Shockwave Magazine had the privilege of speaking with guitar legend Steve Hackett, the morning after seeing him perform live in Ridgefield, Connecticut. We had a chance to discuss the Genesis days, the real reasons his Genesis career ended, influences, working with dozens of people from around the world on the new record The Night Siren, and how far the technology has advanced in music to be able to recreate 40 year old tunes. Check out the Interview.
Interview conducted by: Mark Silva w/ Scott Langevin
Scott Langevin of Shockwave Magazine: Good Morning Mr. Hackett, how are you?
Steve Hackett: Very Good, Thank You, Thank You.
A quick introduction, Scott Langevin here, a Photojournalist with Shockwave Magazine, and I’ve got a colleague and fan with me today, Mark Silva. We both attended your show last night (2/22/17) in Ridgefield, CT.
Oh, really? Okay, so you’re absolutely up to date there. Thank You! That’s great!
We’ve got a few questions for you today on behalf of Shockwave if that’s alright. Mark, a fellow musician and fan, would like to start us off.
Mark Silva for Shockwave Magazine: Good Morning Mr. Hackett.
Hi Mark, how are you doing? Please call me Steve.
Thank You, Steve. It’s a pleasure to speak with you. Please indulge me for a moment. I wanted to thank you for the show last night and for the many years I’ve been enjoying your music.
Thank You! I enjoyed the show last night myself, and so did the band.
Looks like you guys were having a good time.
Oh yeah! Absolutely, yes!
If I may just say, because of the likes of “Fly on A Windshield” and “Afterglow” and such things, I pursued my own career in music, and couldn’t be more grateful to you and the other lads of Genesis for inspiring me in those ways. I’ve gotten a Bachelors and Masters in Music, I’m teaching at the local University, and conducting, and couldn’t be more grateful to you guys.
Good! I’m glad it inspired! Wonderful you’re doing all of that. That’s fantastic.
I’m coming at this as a musician and a Genesis fan. I apologize if I ask things that you’ve answered 100 times. Have you been at all surprised by the audiences’ overwhelming responses to all of the Genesis material you’ve been playing?
Well, it was a risk. I thought that if we were gonna take back a Genesis show on the road, then my tour manager was saying to me that “You’ve got to be better than all the tribute bands.” I thought, well, there are many great tribute bands out there, but I think the difference is, the recreation of the years when that stuff was originally done to the letter, is part of a tribute band’s charter. But for us, to change it, to do authentic versions, but not to be afraid to take it off into other areas, not be afraid to add extra woodwind, brass. Enlarge it, whether that’s on record of live, but it’s showing that there’s a huge market for classic Genesis. I think the early albums that were not successes in the day, sold rather a lot. There seems to be forever a cause of consternation for the other guys in Genesis, the fact that it’s the early work that sold 50 million and the other stuff that did the other 90 million or so. But, it’s still a big part of the audience. Obviously, to compete with the success of huge pop singles that they had later on, is another thing in itself, so I think there is a division. There is a divided Genesis audience, but there’s still a huge audience for this early stuff that I think inspired people such as yourself to become musicians themselves.
As far as being true to the material that you’ve referenced, when you did Revisited I back in the 90’s, you had some arrangements that were pretty off from the originals, and yet in Revisited II, they were very true to the originals. Was there a change in perspective on such things?
Yes, there was. I thought if I’m going to re-record those songs, let’s put it this way, authenticity was important. To be authentic to the spirit. I think the first time I did it, I felt the need to reinvent things much more, but the second time, well, for instance to get something like “Supper’s Ready”, I could play all the phrases that I considered to be memorable at the end for instance. Then, to go off on a tangent, and allow yourself to do all the things that one would have liked to have done first of all, but in a sense when we take it to the mountains with the guitar at the end, I just feel that there’s an aspect of spontaneous playing that I needed to get that in there. Now, another epic like “Fountain of Salmacis”, it made no sense to me to come up with anything other than the original guitar part at the end. Because those were phrases that I felt very much emotionally for, in other words, they were cast in stone, they were part of the song. Whereas, the free-wheeling improvised style at the end of “Supper’s Ready” was something I just feel the need to stretch out on it. I play something different every night on that. I don’t tie it down. We do enough of the fixed phrases, and then when I play it live, which I will be doing in Buffalo, coming up, shortly with an orchestra, I stay on the map, but I have to move off the map as well, I have to go the road less traveled as well.
I was so happy when you elongated that ending. That was one of those incredible things, and always wanted more of that.
Exactly. I think we were able to do a little bit of that live, and we used to extend it and it was one of the best moments of the early band in 1973 when we were playing that stuff live. Doing our first American concerts, the first American tour. That always stayed with me, I thought, I’ve got to have the spirit of that.
I noticed that likewise with “Fly on a Windshield”, elongating that a bit and allowing the chance to play.
Yeah, it’s one of those things. It works wonderfully well live, and whenever I do that, although I’m playing improvised on it, it’s not really about that. What it’s about is, that this orchestral feeling, with whatever keyboards, Mellotron or other string samples playing along with it, it was always a multi keyboard sound. But then to be able to move within it freely as an individual, was important, so I used to vary it, and I still do when I play it live now. Some nights it’s extraordinary, other nights, I think, I wish had done that slightly differently. There’s enough of a jazzman in me that feels the need to vary things.
To be in the moment.
To be in the moment, yes. I think that’s terribly important, and that can be harder to do with music that’s very much about form. I remember having this conversation with Robert Fripp many years ago talking about forms versus spirit, and the need to do improvised stuff, even if it’s in front of a huge crowd. To be able to do that, to have the guts, to be able to improvise in front of 500,000 people, there’s no main reason why you shouldn’t. Why, yes it’s tempting to want to stick with certainties. I think Genesis was much more about certainties, much more about pinning down every solo, and solos became as written as the vocal melodies were.
The band last night was tight, how did current band mates go about learning their respective parts? How did they go and get all those nuances and subtleties that are in the music?
From what I think your description, you’re a man that relies on the written page if you’re dealing with orchestras and going to teach. Initially, doing these shows, I can’t tell you if it were an excuse to do these shows, or an excuse to re-record things, but these days we break down the harmonies, we break down the parts, we do a computer sketch, we fill in the sketch with humans, we know where that’s going because we have the previous records. But it means that there is a fixed reference point, so when the bass player turns round and says “Is that a B-Flat or a B-Natural?”, we’ve got an absolute reference to that and sometimes we correct some of the mistakes that were on the original records. When everyone is doing spontaneously, just what they like, back in the early 70’s, you’re going to run into some disagreements, anomalies, imperfections, and it’s a chance to get that right. The idea is, it’s in the computer that means it’s on the page. If we reproduce any of this stuff with an orchestra at some point, then yes, the agreement has to be there. It has to be on the page, so I do trust in pen and ink.
Much of this material hasn’t been performed in decades, “Can-Utility And The Coast Liners”, and such were done fairly recently, what difficulties arose from bringing this back to life? I remember Mike Rutherford mentioning in an interview that the odd tunings of the twelve string, that had long been forgotten. Did you run into such traps yourself?
Yes, Yes, Well, as I say, hindsight is a very useful thing, the ability to be able to analyze what’s going on is usually important, so when we redid “Cinema Show”, we were able to recreate the introduction that Mike did with a couple of twelve strings, one varied speed, half speed, comes in with the octave up. Although he didn’t remember the harmonies, Roger King has got a very trained ear. There were times where he and I have recorded some Bach pieces, which he’s transcribed by ear. The music didn’t happen to be at hand. So, he was able to do that, plus we had three instruments playing that live. So, we were able to cover those areas. I don’t always use the same traditional instrumentation that Genesis did, as with Genesis we had three twelve strings, all playing something similar, or very similar with each other. With a modern band, we often have one guy on electric, which usually me, with harmonizer or and an extra octave, we’ve got someone on Variax doing a twelve string facsimile, and we’ve also got keyboards doing some things that might be partly sampled from twelve strings. So, at the end of the day the effect is very similar, we get it very close, but it’s not slavish. Again, authenticity, we do deliver the original parts, the original harmonies, but we can re orchestrate as much as possible.
A few things during the performances, made me say “Wow, how do they do that?” I think that’s probably a welcomed response.
Well, I think it’s all a case of all music seems like a monumental task, when you’re starting out in the beginning of rehearsal, so for anything. I think it’s brick by brick. You just gotta get each one of these building blocks, perhaps, right in the first place.
Yes, Absolutely. I’m teaching a Mozart piece to a community choir and I told them we’re going to do this four bars at a time.
Yes! No reason why not, that’s right and when composers such as Mozart, Tchaikovsky, with his extraordinary orchestrations managed to get 80 people, all performing as one instrument, and tearing your heart out along the way, a lot of work goes into that, that doesn’t happen by accident. That’s not to disparage any other genre out there, but even the most spontaneous of genres, such as jazz, usually those guys have been through the wringer one way or another. I think love of other people’s work is what is going to improve your own.
Indeed. During this journey of going back, were there techniques that you implemented and used back then, which you had forgotten about, or hadn’t used in some time, that you perhaps pulled out for Wolflight or The Night Siren?
I think the idea that all musicians to some extent have to be historians. Whatever you’re doing, I think one is aware that these are not the first fingers to try out these ideas. I would borrow techniques from violinists, and they might borrow techniques from me. I’ve heard a young violinist showing me how to make a violin sound like Jimi Hendrix feeding back, by using the side of the bow to get harmonics. You realize how close string instruments can be, and how powerful they can be when twined together. I hope I’m answering your question in a roundabout way. I think the only limitation is your imagination. I’m an avid listener, particularly to orchestras, acoustic instruments, and it really all depends on how they are recorded. Often, we used things that are sourced from acoustic instruments, then we’re able to change them, mess them around.
Speaking of your influences, I remember when the box sets came out in 2007, when Nick Davis redid all those, both you and Mr. Collins had mentioned, for instance, Mahavishnu Orchestra, listening to a bit of that while you were recording and writing Selling England By The Pound. Are there things that influence you differently now, or have there been influences carried on through? Do those come and go?
I think when you look at certain bands, and you’re aware that Mahavishnu was a melting pot, much of it distilled from the jazz side of things. Miles Davis, John McLaughlin, and John Coltrane, when you get the fast runs and stops, there’s so much a style worth of progressive stuff. Ensemble playing, where does this stuff come from? Is it Stravinsky, or is it the guy down the road? Some people walk away with the honors, and other people are often the inventors. That’s how it is in music. With tapping, I believe I’m the first to have done it on an electric guitar, but there are films of people doing it with acoustic guitar and as far as I know, that was something that I invented for me. It was something that enabled us to do some very fast passages. It meant that Genesis was no slouch at one point, and the jazzers were listening to us for a while there. Whereas at one time, we thought these guys have got the chops. We had no idea that the Weather Report guys were listening to us at the same time. I have conversations with Rob Townsend about that, who’s a jazz professor, teaches music, and we talk and think about the same guys, Weather Report’s Heavy Weather, Scarlet Woman, all of that, the idea of a camel riding across the desert, the cymbal, the light whip, thinking visually. Music that tells a story, perhaps, program music, it’s a common theme. It runs through folk music, classical music, rock, prog, so many genres.
Very cool. Let me ask you this if I may, when you did Voyage of the Acolyte, you were still in Genesis. What made it clear to you at the time that a future with the band and a future solo career couldn’t coexist?
After I did my first solo album, I was forbidden from doing any other solo album by Mike and Tony. They thought that I wasn’t giving everything to the band. Which is ironic, because Mike had helped me to make that album. A little bit of a contradiction there, and mixed messages.
At the same time, Phil Collins was playing with Brand X.
Yeah, Phil had that and was doing gigs, but I think mine was perceived as renegade just because it was a success. Suddenly, it seemed I was having to answer charges. I said, well if you guarantee me representation, as a songwriter here with this stuff, if we divide it up equally…They both said “We don’t do things like that in Genesis, and if you don’t like it, you know what you can do.” My thought, okay, they don’t mind if I’m not with the band, and this was in 1976 during A Trick of the Tail. I thought, well I will continue writing what will be considered by the band a surfeit of material. One of the things that the band rehearsed, but didn’t use on Wind And Wuthering, was the title track of the first album I did when I left, which was “Please Don’t Touch”. So that piece, I got to work with a more enthusiastic team, which involved Chester Thompson, Tom Fowler, Dave LeBolt, my brother John, John Acock, and it was a hugely enthusiastic team, which involved Richie Havens, and two guys from Kansas, Steve Walsh and Phil Ehart, plus Randy Crawford.
Love that Album!
Yeah, it’s an album that Steven Wilson said to me…this sounds like I’m boasting, “That was my Sgt. Pepper.” I think because it was so diverse, and it was something I remember Tony Stratton-Smith, the head of Charisma Records said, “Its diversity is both its strengths and its weakness.” I thought, I’ve got to make this a calling card, that diversity cannot be considered to be a weakness. I still believe that diversity is the art of surprise. If music can’t afford to be surprising, then I’d rather be forever at the experimental stage, and say well maybe this didn’t fly, but neither did DaVinci’s helicopters. Unless somebody has a dream, he said pretentiously, I think risk is hugely important. Unless you’re prepared to risk, you won’t really come up with anything of any genuine worth.
You can’t play it too safe.
Well, you mention the “In the moment” factor, and I think again to quote Rob Townsend “energy and honesty are what it’s all about”. You put those two things together, and you can create something mighty. We were talking about Mahavishnu earlier, that’s a risk.
I had a composition teacher that would speak of “unity and variety.”
Yes! I think unity was the idea behind the new album, 20 people from all over the world, Isreali working with Palistinian, Azerbaijan working with Hungary, Sweden with the United States, the UK, and some of it put together in Italy, where we recorded some of the stuff. Unfortunately, I’m running out of time, but I can do one more question if that’s alright with you guys?
Absolutely! We are delighted to speak with you and for your time. “Inside and Out” was great, any chance of some other non-album tracks? “Twilight Alehouse”, “Happy The Man”, you’ve played just about everything else.
It’s funny isn’t it, I have played just about everything else, and I haven’t gone onto “Twilight Alehouse”, but for me seemed like an unexplored track. It was heading almost into jazz, and then didn’t quite deliver the solo, so it was one of our “B Movies” really. If there is such a thing as “film for the ear”. It’s an interesting tune. I might do it at some point, so yeah we need some jazzers on something like that if we were to re-record it at some point. Never say never. These possibilities are always there, revisiting things that perhaps weren’t flushed out fully back in the day. Little gems that need dusting off and polishing I guess.
As we’re speaking today on Handel’s birthday, I’m thinking of when he first premiered Messiah and people enjoyed it, but he said “I’m glad I entertained you, but I wish to do more than that, I wish to change people.” I can tell you, that you and your music and the others in the band have certainly changed my life, I thank you for that.
Thank you very much. All the best to you both. Have a wonderful day.
Thank You sir. Take care now.