The eagerly awaited musical union of two prog legends has finally come to fruition through the release of A Life Within A Day, the new album from Squackett, comprising the dream team of Chris Squire, the bass player of Yes, the only member of the band who has played on all of their albums and Steve Hackett, Genesis’s former iconic guitarist, who has carved a long and illustrious career as a solo artist.
So how did two of the main pillars of prog finally join forces after more than 40 years at the top and will it all result in a rampant outbreak of Squackett-mania?
To get the inside story, DPRP’s rather starstruck Alison Henderson spoke on the telephone to Squire at his home in Phoenix, Arizona and Hackett in his PR agency’s office in London to get the definitive story of Squackett and more importantly, will they be touring as Squackett.
Interview by Alison Henderson photographs by Lee Millward
Chris: Everybody seems to love it and from what I have heard, it has been getting five star reviews everywhere. The reaction has been universally really, really good judging by what I have been told through my emails. There appears so far to have been only one review which has suggested it would not appeal to a wider audience.
Steve: I think the reaction has been very favourable from the media so far. But the papers do tend to promote such collaborations as supergroups but these need to find their feet just like everything else. But the American reaction has been very good perhaps because there is nothing too wordy or too complex with dodgy time signatures on the album!
So how did you two first meet?
Chris: We first hooked up in 2007. It was the year I was doing Chris Squire’s Swiss Choir which is because I wanted to do these Christmas carols with a proggy back. I started doing it with a choir but did not have a guitar player. I spoke to people like Brian May and Jeff Beck who both said they would be happy to do it but were busy at the time. It was Jeremy Stacey, my drummer, who said have you tried Steve Hackett? I had met him briefly in Brazil in the 80s but had not followed his career. So I called him and said would you like to do a couple of tracks on the album? In the end, he did all the guitar work on the album. After that, I owed him one so he put down some of my bass on his two most recent albums (Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth and Beyond the Shrouded Horizon).
Steve: I met Chris in the mid 80s when I was with GTR with Steve Howe. He was coming to a show were doing in Los Angeles but I had seen Yes live three times including the Cream farewell tour in 1968 at the Royal Albert Hall when they were the support act. When Genesis was playing on The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tour, we played the same hall back to back with Yes when they were on the Relayer tour and how good it was too. Patrick Moraz is a very good friend of mine. Then it was in 2007 for the Swiss Choir album when he wanted some guitar on it so we had two weeks of intensive Christmassing, Each time I did something, he said to me “Look what you have done” and it just got better and better.
He and I spent a lot of time together swapping old war stories and that was extraordinary as we got to know each other very well. Chris loves orchestras and so do I. He pointed out that most guitarists do not mix with orchestras especially string players so perhaps there is an unspoken rivalry between them and us. I love what the world of classical music has achieved in the past. Let’s face it, there have always been orchestras in the past whereas electric guitars are a recent phenomenon from the 60s then keyboards came in the 70s and from the 80s, it was more driven by image and technology.
How did you go about recording A Life Within A Day?
Chris: We really started working on stuff from Steve. He played me demos and CDs from which he suggested some contributions. We then started working on the music together and brought in some of his songs and my songs. By the time we got to the end, we had an album and the last two songs we recorded were ones we had written together. It was very much an organic process.
Aliens, which is on the album, is a song I used to do with Oliver Wakeman with piano and bass, while another of my songs The Man You Always Wanted Me To Be went on Fly From Here. Also, the contribution made by Roger King, Steve’s keyboards player and long-time collaborator, who produced and played on it, was very valuable. Both he and Jeremy Stacey, my drummer, play on the album.
Steve: It took us four years to make but that does not mean we were lying around on beaches during that time. I have been involved in all kinds of projects so working on the album is something we had to sort out because of the geography –with Chris now living in the USA- and so we had to organise when the time became available to convene.
We recorded it not so much in the studio but instead in the living room eyeball to eyeball There was no panic about it in terms of the time and you would be amazed how relaxed it all was with people wandering in and out while we were working. Meals were cooked and babies were born during its making!
There were no exclusive closed-off sessions and each time there was an idea, we would expand on the idea and add variations with the arrangement. There was continuous constant comment between us throughout especially when we were arranging songs like Stormchaser. The lyric writing was also done like that in the time-honoured way of three people suggesting possible lines to each other.
Steve: The arrangements played in 5.1 sound spectacular. Roger got on with it and suggested some spacing but to my mind has come up with a fabulous mix. I recommend everybody listens to Tall Ships in 5.1 as there is so much more to be heard in there and heavily orchestrated by keyboards. There is so much detail and texture in 5.1. In fact, I want scientists to invent 5.1 headphones. I kept telling everyone once upon a time that e-bows would be great for guitarists and they finally came up with them 20 years later. (See here for more of Steve’s thoughts on their development). However, I think the only problem with 5.1 headphones is that one person sits in a chair listening through them and therefore, nothing is shared.
It does sound like an album which has been made with a great deal of enjoyment. Is this the case and are you aware than fans really do pick up on things like this?
Chris: What was good about this album is initially, we did not have any record company involved so we worked at a pace that we wanted. We are very pleased with the way it has turned and much of that is to do is no-one pressuring us on it. Yes, it was a very enjoyable process and I am glad if this has made it into the grooves of the CD. It is always nice to know when people do pick up on that.
Steve: I could see Chris playing and I thought to myself, he is really enjoying this, in fact his whole body was moving along with it. I think the whole project was borne out of enthusiasm.
I have to say one of the songs which I most enjoyed was Can’t Stop the Rain. That would probably be a good single from it because it has commercial appeal. Amanda Lehmann’s backing vocals really add something special to it too.
Chris: I am glad you like it as I think it has turned very well and without this album, it would have probably got waylaid.
Steve: Really pleased you liked it. Can’t Stop the Rain is a love song with the benefit of hindsight when you are still looking for love but it turns out being very rocky. I think it takes quite a long time in life to get to that point expressed in Perfect Love Song which follows it.
I cannot help but notice that you both now seem very happy in your personal lives as well as professionally so maybe that contentment also comes through within the album.
Steve: Yes, we are both very happy. In fact, Chris and his wife, Scotland, came to our wedding. Jo and I have just celebrated our first wedding anniversary and we have been to Germany where I was playing a couple of dates with an orchestra and singers.
Chris, you never followed up your album Fish Out Of Water back in 1975.
Chris: I guess first and foremost it is because musically, I kept getting diverted into doing other things. Writing is very much a process and I cannot foresee it resulting in Fish Out of Water 2, much of this is because it concerns my friend Andrew Jackman who was very much involved with the original album but who is no longer with us. (Jackman was Squire’s bandmate in the Syn who played keyboards on Fish Out Of Water, but who died in 2003).
Chris, how much of Steve’s work were you familiar with?
Chris: I must admit, when we got together, I was not aware that he had been so busy since Genesis. I knew he had done GTR with Steve Howe since then in the 80s. But I did not even know he could sing so that came as a total surprise! That meant we could do some singing together and both of us were a bit surprised with how well the vocal production came out. In fact, there were lots of happy surprises throughout.
Chris: Oh, he is excellent and has great ability on the Chapman Stick, which is very difficult to play. I did have a go and decided it was not for me (laughs).
Steve: Nick and I met up at an EMI convention in the 90s when we were playing our stuff for the company and started talking. I showed him some of my stuff and he played what he had been doing on the Chapman stick as he was not just playing bass. He is very much an all-rounder and had also been playing with John Paul Jones. Of course, he is now with Steven Wilson with whom I was involved and enjoyed playing.
Is there is a definitive answer as to how the band name happened?
Chris: It was actually my wife who came up with the name. Steve and I spent all day in the studio and afterwards, we all went out to a restaurant in the area for dinner.
Chris, you have spent the best part of the past three years touring the world with Yes. Isn’t that difficult for you now that you have a young family?
Chris: You probably know I have a three-year-old daughter who comes on the road with me and my wife. Having a young child certainly keeps you on your toes especially how you keep them entertained. When I was growing up, we had wooden blocks with the alphabet written on them, but she has an iPad! Absolutely unbelievable! It is a whole new world to what I remember when I was three.
Turning to Yes, how much longer has the Fly From Here got to run? You must be delighted by the way audiences are receiving Jon Davison.
Chris: You probably know Benoît David was with us on the European tour last year but had some
vocal problems by the time we had got over to Norway. It is never easy for singers on winter tours and we missed the last three shows. I thought he would have got over it in the new year (2012) but his problems persisted and he preferred to move on. So we contacted Jon Davison to be our lead vocalist and could not have gotten luckier. He came with us around Australia and Japan, and as well as being a great singer, he is a really nice guy. We will start the next leg of the Fly From Here tour around the beginning of next month (July) and will do a US summer tour through August.
So, the $64,000 question. Will there be any Squackett live dates?
Chris: Well, Steve (Howe) and Geoff will be releasing XXX soon and going on tour with Asia later in the year so I think we agreed that we might look into it around September.
Well check Asia’s dates, Chris, as there could be a clash!
Steve: I hope so because of the response to the album so far just via the media. We might even start Squackett-mania!
A couple of nights at the Shepherds Bush Empire would be perfect.
Steve: It depends what places are available in the long term but it is a tantalising thought.
Have you any more live dates lined up with your band?
Steve: We are going to be at the Isle of Wight Festival on June 24, then the Loreley Festival in Germany on July 8, Abbeyfest at Bury St Edmunds on July 22 and then the Weyfest in Farnham on September 2 where Asia will also be appearing. I am also doing my acoustic set at Trading Boundaries in Sussex on June 30 and also some Italian acoustic sets.
I have to say I am very proud of the band and they do a fabulous job.
Steve: Oh, I like playing at the Brook. I would like to record there because it has a lovely thick, leathery sound.
You never seem to stop these days, Steve. What other musical projects are you currently involved with?
Steve: I am working with Gary Husband on his new musical project, Dirty & Beautiful, which also involves John McLaughlin. I have done some stuff with Rob Reed of Magenta and of course, I have worked with John Young and Nick Beggs on Life Signs.
And I am working on Genesis Revisited No 2 and collaborating with a number of artists and singers on the double album. And yes there are times when I have to give up sleep to fit it all in but I thrive on being busy.
So can you tell us who you have lined up to appear on the album?
Steve: Yes, Mikael Åkerfeldt, John Wetton and Neal Morse who will be singing The Return of the Giant Hogweed, for which, as you remember I joined him and Transatlantic on stage at High Voltage in 2010 to perform.
Do you keep in touch with the other members of Genesis?
Steve: Yes, I always like to find out what they are up to and also Anthony Phillips who appeared on Beyond The Shrouded Horizon. I met Peter (Gabriel) a while back and went to his show which I really enjoyed.
And Phil (Collins) is a national treasure. He has done so much work in his time and it has been all kinds of stuff. The last time I saw him was when Genesis were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and at the Mojo Awards.
Chris, turning to something rather more frivolous, what do you think was your most extravagant stage outfit?
Chris: (Laughs) Early in my career, I was known for my butterfly capes but then Rick (Wakeman) overtook me in the cape department.
What about that outfit you wore on the 90125 tour where you appear to have all your internal organs attached externally.
Chris: Oh yes! That was known as the doctor’s outfit. That was probably one of the most outrageous ones.
But Yes always was a very visual band. Even on the recent tour, Geoff appears to have dressed like a Chelsea pensioner and I saw from one of his Tweets, he was having his highlights done at the Celtic Manor in Wales!
Chris: I did have a spate of winning awards in the 70s and I guess the legacy comes from that. But that is good to know and I hope to carry on influencing people for as long as I can.
And could I finally tell you that you, in your respective bands, once divided college common rooms back in the early 70s as in those days, you were either a Yes or a Genesis fan.
Chris: (laughing) What year would this have been?
Chris: To be totally honest, I was not aware of any of this until I read The Rotter’s Club by Jonathan Coe and it was all explained in there.
Thank you so much Chris and Steve for talking to DPRP and we all await news of possible live dates by Squackett.