Steve Hackett

by Tom Craig

SFL Music: It’s a pleasure to speak to you, Steve. Thank you so much for granting us this interview. How have you been for the last couple of years with everything going on?

Hackett: Well, we haven’t done as many live shows until recently. We’ve started doing live shows again, and we did a whole bunch of British dates. We did 31 British dates, which was incredible after the lockdown for so long. And we did some stuff in Scandinavia and a couple of shows in France.

But it’s been a very productive time in other ways. I released lots of albums. There was a live album, there was an acoustic album, there was a rock album, there was an autobiography, and I’m working on another live album right now from the last time we toured in the UK, from Manchester. So there’s been that, there’s been lockdown videos. So it’s a bit like upping or raising the bar and upping the ante for those recently disenfranchised fan people, tickets to shows that we couldn’t possibly deliver because shows weren’t open, countries weren’t open, but we’re doing as many things as we can retrospectively.

We’ll be touring all over the world. Given the will from governments who allow us to come in and do it, we’ll be everywhere. So I’m hoping it’s going to go the way of the recent Scandinavian and European stuff. So it’s extremely flexible right now. You know what the politics are like from one moment to the next, but I’ve been saying to people for the last couple of years or so, when the world is open for business, we’re open for business. So on paper we’re coming over, we’re going to be doing stuff. It’s a long US tour. Really looking forward to it. Many of these dates are sold out. So I’m thrilled to be doing it once more.

SFL Music: Well, we’re sure looking forward to having you back. And I have to say, looking through things, I think you’ve probably been one of the busier musicians during this whole lockdown, like you just said, with the two studio albums and a live album and the autobiography. The two studio albums are just amazing and so different from each other. And they were both released in 2021, am I correct?

Hackett: Yeah, that’s right. We fitted two studio albums into the same year. They were made deliberately different from each other because one was a personal journey on acoustic guitar with accompaniment from many things. We took on a vast orchestral perspective. But that was a very personal album. I thought, what the hell? I can’t do what I’m supposed to do, so why don’t I do something that I love? And nylon string guitar is one of them. Loved doing that.
But then also being a rock album was hugely important to be able to play electric guitar and to be able to explode with that. And it’s an album that I think went down very well. They were both cathartic because they were twin aspects of the instrument that I love.

SFL Music: How long had you been working on the material before you actually released them?

Hackett: That’s difficult to say. I had one rock track recorded with… It’s the one called Scorched Earth that was already recorded in some kind of demo form and then we updated it to have real drums and some real orchestral stuff. It’s impossible. Some riffs and melodies are in my head for years before they get finally released and recorded, so some of the acoustic stuff I was playing a little bit of it live occasionally, but in the moment, of course, in recent years, I’ve been doing electric gigs and allowing myself to lapse into a former life doing acoustic stuff. I do love doing it. In the main it’s very gentle stuff, but it can also be fiery when there’s the aspect of Spanish music in there as well. It just doesn’t explode in the same way the electric does.

SFL Music: Yes. Yes. I know that on this tour you’ve chosen to feature the Genesis live album, Seconds Out. How did you come about that decision?
Hackett: Really that decision was done in tandem with the team we started doing… The first album I’d done in its entirety from Genesis days was Selling England by the Pound, which was a personal favorite. We moved on to Seconds Out because the feedback from fans was so great. That material, it was a lot of people’s introduction to the band and a lot of people’s favorite album.

Of course, because that’s a live double, it’s stuff that when we did it, when it was current in 1977, we were cherry picking across the best of the numbers that we felt work live. So, yeah, it was the best of live at that point in time. And to resurrect it now felt like a really great thing to do.

There are certain tracks on it that people love, I know people love Carpet Crawlers. Personally, I love doing that combination of Dance on a Volcano twinned with Los Endos. The three songs that book ended A Trick of the Tail. And right at the end of the series where the energy just goes up and up and up and up and up.

SFL Music: Yes, it does.

Hackett: That feels very, very good indeed, and so it’s wonderful to do that. And Progressive Magazine in England, it’s kind of taken over from Melody Maker. Prog Magazine, they voted out of their top 100 of all time. They voted Supper’s Ready their favorite, I think, for all the readers from Foxtrot, which was the 1972 album. It’s this great long piece that was either 23 minutes long in its original form or sometimes 25 minutes long, it’s the version we do live with a long-improvised section at the end.

To take it to the mountain, it really just, that idea of a journey for people who like their songs to be musical odysseys, that really fits the bill and so it’s highly affection of fans still. And it’s always a challenge to pull it off, but I do think the band I currently have do a wonderful version of that, as they do all the other Genesis things, so I’m very proud to head up this team.

SFL Music: Well, you do have a great band, and Roger King and Rob Townson have been with you quite some time.

Hackett: Yeah, those guys, I’ve been working with them quite some time, Roger since the 1990s and Rob really at the beginning of 2000. So yeah, I guess we’re… I won’t say we’re getting older together, we’re getting more mature together, that’s what it is, as we ride off into the sunset. It’s been great working with those guys because they are so very, very good and they’re great pals, and if I were to say that they were accomplished, that wouldn’t be a fraction of it.

Roger, when I first met him, he was very, very modest. He said, “I trained as a cathedral organist and as an engineer,” but he didn’t even mention to me that he’d done music for Cliffhanger and In the Name of the Father. So he’d already written a lot of music, although I believe other people got the credit officially for it. So he’s very modest about it. He doesn’t blow his own trumpet. He’s very British, and he’s very good.
Then there is also Rob Thompson you mentioned he is a jazz professor, he teaches jazz and he’s also got an extraordinary sense of humor, so he is extraordinary with his impressions of people.

SFL Music: That’s fantastic. And Nad Sylvan vocals-

Hackett: Nad Sylvan is Fantastic. He said, “I’m a bit of a chameleon.” And so he does a wonderful impression of… The stuff that Peter Gabriel did with band and Phil Collins, he’s very much at one with that. Genesis was his dream band, and so I’ve made his dream come true.

We’ve done one or two things that I did with Richie Havens And he does a fantastic version that too. He changes his voice and he sounds kind of like Richie. There was one night we were doing a version of Icarus Ascending and I swear, it sounded like he was channeling Richie Havens. If I turned around, I wouldn’t have seen this tall blonde guy, I would’ve seen the king of vocalists himself, Richie Havens. Sadly missed by all of us, such a great guy. He’s so wonderful.

SFL Music: What did you do with Richie?.

Hackett: Well, we did two songs together in 1977. We did two songs together on an album called Please Don’t Touch, and he then asked me to play on something of his, which, to this day, I haven’t heard that, but I did something on something of his. And he was simply wonderful to work with. What can you say about Richie Havens? Not only did I get to work with him, there were so many vocalists who were fans of his. Peter Gabriel was also a huge fan and asked Richie to sing on something of his. Peter did an album called The Story Of OVO, and there’s a wonderful track on it that Richie does and his voice is extraordinary.

SFL Music: It is. I’m a big fan of good live albums and Seconds Out is a great live album. What is it about those performances that you think made them so good?

Hackett: Well I think that… Let’s put it this way. Anyone who is a fan of a live band, it’s got something to do with being a certain age, and the time that it was created and having a receptive audience that hangs on every note. So we built it up with Genesis to the point where… We started out in clubs and colleges and we ended up in town halls and arenas and everything in between.

Seconds out, it’s difficult to say what is it. I think that over time you get feedback from people who are very familiar with those albums and they’ll choose… The fans will always tell you what it is they really like of certain albums.
Seconds Out was a cross section of everything that had happened within that band from ’71 to ’77, so there were six or seven albums that were produced during that time, so we were able to choose stuff that was a favorite thing. We’re just mixing a live version of that, a live version of a live album with the current band.

I have these Swedish guys in, and the rest of us are British, and it’s sounding amazing all over again. So that’s really wonderful. And to do some other stuff with it as well, which has been extremely well received. So I’m thrilled that it’s all been so well received, especially in recent years. It’s like relaunching the Queen Mary or something, there it goes off into the ocean again and makes waves all over again, which is great.

SFL Music: Yeah. But when you think back, because if I’m not mistaken, that album was the product of two different tours of recordings. Am I correct in that?

Hackett: Well, it’s hard to remember. We were recording a lot of stuff, but what we found was the stuff that we had recorded with the lineup that included Bill Bruford had showed up on some other stuff, on Three Sides Live. The stuff that we’ve done with Chester Thompson on drums, it just sounded to us as if the best live show that we’d done at that point was in Paris, so really it was all pretty much down to one show.
I think of those two years, ’76 and ’77 with Bill Bruford and with Chester Thompson, as typifying a certain era of Genesis when we were officially a four piece, but we became a five once again with the addition of the extra player.

SFL Music: Right. Right. Well, you could tell that you guys were really, really in sync in those performances. And I know that I’m looking forward to seeing you, with your current band, redo that album from start to finish. It should just be amazing.

Hackett: We’re doing that, I think it’s April 23rd at the Parker in Fort Lauderdale.

SFL Music: Yes.

Hackett: I believe it’s already sold out. I’m both happy and sorry to say for those who haven’t got tickets so far. But that’s due to happen and I’m thrilled that we’re doing it. And I just, touch wood, hope that there’s no more pandemics that break out. The band are just raring to go.

SFL Music: We all do.

Hackett: We’re looking forward to coming back to The States. Believe me.

SFL Music: Yeah. Well, we also have sister publications in Ohio and Pennsylvania, so we’re going to make this interview into those magazines as well, to give you some coverage leading up to Cincinnati, Akron, Harrisburg, and Greenberg.
Hackett: That’s brilliant. Thank you.

SFL Music: Oh, no, it’s our pleasure. Going back to Surrender of Silence, boy, I was struck by just the cohesiveness of that album as a piece, but the individual influences within it from the different songs. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Hackett: Sure. I think we had never attempted something which had African influence. There’s the travelogue aspect of it, but my wife, Jo, and I, we had a fascinating visit to Ethiopia a few years back and we wanted to try and encapsulate that in song, so we did something which was hugely rhythmic. And so on one extreme there’s that. There’s the influence of Oriental, there’s Russian influence, Russian orchestration, pentatonic scales. There’s the stuff that’s influenced by Prokofiev, the influence of ballet music, as well as straight out there thunderous rock and roll.

I think it’s probably the heaviest album I’ve ever done, even more physical stiff, very, very heavyweight. So it’s not exactly lightweight theater really. When you hear strings come in at the beginning of Natalia it sounds really serious.

SFL Music: It certainly does.

Hackett: I was really thrilled with the arrangement on that. We did work long and hard on the arrangement to make that sound like something that Prokofiev might have been proud of, and also the influence of film music and soundtrack, and the idea of creating a film for the ear rather than the eye was paramount. In other words, it’s this music that takes you places. That could be wonderful, especially when you’re in lockdown, so I was very much aware that it was a chance to take people places virtually rather than… You couldn’t wing people to Africa, but you could play them a track called Wingbeats and you would know from the first note that you were in Africa. You were moved by the spirit of all of that.

I think the Russian influence is obvious. Plus there was some Vietnamese instrumentation a little bit later on, as there were guys from Azerbaijan, Tajikistan as well as drummers from all over. And a few from The States, Phil Ehart from Kansas. Hadn’t worked with him for many years, lovely to work with him again. Craig Blundell a list drummer, also wonderful.

A kind of United Nations Team, really. It was fantastic to be able to do that, to work on a global level and coordinate it all in London, England. But the parameters, of course, it kept seeping into other territories, other waters. So, yeah, lots influence of all sorts of things, from Alfred Hitchcock to the blues.

SFL Music: Yes. Are there songs off of that album that you already have in mind? Because I know that you’re going to feature them after you do Seconds Out. Are there ones you already have in mind that you’ll go to first?

Hackett: Well, what we’re doing is there’s a couple of tracks. There’s one called The Devil’s Cathedral which works extraordinarily well live. It sounds as if it was always designed for live. It reminds me in many ways of the Genesis influence, because it’s a story, but then it’s Genesis plus because it’s got that aspect of jazz soprano sax meeting pipe organ at the beginning of it. I’ve never heard an improvisation of anything like it. It’s a short improvisation sequence, and then the story with Nad Sylvan taking the lead on it. I love doing that one live. It just takes off like a rocket. I have to say it’s better than it is on the album. It’s just one of those things that… It was made for live. So I realize why I did it now, because it’s so fulfilling live. It’s extraordinary. And we’re mixing a live version of it at the moment.

We also do Held In The Shadows, and that also works very well because at the end of it I trade solos with Rob Townson and, again, it’s the whole band really going for it on that. So they both turned into great live numbers. Those two things. Extraordinary the way things take on a life beyond the confines of the original album that they appeared on. They go places live that they didn’t even dream of on record.

You’re lucky if a track sprouts legs. That’s great. If it sprouts wings, even better. And then it sticks around for longer and is in the public consciousness. Like I’ve often said before the owners are really the audience and it’s the audience that decide and make those decisions, and you feel that ripple goes through them where they start to embrace something and very quickly it becomes like an old friend as opposed to, “You must be listening to this because it’s tediously new.” My only problem is that I have to do another interview now.

SFL Music: I know. We’re at our limit. Steve, I will let you go. Real quickly, tell the fans and the readers what they can expect when they see you at any of these shows.

Hackett: Well for the shows that are coming up, we’re going to do the whole of Seconds Out, which is the double album from 1977, Genesis album 1977. We also do about 30 to 40 minutes worth of light dust from a mixture of albums from Special Mornings and Surrender of Silence and one or two others. So it’s a very short set before we get into the Genesis stuff, but the live stuff has worked really well, so we do Shadow of the Hierophant and Every Day and Clocks and these two others that I mentioned, Devil’s Cathedral and Held in the Shadow. We do that shorter set, and then we take a break and we come back with the whole of Seconds Out. So be looking forward to all of that.

SFL Music: Wonderful. Well, again, thank you for the generosity of your time today, and safe travels to you and your band mates on this upcoming tour. And we look forward to seeing you here in The States.

Hackett: Thank you so much, Tom. It’s wonderful to talk to you. Thank you so much.

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