Although he's known for playing bass guitar in Genesis, Mike Rutherford contributed many guitar passages to the group, and as the frontman for Mike and the Mechanics, he tackles both tasks with fluid skill. Recently he took some time off from the Mechanics to reconvene with some old friends. Although it wasn't exactly a Genesis reunion, Peter Gabriel, Rutherford and Hackett hooked back up to record a new version of the old Genesis track "The Carpet Crawlers." The recording, which was produced by Trevor Horn, features vocals by both Gabriel and Phil Collins; it track appears on the new collection Turn It On Again -- The Hits. During a rare few moments of downtime, Guitar.com sat down with Rutherford to discuss the past, present and future.
Guitar.com: Why remake "The Carpet Crawlers" and not one of your other tunes?
Rutheford: There actually weren't a lot of choices. I find that any old music, when you try and fiddle with it, doesn't lend itself to revision. "Turn It On Again," for example, sounded small and old, so I thought I'd do a remix of that. But even though it sounded much bigger when I finished, it still didn't sound right. You get used to certain quirks in a song and there's too much history behind so many of them. When you start taking things apart they become very difficult to reassemble. "The Carpet Crawlers" seemed to have easier parts to re-do.
Guitar.com: Why do this now? Is it part of a plan?
Rutheford: No, Genesis never, ever had a plan. I don't know why. [The record company] had been asking us for a "hits" thing a long time and I guess we didn't say "No" loud enough this time. It isn't really a part of any plan.
I'm playing mainly Strats now, specifically an EC model. I find them very versatile, and you can add a hint of a Gibson-type tone if you want to. I play them through Fender amps. Right now, I'm down to the simplest little rig. There are no pedals, just one delay. Sometimes I use a little Peavey amp because it has a warm, clean sound, or otherwise maybe a Vox AC30 and little Fender Superchamps. Acoustically, I use a Taylor which is very nice for both writing and recording.
Lately, we had a sort-out at the Genesis studio -- Peter's studio barn, actually -- where we did most of our recording. We had accumulated a full 30 years worth of equipment, so we had a trip down memory lane. There must have been 85 guitars there. 45 are funny old things. There was a Strata bass, an amazing old double-neck Rickenbacker, and an original old Steinberg. I loved the sound of that Steinberg. I'm a big bloke, so I once asked Steinberg if they'd build one with more shape just for me. At the time they said, "No," so I got Roger Griffin, an English guitar-maker, to make one for me. Steinberg saw what Griffin had done and then they asked me if they could manufacture it. The original one is great because it's made out of wood.
Yeah, there was some amazing old stuff in that studio, as you can imagine if you listen back to those old Genesis recordings. The challenge back in the old days was to try and make a little go a long way. Now there's so much choice in equipment it's too easy.
On the new Mike and the Mechanics album I used a lot of Gretsch. The album is much more guitar-based, but it's quite acoustic. The album before was a radio record. This one is less-arranged but I think it's impressive how well the songs work with just guitar and voice. Of course, anything sounds good when you've got Paul Carrack and Paul Young singing for you.
Guitar.com: Genesis never had a career strategy mapped out?
Rutheford: We never had a plan, ever. You just never know where rock 'n' roll will take you.
Guitar.com: So, let's get this out of the way. Will Genesis reunite?
Rutherford: There have been rumors of that ever since Peter left. But we've all been locked away doing other things. We thought this "Best Of" might be a good substitute. I do think it would be nice to get back together and play all those old tunes. We talk about maybe doing a few one-off concerts, but we're all pretty busy. We had a dinner last year and Phil said he wouldn't mind doing a tour on drums, like it used to be.
Guitar.com: What songs would you play if Genesis reformed?
Rutherford: That's quite easy, I think. You look at your favorite live songs, your strongest moments, and call on them. "Lamb" was always strong. "Selling England," "Follow Me." Post-Peter material is different, of course. That's when we started writing songs under ten minutes that still worked.
Guitar.com: That's when Genesis began thinking in terms of "hits," right?
Rutherford: Well, there's a discrepancy between perception and reality in our work from the 80s. Not every song on every album was radio-friendly and designed for maximum airplay. We always had two or three songs that were ten-minutes long and ventured about. But MTV came along and dwarfed the idea of anything else we did, choosing to focus on our three-minute pop songs. Thus the public perception. I wish it hadn't happened that way, but it's too late to turn back now.
Guitar.com: What's going on with Mike and the Mechanics now?
Rutherford: We have a new in album out in Europe already, which will be out in the spring in the States. The Mechanics are a lot of fun. Our success originally came in America, but we haven't done much work there lately.
Rutherford: Most British bands don't have the same success in the States as they used to. The days of the English bands dominating the American charts are gone.
Guitar.com: When did you start playing guitar, Mike, and why?
Rutherford: I started at age 10, mainly because of the Beatles in the early 60s, and bands like the Yardbirds, Small Faces, the Who. The Motown was sound always there in my heart as well. At about 16 or 17 we had a school group with Peter [Gabriel], Tony [Banks], and Anthony Phillips and suddenly you think about playing in a band. I moved over to bass, but still played a lot of guitar.
Guitar.com: How do you feel about playing bass as a guitarist?
Rutherford: I feel that any guitarist can play bass. It's a matter of being able to find a part that can bring energy to a song. You can only do so much to a song, that's why having the right bass line is crucial.
Guitar.com: In Mike and the Mechanics you play both bass and guitar.
Rutherford: Yes, but that band is really just about two great singers, [Paul Young and Paul Carrack], and some great songs. Vocally is where our strength comes from. If you can believe it, it's been 14 years together, which isn't bad for a part-time band! The collaboration is exciting for us and so is playing live.