Genesis

Mike Rutherford: “The Strat can be anybody – it covers all kinds of moods. Other guitars like Gibsons have a sort of one-sound thing, I think”

The Genesis guitarist and bassist talks the gear that's powered the band's sound over the years – including a lowly £120 Strat – and reflects on touring for what may be the final time

Genesis have had an extraordinary career, even by stadium-rock standards. They’ve been making music for more than half a century, sold 150 million albums, recorded 15 albums – and even the band members’ solo careers, from Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins to Rutherford’s own Mike And The Mechanics, have ranked among rock’s great chart successes.

When we caught up with founding member Mike Rutherford, Genesis was about to embark on The Last Domino? tour – the band’s first in 14 years – with Phil Collins fronting, despite well documented health problems – and Rutherford sharing guitar and bass duties interchangeably with Daryl Stuermer, who has been part of the band’s live line-up for more than 40 years.

Since recording this interview, the band sadly had to halt the tour – which was just getting off the ground – due to a band member (undisclosed) testing positive for COVID-19.

This spanner in the works, while carefully guarded against, is all the more galling for band and fans alike, as the initial shows had garnered impressive reviews. Happily, the shows that were postponed have since been rescheduled for 2022 along with some additional dates in Europe, and so it seems that the band is looking forward to putting this setback behind them.

When we spoke to Mike, however, this was all yet to befall the band so our conversation ranged from first night nerves to Strats, formative influences and Mike’s unique perspective on the skillset you have to acquire to shine on both bass and guitar.

His 54-year journey with Genesis has clearly been nothing if not eventful – but he remains refreshingly pragmatic about gear and music making, even to the point of using a £120 guitar on a huge tour if it suits his needs, as we found out…

“Yeah, it’s good. I mean, we did the main production rehearsals last November, December in lockdown. So we were sort of prepared then, which was a strange choice actually at the time, considering it was a tour that may never have happened. And then we reconvened about two weeks ago. 

“We’ve just had a little break as Phil’s daughter Lily got married in America [in September]. So we had a week off there and then we start again tomorrow. So we’re ready to go – we’re in good shape.” 

Genesis first formed when you were at school – did you have any inkling that you’d still be doing this so much later in your life?

“None of us did! [Laughs] What was that lovely line Ringo said? He wanted to make enough money to buy his own hairdressing salon in Liverpool and that was his goal. 

“No, I mean, Christ, it’s been 54 years now. I mean, not at all. But in a sense I think we managed quite well by never really looking too far ahead. And I also do think that what helped our career – and our pleasure in doing it – was that 20-year period when we did solo stuff and then Genesis side by side. That, I think, made the band fresher every time we reconvened.”

A lot of late-’60s British bands looked to the blues for their main inspiration. What musical traditions was early Genesis fueled by?

“I would say a mixture of bands. It was a very exciting time in the UK – The Beatles, The Stones, The Kinks were just ahead of us by five or six years, although that seemed a big gap when you were 12 years old rather than 18… And also folk music, Joni Mitchell, that sort of stuff. But then again, Peter was more R&B so it was a complete cross-section of stuff, really.”

When you played the spit-and-sawdust British gig venues in the early part of the ’70s, did you encounter any hostility to the theatrical look you adopted?

“I think there was more surprise in the audience – it was a bit different. But here’s the weird thing: I think the music carried Peter’s onstage look. Sometimes, you know, we’d start soft and acoustic with 12-string guitar and the audience would all be at the bar, but then the drums came in and they left the bar [to come forward to the stage].

“I think new fans were bemused more than anything, really. But the set got quite strong and powerful at the end, with songs like The Knife, and I think it surprised them.”

“Yeah, I mean, we supported everybody. Any band who was around then of any size, we supported them. I just remember he had a little amp backstage, actually, which he was blues-ing on. It was so fucking loud! It sounded fantastic.”

The band has covered so much musical terrain over the years. Do you feel like Genesis is really several separate bands that have simply worked under a common flag?

“Yeah, I mean, if you’re in it, it’s always the same band to you, if you know what I mean. I think the perception [of what Genesis was about musically] was quite bizarre in the ’80s and ’90s because of MTV.

“The singles got such a high profile that they overshadowed the long tracks that we did – every album we made always had a long 12-, 15- or 30-minute track on it. But obviously on the radio no-one heard those because they were only played live, so I think people sort of forgot that we still did that. I feel it was more perception [that there had been a shift in the band’s core focus] because, you know, MTV did change the way people perceived our songs.”

Bass and drums kind of get forgotten now: they’re mainly in the box, you know, on the computer. But they can give a track a real lift if you play it manually

What does Daryl Stuermer bring to the table, on both guitar and bass, on tour with Genesis?

“Well, it’s been 40-years-plus now [that we’ve worked together] and on stage he’s a big part of Genesis, really. There’s a lovely email that came a couple of years ago and he said, ‘I heard you guys might be possibly thinking about doing something with Genesis… Please consider me.’

“And I went back saying, ‘Well, the thought of doing without you is out of the question. You know, you are the holder of knowledge of the chords, how all the songs go and where the changes are.’

“So I couldn’t imagine doing it without Daryl, actually. He’s fantastic. He came from the jazz-rock world: he was playing guitar with Jean-Luc Ponty but then became a bass player with Genesis. But for five years or so you don’t [fully] become a bass player, first of all. First tour, you play the right bass notes – but it takes a while to really understand it, and it’s great now.”

How do you divvy up guitar parts? 

“Genesis songs like Firth Of Fifth with these huge guitar solos that Steve Hackett used to play… It’s not my forte that sort of thing – fast, fluid solos – so obviously Daryl took that one, plus other stuff that Steve did like that. Then on some of the more recent songs I feel closer to the guitar – but it’s not set in stone. 

“This time around we’ve been rehearsing Jesus He Knows Me and last tour I played guitar [on that song], but this time I’m playing bass because I just felt like it.” 

A lot of guitarists assume that six-string fretboard skills are directly transferable to bass – only to discover when they pick one up that it’s a very different mindset… 

“So much is a feel thing. You sort of learn to understand what bass needs to do to give a song a lift. For example, I don’t play bass apart [from the pragmatic necessities of] recording and live work, but in the last 10 years of doing Mike And The Mechanics, I’ve realized that when I get on the bass to put an album down, you can change the song hugely and give it a real lift. It’s so important what it can do. 

I went to a music shop there and I bought two Squier Bullet Strats. You know, Indonesian-made, standard spec… and one of them I just love. It cost £200 at the most. And I play it on stage on Mama and No Son Of Mine. I just love it

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“Bass and drums kind of get forgotten now: they’re mainly in the box, you know, on the computer. But they can give a track a real lift if you play it manually.” 

Back to guitars, you seem to gravitate towards Strats. How did you settle on them for your Genesis sound? 

“I didn’t really get excited about Strats until I bought the EC model – Eric [Clapton]’s one – with that boost thing, which really made a difference to me, actually. And I tend to use the Lace Sensor Gold pickups, which really do help. But the thing is, the Strat can be anybody, they can cover all kinds of moods. Whereas other guitars like Gibsons have a sort of one-sound thing, I think.”

What Strats are you taking along for The Last Domino? tour? 

“I have my main Strat, but here’s a funny thing. Last year, I went to Cape Town for two weeks and got stuck there in lockdown for two months because there were no flights. And just prior to lockdown, I thought, ‘Christ, I haven’t got an electric guitar…’ 

“So I went to a music shop there and I bought two Squier Bullet Strats. You know, Indonesian-made, standard spec… and one of them I just love. It cost £200 at the most. And I play it on stage on Mama and No Son Of Mine. I just love it. It’s got a life to it. It’s a little bit lighter than some and it’s got a slightly smaller neck, which helps my aging fingers.”

Pretty impressive that it made the cut for a Genesis world tour. The standard Squier Bullet Strat is around £120… 

“Yes, well, my guitar tech Steve Prior, who’s the best guitar tech in the world, did change the machineheads. But it’s about what works for you, really.” 

You played a Steinberger in the MTV video for Anything She Does from Invisible Touch. Was that just for the camera or did you genuinely favor them at that point? 

“Oh no – the whole of the Invisible Touch album is all Steinberger. I loved them, I really did. It was such a crude thing, you know, just a bit of graphite, six strings, like an old sort of blues guitar – you know what I mean? It was really crude. I loved it. 

“And then I played it on stage and people said to me, ‘Well, can’t you get a bigger-size guitar? Why have you got a small one? Because you’re a tall bloke, you know?’ And so I went to Steinberger and said, ‘Can you make me a bigger one?’ But they said no. So I built one with Roger Giffin, with a proper body shape. And then they copied it – but the sound wasn’t quite the same, it wasn’t quite as good as the original one… After that I went to the Strats.”

I would imagine we’ll do the leg in America and then just take stock and see how we’re doing, see if we’re having a good time – that’s the way to do it

Are you taking anything new out on tour this time, guitar-wise? 

“On this tour we’re doing a short acoustic bit, which is the first for us, in the middle of the stage. And I’ve got one of those Fender Acoustasonic Strats, the little ones, which is really nice. I mean, it’s not as good as a real acoustic guitar to be honest, but for stage it’s very easy and friendly.” 

You’re also well known for using doubleneck guitars, combining bass and 12-string…

“Yes, my favorite was the very first one. I’ve a funny feeling it might be in a Hall Of Fame exhibit now. I had a lovely Rickenbacker 12-string, black one, and I had this Micro-Frets bass, which had a weird sound. So I went to a guy who cut them up and joined them together. 

“And that’s my favorite. But at the moment I have a 12-string and a bass doubleneck… it’s got a Gibson 12-string neck combined with a Yamaha TRB 4P active bass below, which is really nice.”

“Well, basically the last tour Genesis did was in 2007. We rehearsed in New York and I had one of those Line 6 amps, which I’d rehearsed with at home, and I’d created all the echoes and the EQ and stuff on it in advance. [I] went into New York and I couldn’t hear it above the band!

“So then I went back to the old Fender 410 DeVille. And that’s still what I use. It’s got a sort of frequency, you can hear it anywhere. It’s got its own sound really.”

What’s on your pedalboard for the tour?

“It’s quite simple really. There’s a new one, a Strymon, that I like, which Daryl turned me on to, the Riverside Overdrive – and the Strymon Sunset dual distortion is also great. But the main one I use is still my T-Rex Dr Swamp.

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