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An Interview with Tony Banks

This month Naxos is proud to present the first classical album from Tony Banks, founding member of Genesis, the progressive rock group that soared to worldwide fame in the 1970s and 1980s. recently interviewed Tony about his new album, which is now available in the UK and coming to US stores on April 20.  Read excerpts from the interview below.

Tony Banks: Seven
When did you start writing music for your new album 'Seven'?

About 22 years ago. I used a piece that I had written just after The Wicked Lady. There really started this particular project about four or five years ago after the "Calling All Stations" tour ended. I was just writing lots of stuff as usual and I came up with this piece which I did on the string synth, and I thought it would be really nice to see how it sounded with a real orchestra as opposed to doing it artificially as I normally do it. And from there it was a decision to do a whole album that way and I wrote the rest of the pieces to go with that. So I used the piece from 20 years ago and another [from] about the time of Strictly Inc. which we didn't use at the time, but the bulk of the album was written in the last four or five years. The most recent piece was probably written about a year and a half ago when I decided I needed a slightly up-tempo piece.

So originally it started out as a test run to see what it [would] sound like with an orchestra?

Well, a bit I suppose. But when I had written all the pieces I knew that I wanted to do the whole thing this way. By the time I had worked with Simon Hale, the orchestrator on this, I knew the pieces could work. I had done about four pieces at this stage and I went into the studio and recorded these four pieces . . . It was such a strange process having worked for years with the group where it took three months to make an album whereas [with an orchestra] if after three hours you didn't have ten minutes of music you had failed . . . . A couple of pieces sounded all right but nothing sounded great . . . . I really had to think about how I was going to do it to make it work, if I was going to do it at all.

So how did the discipline of having to think in terms of an orchestra affect the way you wrote the material?

Well, you know that there are certain things that orchestras don't quite do the same as a group, but I'm quite comfortable writing in that sort of way. I listen to a lot of classical music and I love [the] sound of an orchestra . . . I didn't want it to sound like rock music arranged for an orchestra . . .

What about the process of recording? Were all the pieces demoed and given to Simon Hale to orchestrate?

I did do a demo of every piece and some of them were pretty detailed, and I went through them with Simon and we'd talk about it.  He'd have some ideas and we'd meet again and I would say yes or I would say no. It was very important to me that the result which you hear is me and not Simon . . . Every major thing you hear is me, but he did do some lovely things with the arrangement to enhance it. He understands an orchestra in a way that I probably didn't have the confidence to do. I think I could probably have done a couple of pieces but there are things that come as second nature to someone who has had that sort of training that wouldn't occur to me . . .

What was the most satisfying part of the process?

When things come together and you think, "That really sounds good", which happened on most of the pieces at some point . . . those moments that really work and you hear them back with the whole orchestra. It's such a lovely sound with a whole orchestra.
If you were asked to place this music into some sort of context reflecting your influences, what would you say you have drawn upon that has influenced this music?

Well, the classical composers I have listened to over the years. I think I can detect a little bit of the English composers like Vaughan Williams and Elgar . . . But the way the harmonies change is very much me. But you are always influenced by others, even in Genesis. Pianistically within Genesis I was influenced by some of the piano players like Rachmaninov and Ravel. I took those sorts of styles into the rock world and it worked quite well, particularly Rachmaninov because it is quite rhythmic. Some of that comes through in Seven, I suppose. Then there are some Mahler-esque moments. I don't know… Sibelius? But a lot of it, people say it's very English.

How important was classical music in terms of your development?

As a child my mother used to play classical music. She was a good pianist. She played a lot of Chopin and that was quite a strong influence. I've always liked classical music, the standard pieces like Ravel's Bolero or [Holst's] The Planets which I heard when I was a child. When I was in my teens I got into things like Shostakovich and Mahler. I loved pop music in the sixties but I got more and more disillusioned, probably because I was playing it. You get fewer surprises, you know how it is all done. I found I got more and more into classical music, so I've listened to a lot. But I've always liked both.

To read the complete interview, visit
For more information on Seven by Tony Banks, visit the Seven website


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