That Genesis Touch
Tony Banks samples the "Invisible Touch" album, keyboard by keyboard.
With "Invisible Touch" just finished and Genesis keyboardist Tony Banks in a chatty mood, there were a few subjects worth considering such as recording, writing, and three men in a band. Paul Colbert was the quiz Inquisitor.
"We did all the writing and everything in the studio. All three of us in the same room. With the early Genesis albums there were three ways of working: one person writing a song pretty much on his own; secondly to use sections each individual had written; and the third was just improvising. We've found the last to be the most satisfying Genesis music. Right from the early days, the songs that were the most popular and the ones we're the most proud of — 'Musical Box', 'Supper's Ready', 'The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway' — were all written that way."
"The songs all evolve at about the same speed, we don't complete one and start another. We often leave little breaks where we know things are going to happen later, the obvious one being 'Invisible Touch' where there's an eight bar bit in the middle. That's another thing about having worked so long with each other — a mutual respect. If a guy says he's going to do that, you can leave him to it."
"We've produced ourselves for a long time and in a sense we get more critical. What we're trying to capture is more spontaneity. In the old days we'd rehearse like mad, and do hundreds of takes to get the whole thing down in one — edits were not the thing. I remember being on take 24 of 'The Return Of The Giant Hogweed'...
We use chance a great deal in our music, leave things up in the air and see what happens. People think it must be very intricate, but something can sound quite clever because you didn't think about it. If you tried to play it twice, it would never sound the same again."
"None of us are dead sticklers for precision. Phil for example has a very precise sense of rhythm, so if a thing hasn't the right feel he's the first to sense it. I suppose if you have got the time to perfect something you can't resist doing it. I'm the same with things being out of tune."
"It's very important. It's often completely inspired us. A very obvious example: there's one track called 'The Brazilian', an instrumental piece. That came from something I often do... switching the Emulator on and sampling whatever's going on in the studio — and don't tell anyone. I then have a 17 second sample and extract a bit, double it, play it at two speeds. There's a thing going all the way through that track which is the original Emulator sample. I stuck a knife in the Emulator to keep the key down. I know you can do that electrically... but it looks better that way."
"I'm using the Yamaha QX1 at the moment. I've stayed clear of sequencers for a long time. I was put off them like mad by things like 'Oxygene'. What I hated about the music written on them was that the band would set up one riff, jam along, and that would be the song. I don't find that interesting.
"With Genesis, Phil is very much one for playing over a single rhythm pattern then extracting bits and using them at various times. When I'm on my own I chain things up, but that's because I can't drum.
"I normally program in step time. I'm not attracted to real time programming. If I want to do something in real time, I'll just play it. It's for those machine-like parts that I want sequencers. I'll use the keyboard to play the notes but write the timing on the QX.
"On the new album there's a track called 'Land Of Confusion' which has a positive middle and bass line going right the way through. There's no way I could play that. It's not technically difficult but it's too tight for human beings to stick to.
"The instrumental break in 'Invisible Touch' is eight random keyboard parts mixed down to get bigger and bigger. 'Last Domino' uses a simpler sequenced bass line, and we often use little bits throughout, like a bass trill at the end of a chorus line, after the real bass has played."
"I stuck a knife in the Emulator to keep the key down. You can do it electrically... but it looks better."
"Less so now. I think you put your finger on it: nowadays, because of the ease of using rhythm machines, we find ourselves back in four/four. I'd like to think we were not too tied to it, but setting up a rhythm machine in five/four really is contrived, so you do what comes naturally.
"I know there were times when we did tricksy time signatures just for the hell of it, but on the other hand you could get a lot with them. I think there's no doubt that a time signature like seven/four or seven/eight doesn't sound that unnatural. 'Cinema Show', 'Dance On A Volcano', 'Back In New York City' were all written in seven but nobody would have stopped to think about it.
"It is true that our time signatures now are a little more normal, but that's right for us. Maybe in two years' time we'll feel differently. Similarly the lyrics are less fantasy orientated. Again, that's the way we are now compared to the way we were ten or 15 years ago. You'd feel you were really repeating yourself if you kept dipping back into Roman mythology and looking at Brewers Dictionary Of Phrase And Fable and seeing what else it has to offer."
"I still use an old synth if I want an old sound. There's no point selling it... nothing more difficult to sell than last year's synthesiser... last month's synthesiser.
"I was using ARP stuff long after everyone else decided it was no good. I bought the ARP Quadra and I liked it. There's a sound I can get out of that which I can't quite get elsewhere. I used to put fuzz on the polysynth part and use the lead synth part straight — the aggression of the fuzz but the distinctness of the note of the synth. It was used heavily on 'Abacab', particularly the song itself.
"When the Fairlight first came out the Synclavier arrived at the same time and I got that. They said there would be sampling for it in three months, but it was three years — Fairlight had been like that all the time. I really regretted that, and the Synclavier hadn't worked properly for the first two years anyway. Real problems. Very annoyed. So I got put off all that."
"'Invisible Touch' was recorded in our own studio in Surrey which we built three years ago. We did 'Abacab' and the 'Genesis' album, and after that we decided to update... Solid State Logic desk and so on. In the end, control room wise, it's probably as good as anything you'll ever find. We wanted a nice big window in it. The one thing we always hated about London studios is that they're dark and dingy."
"Oh... I'm proud of lots (ha ha). We tend not to work like that, deliberately looking for new sounds. We rely a lot more on chance: that's good, that's OK, keep it for later. I think there's quite a good brass sound on 'Anything She Does'; most people seem to think it's the Earth Wind and Fire horns but it was a sample from some tape I found lying around. Rather than being a sustained note, it starts, half dies, and comes back. Still got a great attack but if you sustain it, it sounds like the guys are doing it themselves. With that we added a little high guitar, a presence. Emulators can cut off the top."
"We're very keen on compression, we like to use it a lot particularly on voice. You can't take Phil anywhere without a Beyer mike and a cheap limiter we acquired a while back from Allen and Heath which cost about 50 quid. It's such a crude limiter, it cuts off dead so you get this incredible attack at the beginning of each word — makes it really spit out, the old Lennon trick."
"A Yamaha CP70 with MIDI added - I love that, I only got it towards the end of the album. The DX7, which I'm still very fond of and control most of the keyboards from. The Emulator which is my baby, and a lot of rack-mount things. Since they take up no space I don't feel self conscious about them. There's the Roland Super Jupiter which is probably a slight improvement on the Prophet, and the Prophet Ten itself which is still the best for big synth sounds. OK?"