Interviews & Features

Mike Rutherford: Letting Fly

One-on-one conversation about guitar and bass, Genesis, Mechanics and more…

By Gary Graff
April 28, 2017

Genesis remains history — for now — but rest assured that Mike Rutherford is not wanting for work. Back in 1985, Rutherford launched another band, Mike + the Mechanics, scoring hits out of the box with “Silent Running” and “All I Need Is A Miracle,” followed a few years later by the inspirational anthem “The Living Years.” The Mechanics started working again in 2010 after a six-year hiatus, with a pair of new singers (Andrew Roachford and Tim Howar) and a greater resolve than Rutherford and company were able to have when he was splitting time with Genesis. The group released its eighth studio album, Let Me Fly, last month and will be touring regularly to support it — including some dates in June supporting Rutherford’s Genesis mate Phil Collins in his own comeback to touring.

FGPO: You played both guitar and bass for Genesis. Which one came first?

Rutherford: I was guitar first, and then the guy from Charterhouse [school] in the original Genesis band, Anthony Phillips, he kind of played better than me, so I went to a bass and, when we needed it, a two guitars together sort of thing.

FGPO: Who were your influences or sources as a player?

Rutherford: I suppose Hendrix, really. In a way the Beatles, too; you don’t always see them as sort of guitar heroes, but Harrison’s stuff is great playing. For playing lead guitar, I think Eric [Clapton], Hendrix, really. I loved Cream, that early incarnation of [Clapton’s] career. And I loved Hendrix.

FGPO: Outside of maybe some Beatles, those aren’t exactly readily noticeable in your playing.

Rutherford: Yeah, ’cause I think I’m more a songwriter than a player. I’m a songwriter who plays guitar well enough to get away with it. It’s more about the songs, I think. That’s where I have the most input.

FGPO: You do have your moments, though. Is there an inner-Hendrix in you, maybe?

Rutherford: Probably onstage more. Something like “Silent Running,” I think, has that when we play it live. I’m very comfortable with my guitar playing; I’m more of a Townshend, more of a rhythm player, really, but my lead’s getting better these days.

FGPO: How is being the guitarist for the Mechanics different than for Genesis?

Rutherford: I think in Genesis my role is more defined. It’s a different sort of band, Genesis; Tony covered the keyboard areas, I cover the guitar and bass, Phil the drums and vocals. It’s slightly territorial, but you slightly don’t worry about other stuff, because I know the other stuff is covered by those guys. With the Mechanics, I’ve got to be the guitarist and arranger and producer and drum programmer. But I enjoy all that, too.

FGPO: Does the Mechanics have a different kind of role in your life now than it has before?

Rutherford: The original Mechanics were more a recording band. We hardly ever toured. We had a couple of tours and that was about it…because the new Genesis record would take a year and a tour would take a year, then we’d do a Mechanics record and then suddenly the time was sort of going around again to get back to Genesis. So there wasn’t really time. Now it’s different. We do a lot more touring, and there’s some songs that have hardly ever been heard live, so it’s quite nice and fresh for us, and for the audience.

FGPO: What were you shooting for on Let Me Fly?

Rutherford: It’s been a fun project for me, ’cause the last album we did [The Road] was six years ago. It was kind of the start of the next stage, but I didn’t really know the two singers really well. Now it’s been five years of touring and getting to know everybody and getting to know their voices, so it was a lot easier to make. And this time around, we’ve taken a different approach to songwriting in that we’ve gone in and actually written a few songs and thrown some out and rewritten them. The quality control on the songwriting has been a bit high this time.

FGPO: How do you determine who’s singing what?

Rutherford: I kind of know straightaway which voice is right. The Mechanics have always had an R&B voice and a rock voice, so you kind of know which is going to fit best on which song — Andrew being the R&B and Tim being the rock voice in this lineup of the band. I think with one song it was a question mark, but usually it’s pretty evident.

FGPO: The Mechanics are playing some shows with Phil this summer. What’s that going to be like?

Rutherford: Well, I’ve done it before, actually; a couple years ago with the old Mechanics we did 10 German dates when he was touring around stadiums there. It’s great for us ’cause there’s an audience who probably know and like us anyway. Phil said to my manager: “Does Mike mind supporting?” Of course I don’t. It’s a nice, friendly environment to do a couple of shows. I’d like to see him get off the ground this time. It’s great that he’s going to get back and do some playing live. He’s had a funny few years in many ways; it hasn’t been the best time for him actually, emotionally and physically. I think he needs something in his life like music to keep him focused. I’m a great believer that you have to do stuff.

FGPO: Since you were the first Genesis member to write a book (The Living Years), what did you think of Phil’s memoir last year?

Rutherford: I enjoyed it, yeah. I think it has a nice tone of voice. I knew it would be humorous. I think in a way when he read my book it made him think about doing his. You appreciate what a great time we had, what fun it’s been and everything. I think he felt the same way in his book. I got the same sort of feeling.

FGPO: It’s 45 years since Genesis released Foxtrot, which was a key album. What’s your 2017 perspective on it?

Rutherford: It’s pretty good, yeah. I would put “Supper’s Ready” as one of the best songs of that Peter [Gabriel] era — of any time, actually. It’s a great piece of music, I think. It’s our first really long song that really worked. It really holds up as a very original, brave piece of music. We didn’t have a big plan, either; we had fun doing it, and suddenly it was done and it surprised us. We went: “Wow, this really works!”

FGPO: It always gets asked, of course, but…another Genesis reunion? It’s been 10 years since the last one, and it’s the group’s 50th anniversary this year.

Rutherford: I’ve always had a very sensible approach to these things; I’ve always said never say never, ’cause who knows. If Phil gets up there and has fun, there’s no reason we couldn’t do something. We’re all alive. We’re all great friends. I think what puts Phil off is the thought of a big tour, the big, grinding, around-the-world tour. But I think those days are gone and you can do a collection of shows like he’s doing now, 15 shows or whatever. There are no plans for [Genesis] but I can’t see why not. Let’s wait and see.