An Interview With Tony Banks
Tony Banks has been an integral part of Genesis
since the group's inception in the late 1960s. Despite being classically
trained as a pianist, the keyboardist and songwriter's solo efforts have
been geared predominantly towards pop music over the past 25 years. In
2004, Banks released Seven, his first true classical album. Seven
was recorded with the legendary London Philharmonic and tested the
musician in ways he could have never imagined.
On April 17, 2004, World of Genesis' own Dave
Negrin sat down with Tony for a very candid interview to talk about the
new album, the challenges he faced in its creation, his solo career, his
days with Genesis, and what lies ahead.
Tony Banks in 2004
World of Genesis:
Seven would be an ambitious project for any artist due to its size
and scope. How different was it composing full orchestral pieces for a
more traditional classical album versus scoring a movie?
Tony Banks: To be honest, the way I wrote it was, in fact, the way I
would write a solo album or something I suppose, but without feeling that
I need to tie ends up in the same way. So, you can let things kind of run
a bit more and not worry too much about repetition or trying to get a
particular song. Certainly not song style or anything. But I’ve done
that a certain amount. Particularly, on the last album (Strictly Inc.)
in the Darkness,” and over the years with Genesis pieces
where we let things kind of run from section to section. So, I found that
quite natural… Quite easy, really. I found it liberating in a way. I
find it almost easier to write like this than to write a song, I think.
know that musically you came from a classical up-bringing. How long have
you wanted to do a project like this?
I don’t think I ever really thought about it that much until I did the
soundtrack for The Wicked Lady, and I heard the orchestral version of the
themes. I thought, “This is interesting!” But, I’ve always shied
from the combination of rock groups and orchestra. I’ve never heard that
done successfully. The idea of doing a totally orchestral piece only came
up in the past five or six years. I just thought, if I never did anything
else again, I would like to do something like this once in my career. That
was my feeling.
How much did your keyboard demos evolve by the time Simon Hale worked with
you on the orchestration? Did the final product come out the way you
expected it to?
I understand that the other older piece you used, “Neap Tide,” was
originally recorded for the Strictly Inc. project. Do you often find
yourself revisiting older, unused compositions or demos as part of your
songwriting process either as a solo artist or with Genesis?
Well, sometimes, yes. For example, going back over the years, the song
“Tick of The Tail” I had written about five or six years before (it
surfaced in 1976). I just felt that at the time when we did that record…
Particularly, at the time, because we had lost Peter’s (Gabriel) input
on that album, and he had been quite good at these little quirky songs
like “Harold The Barrel” and stuff, I just felt that the song “Trick
of The Tail” could fill that role slightly. So, I kind of brought it out
of the moth balls, and we did it, and it worked pretty well.
WOG: In addition to the challenges of
composing a full score of orchestra and what I can only imagine must have
been the tremendous cost of retaining the services of the London
Philharmonic, what elements of Seven caused you the greatest
So, I’ve never been frightened to use old pieces. There are a few pieces
that just keep rearing their heads. So, when I am playing and writing for
a new record, I get an idea. I’ll just sort of hear a piece that I’ve
had before, and I’ve got the old tapes around, and I think, “Well,
that might work well on this project.” You know? We’ve done it many
times with Genesis. I mean, “Supper’s Ready” had lots of bits from
before or The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway album with “Anyway”
which was written five or six years before. You kind of bring in these
other things and it’s a slight difference of style that you wouldn’t
write quite that same way. They can work pretty well, and if you still
like it 20 years on, that probably means that its got some merit.
That varied a little bit from piece to piece. Some of the pieces were very
close to the demos. I mean, given the fact that they were done using
synthesizers. The two pieces that were done without any piano base, which
were the second piece, “Black Down,” and “Earthlight,” are
probably the ones that changed the least, because there was never a piano
involved. I wrote them using string samples and oboes and all the rest of
it. Obviously, they got a bit embellished once we started scoring them. A
lot of that came from Simon (Hale), but then we kind of let the ideas
bounce between us a bit. We tried one thing, and then tried another. Once
we were in the studio, we tried other ideas as well.
have the demos, in terms of the form – the melody lines, the
chords, and the structure are absolutely the same. A
lot of the arrangement ideas are there. I obviously could have done it all
myself. The reason I wanted to get someone like Simon involved was because
I felt that if I did it myself it would probably not sound authentically
orchestral. I just wanted it to sound a certain way, so people didn’t
say, “Oh God, this is a rock guy trying to write for an orchestra!” I
felt the pieces were sort of there, and with the right arrangement, it
could really sound convincing as orchestral or even classical pieces. That
was my idea.
TB: The most difficult piece far and away was the final piece, “Spirit
of Gravity.” It’s quite complicated in terms of the way the timings
work and also goes through a lot of changes. Some of the bits, the
orchestra had quite a lot of trouble with. Originally, I recorded four of
the pieces one time (with the orchestra), which included that piece in
fact. At the end of that period, I was really not that happy with them.
There was a couple that sounded alright, but this one in particular and
one of the others didn’t sound very good. I knew I was going to have to
come back to it. It really took a few months trying to organize myself and
getting absolutely clued up as to what the sound was going to be like. Also,
changing the conductor and getting Nick Davis in as well, which I found
Tony Banks: Songwriter
How were Simon Hale and Mike Dixon selected for the project?
All of these things helped a lot to get a good result, I think. But that
piece, “Spirit of Gravity” was still difficult even the second time
around. It was just… I don’t know. There were some fast bits in it. A
lot of the orchestra has no problem in playing complicated pieces, but it
is very different when they kind of know the piece. When they are doing
most pieces that the orchestras play, they’ve heard it a hundred times
before. If there is complexity in there, they know it, because they have
heard it before. So, if they were doing “The Rights of Spring” or
something, they’ve heard it a hundred times. With this, some of the way
the changes work, the tempos and things, we were constantly trying to get
it right. It was quite difficult.
TB: Simon I got through Nick Davis,
actually. Nick is someone who I have worked with over the years for a long
time, and he was very enthusiastic about this project when I first came up
with it. He suggested a few names of classical arrangers who worked both
in the classical world and in the rock world who would understand what I
was trying to do. He also wouldn’t be too patronizing, which was the
other thing that I worried about. I also thought he wouldn’t try to
change things too much. I listened to some of the pieces that he had done,
and I heard a piece that Simon had written on his own, for himself
actually, which I thought was nice. I liked the arrangement of it. I met
him, and we got on very well. We could really communicate. He and I share
some similarities. We both talk very fast (laughs), and our minds tend to
move very quickly from one thing to another.
A lot of things did not have to be spoken, because you knew he got
it. That made a big difference with me. I have worked with a number of
people over the years. Some people tend to understand everything very
quickly and others you really have to go through things with. The result
can be good that way, but its just a different way of working. It was a
very easy way of working with Simon.
orchestra seemed to find some of the rhythmical ideas quite difficult in
it, too. I don’t know why, but they proved very difficult.
The most difficult part of all, which I am probably least satisfied
with on the album, is the big theme at the end of that section which was
supposed to be done basically on the brass with the strings arpeggiating
behind it. We tried for hours and just couldn’t get it. The strings just
couldn’t get the two in time. I don’t know why, it was easy enough on
the synthesizers (laughs)! Also, it seemed to get slower and slower. So,
that caused me the most grief. So, while I think the piece works well in
sections, and still probably stands up, it’s the one that is probably
the least close to my original hope for it, because, it was supposed to be
the final piece and the big piece and the one that the whole album would
build to. I would like to try and do it live some day and just get it that
little bit better.
there things that you learned during the making of Seven that will
impact the way you record future projects?
TB: If I was to do another classical
project or an orchestra, I’ve learned an awful lot about how you go
about it, really. It’s just very, very different. Having heard it all
back and knowing what works and what doesn’t work, you learn so much, I
|So, you do get some of his character into the
pieces. The final product sounds very close to a version I would have
imagined but, obviously, there were some arrangement ideas that I would
have never thought of. I would put that, in reflection, as something I
might not have done that way, but all in all, I am happy with the result.
an orchestra, really, you are pretty much
stuck with what you’ve got.
You can’t just change it."
Tony Banks circa 1973
From the point of view of doing anything in the rock world, I don’t know
if it would change me much, because it was just such a different
experience. They way we worked with Genesis and on my solo albums, pieces
have tended to evolve very much. You kind of start with a piece in a
fairly rough form, and you slowly develop it in the recording studio –
embellishing it. You can replace anything at any time and improve anything
at any time. You can add, and chop, and change. With an orchestra, really,
you are pretty much stuck with what you’ve got. You can’t just change
In the press release for Seven, you mention that “The Gateway”
was written some twenty years ago as a possible idea for a film theme that
was never used. Was it intended for The Wicked Lady?
TB: No, there was no particular project in mind for it. After I had
done The Wicked Lady, and it had gone quite well… The film was
not a great success, but the music went down quite well, and I had hoped
that I would do another film. I had one or two offers at the time, but the
Genesis projects tended to get in the way. I was involved with one other
project, for the soundtrack for the film 2010, which I was actually
sacked from during the process of it. This was one of the pieces I
suggested, although it wasn’t the main piece.
The main piece, I ended up recording as “Red Wing” on the album Soundtracks,
which was the first piece I suggested for 2010.
I was going to do an orchestral version of it and everything, but
unfortunately the guy didn’t like it. So, that didn’t happen. “The
Gateway” was one of the other pieces on that tape, and I’d always just
seen it as a possible film theme. I hadn’t written it particularly for
that film, but I had written it in mind that it would work well as a film
theme. I never got the chance to use it. It was still around when I did
this, and I have always liked it a lot. Because it was written 20 years
ago, it is a slightly different style, perhaps, in some ways, and I wanted
to use it.
There is no separation between the instruments. That’s the biggest
difference, and that is what I really had to learn the hard way. It was my
first time, and I realized all that was not there (in the recording), and
what could I do? That was the biggest challenge.
what criteria will you judge whether Seven is a success?
If the album is not well received commercially, will you undertake
a project of this size again?
TB: I honestly don’t know. I don’t really see this as being a
commercially successful project unless, for some reason or other,
something from it got used in a film or a TV project or something.
Fundamentally, it’s going to appeal to some of the people who like what
I have done in the past and maybe a little beyond that with some people
who like to give classical style pieces a bit of a chance. The
label is quite
a significant label in England
in terms of having a
bit of a following of its own, so those sort of things might lead
somewhere. I don’t really know. I had to get this out of my system, and
it’s been quite a long birth! At the moment, I don’t particularly feel
like doing that again right at this minute. But I am writing pieces, and
I’ve got a couple of pieces that could definitely fit into this vein
again. I probably wouldn’t rule it out. I’m really waiting to see. It
would obviously help me a lot if anything were to come from this. In terms
of people thinking they would like to use one of the pieces or the style
of the pieces and wanted to use me on a film or something. That might
inspire me to do it.
For Page Two Of The
Interview With Tony Banks