INTERVIEW WITH STEVE HACKETT
Date: December 15th 2001 - Means: by phone - Subject: Steve Hackett

You've released many live-albums, some of them I think are even better than the studio-albums. Do you consider your music written for live-performances?

Well, I think in the early days it was. In the 70's people used to record what they used to play live. Obviously, the way people record these days is slightly different. This often means that you can construct things in the studio, that would be impossible to do live, except with a lot of sequencing and hearing a lot of stuff back that wasn't necessarily played live. And I am sometimes tempted to do that, but I think there's something about hearing things played live and the kind of energy that goes with it, that works for me.

You never really know with a live performance, how it's coming across. I've spoken to a lot of musicians about this, and they all tend to say the same thing: it can be a glorious experience to people that are up front, but when you're actually doing it on the stage, it's a different thing. Maybe this has something to do with having the responsibility of being everyone else's night out. So you're not able to be as free, perhaps, in your mind, as the audience is. Because you're too busy doing it.

Is that one of the reasons that you've toured relatively few, over the last years?

No, I think touring over the last 10 years has been sporadic, and that's partly economic and also I am aware of the fact that -because I am the age I am now- it's moved into a niche market, where we sell albums. We can do extremely well in certain territories, but I think promoters in general tend to be younger and it's a different scene. All I can say is that I remember what it was like, when I was in my 20's and I wouldn't have thought of going to see a guy that was in his 50's. So, really, I can't complain in that way. Having said that, I recently did a whole month tour of South-America and I got some dates coming up in Japan and Hungary and I've got at least one in America, the NearFest-thing. That's al within 6 months, and there might be some more American dates.

I know I haven't toured England for a while, because this really doesn't work out. Unless we self-promote and do it entirely ourselves and that stretches out our resources, we've got a limited amount of people in the Camino team. So, it's not always the choice of the artist to do that. I think that it's largely circumstantial, and also I've spent a lot of time recording things. I am building a recording-studio at the moment.

What's true about rumors that you will be taking the Genesis Revisited line-up into Europe?

Well, rumors are bound. The Tokyo Tapes was an attempt to do that live and I realize that it was in Japan, not in Europe. But this was made possible, with that cast of characters, because it was financially cushioned by the Japanese. Most of that financial cushions have been offered in other places, if you know what I mean, not in the same sort of way. So, I don't know if it would be feasible and if the characters would be available for doing more concerts. Sometimes John Wetton changes his mind, but I have to be honest and say that in Japan, John really felt that he shouldn't be part of a band. He'd been obviously solo and I respect that, I know these feelings, I've had them myself when I worked with other people, when I came back to semi-band situations. It's difficult to go back once you've been your own conductor.

You've been opening up your files. Is this a way of closing a chapter, or is it opening a new book?

Well, I think it's opening a new book to people who may have dismissed what I've done. I think there's a sufficient variety of music on there, that I think somewhere along the line, something on that album, will get most people musically going in one sense or another. I think it's a very broad spectrum of stuff.

It seems like it's a full stop on the past, but I think the longer I continue in music, and the longer I get closer to things like jazz, things that are traditionally associated with players, it gets harder to dismiss this idea of live-work. Every live performance is going to be slightly different now, the more live-recordings there are, the more I realize that it's deviating more and more from the original versions. What's happening now, is that solos tend to get much longer and more improvised. I don't mind that at all, that feeling. In fact, some of the later ones are getting better, rather than getting worse.

I am not even talking about the box-set now, but over the last days I was mixing a concert from Buenos Aires, and -I don't really know- at some point this may be released as a CD or DVD, I don't know. But I've spent some of the days this week, going through that and I did quite a lot of compiling these days, and it's just part of the musical process. I realize that live-albums aren't for everybody, but all I can say is that, when I was a fan of certain people, like the Paul Brannerfeel bluesband, who I saw in 1966 or 1967, I would love to have a tape of that gig. And I'm quite sure that when I hear it back, it will probably seem much sloppier than when I was there. But the fact is, when I saw it, it was dynamite. So a recording can't quite contain dynamite in the same way as a live thing, which is literally an explosion of sound. But those guys exploded on stage for me, and I would be thrilled to have any kind of document, no matter how well or badly recorded it was. I think, if you're looking back at history, sometimes a grainy, torn photograph is better than no photograph at all.

Have you found other things in your archives? Like demos, or other things that never saw the light of day, because they didn't fit in, and that you would like to release as an Anthology-like project?

There are odd things like that. I don't know about that, I still think that a reject is a reject, and I'm not sure that people would be really interested in my rejects, but maybe they would and I'm entirely wrong here. There are odd things, but normally just in cassette-form, and I don't know whether it's to everyone's liking or not, that's difficult to say.

I could think of material that you've recorded with GTR, that you probably have demos of, made by yourself.

Yeah, God knows where the tapes are of all that stuff. There might be the odd thing that's around. Some of the roughs were rather good, in fact. Sometimes those mixes were better than the final things. But, you know, then you're into contracts of course. Obviously, everything I do that's GTR, I still need permission for. The nice thing about being on your own is that you have the control of everything.

And you don't have the rights to your first albums, as well…

No, Virgin have the rights to those and so far there's been no headway made that regards making a remaster or a repackage. I expect somewhere down the line something will happen, God knows what, but it would be nice to dust those things of and make those work. Certainly, I would love to re-do that, and love to repackage and try to make them more relevant.

Some of the CD-versions don't even have liner-notes…

That's right and that's because Virgin did it very cheaply. That's a matter of company-policy, that's what they did with all the acts, when they first started to put things on CD. There are certain things that are beyond one's control, at this moment in time.

What are you recording at the moment?

Let me see, several things, some things that are more rockier and some things that are more classically based. Something for nylon guitar and orchestra. Something for band and guests. That's what I'm working on recording-wise, and to some extent some of the recordings had to be put to one side, because we are building a new studio. So the old one, I am working in it, but it partly has mobile equipment in it. So it's not possible to tell exactly what's going on.

You've played some new songs in South America, among these something called Collision?

Well, collision was an idea, more describing a kind of musical style, there wasn't really a song called collision.

But you have been playing new material?

Yes.

And that's going to be part of the rock-album?

Errr… yes. Well... there were some things which we did live, that I hope to use. Some live-performances, I hope to mix them and use them. So, of the distinction between what's a live-album and what's a studio-album, the edges will become blurred. That's a new step forward in a way, a new thing to do.

So the new material you played will end up on a live-album?

Well, I think it will probably end up on a studio-album, but I will probably pick-and-choose between what's live and what's studio-material. We're going to try to mix the two a bit and maybe debut new material with live versions of it. That may happen, I don't know, I have to break it all down and see the wisdom of that. We're going to try it anyway, it may be that I preserve a solo here or something else there.

Looking back at your solo-material, what do you consider your favorite album?

That's difficult to say, because for different reasons I enjoy different albums. The albums I had most fun doing, were probably Voyage of the Acolyte, Spectral Mornings and the Midsummer Night's Dream, although that one took much longer. And there's one other, which is Bay of Kings. I enjoyed the completion of that, and the eventual acceptance of that kind of music. It was a very different direction. Bay of Kings was an album that I was on very bad terms with my record company, because I wanted to release that and eventually it's been released and it's done well. So I seem to have been proved right as regards that.

You've been in many directions; progressive, classical, acoustic and even a blues-album. Do you expect to follow you fans on all those directions?

I am sure I'm expecting much. That's not an easy one to answer. I am not expecting anything. At the end of the day, what I'm doing is music that I feel passionate about. That means that the form of that music shifts drastically, from one style to another. But if someone is interested in the spirit and the energy that's behind those things, I think they won't find any problems with that. Obviously, they will like some things more than others. It's not humanly possible to produce a staggering quantity of albums that everybody in the world absolutely adores. I don't think that's possible.

I am happy if people like things, it would be too un-ambitious to say that I am happy if people like things occasionally, but the vibe I get from it, is that they're interested in everything. I had an extraordinary number of e-mails recently about the box set and when I started out, I really wasn't sure what the reaction was going to be. But then, if I look back at other peoples careers, things that have been enormous hits, they really weren't sure about them at the time. No one's really sure. Time has to work it's magic on things as well. There's only a certain amount I can do. I can put things in front of the public, but I can't guarantee that they'll be all equally well-loved.

The reactions on this box-set have been very positive so far, and I think it's been done very well. When compared to the archive-boxes of your former band Genesis, one could say that, when looking at this one, the second Genesis box-set was a missed opportunity. It should have had the same approach as your archive set.

You know, the Genesis box-set, I have to say, I can remember the first one, the archives, I can't really remember too much about the second one. I think that I'm not really very much in evidence on it. I might be on one or two songs. So I don't really feel it's fair to comment on something of which the vast bulk is the work of other people.

Exactly, and this is because recordings of the '76 tour with Bill Bruford and the '77 tour with Chester Thompson, are lacking. Among these are songs like Eleventh Earl of Mar and One for the Vine. Can you imagine that fans of your work with Genesis, consider this an omission?

I agree. I would have been interesting if those number were on there and also a live version of Inside And Out and that sort of stuff. I think there was some interesting stuff around that time. Some of it may need some cleaning up. I don't know how polished or professional it is and what format the stuff is in. We are talking a long time ago now, we're talking about a time that precedes my box set, and that's going back a way. I don't know…. I don't know how closely the stuff that the band does, interacts with what the fans want. I resigned my commission in 1977 and I'm not in the driving seat of that particular tank anymore.

You don't consider yourself a member of the 'Genesis-world' anymore?

Well… in some ways I am partner in the gate and for a part I am defector of it. It's something I walked away from. So I can't be held responsible for the mistakes they make now, let alone the mistakes that were made then. Obviously there are lots of things that I'd like to have released. Lots of concerts that were around, that would make good albums. But I think that people probably are well-served by the bootleggers, even in the days that I was in the band. There were so many bootlegs around at the time. I don't know how that market is at the moment, but I am aware that with 3rd or 4th generation bootlegs it is a bit like watching people on the moon.

In a recent interview, Banks, Collins, Rutherford and Tony Stratton-Smith, their manager, uttered the possibility of going into their own archives and see if there was more material left. One could think of the un-used recordings of what ended up in Seconds Out. Would you like to be part of such an endeavor?

Well, let's put it this way: all the creative decisions will be made, before they make a phone-call to me, you see. So once I am presented with a fait accompli, which no doubt will be the case, then I would usually see if it's a multi-track recording. And then I'd like to have a closer look at it an see if mistakes can be fixed. I prefer to do that. But on the other hand, a lot of these things will be fixed mixes, so there may not be a chance to do that. So I may register my approval or protest.

You don't own anything from that era yourself?

No, I don't own anything. If it came to a contest, at the end of the day, whoever are the current key-holders of Genesis may be, would win that game. I don't want to get into legal wrangles…

I mean, do you have material somewhere, recordings?

I don't have the ownership of anything else myself. I haven't got anything stashed away that has Genesis written all over it.

I understand. From history to the present time again now; do you still consider you recent work being progressive?

I think I do lots of things that are a 'no-no' for progressive people. For instance: I prefer to work with real instruments, but sometimes I work with samples -like everyone else- and I realize that the progressive world is happy to work with sampled keyboards, but not with sampled drum-sounds.

At the end of the day, you work with everything that's available. Hopefully that's stunning live drums, but when you can't get that, sometimes you mix things. I don't have a problem with that myself. It's about how something sounds, that's what you're dealing with.

I am not quite sure what defines 'progressive', all I know is that it is a term that was invented in the 1900's by Richard Strauss to describe the work of Edward Elgar. I keep reminding people of this. No-one cares a damn about this, but the terminology goes back that far. He was talking about a piece of music that Elgar did, called the Dream of Gerontius. Presumably, because it was a long piece of music, which was programmatic and telling a story. This sound awfully close to the idea of a concept-album, which was to follow some fifty, sixty years later.

And then again, people are talking about a concept-album and perhaps quite erroneously say that The Beatles invented it. And then I have to say: well, actually Frank Sinatra invented the concept-album, with the idea of Come Fly With Me, where each of the songs was talking about a particular place. So Sinatra was the inventor of that. So this is a case of: where credits due. Usually, people talk about their own particular taste, and they'll say: 'this is what happened and this person invented it', without realizing that it's an entirely subjective judgement. There seems to be very little objectivity that goes on in the music business. I understand this, because peoples tastes are perhaps the sum of their passions and then their no way of presenting a logical argument. It's like ' my team is better than your team'. That's the way it goes.

I think many of your fans, are still in this so-called progressive scene, which is maybe small, but very alive in some countries, maybe a bit less in the UK. Do you still consider yourself part of that scene?

Well, it's like being labeled a jazz-man. I am sure that people that are in jazz, feel that their own aspiration within that form can only rise as high as the acceptance of that form.
Luckily, with Jazz-FM or Classic-FM, that area is served by radio. What we don't have, is something that is progressive, served by radio, not in this country.
Cross-over, on the other hand, has always been very difficult, it seems. They were tempted to label it, like fusion and various things. But very quickly, those things, which ought to be a broad field, end up being quite narrow and it ends up referring to specific artists and albums that fit into that niche. I think this is the problem for everybody, who doesn't necessarily want to be described as a progressive artist.

I think I've done albums, which are deliberately not-progressive. If I'm going to do an album of Eric Satie, with my brother, for instance, that is not a progressive album. However, some aspects of it, are the fore-runner of avant-garde or minimalism, which comes to bear eventually on what we know as progressive music. But we're splitting hairs, really.
I would say that certain albums I've done fit very much into the progressive mould and I don't regret that for a minute. The best of each of the forms, jazz, classical, pop, rock, transcend the description and limitations of that forms. So it's possible to have sophisticated pop and short brief, snappy progressive rock. It ought to be possible.

So it's the labeling that does the damage?

I think so, yes. And it depends on what bands you consider to be progressive and what you consider to be the first progressive bands, and there you are,… it goes on-and-on.

I think Genesis was certainly considered to be one of those bands. So then people start looking at you as keeper of that flame. Is that a heavy burden on your shoulders?

I think people still look for magic in that music and sometimes that kind of music really does deliver the magic. But there's never enough magic, of course. And that's the reason that I keep making albums. I am looking for it.

Coming closer to the end of this interview, what are you expecting of the year 2002, music-wise?

I hope to surprise myself. That's really what I always look for. But I can never be sure when projects are going to be finished, because those things are never purely musical considerations.

You have written an album, with different singers, if I am well informed?

Errr… which one?

It started off as an album with Jim Daimond. I even heard the artwork was already finished.

Oh, that one. Well, what actually happened, it hasn't come any further. There's still an album with Jim Daimond, which is something I like very much, but he is yet to give it his seal of approval. And we've tried various singers, but we haven't come up with anything that's finished and that we're ready to go with. So, in a way it's on a back burner. It's not a priority to us right now. But there's lots of lovely stuff on it, which is absolutely beautiful. That's all I can say. At the moment it's not a planned release, because there are too many things. We have to prioritize. And I have these shows to do and a studio to finish. I imagine what will happen, is that the next thing will be a rock album, that's what I am trying to prioritize.

But we have to see how personnel goes and cash-flow and stuff. So I think that will be the next thing. I don't think it will be anything archival that comes out next. But these things are not entirely a solo-decision. It seems as if they are, but it's the team that puts this together: myself, Billy Budis and Kim. And we put our heads together and figure out, what we can do, where and when.

Well, thank you very much for the conversation. I hope you can come to Europe one day with a full band.

Yeah, that would be nice, wouldn't it. I would look forward to play live. But it takes quite a bit of co-operation to do stuff like that. I end up touring South-America and Italy. So Catholic countries seem to support the genre and I am not even Catholic! (laughs)

So we should drop the label 'progressive'…

…and call it Catholic, yes! (laughs)

Well, thank you again, we'll put this interview up, with a competition with difficult questions…

…Ooh, difficult questions, like: how long are the fingernails on the hands of…?

Indeed, and what's the right answer?

That's the trick question! (laughs)

Thank you very much. It was very special talking to you.

Thank you and Happy Christmas.


Click here to go to the competition ...
... and have a look at our review of the Live Archive


Interview by: Jan-Jaap de Haan for DPRP
many thanks to Steve Hackett and Billy Budis at Camino!