Genesis co-founder Anthony Phillips: Something Else! Interview

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Anthony Phillips has taken a series of interesting paths since leaving Genesis after the legendary prog-rock group’s eclectic first two albums.

The co-founding guitarist was a guiding force, and one of the principal composers along with Mike Rutherford, during Genesis’ earliest era. (Phillips and Rutherford had been in an earlier band called Anon.) Even then, there was a wide-ranging feel to his music: Genesis debuted with the melodic pop-rock of 1969’s From Genesis to Revelation, only to follow that up with the proto-prog effort Trespass in 1970.

But Phillips had begun suffering from a crippling bout of stage fright. He quit the business, and didn’t re-emerge with the long-awaited debut The Geese and the Ghost until 1977. Since, Phillips has been on a creative tear, producing 26 more solo studio efforts — including the multi-part Private Parts and Pieces series, which saw an 11th edition issued earlier this month.

Contrast and change, Phillips tells us in a Something Else! Sitdown, have been the norm. He’s collaborated with Genesis’ Rutherford and Phil Collins, but has also studied the classical guitar, issued albums where he plays keyboards exclusively, worked both in long- and short-form music forms, and done extensive soundtrack work.

We caught up with this ever-evolving multi-instrumentalist to talk about his new edition of Private Parts and Pieces, the genesis of his old band, and whether Phillips has considered a reunion …

NICK DERISO: You’ve following up Seventh Heaven with a quieter, more intimate project, one without complex arrangements and sweeping orchestration. It’s just the latest twist in a career away from Genesis that’s been filled with them. Does switching gears so often help keep you engaged?
ANTHONY PHILLIPS: Contrast, change — all help in life, as well as in art for me. Going from guitar projects to keyboard-based ones, small-scale intimate works to large dramatic ones, this keeps you fresh — and stops you getting bored or stale.

NICK DERISO: When Genesis first started, you were school-age kids. What was the band dynamic? Was there an acknowledged leader?
ANTHONY PHILLIPS: I was the driving force in Anon, not exactly the leader, though. Genesis, in its inception, was very much two sets of composers — the keyboard lobby of (Tony) Banks and (Peter) Gabriel, and the guitar one — myself and Mike. All were equals, though Peter eventually probably dictated band directions more because he was, oddly enough, the more practical, realistic one who would sit for hours on the phone, calling to agents and getting gigs whilst the rest of us were totally absorbed in our art.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Genesis co-founder Anthony Phillips’ new ‘Private Parts and Pieces XI: City of Dreams’ shows there’s still much to be learned and felt in this lengthy series.]

NICK DERISO: Eventually, you’d help guide Genesis toward a progressive bent on Trespass, a terribly underrated album, and your last with the band. Why doesn’t that album ever get its due?
ANTHONY PHILLIPS: I guess, because it’s so early, there’s no Phil — and it not really quite as good.

NICK DERISO: There had been such a great leap between the music on Trespass, and what Genesis sounded like on its debut. What changed between the two projects? Did time on the road help the band evolve past the embryonic sound of From Genesis to Revelation?
ANTHONY PHILLIPS: A very good question! There was a huge, lost world of material in between, as we went from our school-boy holiday song-based album through similar songs, but more mature, through to our first experiments with longer forms. Tony began using the organ, as we left Jonathan King’s more commercial song-based stable. Then, there were long jams, with heavier riff ideas — like “Knife,” etc. We had to raise the tempo and power to get noisy crowds to listen when we ventured out on the road! In short, we were from songwriters who played a bit on an album to a fully equipped, fighting-force live band — and most of the transitional material betwixt those two points bit the dust.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: A trip through the old Genesis albums had us singing the praises of “Firth of Fifth” all over again, along with several other cuts from both the Peter Gabriel- and Phil Collins-led eras.]

NICK DERISO: In some ways, the debut album has more in common with the later pop hits Genesis produced with Phil Collins as a frontman in the 1980s than it does with anything from the 1970s years with Peter Gabriel, just after your departure. What’s your relationship with From Genesis to Revelation? Do you ever listen to it?
ANTHONY PHILLIPS: Not for many years. I was very angry about Jonathan King’s reduction of the backing track to mono, in order to put on strings and horns — thus, rendering a tough, but quite powerful sound, rather weedy and anemic. Having heard it again recently, after many years, I could see his point, though. It didn’t sound too bad.

NICK DERISO: At that time, you were dealing with a crushing bout of stage fright. Has that condition improved at all?
ANTHONY PHILLIPS: It’s not really being put to the test right now, but I fear not!

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Here’s a look back at the sprawling Genesis boxes covering the years of 1970-75, and then the period from 1976-83.]

NICK DERISO: The Private Parts and Pieces albums included an early instrumental track of yours that eventually became “The Musical Box,” a key moment from 1971’s Nursery Cryme, issued after the split with Genesis. Does it irk you that you never received any album credit?
ANTHONY PHILLIPS: No, it was only a small bit or two — and the guys did all the hard slogging on the road, from which I profited whilst sitting at home!

NICK DERISO: Your career since Genesis has been impressively diverse. In that way, it seems like leaving Genesis opened up whole new worlds of musical opportunity for you. What has been the most rewarding part?
ANTHONY PHILLIPS: Discovering so much more music than I would have, and gaining greater versatility myself.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett talks about collaborating with Chris Squire, the deep impact of Bach and a lasting passion for his old band.]

NICK DERISO: 1977’s The Geese and the Ghost, which took years to complete, provided the clearest argument yet for your own contributions within the Genesis legacy. Still, it arrived as prog had begun to ebb. Have you been pleased to see the genre make such an impressive comeback in more recent years?
ANTHONY PHILLIPS: Yes, of course!

NICK DERISO: Steve Hackett, your successor in Genesis, has recently returned to the band’s music. Have you ever considered such a project of your own? Are there plans to work with members of Genesis again?
ANTHONY PHILLIPS: My experience on the road during the last terrible six months with Genesis was so traumatic that I think it would be the last thing I would do. Yet, I have a lingering affection for the songs from before Trespass. I recently came across one called “Everywhere Is Here.” It’s hopelessly steeped in the 1960s, but I thought: What a gas it would be to do it with Tony on piano, Mike on bass, me on guitar and Pete singing. Those, for me, were the good times.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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