homethe showartistsinterviewsabout uscontact

Organic Tracks Interviews

Steve Hackett

Organic Tracks host Jeff Parets spoke with Steve Hackett via phone from Hackett's home in London, England on January 16, 2017.

JEFF PARETS: 
You have a new album coming out on March 24 called The Night Siren, and you’ll also be going out on tour for what’s being called “Genesis Revisited with Hackett Classics.” It sounds like there will be some great set lists. Plus, the tour coincides with the 40th anniversary of the release of the classic Genesis album “Wind & Wuthering.” What music can audiences expect to hear on this tour?

HACKETT:
Yeah, it's been 40 years since "Wind and Wuthering" was released and I thought it was a hugely influential album, it was great album at the time. Peter Gabriel was very complimentary about that album, when he was working with Robert Fripp, and they seemed to like it very much and showed up to one or two shows, which was rather wonderful. I'm still proud of it and I'm doing most of that album live during my Genesis set and I'll also be doing the track “Inside and Out,” which was recorded as part of those sessions for that. So, in addition to that, I'll be doing something from each of the Genesis albums I worked on. So there will be something from Nursery Cryme, something from Foxtrot, something from Selling England By The Pound, Lamb Lies Down On The Broadway, through A Trick of the Tail, and of course most of Wind and Wuthering, plus, a set of my own stuff as well, featuring cuts from the Night Siren and many other favorites, that go back a long way. 

PARETS:
Well, let’s dig back into some Hackett history…growing up, what got you into music, and what types of music were you exposed to at an early age and who were some of the artists that you listened to in your formative years that may have influenced the way you play guitar today?

HACKETT:
Well, my earliest musical influence was my father; he was able to play a number of different instruments, including the all-important harmonica. So I was playing harmonica ten years before guitar in fact and again, even my early steps on guitar were, as a result of the fact my father brought back a guitar from Canada and he played country songs on it, he used to whistle along. He showed me a few chords and apart from that, he was listening to the kind of radio in the 1950’s, where you would hear an Elvis track next to something by Glenn Miller, and then they were playing something from Gluck and Mario Lanza. See, in the 1950’s, it was all considered to be pop music, there was no sort of delineation. There hadn't been that idea of a radio station that plays nothing but jazz or blues or country or classical, it was just all one thing. See, radio was very basic in Britain in the 1950’s, you either had the home service that dealt with news and current affairs, or it was the light program, and it was that simple. So you had a tremendous amount of different things that you were exposed to and then of course, Radio Luxembourg started to take off and if you really wanted to listen to non-stop pop music, you got that at night but you know, the signal would come and go. So, that's how I got to hear the Everlys, Roy Orbison, Del Shannon, all that stuff that came over from your side of the pond. 

PARETS:
You must have been quite young when you realized that conventional rock and pop were not going to meet your musical aspirations and that Progressive Rock was for you. How would you describe prog-rock to a musical neophyte?

HACKETT:
I think that Progressive Rock is an attempt to bridge the generation gap and also to take a pan-genre look at music and to say that every style is welcome. Sometimes, during the course of one song, like for instance, one of the songs on the new album, I start off with flamenco influence and go into a rock song, and then it goes out into a guitar solo, in sort of a 60’s style, very free with a lot of feedback. So, you got really three different styles in there and ultimately, I think that Progressive Music is music without any rules. 

PARETS:
You joined Genesis in early 1971 to replace the band’s departing guitarist Anthony Phillips…what are your memories of that first connection with the other members of the group?

HACKETT:
I first remember meeting with Peter Gabriel, who came along with Tony Banks, and Pete did all the talking at the time. I was playing tracks with my brother to them. I thought it was the best way of getting across melodies that I had, and I tried to give them, you know, three different styles. I thought I'd give them something lyrical, which is perhaps closest to the style of early Genesis, and then I did something completely atonal, completely dissonant. Then I did some blues and I remember Pete saying; “I think we can use the first one but the other two, perhaps not so much.” But then by the time we've done Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, of course, we were doing some atonal stuff in there as well, so I kind of got my way. I never managed to get them to do anything remotely bluesy but then of course, Phil went on to work with Clapton rather a lot. So, there were a lot of things under the umbrella of Genesis, one way or the other. 

PARETS:
From your perspective, could you describe what the group dynamic was like with Genesis during the recording process? 

HACKETT:
The recording process with Genesis was pretty easy most of the time. I think that most of the angst went into the writing, the actual recording was usually done very quickly, almost a kind of a perfunctory aspect to it because, we were touring often a lot. So, albums like, I think the second album with the band, Foxtrot, that one really, we had to fit around gigs, so, it probably took about a month to do. By the time we were doing stuff like Selling England By The Pound, every album took about six weeks at that point. Of course, this is before the era of click tracks and all that kind of drive towards perfection, so, there was a certain amount of push and pull and spontaneous work with that. 

PARETS:
Was there a fairly strong camaraderie among the members of the band, or were there more artistic tensions than you would have preferred?

HACKETT:
I think that most of the tensions with Genesis, with the idea of, you know, what’s the E-plus of the band? you know, what kind of songs should we be doing? I think that, you know, Pete was more interested in rhythmic stuff and Tony was more interested in stuff that was very chord based. Personally, I was happy with any atmosphere, as long as it was well done. Phil was primarily concerned with band arrangements and making things swing, so, you'd have something that might be influenced by Vonn Williams and then you take that very legato classical approach and try and give it accents, and even the influence of Buddy Rich would be paramount on those early tunes of Genesis. So you get almost like syncopated, hymnal-influenced stuff. 

PARETS:
How did the group dynamic compare with Peter Gabriel, and then after Peter left the band?

HACKETT:
Once Pete left, I think up to then, we credited everything to Genesis. In other words, I joined the band on the basis that as Pete said, as soon as you join the band, as soon as you do a guitar part that you've written, you're considered to be a fully-fledged member of the writing team and of course, I’d advertised myself as a writer. You have to remember; I wasn't a founding member of the band, so, when you team up with strong characters like Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford, you do have to fight your corner. So, you know, there were times when I was forced to threaten, in order to get my own way and I guess, you know, all’s fair perhaps in love and war and writing songs together with a tough bunch of guys. 

PARETS:
With Genesis, what did you find most gratifying…playing live or recording the albums? 

HACKETT:
Well, you know, I love playing live and I love recording. The beauty of recording is that you get a chance to fix the things that you mess up. When you do it live, you take a running jump at a number of fences and if you clear most of them, you're doing very well. Particularly with demanding music such as the Genesis stuff was and also my own stuff. So, I like to think my own stuff is at least as demanding as Genesis and I like to think that I had an influence on the band. I’m basically an idealist and I wanted to work with a band that was prepared to push the boundary of music and do stuff that was extraordinarily dynamic, and that wasn't afraid of classical music, it wasn't afraid of comedy, it wasn't afraid of drama. All those things I think that we now call Progressive retrospectively, work very, very well live and so, those things that were recorded with a minimum of overdubs, I mean we were virtually working live in the studio. 

PARETS:
Up until "A Trick of the Tail," Genesis albums listed the entire band as the composers of all the songs. However, that doesn’t seem like the case on a song like “Horizons,” which sounds like it was entirely yours.  

HACKETT:
Yeah, “Horizons” was something that I wrote, but then again, I was happy for everyone to be credited because, we had that songwriter's cooperative approach, which I think was very, very fair. I think that once we were doing "A Trick of the Tail" and "Wind and Wuthering," unfortunately, the competitive side of certain people tend to come out rather more. I think you know, Pete was much more socialist in his approach to everything, politics, the idea that everyone should get a fair share of the cake and I think that, you know, the band ethos changed. But then, I think that for those two albums where individuals were credited, I believe that they found that unworkable once I’d left. You know, once a band starts to hemorrhage members, you find that perhaps, it's best to credit everybody at the end of the day. Otherwise, you will get someone who says “I'm king of the castle and the rest of you are only fit to have the grounds.”

PARETS:
"Horizons" has been a staple for you for almost your entire career. What was the inspiration for that beautiful instrumental that I sometimes play on the Acoustic Storm?

HACKETT:
"Horizons," funny enough, even though it’s a very short piece, it's only a minute-thirty seconds, so ninety seconds worth. I was influenced by the music of William Byrd, there was a piece called the Earl of Solsbury, which was originally written for keyboard of course, way back in Tudor times and I thought it was a perfect length for something. I remember John Renbourn had recorded a version of that and I heard it, but on guitar, I thought it sounded really wonderful. In fact, I ended up recording a version of that down the line. But meanwhile, one of the first things that I wrote for Genesis that was entirely my own work, was that piece and I played it for them, and it was Phil who suggested it, he thought it really should go on the album. So I think, you know, the others conceded that, and it really became an introduction to Supper’s Ready, the longest track. So, the shortest track, pre-empting the longest track and segued back to back of course, so, you've got both together. 

PARETS:
You and Tony Banks wrote "Entangled," which I’ve played on the Acoustic Storm. Can you describe what was behind that composition?

HACKETT:
Well, "Entangled" was something that I'd started when I was working on my first solo album and I thought I don't really have time to finish this, and it had a rather different atmosphere to that, but Tony basically came up with the chorus, I came up with the verse and the lyrics. I think it was very dream-like, I think it was typically Genesis, it had a whole ton of twelve strings on it, all chiming away at once and I recorded it again in recent years, with two different vocalists on it, and it's basically, a harmony-based song. I think it was the first time Phil had ever recorded three-part harmony vocals and I remember Dave Hentschel, who was engineering for us at the time and made him do it again and again and again, he had worked with Elton John and there was this sort of sense of perfectionism. So, I think for Phil being the vocalist for the first time and certainly, you know, of being the vocalist with Genesis, was a huge pressure but he did a wonderful job, as did the people who re-recorded it many years later and it's still a lovely tune and it's a one-off, I don't think there's anything quite like it anyone else has done. 

PARETS:
What songs from your solo albums are you most proud of, or are they all like your children and you’d rather not show favoritism?

HACKETT:
One of the things that I put on "Genesis Revisited I," the first album of re-recorded Genesis things, was a track called "Valley Of The Kings." And funny enough, Nad Sylvan said to me, it was his favorite track on that and asked me if it was it a Genesis track. I said, no, it wasn't, you know, but there's a feel of that, the chord sequence could be Genesis but, I think it has more of a Middle Eastern feel. So, I think it has its parallels with some of the later stuff that I've done, certainly the stuff on "The Night Siren" that uses a lot of Arabic scales. 

PARETS:
You’ve collaborated with some other well-known artists throughout your solo career. Going back to the early days of your solo career, Steve Walsh of Kansas sang lead on "Narnia" from one of your earlier albums, "Please Don’t Touch."

HACKETT:
It was great working with the guys from Kansas, Phil Ehart on drums, who would always really organized everything with that band and Steve Walsh who had an extraordinary voice at the time and an extraordinary range. Part of that song was acoustic, of course, it's the acoustic introduction and it was Ian McDonald, who suggested that I use that as an introduction to a song one day and of course I wrote the whole thing in an open tuning-E, the acoustic guitar open tuning and it does have rock instruments with it. We used honky tonk pianos, where you got tacks on the thing to make it chime you know, that kind of saloon piano sound and the track was really based on the C.S. Lewis story "The Original Lion," The Witch In The Wardrobe story. So again, I think it comes from the storyteller tradition, and it means you can go in and out of acoustic music, you can use those wide dynamics but in a way, you know, that album "Please Don’t Touch," was very much an Anglo- American cooperation and I got to work with a number of great singers on that and a number of black artists, who were just tremendous on that, one of whom was Chester Thompson on that album. Richie Havens, who was absolutely fabulous too, the late great Richie Havens and Randy Crawford, who's not terribly well known in the States, other than as the singer of the Crusaders’ hit "Street Life," but she had a huge career over here, became a huge star in Europe, after she she'd worked on "Please Don’t Touch." So I was thrilled to be part of the introduction, perhaps for her on this side of the Atlantic. 

PARETS:
Some of your other collaborations have included Steve Howe of Yes in GTR in 1986…Steve Hackett & Friends in the 1990’s featured some members of King Crimson, in the mid-90’s you performed with Jon Wetton of King Crimson and Asia on the “Tokyo Tapes”, and in 2012 you collaborated with Chris Squire of Yes on the project known as Squackett. What do you enjoy most about working with other established musicians?

HACKETT:
I have worked with a whole bunch of people from Yes, in one way or another, sometimes on record, sometimes live. There's been that natural crossover I think between Yes and Genesis and King Crimson because, I think we were all Mellotron bands at one time and I think all things that link those bands is the fact that there's a love of classical music that is shared, there's a bridging of the generation gap, there's an aspect of jazz, there's a love of syncopation and all of those bands produced I think, very ambitious work. So, if I work with any of those people from those bands and I throw in something that might have a reference to something classical, they're not going to bat an eyelid, or if I said to them something about Ornette Coleman, they'll know what I'm talking about. It's not as if they're separate schools, I think that all of them had that aspect of collision and the pan-genre approach and involving as many styles as possible. Once again, it’s music without rules and without any boundaries, very ambitious music, probably more ambitious than classical music. In fact you would think that classical musicians would be the most disciplined of the lot, but I would say that progressive musicians, probably have the most catholic and widest tastes. So, I think they are musicians in the full sense of the word, there's nothing that they won't undertake. 

PARETS:
Acoustic guitar seems to be just about as important an element in your music as the electric guitar. What makes acoustic guitar so special to you? 

HACKETT:
Well, I think from the very first note that I heard Segovia playing Bach, I had the impression that I was listening to this mini-orchestra, and there was a kind of miracle going on. The fact that one man could conjure this in one go and it was obviously, the product of tremendous discipline and many, many lessons later. But the overriding thing is, the passion that runs throughout that or else you wouldn't put yourself through the convolutions or the unlikely things that that particular man managed to pull off. But there is a purity about acoustic work, and you can say it's one color but it's the shading within that color, so it's the equivalent of for an artist doing a pencil drawing. Yes, you might be working in black and white, but it's not just about that, is it, so it's about all the shades that are around that. So, acoustic music is very, very personal, it doesn't get any more personal that.

PARETS: 
I never thought of that analogy to the visual medium between black and white and color. That’s a great description. Well, talking about getting personal with music…there are some songs that can make one weep. What about the emotional component of music?

HACKETT:
I know you're asking about, you know, the emotional quality of music. I remember when I was young, listening to music and it so moved me that I couldn't bear to look at people. It was such an honest reaction and emotion, a bit like being seen without clothes. But perhaps, I could quote something from Dr. Oliver Sacks, the late great Oliver Sacks, who dealt with patients who became frozen and couldn't move, this thing called akinesia. There was an example of one woman, who could only move physically when she heard moving music, she had to be moved emotionally, in order to move physically, which calls into to the whole idea of the healing power of music. So music is very strong medicine, it's all sorts of things, it's in a masterful piece, it's many, many things. 

PARETS:
Are there nights when your mood dictates your set list? For instance, you definitely have some introspective personal kinds of songs, but you might be in an extrovert mood, or the other way around. So how do you reconcile your moods with the types of music you’d like to perform in a concert? 

HACKETT:
Well, what tends to happen with the regular band that I have is that we have some revolving door songs. In other words, there are some things that we can use, if we feel so moved to do so, but it does take rather a lot with the band, you know, to get it up and running and we do a very long set anyway. So it's not always possible to suddenly switch from one moment to the next. I wish it was more flexible than that. There are certain people who can of course. Rob Townsend, who's a fabulous soloist in the band, there's nothing you could throw at him, that he could possibly say, “I don't think I could touch that.” He's very spontaneous. What happens sometimes during sound checks is, if I'm late to the sound check because I might be doing something else, it will very quickly turn into a jazz odyssey. So, yeah, we have that capability within the band. 

PARETS:
Can you describe your creative process when composing new music? In other words, how does a musical idea come to you, or do they come to you in different forms at different times, and maybe when least expected.

HACKETT:
I think that music does come along when least expected. I find often the best things are done when you're on the run. It's completely inconvenient to record a melody when you're driving a car but sometimes those are the times when the best melodies pop into your head. Sometimes, you know, you're dashing out the door and you're late for an appointment and suddenly a wonderful melody might just pop into your head. You've got to honor it in some way or another. It take an awful lot of patience, but there’s no one way to write a tune. There are many different approaches; sometimes it's lyrics first, sometimes it's the melody first, there are no rules. 

PARETS:
Having accomplished so much, what keeps you motivated?

HACKETT:
Well, you know, I'm still passionate about music and so is my wife Jo and the thing is that we love it so much. Jo's father was a musician as well as a teacher, her grandfather was a musician, she learned violin when she was a child. I grew up learning from my father's knee, harmonica and guitar. There just seems to be that thing, you know, as I become older, I'm aware of the fact that the clock is ticking and I've amassed all this technique and this know-how, and what have you and I think, I want to get as many albums out of myself as possible and visit as many places possible and play to as many people as possible. So all of that makes for a very busy life within music and you can see why, and the link with close family. 

PARETS:
Speaking of playing as many locations around the world as you can…are there any places that you have not visited or performed at that you would still like to get to?

HACKETT:
We're going to visit for the first time, we are going to play in New Zealand, Australia Jakarta, Hong Kong and that will be first time to all those places, so I'm thrilled those places are finally opened up to me because, I have played other places in the East. I've played in Japan, I've played in Malaysia, I've played a whole ton of Eastern European places, not always with my own band but with a Hungarian band called Djabe. We do world music and as I said, I get to visit all sorts of places with them and meet musicians from all over the world, that might not normally be on the touring map for regular rock & rollers. So, with Djabe I get to work with people from Azerbaijan, from Iceland, and from many, many different places.