DPRP's Menno von Brucken Fock speaks to Steve Hackett about his latest solo album!
Out of the Tunnel's Mouth is Steve Hackett's latest solo album. After Genesis and a temporary adventure with GTR, Steve released an impressive number of solo albums, partly electric, partly 'tributes' and also several classically orientated albums. His latest release was realized in very difficult circumstances, because Steve had to deal with his divorce from Kim Poor with to whom he had been married for 32 years. Modern technology saved the day because a big part of the recordings were done in his flat! Originally this interview was planned on 27th April but the phone didnít ring, however the second attempt 15th June was quite alright: Steve made it to the place he had to phone from just in time and in a mere ĺ of an hour, this is what he had to say.
MENNO: Hello Steve, an awesome album, I counted 22 studio albums excluding "Out Of The Tunnel's Mouth" is that correct - because on your website the count is 29?
STEVE: It depends on what website you have been looking. To be honest I havenít counted them lately but the new official site (www.hackettsongs.com) should be correct. As a result of a court case Iíve been awarded the Ďold websiteí as well since I won the case last week; itís taken me three years to get it back! So probably I will try to amalgamate the two but although the court decision was in my favour I donít have the site Ďphysicallyí at my disposal. All I know Iíve done about 50 albums in my time, some of them are live and some of them are studio albums.
MENNO: What's the driving force for you that keeps this business interesting and challenging after some 40 years as a musician? Going on the road must be tiring?
STEVE: Well, actually I enjoy being on the road. I like the rough and tumble on it you know. I check into a room Iíve never seen before and if itís halfway decent, thatís okay and as soon Iíve checked in, Iíve got to be checking out again to go off to the gig and in some cases I donít have a chance to check until after the show! Itís kind of funny to look at an empty room, a venue of whatever size with no people in it and you think oh my god, itís like a ghost town, a large empty warehouse and it looks like nothing till somethingís going on, until there are people in there; then, suddenly a bit later, everything comes to life: Q-lights, an enthusiastic crowd, itís magical and I marvel at that. Almost every night thereís a sort of alchemy that kicks in. In a way I sort of forget gigs with inconsistencies, because theyíre inevitable. Itís not a matter of perfection for me anymore; the most important thing is going up the stage and being there, connecting to the crowd, concentrate and trying to get it right. When I go up on stage, I donít have that level of fear I used to have when I walked out of the dressing room , I donít feel that anymore and I donít need to be someone else: Iím the same bloke as I am back stage. Itís in the lap of the gods: if itís going to work, itís gonna work; if the place is going to catch on fire, if the electricity is going to cut outÖ. It all happened to me a lot of times and to other people as well. Iíve seen an extraordinary amount of things happen on stageÖ.
MENNO: Well, one thing is sure: you have a fantastic band with you!
STEVE: (laughs) Yes, they are an incredible band and the most extraordinary thing is, they are growing better all the time. Iíve discovered there are more levels we can do together: thereís all sorts of stuff going on, gradually evolving, even with the old songs!
MENNO: By the way: congratulations on your introduction to the Hall Of Fame with your old buddies of Genesis: what did this mean for you personally?
STEVE: Thank you! It was a very emotional evening for all sorts of reasons. We British guys are sort of Ďstiff upper lipí you know, not really showing oneís feelings. But the funny thing was, that when the evening progressed, that all changed. We were the first band to be celebrated and I thought I would be able to relax the rest of the evening, but time and time again there were people up on stage and many times they were playing songs that have been part of my childhood and these songs really kicked in. The times I was in listening to these songs for the first time, mostly pop stuff, it was a lift. It seemed to me the very best of what people were capable of doing and I found myself in tears listening to Ronnie Spector singing Be My Baby. You think of the Ronettes, The Crystals and you think: my God, I remember listening to these songs when fights were breaking out and people were covered in blood! The soundtrack to Bloodletting, these songs of love, when I would start to dance on the age of twelve, thirteen and these all these fights breaking out. I found it all the more emotional because of the difference between the sentiment of the songs and the environment in which it was received in the early sixties. All that frustrated testosterone around before it evolved to the level you were able to hold a ladiesí hand or even kiss her, you know there was so much to be done! Also listening to Jimmy Cliff singing Many Rivers To Cross, which he sang wonderfully and the performance of the band, led by Paul Schaefer was just terrific. Iím full of admiration for the team responsible for this event! I got meet Jimmy Cliff, got a chance to congratulate him and also Graham Nash, celebrated as being part of the Hollies. Iíve been a huge fan of Grahamís and I got to meet him, congratulate him and become a fan. It gave me a chance to be a teenager again as well as being one of the old exhibits in one of the museums of my own making if you know what I mean!
MENNO: What is your relationship with Camino Records at the moment?
STEVE: Iíve handed Camino Records to my ex-manager; Iíve given that to him but the records Iíve released on that label I retain the rights to.
MENNO: Talking about the new album: do the picture and/or the title of your new album have anything to do with the period you recently went through?
STEVE: Yes. Just to have been able to produce an album under those circumstances took much more effort compared to all others because of all the litigations surrounding my career, but thatís over now (smiling). There are still a lot of things I canít comment on, because thatís the way the it all works in the legal system. Basically thereís an agreement and legal documents are being signed as we speak so, yes, itís all over and as I said after three years of struggling, Iím really very happy at this point!
MENNO: The original release from the UK (Wolfwork Records, your own Ďnewí label I suppose) seems to be withdrawn from the continental market; the album was originally planned for October last year. Why did that happen and how did you end up with Inside Out?
STEVE: Yes, Wolfwork records is my new record company. We had the album ready to go in the fall of 2009; I had a tour which was already booked and a deal waiting on the table, but what happened was that my right to release that album was contested in that was one of the many court dates that took place. So indeed it was very frustrating to go on tour to support an album, of which I had pressed up copies in the back of the equipment van, but for several nights I wasnít able to release it like in Zoetermeer Holland, our first gigs. Then the court decision came through and I was able to start selling the Wolfwork version which was very joyful. Inside Out had been up to release the album in the first place so when that court decision came through we were able to conclude the deal that was offered to me in an earlier stage. But it always takes time to draw up contracts etcetera so it took a few months before Inside Out could release the album. Thatís show business, or perhaps should I say ĎCíest la vieí. Iím rather philosophical about it now, but fact is, the album drew a lot of attention and it has been noted that it sounds good etcetera. Surely I lost time because of all of that but it made the album like a Cinderella but that little Cinderella got good legs! Itís one of my babies you know and some of them come into the world fairly easy and this one came a lot harder, but I also think itís a good album.
MENNO: You're getting an awful lot of raving reviews... does this surprise you?
STEVE: Well, I suspect the things I had to fight against probably defined this album more than others and the fact it has been recorded in my living room rather than in the studio also contributed to the way it sounds: sometimes the box is mightier than the building! Iím referring to the computer because a computer screen was the size of our studio. Like with any album youíre trying to get as many people listen to it as possible. Itís having the right reviews at the right time. It was a pity to see all those
favourable reviews in the English press for an album that I couldnít get out for people to hear! It seemed those reviews werenít there at the right time but looking back, the wait might have let it taste a bit sweeter, I donít know. Maybe in the future when I run into these kind of problems again Ė which I sincerely hope I donít - Iíll go back to the idea of listening parties and do it that way.
MENNO: Can you explain why the composing process and the recording process were so much different than on all previous albums? I understand the Apple computer played a huge role?
STEVE: Yes, thatís correct. I started with sketches that later became filled in and I decided that if it was going to work effectively in the computer weíd have to record very quietly. So 'Marshall amps' gave way to 'Sounds amps': very small amplification, played very quietly and that had an effect. I think that when youíre recording in a studio there's a tendency that you want to enjoy yourself to the extent whereby you crank up and you play very loudly. You think people can tell you actually played very loud and you might end up fooling yourself with volume Ö.. Iíve discovered that there are certain things you can do with an amp but there are also a lot of things you can do with D(irect) I(nject) that sound better, so Iím endlessly refining this process. There will be times that I will be bypassing the amps entirely and do it this way. I suspect the guitar work has been recorded more brightly on this album as a result of being a ĎDIí, but then we simulated the distance so much.
MENNO: As you stated in the booklet of your new album, your guitar is as sharp as an axe, or might I say a razorblade, well in contrast to the pieces with nylon strings..... melancholy versus aggression?
STEVE: (laughter) Well yes, I suppose in your face the electric stuff would be the best way to describe it! You know, Iím always searching for the perfect guitar sound and at times I think Iíve hit it. Melancholy and aggression is also a good way of describing my emotions I guess. Maybe it Ďs like two halves of the same coin: trying to make up for the frustration and the loss. On the other hand I must admit I do love the nylon and electric equally and these days Iíve become a fan of the twelve string again. Itís a gorgeous sounding thing but it always needs to have a context like everything else. You need to have the right song for it, you need the right chords. Anthony Phillips played the twelve string on a couple of tracks: we had a couple of electrics arpeggiating, picking and a couple of twelve strings together and the four them just sounds like one big rich guitar. Itís an effect that I managed to use years ago as did Anthony Phillips when we both worked with Genesis, although he was my predecessor: we werenít playing in Genesis at the same time. Thereís a kind of ďGenesis sensibilityĒ about guitars and how to use them. Normally in those Genesis days, whenever a tune was guitar based, it was usually based on a twelve string and not on an electric: aggression fest...
MENNO: Well thatís information completely new to me, but of course Mike Rutherford plays six and twelve strings too?
STEVE: Yes, thatís right and Tony Banks too! The four of us played those guitar lines, not at the same time but when I was working with Genesis we often use to have three twelve strings working together.
MENNO: Have you ever worked so closely with co-writer Roger King as on this album?
STEVE: We had to work closely together and a lot of what you hear on the album is largely the work of Roger King who Iíve long championed as a superb musician, engineer and producer. Heís really quite something and I think he stars in the ascendant. Funny enough he and I have just been working on an album with Chris Squire, which is actually done as far as Iím concerned unless Chris comes back to me with second thoughts like Ďoh, weíll need another tuneí. It sounds very good and Roger is also producing this album. I donít know when itís going to come out because we havenít worked out on which label it would have to be on, whoís gonna get it, manage it, sell it, whether there will be shows etcetera.
MENNO: Well thatís some breaking news! Who else is playing on that album?
STEVE: Roger King of course and on drums we have Jeremy Stacey. On a couple of tracks thereís Amanda Lehmann on vocals and harmonies, so thereís actually five people involved.
MENNO: Is it correct you didn't use a flesh and blood drummer on Out Of the Tunnels Mouth and if so, why?
STEVE: Yes itís true! Unbelievably, indeed itís not a flesh Ďn blood drummer. Now I have to say that of all the albums Iíve heard with programmed drums - and Iíve heard quite a few in my time, as I know youíve had yourself - this is by far the best example of edit-due (?) programming. Iím not seeking to put any drummers out of work because at the end of the day, had I have access to my original studio I would have had real drums. On the special edition of the album Gary OíToole is playing drums and singing so at least thereís some justice there. I would have liked to have him on the entire album and I must say the songs that he plays, and we do most of them live, he plays very, very well and itís difficult to know what is the definitive edition! I think especially on the blues track I do like his drumming, itís very syncratic.
You also have the wonderful bass work by two people: thereís Nick Beggs, whoís on the majority of the album but also Chris Squire on a couple of tracks and I thrall to the sound of the bass on this album as well so I think that moved on a notch. I remember years ago Steve Howe - we were talking about the line up of GTR and we were about to get Phil Spalding involved, a fabulous player with a great sound - was telling me what difference it made to have a great bass player in the band and he was referring to Chris Squire. I totally agree with him and I think the bass makes a whole lot of difference and if the guy has got a guitarist attitude itís not the second string to the guitar at all but for me itís just as important! Both those guys, Nick and Chris are incredible players in different ways. Also Nick Beggs plays the Chapman stick. Funny enough heís just written a new piece on Chapman stick, what he started doing, which is very, very good.
MENNO: On your last album you covered "Man In The Long Black Coat" by Bob Dylan and on "Watch The Storms", the track "The Devil Is An Englishman" by Thomas Dolby. How do you find such tracks and on what basis do you decide you want to record them?
STEVE: Well, about "The Devil Was An Englishman": I once saw a show that Thomas Dolby was doing called ďThe Alternative Hair ShowĒ (Yearly event in London to raise funds for the battle against Leukaemia - MvBF). Basically it was one dancer and a whole bunch of models and I thought the song was terrific, as a kind of a rap-tunal
monologue. I thought it worked very well, it was funny, it was witty, quirky,
dark and with tongue in cheek. Funny enough I was just listening to an anthology by Bob Dylan, driving up here! Itís the line about the old dance hall on the outskirts of town. You know that line is really like capturing lightning in a bottle isnít it? Itís absolutely a propos of a time and place that I remember. The best kept secrets, the best music on the outskirts of town where it really all happensÖ.. Somehow being on the outskirts of town doesnít have the pressure of being central, on preferential places if I can call them that. It has the edge of not being the ultimate place to be someoneís major breakthrough. I think therefore you get possibly the best performances out of people. So itís this enigmatic lyric that drove me and the idea of doing a guitar heavy version was also appealing (laughter). Iíve just sort of grown my way into that one: a bit of a rough guide vocal, not entirely in tune, not perfect but I decided to let it go, to not be that careful. I donít think any of Dylanís stuff is that Ďcarefulí, rather the opposite.
MENNO: I would like to go quickly through the songs on "Out Of The Tunnels Mouth" if youíre okay with that: thereís an obvious link to the old Genesis sound in "Fire On The Moon" but you're mentioning Chris Squire on the bass with a Bolero rhythm: indeed it is that rhythm but I can hardly recognise Chris' style of playing the bass nor his sound. Why does he play so 'low profile'?
STEVE: Chris plays a in a number of styles, and not each of them uses the same bass sound. Funny enough he was mentioning the days he used to work with Eddie Offord the other day and how he always used to like to have the bass playing loud in the mix. I think you can do that when you have that very choppy sound that he has, almost sounding like a guitar. In other circumstances, if you have a lot of bass in a track and you start turning that up in the mix, it may get to sound very woolly. The nice thing about Chris is that he understands exactly the amount of bass that should be on something. Iím talking about the amount of bass on a bass guitar; sometimes when he and I were working together he suggested to take some bass out or in another part adding some. Not the level but the amount of bass guitar, how round it should be; strangely enough on one track, of which I thought it sounded absolutely perfect, he said to me why donít you turn the level of the bass guitar down just a little bit. So we did and funny enough now it sounds more powerful, very strange! Iíve always thought the bass guitar would sound more powerful the louder it was, but he was absolutely right, because weíve got that demon drum sound, that powerful bass guitar and the guitar lines and it almost sounds like a power trio sound on one or two things. Iím talking about music not released yet, so donít get confused! But, Iím anxious to get it out, I must say.
MENNO: "Nomads" has some Spanish flamenco influences? Do you have a special affection for Spain or Spanish music?
STEVE: Yes I do! I do have a specific love for Spain. Itís not just Flamenco, but also the classical guitar, the Spanish guitar. Iím in love with the sound of that guitar. Thinking of the sound of that Flamenco guitar; itís just incredible. As I was driving up to Norfolk, where I am today I was driving for four and a half hours and just making it in time for this interview, I was listening to one more thing after Dylan. After a break I put on Classic FM, which is a classical station here, and I got to listen to Concierto De Aranjuez, the slow movement. It was a version that Julian Bream had done with Simon Rattle and it was a spectacular version. Iíll probably record that one myself some day, I have to get around to it!
Julian Bream playing Concierto De Aranjuez
MENNO: That would be awesome! The next track, "Emerald and Ash" has two faces: a very melodic gentle one with some help of old friend Ant Phillips and a more rocky, bold face with stunning electric guitars, with some blues influences?
STEVE: Yes thatís right. The stuff at the end is a sequence Roger came up with and we brought that together with the earlier bit. Thereís a little short section that introduces the track which is a really cross between Rush influences and orchestration, the orchestral textures used very quietly. Thereís a lot of Genesis influences in that track as well which came to be very naturally because I was working with Anthony Phillips and it just ended up having that kind of instrumentation. The more aggressive section youíre talking about was Rogerís idea, but then I soloed over the top of it. We used mellotron, it sounds like a guitar in the early section, but weíve driven these strings so hard, that itís almost like you took those and put them through a fuzz box. Thereís a great drum sound Roger came up with in that section, which I call a kind of stump section and then you have some mellotron flutes that provide the bridge back to the opening scene. Apart from Roger, Nick and myself thereís one other person involved: Rob Townsend play soprano sax on the opening and a couple of phrases but he uses that sax in a very oboe like manner.
MENNO: Can you explain to a simple Dutchman what "Tubehead" and your remark in the booklet, The Death of Marshall Cabinet, are is all about?
STEVE: (laughs out loud) I was thinking of some people Iíd like to kill by sticking their heads in front of a Marshall Cabinet. I was thinking of the spirit of Marshall Cabinets metaphorically, symbolically you understand? I was thinking it might be possible to finish someone off by doing that; I donít suggest anyone ever does it, because it would be a horrible death! Actually Iím using a Sounds amp on that so itís not even a Marshall Cabinet, but the sound of that M C was captured in a very small kind of way, due to technology... played very quietly but really sounds quite screaming doesnít it? Itís partly the reverb on that one that gives it really this live sound of the guitar. I think itís the rock guitar sound Iím the most proud of in terms of the rocking, screaming sound.
MENNO: I think I hear a slight resemblance with an old Edgar Winter track "Frankenstein"?
STEVE: (surprised): Oh really? Yeah I remember that track, havenít heard it for years!
MENNO: In "Sleepers", thereís a section with a similar chord sequence as in George Harrisonís "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"?
STEVE: Yeah, youíre absolutely right! Iím a big fan of George Harrison, of Indian music and I think "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is a great tune. One day I hope to cover it, when I get around to it, hopefully before Iím seventy or maybe when I do my pin ups album...
MENNO: In "Ghost in the Glass" I recognized the same atmosphere as on "Voyage Of The Acolyte"?
STEVE: Really? Thatís funny! I myself thought it was slightly jazzier than Iíve done in recent years but more the soulful side of jazz. The guitar being a saxophone I suspect, more close to a brass sound and I was also thrilled by the chord sequence Roger and I came up with. I just came up with a glimmer of an idea and Roger made it much better, came up with all the detail in needed. We had real strings as well as mellotron strings used together to give it that slightly distorted but full sound like in the sixties.
MENNO: Did you and Roger just send files to each other or were you working together in one room?
STEVE: Oh no, no sending files to each other: we were sitting in one room together. Physical interaction through conversation! Well in fact more like me interrupting him occasionally with the computer.
MENNO: "Still Waters"... any relationship with Muddy Waters?
STEVE: Well, not really. Iím a great fan of Muddy Waters though. What can you say? Itís Muddy Waters, Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson, youíve got the best that blues has got to offerÖ and Otis Rush of course! Otis Rush with "So Many Roads" and also other great bluesmen like Peter Green, certainly Eric Clapton, certainly Jimi Hendrix and many others I saw Ďen passantí in the mid sixties when the blues was booming to its height. Back then I was playing with a lot of guitarists who were far better than me at the time and I wonder if theyíre still playing and what theyíre doing.
MENNO: as far as I know, Peter Green isnít a shadow of himself anymore...
STEVE: Well... Iíve learned a lot watching Peter Green. When he was playing he was everything I wanted to be at that time and I must be grateful I suspect he doesnít hold himself in high esteem enough to realize what a great guitar player he was at that time. Iím talking about the time he was with John Mayall, never mind Fleetwood Mac! Yeah, I was a big fan and I still am!
MENNO: In the last track "Last Train To Istanbul" there are definitely some Oriental influences; you state you got inspired by a visit to Sarajevo, but thatís hardly the Orient isnít it?
STEVE: Well, the thing about Sarajevo is, it seems to be a meeting place of many different cultures. Post the war of course you had a place filled with town squares where the church faced the Mosque, faced the Synagogue, all next to each other. Thereís a tremendous amount of Turkish influences both architecturally and musically and although youíre not in Turkey, you feel youíre on crossroads in that place. I was luckily subject to a lot of that culture during the brief time I spent there. It was snowing continuously and I found it fascinating, I have to say! A visit to Istanbul is on my card, but I havenít been there yet!
At this point Steve had to make a phone call to Italy and Iíve already taken more of his time than I had been hoping for, so my other questions about the live shows in Zoetermeer and his relationships with Jo and Amanda Lehmann are for some time in the future... Steve appears to have been saying that he still regrets the decision to leave Genesis... but then again: wouldn't we have had all those magnificent solo-albums?