Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Steve Hackett Interview: An Intimate Chat with the Prodigious Guitarist of ‘Genesis’

By Ray Shasho
Steve Hackett Interview:

British virtuoso guitarist, singer and songwriter Steve Hackett is a musician’s musician. While Hackett’s musical realm is limitless, he is widely renowned for his intricate progressive and classical rock guitar stylings and composition with Genesis. But over the years, Steve Hackett has affectionately embraced numerous musical genres while brilliantly composing, arranging, and recording track after track of pristine musical enchantment.

Steve Hackett’s Genesis Revisited-Genesis Extended will be performing at the newly renovated Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, Florida on Thursday April 3rd 2014 at 7:30 p.m. For tickets visit www.rutheckerdhall.com or call 727-791-7400 for more information. Steve Hackett’s Genesis Revisited-Genesis Extended will also be playing on Friday April 4th at Plaza Live in Orlando and on Saturday April 5th at Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Born in Pimlico, London, England, Steve Hackett initially developed a fondness for classical music. Hackett’s father Peter was a multi-instrumentalist. Hackett’s earliest band associations were with Canterbury Glass and Sarabande. His first recording experience transpired as a member of Quiet World. The group also featured flautist/guitarist John Hackett, his younger brother.

In 1971, Steve Hackett made his studio debut with Genesis on the album Nursery Cryme. The classic lineup became Peter Gabriel (Lead singer), Steve Hackett (Guitarist), Tony Banks (Keyboardist), Mike Rutherford (Bass guitar), and Phil Collins (Drums). Genesis became touted for their intricate musical arrangements and instrumentation along with frontman Peter Gabriel’s raconteur theatrical stage antics. During this time Hackett became an early pioneer for an electric guitar technique called “tapping” which is more commonly used on instruments like the Chapman Stick.

The Peter Gabriel Genesis era released albumsFrom Genesis to Revelation (1969), Trespass (1970), Nursery Cryme (1971), Foxtrot (1972), Selling England by the Pound (1973), The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974).

In 1975, Peter Gabriel left Genesis to pursue a solo career. After auditioning hundreds of singers to replace Gabriel, it was decided to promote Phil Collins to the new lead singer role. Genesis had been perceived as Peter Gabriel’s band by many of their fans until the release of the critically-acclaimed … A Trick of the Tail album in 1976. The release featured an incredible musical accord between bandmates and became a masterpiece. Later that year … A Trick of the Tail was succeeded by the Wind & Wuthering album, another exceptional effort by Genesis.

In this interview … Hackett revealed that Disney had a huge influence on Genesis throughout the 70’s. After the Hackett penned “Entangled” lyrics were introduced to Phil Collins, Collins said the song had a Mary Poppins feel to it.

After the Wind &Wuthering album Steve Hackett departed Genesis.
Some of Steve Hackett’s magical and memorable moments with Genesis include legendary performances on the tracks… “Horizons,” Blood on the Rooftops,” “Firth of Fifth” and “Fountain of Salmacis.”

The Phil Collins Genesis era with Steve Hackett released albums…A Trick of the Tail (1976), Wind & Wuthering (1976), Genesis -Spot the Pigeon (EP) (1977).

Genesis Live released albums … Genesis Live (1973), Seconds Out (1977), Three Sides Live (1982).

In 1985, Steve Hackett and Steve Howe (Yes, Asia) united to form GTR. The band released their self-titled debut album in 1986 produced by Geoff Downes. The release spawned the hit “When the Heart Rules the Mind” reaching #14 on Billboards’ Hot 100 Singles Chart. GTR disbanded in 1987.

GTR released albums …GTR (1986), GTR Live (1997).

Since 1975, Steve Hackett has expeditiously released (25) inspired solo studio albums

Voyage of the Acolyte (1975), Please Don’t Touch (1978),Spectral Mornings (1979), Defector (1980),Cured (1981), Highly Strung (1982), Bay of Kings (1983),Till We Have Faces (1984), Momentum (1988), The Unauthorized Biography (1992),Guitar Noir (1993), Blues with a Feeling (1995),Genesis Revisited (1996), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1997), Darktown (1999),Sketches of Satie (2000), Feedback 86 (2000),Genesis Files (2002), To Watch the Storms (2003), Metamorpheus (2005), Wild Orchids (2006),Tribute (2008), Out of the Tunnels Mouth (2009), Beyond the Shrouded Horizon (2011), Genesis Revisited II (2012).

On March 15th of 2010, Steve Hackett was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Genesis. He joined Phil Collins, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford onstage but did not perform.

In 2011, Phil Collins announced his retirement from music and possibly diminished any chance for a full- fledged Genesis reunion.

In 2012, Steve Hackett joined forces with Chris Squire (Yes) and formed Squackett. Their debut release entitled … A Life Within a Day received rave reviews.

Recently, I had the rare pleasure of chatting with Steve Hackett from his home near London, England. Steve and I chatted about the Genesis Revisited tour, those incredible Genesis days, Squackett with Chris Squire, solo material, the history behind “Entangled,” and of course my infamous “Field of Dreams” question. Here’s my interview with legendary guitarist, singer, songwriter, member of Genesis, GTR, Squackett, and an incredible solo career … STEVE HACKETT.

Ray Shasho: Hello Steve! Where am I calling you in the UK?
Steve Hackett: “Hello Ray, I’m in the outskirts of London. The weather is quite mild for this time of the year and there was a nice sunset this evening, so it’s been okay.”
Ray Shasho: Steve, you’ve got several ‘Genesis Revisited’ Florida dates coming up in April … including an appearance at the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, Plaza Live in Orlando and Parker Playhouse in Ft Lauderdale. Hopefully you and the band will get to enjoy the beach and some Florida sunshine during that time.
Steve Hackett: “I’m sure we will. I hope we will get a moment to enjoy the beaches because often it’s all work.”
Ray Shasho: ‘Genesis Revisited’ is a fairly large production so I can understand why it takes away from the bands R&R time.
Steve Hackett: It is a big production; we carry a bigger production in Europe but it’s more pared down when we’re in the states and tend to rely on the light show more. Where over here it’s a light show and LED screens, so it’s slightly different, but at the end of the day, the music is the star of the show and that’s how I kind of see it.”
Ray Shasho: Do you add an orchestra to the show when you’re doing the European dates?
Steve Hackett:No we don’t have an orchestra on this one. I was playing with an orchestra the other night, but not with Genesis material. So, I do get to work with orchestras from time to time. In Hungary, I was working with some string players. But for my own stuff …it’s a six piece band.”
Ray Shasho: Steve, who is the lead singer for Genesis Revisited?
Steve Hackett: “The lead singer with these particular shows is Nad Sylvan. He’s from Sweden and is one of several Swedes that I have been working with over the past year. I worked a little bit with Roine Stolt of The Flower Kings who did a gig guest spot with us at Royal Albert Hall and he was also a guest on Genesis Revisited II. Plus there’s Mikael Akerfeldt who was also on the same album. So that’s gone very well, an awful lot of people were involved in the studio version of that album. But on the live one, the core band sometimes gets joined by special guests in different parts of the world.”
Ray Shasho: Have you had anyone from the original Genesis lineup join you onstage?
Steve Hackett:I think the nearest has been Ray Wilson. Ray worked with Genesis on Calling All Stations and he’s joined us onstage for three or four shows. So that’s getting to be a regular thing. Its lovely working with him, he’s got a great voice. So we have a number of guests who seem to be wandering through. The reinterpretation of this material is somewhat flexible by now. We’re able to do it as a band and I’ve got two singers within the band … Nad Sylvan and Gary O’Toole who plays drums with us. So it works out very well that a number of us sing harmonies and what have you. On my solo stuff, apart from the Genesis material, I sing the lead vocals myself, so it’s a kind of shared responsibility.”
Ray Shasho: I chatted with Chris Squire after the release of A life Within A Day the debut album by ‘Squackett,’ an incredible collaboration between you and Chris. Chris told me … “I have to be honest going into this project at the beginning; I didn’t really know that Steve sang, so that was a big plus for me.”
Steve Hackett: “Right… we had a good time doing that and what we decided to do was to be our own lead singers on that. I sung lead on a number of albums and I know Chris has as well. At times people might think its Jon Anderson but it’s actually Chris at times. He has a similarity in a way because they always had a great harmony vocal sound. Although I know Jon hasn’t worked with them officially for awhile. Who’s to say how that goes in the future?”
Ray Shasho: I had a short discussion with Chris about Jon being booted out of ‘Yes,’ and I did let him know that I was both surprised and upset when he was let go.
Steve Hackett:Well who knows … I don’t know what actually went down. I know that Jon was ill for awhile and I think he’s doing gigs now for what I’ve gathered. I wouldn’t want to get into that for whatever issues they have between them. But obviously from a fans point of view I would say that ‘Yes’ obviously has an extraordinary history and Jon’s voice was part of that. They’ve had a couple of singers since then … Benoit David and Jon Davison.”
Ray Shasho: The absolute ‘Yes’ aficionado will probably never watch another ‘Yes’ performance again until Jon Anderson’s return to the group.
Steve Hackett: “I understand that and people often feel the same way about Genesis. But it could be a very long time waiting for Peter Gabriel to come back on lead vocals. It’s highly unlikely that team will ever be put back together again… and with Phil singing vocals, highly unlikely, not impossible, but extremely improvable. As much as it would be great to work with either of those guys, again, I think at the end of the day, the star is the music. When I’m doing these Genesis shows, which is the emphasis for me over this period, the response was so great in the rest of Europe and other parts of the world including Japan that instead of doing that for just a year, I decided to do it for another year. But I am going to do some solo material as well to balance that out, because otherwise it is very easy to become part of a museum. But I’m very proud of all those songs, it’s just that I feel the need to also write new material.”
Ray Shasho: Going back to Squackett’s A life Within A Day … I gave the album (5) Stars before the official release in late May 2012.
Steve Hackett: “It was very much put together in piecemeal as oppose to all in one go. It really took shape over a couple of years. At times we took things that were potentially going to be solo material of mine and Chris and combined and altered them. But it was a very easy writing process with Chris. Out of all the people that I’ve ever written with, I would say the easiest writing partner I ever had was Chris. He tends to have the attitude if somebody’s got an idea with a song; the song just expands in order to incorporate that idea. So the song gets longer with a new variation. That may sound like a very simple equation but to me it’s a very good one. Where I find with most bands and writing partners it will be … my idea is better than yours and we should do this instead of that and I could see how ‘Yes’ worked in a way to encompass lots and lots of different ideas and it’s a very good way of working.”
Ray Shasho: I think if you’re having fun during the recording process than you can expect great music.
Steve Hackett: “I think enjoying it is part of the process. Very often just building the cake can take a very long time. By the time you come to do the icing on the cake, sometimes you can end up splitting yourself a little bit thin. It’s important to go in fresh. I think if I did guitar on something for instance, I like to go in fresh. That’ll be the first thing I do on that particular day. I don’t like to be building the track all day and then come six o’clock it’s time for me to finally start putting some guitar on. I like to have both guns blazing at the beginning of the day.”
Ray Shasho: Steve, do you think some of the greatest albums and individual tracks were recorded rather quickly and easily?
Steve Hackett:Absolutely. But it can often be the case that if you have a band and you’re all playing live together… that’s one thing. Your level of investment will be very high if you’re having a band standing around while you’re working out the arrangements. What tends to make more sense is what we used to call a demo … but now it’s an updatable piece of software. You update things having gotten the bones of it down to show people. Often I’ll be showing people things that have got a finished guitar part on them or finished vocal plot, but the drums might be the last thing we put on because we may find what holes we’ve got left is the drum breaks. So I tend to work that way and tend to record one instrument at a time with a computer sketch, most of the time I don’t use amplifiers and I just play into the computer. It’s a more flexible system.”

“As much as I love amplifiers and using them for live albums all the time, I’ve used Marshall, Roland, Roland Cube, Hiwatt, HH, Fender …and I’ve been through quite a few.”
Ray Shasho: The conventional ways of recording in a studio and the technology has changed immensely.
Steve Hackett: “It certainly has. I’ll tell you what I find interesting is using an amp within a computer. I’m very fond of my pedals but sometimes we’ll just use something if I want to get a very distant thin buzzy sound or use something that’s in the computer and it’s amazingly good. I do have my treasured pedals mind you that do wonderful things and my Fernandes Burny model guitar which looks like a Les Paul and has a Floyd Rose tremolo. It’s a really extraordinary sounding instrument with sustain that goes on forever without the need of being volume dependent. The Tierney of volume is no longer an issue for me in getting guitar sounds.”
Ray Shasho: Steve, do you alter the electronics of your amplifiers or guitars, or ever build your own equipment?
Steve Hackett: “I’ve been involved with guitar manufacturers from time to time with building guitars to specific specifications. I just acquired a Jack Dent guitar with P-90 pickup which is very good. I also acquired a Farida 12 String which was built to my specifications. In terms of amplifiers I have not been involved with a signature amp so far, but I interact more and more with people who seem to want the association. I’m from a world where anyone who owned a Les Paul or a Marshall Stack had already made it. So from the teenage view point, that’s how it seemed to me. Maybe it’s the fact that Everest was there and needed to be climbed. The fact that you already had the equipment meant you were automatically going to make the assent. You already made it once you had the equipment.”

“In reality it didn’t quite work out like that because nobody walks into immediate fame on the world stage. There’s a tremendous benefit for being the new face on the block. The thing that moves me most is the passion for music, the challenge is still there and as greater as it ever was. There’s this thing that I have to face, absolute desire to want to excel and out do myself and the fear that I might not each time. Somewhere between the two there’s some kind of chain reaction that gets setup and if I spend enough time doing it I can disappoint myself from time to time.”
Ray Shasho: You’ve made so many incredible solo albums … I could spend hours discussing each one, but I think Out of the Tunnels Mouth (2009) is one of my favorites. It’s an eclectic musical mix of sheer heaven! Chris Squire was also on that album?
Steve Hackett: “I had a good time doing that one. Chris, Anthony Phillips, Nick Beggs and a number of interesting people and they all did a wonderful job. I’m actually very proud of that album. It was a very difficult album to do. I was going through a number of personal things that made it very difficult to pull off. I was in the middle of a divorce and a very difficult court case. But in a sense, I think that’s what made it all the stronger and the fact that there was so much to fight against. In a way, I went with songs that I knew that were going to work because the form of those songs were probably less experimental than I’ve done before. I knew where each of the songs ought to be heading. I was stockpiling material that I couldn’t release at the time because it was my right to be able to release albums that were being challenged in court. In a way it made it more concentrated. Of course it had something to do with the album title; it all relates to that … Out of the Tunnels Mouth… out of harm’s way and out of the lion’s mouth. In many ways it was a miracle that it got done and got finished. I do think that it is a strong album.”
Ray Shasho: So many great tracks on Out of the Tunnels Mouth. A few of my favorite tunes were “Emerald & Ash” and especially “Last Train to Istanbul.”
Steve Hackett: “Interesting … I was playing that one with the Hungarians recently. We play it with the same violinist and his daughter is playing flute on it. And I was doing some live backwards guitar stuff. I’ve got a Line 6 device that does backwards guitar almost in real time. But I work with these reverse repeat echoes and that’s a very interesting sound. Whenever I play like that it immediately starts sounding like The Beatles circa Revolver. But then I use fourth octaves on that and sometimes use either Micro Pog or another device like Digitech Whammy Pedal II to play an octave higher than what the guitar plays naturally, then when you play in a faster type of way and you end up sounding a little bit like the sound on “Baby You’re a Rich Man.” It’s a very odd sound but a very good one and something I like very-very much.”
Ray Shasho: Steve, did you receive formal musical training growing up?
Steve Hackett: “No, I didn’t have any formal training. My father was able to play a number of musical instruments and I fell in love with classical music in my teens and I allowed it to influence me. I like to think I took and still do from classical music and various techniques, I have made classical albums and recorded seven different pieces of Bach on different albums and its all music too me. There’s no need to be either one thing or another. I think you can operate in all those areas, provided that you love it enough. You don’t really need someone to grade you and say you’re not doing that properly. The idea of the mixture of genres has appealed to me greatly, the mixture of sounds and instruments, two instruments making up a third, and so on and so forth. There are so many schools of thought and if you can allow yourself to be totally immersed in each of those schools at various times, and I think the main thing is to listen which is the best lesson of all … and to love it. Then you don’t need to judge or be judged.”
Ray Shasho: I believe artists like you are also very gifted because so many musicians can’t play like you …I play a little guitar and get very frustrated because I feel there’s always something missing.
Steve Hackett:I think all of us think there’s something missing with our playing. Approaching it every day to try and do something that you didn’t do the previous day. I think we all inch our way forward and imagine other people operate like Gods but I think it’s much more like worms inching their way forward occasionally out of the darkness and into the light.”
Ray Shasho: I chatted with drummer Jim McCarty of TheYardbirds back in 2011 and he said you were a big Yardbirds fan. Jim also mentioned that your favorite album was the Roger the Engineer album.
Steve Hackett: “Yes, Roger the Engineer is a great album. I love the guitar work on it and sonically the world owes a tremendous amount to Jeff Beck for having blazed a trail and having used effects on the guitar as well… like the effect of echoes and the way guitar production owes so much to him with a great lesson to us all. There’s no doubt that he’s one of the greats and I’ll always love him for that.”
“But Jim’s a lovely guy and I enjoyed working with the reformed Yardbirds when they became Box of Frogs. I played on their second album and I’ve done things occasionally with Jim and played on his album Sitting On the Top of Time a couple of years back and also jammed with him live on one show with TheYardbirds. So yea, that was great fun.”
Ray Shasho: One of my favorite Genesis albums is …A Trick of the Tail (1976) which was the first release without original frontman Peter Gabriel. I had surgery and a two week stint in the hospital a few years back and a song that came into my mind during that time was “Entangled.” Was being in the hospital the premises of the song?
Steve Hackett: “It was really the psychiatrist couch. Whether you place it in a hospital or somewhere else, it was the idea of drifting in and out of consciousness. I remember when I first had the lyric ready and I showed it to Phil who was going to sing it and he said this has got a Mary Poppins feel to it … Over the Rooftops and Houses. Indeed, the whole world of Disney cartoons and the attendant music was a huge influence on Genesis. Certainly throughout the 70’s, beyond that … possibly less so for them, but then I really shouldn’t comment on what they did post Gabriel and post me.”

“I loved my time with Genesis and I was a huge fan of what the rest of the guys came up with. I think they were all very clever writers and very individual and unique players. It was a great school to be part of. And to quote Phil, I remember him saying on the very first day that I met him and we were going to be working together he said we’re bound to influence each other. I thought it really hadn’t occurred to me because I’d never worked in a band context before. It was a very different proposition working with a band that is often very competitive with each other. But we managed to cooperate sufficiently to come up with a great bunch of songs between us all which is why I’m still doing this stuff live, and it’s because I think so much of this group’s written material which is so damned good. When I first joined the band it was on the premises that if you wrote a guitar part you were already part of the writing team, so I joined as a full writer from the word ‘go’ and I think it was a very healthy way to run a band. You keep everyone happy and everyone is going to end up being on an economic equilibrium. That struck me as a very good way to keep a band together and get the best out of everybody. If you just feel like you’re a hired gun you’re not necessarily going to give the best of yourself.”
Ray Shasho: What was the spark that got you to write “Entangled?”
Steve Hackett: “I was thinking on the lines of Crosby, Stills and Nash and I was thinking of Graham Nash’s voice. Funny enough, I’ve run into Graham a few times in recent years and very often in the same place in New York. When I think of harmony I often think of the sound of his very sweet high voice. I think if a band that has three part harmony and can have the sweet voice on the top then the sunshine can really come out of those harmonies. So I was thinking of that … working a song that was less dependent on the lead singer and more on a harmony sound. I often still take that approach myself. “Entangled” is a song that I’m really proud of.”
Ray Shasho: Did the lyric or the music come first on “Entangled?”
Steve Hackett: “Actually, I think the music came first and the lyric followed.”
Ray Shasho: You left the group after the Wind & Wuthering album. Many of the Genesis die-hard fans became disenchanted with the group when they became a Pop or Top 40 band. Did you have any idea that the band was headed in that direction before your departure?
Steve Hackett: “It’s difficult to say. Some people were more pop orientated. I think Tony was starting to head that way. To my mind it was more important to have the occasional hit single rather than to have a whole succession of hit singles. I think there’s a certain price …you end up playing the game where as for instance I had a hit single with Genesis with “I Know What I Like” and then the next hit I had was “Cell 151” off my own album Highly Strung and then the next hit single was “When the Heart Rules the Mind” with GTR. But since then, I never really have taken the singles market seriously. I make albums … I’m that kind of animal. I like the musical journey on an album.”
Ray Shasho: Phil Collins made some Disheartening remarks several years ago saying that there was no longer a place for him in today’s music.
In an interview he stated, “I'm much happier just to write myself out of the script entirely. I'll go on a mysterious biking holiday and never return. That would be a great way to end the story, wouldn't it?" It stirred a huge outpouring of concern from all of his fans around the world and later Phil responded back saying that he wasn’t really a basket case. Have you spoken with Phil Collins lately and is he okay?
Steve Hackett: “I think he has some health issues. To be honest I tend to bump into Phil at the occasional function. He had become extremely withdrawn so I think he attends those functions less, as far as I know. All I would say as a musician, I’ve always loved him and he’s a great all rounder. The great thing is we encouraged each other. I hope he recovers in every sense of the word. He’s given us a lot of different music over the years and is one of the greats. I’m just wishing him a lot of luck and love frankly. The drums have been difficult for him to manage because of his hands. But there may be some other past there. We have to be adaptable and flexible. To be a conceptual thinker is terribly important, to think outside the box.”
Ray Shasho: Is there a certain period during the day that is better for you to write music?
Steve Hackett: “Occasionally I’ve managed to dream melodies. That always seems like the greatest gift, to wake up with a song that you remember, or a tune, a riff, a line …anything. It’s a great thing. I’ve awoken in the middle of the night to write things down or record them on tape. I’ll gladly give up sleep any night of the week to come up with something extraordinary like that. It’s the reason I tend to write first thing in the morning. I tend to get up quite early, usually by 6 a.m. That’s when I get the pen out, in that first hour when all around is quiet and before the sun is up … it’s important to me. I find first thing in the morning that I’m in a semi-dream state.”
Ray Shasho: Steve, here’s a question that I ask everyone that I interview. If you had a ‘Field of Dreams’ wish like the movie, to play, sing or collaborate with anyone from the past or present, who would that be?
Steve Hackett: “Let’s hope they would all like to collaborate and teach. I’d love to find out what Tchaikovsky and Paul Butterfield might come up with between the two of them. Of course there’s Bach. I think really it’s the meeting point between opposites that engages me the most. Those contradictions that get resolved in music are the genuine breakthroughs. I’d just let every one of them flood through me, the idea that all music is really one cell of opportunity. If you were to become all of those things at once, that would be something wouldn’t it? It would be incredible.”
Ray Shasho: Steve, thank you so much for being on the call today … but more importantly for all the great music you’ve given us and continue to bring. We’ll see you in Florida in April!
Steve Hackett: “It’s been great talking with you Ray. Good luck with your endeavors and I’ll see you in Clearwater, Florida soon … all the best.”

Steve Hackett’s Genesis Revisited-Genesis Extended will be performing at the newly renovated Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, Florida on Thursday April 3rd 2014 at 7:30 p.m. For tickets visit www.rutheckerdhall.com or call 727-791-7400 for more information. Steve Hackett’s Genesis Revisited-Genesis Extended will also be playing on Friday April 4th at Plaza Live in Orlando and on Saturday April 5th at Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Purchase Steve Hackett’s Genesis Revisited I & II CD’s at amazon.com
Purchase Steve Hackett’s Beyond the Shrouded Horizon at amazon.com
Steve Hackett Official Website at www.hackettsongs.com
Genesis Revisited Tour dates
Steve Hackett on Facebook
Steve Hackett on Myspace
Steve Hackett on Twitter
Very special thanks to Jo Hackett.

Contact classic rock music journalist Ray Shasho at rockraymond.shasho@gmail.com

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