Peter left the band, was there any sense of doom, any feeling that the band couldn’t survive the loss and ought to consider packing it in?
MR: Oh yeah. All of that. We weren’t that surprised, because he nearly left during the making of “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” album. He was getting involved in a project with William Friedkin, “The Exorcist” guy. But still, it was like, hold on. Is this it? Because you always think that way when the guy who’s leaving is your singer. So we did what I always do in that situation. Go and write some songs and bring them to the guys, and let the songs tell you whether it’s happening or not. They’ll tell you what to do. I remember when we came in that first day. It was just me and Tony (Banks) — Phil was off doing some promotion — and it just took off.

GM: Any chance Genesis might reform?
MR: Of course, but there are no plans. I think it’s unlikely. We did a documentary last year that was on Showtime over here. It had Peter and Phil talking about all their solo projects, and it covered all our work together in this sort of eclectic documentary.And it was a lot of fun doing that. It was nice being all together. There’s no plans to reunite, but one never knows what could be up around the corner. If something comes along, there’s always thatpossibility. We’re all good friends, but there are no plans at the moment.

GM: It seemed that the common thread for both Genesis and the Mechanics was that there were always people coming and going in and out of the fold. And yet you were the one that would hang in there.
MR: My wife used the word “stubborn.” I’m like a Jack Russell. I don’t let go if I believe in something. I often wondered over the last three years, if at my age, I’m doing the right thing. But the guys on stage are so great, and it’s such a great band to play with. These songs haven’t been played much on the road, so I decided to go for it.