Interview with Steve Hackett
DPRP’s John Wenlock-Smith
Live photo by Lee Millward
Steve Hackett is a man who little or no introduction to most, famous for adding his lyrical guitar work to some of Genesis’s most progressive works from 1971 to 1977 before embarking on a solo career that has seen Steve explore different facets of guitar playing some flamenco acoustic to blue and all points in between, In this interview with John Wenlock Smith of DPRP Steve talks about the recording of his new album Genesis Revisited 11 and the reasons why he chose to revisit these piece now
JWS: Good day Steve It’s a pleasure to talk with you, let’s talk about this new CD Genesis Revisited 2, which comes some 6-7 years after the release of Genesis Revisited, how was this project conceived
SH: Well they are sketches initially, what used to be called a demo, except no one does them anymore all the do is updates and the sketch goes into a portrait in time
JWS: So you create the framework, then do all the other guys come into the studio, or mail their parts in how did that all work?
SH: Well first all we try and map it out with a click track, the original version, then we try and break down the harmonies, we do a very cheap and nasty sounding version first without any dynamics or subtlety just to try and get the drumbeat sounding right, I wish there were software and technology that listened to something and gave you all the information, it doesn’t quite work like that, This Genesis stuff was never written down in the first place it’s all a case of doing it by ear , and then gradually we go filling it in with people. People get to play those parts, real humans, sometimes those humans come in but in the vast majority of cases the people that made this album didn’t actually meet , most people were working at home in their own studios, their own facilities and sending us the stuff they were happy with. In a way with complicated labyrinthine music like Genesis this seems to work very well because you can’t just launch yourself into it going you hum it and I’ll play it, it doesn’t quite work like that with this Genesis stuff so it takes a while for people to get to the point where they are familiar with it even in the short term to be able to do decent versions of these things so it would be a very laborious process if we all sat in the studio together whilst everyone makes the mistakes together. It’s far too tiring doing it that way, If I’m making a solo album where it’s new music then that’s another thing entirely but with this the singers chose their own songs, the ones they were most keen on and nine times out of ten those people worked on those at home and sent it
JWS: So did you have a “wish list” of people that you wanted to work with for this project?
SH: Well I did yes, and I think I got all those people, and more, a lot of people with very good voices, but tremendous variety of course, different types of singers all different from each other, 2 Swedish singers Ned Sylvan on 3 tracks and Michael Akerfeldt on Suppers Ready
JWS: Roine Stolt of Transatlantic
SH: Yes on guitar on Hogweed on the solo and at the end, Steve Rothery
JWS: Steve Rothery, that must have been interesting, did you actually work together or was that mailed in from home?
SH: No actually Steve came here to my studio where I’m calling you from, he bought an amp and a setup, that was fun trying out each others guitars, he appears on the end of Lamia, the fourth track on the album, he’s on the guitar phrases at the end, with Roine the guitar was, I did the song and gave him those solos, we’d done it live with Transatlantic, swapping phrases and I thought he’d done a really nice wah-wah solo and I was inclined to leave it at, that because he plays it in a completely different style to the way I would’ve done it so it’s completely unrecognisable from the original but new information I think was a good thing because in the main I’d stuck to the original arrangements on these things. So detail within those arrangements, solos and alteration of vocal detail, increased harmony parts it was a very interesting process, we did it from January to August, there’s 150 minutes worth of stuff so that’s going at some pace
JWS: As you say it’s quite complicated music, it’s not a standard 4/4 blues type of thing there’s a lot of variety across the whole album, for me using a variety of people and on occasions you stepping back a little bit has bought completely different colours to these songs that people have loved for 20,30,40 years
SH: It’s almost like a Genesis sample album in a way, lots of different artists , singers doing these tunes and in many cases I think it bought something really special to the plot, it’s still recognisable as Genesis music, these are the songs that we wrote together in the early seventies, from 1971 to 1977 which was a great period of my life where things started to take off massively, creatively and it was great to work with a team as gifted as the Genesis guy, Committed, gifted and very talented.
JWS: These songs of course have stood that test of time, you mention in the notes to the album that one of the songs is almost prophetic in what it speaks about, it’s interesting how those songs written in the 1970’s are so very relevant today I found it fascinating to listen to again, we all grew up with Genesis in the 70’s we all knew Suppers Ready Firth of Fifth, all the stuff but it is good to have them again refreshed and something new and something different done with them.
SH: This is my second attempt at revisiting the past in a wholesale fashion, in 1996 I did the first Genesis Revisited album, this time around I was talking with the record company, Inside Out, Century Media and EMI and they said why don’t you call it Genesis Revisited 2 and I thought it was very prosaic sounding title with not a lot of flair to it but on the other hand it’s what you see is what you get, it is Genesis, it is revisited, re-imagined it is re-staffed if you know what I mean, but somehow it feels more relevant than ever, I still very much love the music and if I didn’t like it so much I would not put myself through the agony of trying to remember all of this and trying to get it revoiced for anything that sounds up to like a full orchestra but is in fact a number of orchestral players tracked up a lot in order to create that symphonic string sound , when you add other instruments to it you make it sound like that sometimes there might be a couple of flute parts going or a soprano sax and other textures working at a subliminal level, but that how orchestra’s operate (Cough’s) sorry
JWS: The lurgy is getting you
SH Yes throaty, I think ELP album won’t be called Tarkus it will be called Throaticus!
JWS: That’s if they ever do another one …
SH: Well they might you never know, I bumped into Keith Emerson, he and I share the same publicist and we’ve worked together before, and we had a couple of pictures taken because there’s just masses of it these days, there’s not a day goes by that I don’t do an interview of some kind, at one point you’d do a whole bunch of interviews if you were lucky, once a year when you had an album coming out but these days there is so much interest in the various things I’ve been up to in time and whether it’s early Genesis or GTR (with Steve Howe) or the Squacket with Chris Squire or indeed this second attempt at revisiting Genesis material, Genesis Revisited 11, it’s just a part of modern life to do that and you are always really in touch , people tweeting
JWS: Information age I suppose, we live in a social media age, when I was younger it was buying Melody Maker every Thursday to see what had happened
SH: I used to hang on every word of Melody Maker, that’s how I got the job with Genesis
JWS: Now you click on a website and instantly find out
SH: Yes one day it’s going to be what’s a newspaper Granddad? you’ve never seen one
JWS: It’s what we used to wrap the chips up in son, don’t worry
JWS: Obviously the whole process of making an album has changed from say the five guys in Genesis being in a studio being locked away for weeks or months, or in the case of some bands, years
SH: You never have to see humans now
JWS: Is that a good thing or a bad thing
SH: I actually love the camaraderie of being with a band and the jokes, the humour often the cruder the better , there’s great subtlety in crudité. I love that it’s one of the aspects I love of touring when you all get in that Van, Boat or Plane with each other that banter starts to happen it’s very funny and entertaining it’s at least as entertaining as what happens on stage later, many of the guys I’ve worked with would make great professional comics and some have, Phil used to be very funny, still is and I thought his performance in Hook where he plays the policeman, the incredulous policeman was masterful, I’ve worked with a lot of very funny drummers in that way, Ian Moseley was brilliantly comic, Nick Magnus all these guys really you should have heard the tapes that Nick Magnus made in the old days, answerphone messages the full production that were masterful he should have marketed them but a lot of them were topical and current , I suspect what happens is that people get older and they get a bit more sensible but they’ve still got the twinkle in the eyes and that’s all important of course
JWS: Well I hope so as there is an ageing demographic in our musicians in some respect, there is a new wave coming through, is it as good as the old wave I don’t know that’s a question for another time but, but this old wave are getting older but they’re still valid, I mean Pete Townshend said Hope I die before I get old but we’re all older and we’re all still relevant.
SH : I Know I Know, well I think there was a lot of tenacity around and some of the old hands aren’t ready to hang up their spurs, hang up the gloves maybe, I’ve met a lot of these people, the Pete Townshend’s, the Mick Jagger’s, the Paul McCartney’s and all that but they’re all human, they like a laugh, they get tired, they fall over The Rock Gods were just mythological press hand-outs sort of business, I think most of them just prefer a cup of tea these days quite frankly. You reach a certain age and you think it was lovely to be able to function like an immortal in my teens and twenties and to be able to boogie all night at the speakeasy or what have you smoking and drinking, I went out last night and had a small glass of port it’s hardly excessive you have to be very conservative, if not with your politics but with your health
JWS: Let me ask you about a couple of tracks, I’ve listened to it extensively on heavy rotation as it were, I’ve really enjoyed it, Ripples what a great version
SH: Oh I’m glad you like that, it’s very different almost Marianne Faithful sounding almost the voice of experience singing that,
JWS: It’s so beautifully done, it sounds fabulous
SH: Well it’s a radically different treatment from the original and there is this sense of Genesis being a boys club but occasionally women get let in, and I think it’s a very good thing to take this music on a stage, when we started making this album in Italy, it was largely due to the fact that there was a girl and she had done of version of White Mountain, from the trespass album, before I joined the band, and it sounded really good and she sang it in Italian, and it really worked, there was an orchestra and a harpsichord and it just sounded really fab
JWS: Well for me Ripples is one of the standout tracks
SH: I shall tell that to Amanda (Lehmann) she’ll be really pleased I think she feels quite vulnerable and exposed in the midst of this boys club that is this huge band of 35 people doing this album
JWS: Anybody who’d never heard Genesis, unlikely but if you played them that song they’re going to love it
SH: I think that might well be the case, it is a beautiful song, I analysed the twelve string part and managed to find the original part I played which is very high, sort of music boxy, I wanted to give it a chocolate box sound to it . Like opening a box of Quality Street, especially with the cover the album originally had very light and frothy, slightly Dickensian
JWS: On Hogweed who’s the singer
SH: Neal Morse of Transatlantic
JWS: I thought it was, it lists him on the credits as a singer but not in your note, they’ve done that with you before.
SH: Yes they’d already recorded a version of that, it’s a knockout version it re-invigorated the song and they asked me to play it live with them at the High Voltage Festival (2011) which I was playing next day with my own band, I enjoyed playing with them, it went down a storm with the crowd, it was an encore for them, it kicked in with guitar tapping from the word go and harmony keyboards.
JWS: Great encore, I think I’ve got it on DVD from Sky Arts coverage of the festival
SH: Possibly, you do these things and they have legs and they do the rounds, no chance to worry about quality control you’ve got one chance to get it right and hope for the best.
JWS: It’s probably on YouTube as well; this whole project goes live next year
SH: It does yes, that the plan yes, we already have tickets on sale for it, we’re doing Hammersmith on the 10th May and tickets are selling very well, so it’s already a success at the box office which is very good as they’ve only been on sale a couple of weeks.so it’s validated the whole thing and I’ve been proved right which is sort of satisfying, doing this sort of show that the time was right for it, that although there’s 50 tribute bands doing Genesis material there was no musical of Genesis there’s no functioning band but I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t love this stuff and more and more genesis tracks have been creeping into my sets over the years, Of course they go down wonderfully, these songs we wrote when we were kids together still go down very so I’m pleased it’s got legs and in some cases wings as well.
JWS: I’m going to try and catch the show either in Manchester or Birmingham
SH: We’re at Birmingham Symphony Hall
JWS: Good venue
SH: No I’ve not played symphony hall before, it’s a new venue for me, quite a new venue anyway
JWS: It’s got very good acoustics in there
SH: Very Live as it works with orchestras, so it probably acts an amplifier which causes its own little problems with PA’s
JWS: It’s a bit high and banked, a bit Albert Hally like
JWS: There’s three tiers to it
SH: Well it seems to be selling well which is great
JWS: I hope the tour sells out for you Steve, because obviously CD’s don’t sell as much as they used to
SH: Well you say that, but it’s funny the demographic with my generation perhaps is that, whereas if you are a new act on the block if you are doing good business you’d be doing 90% downloads to 10% product it’s the reverse for me, people usually want to have, I know you can get downloads and mp3 and all that, but I don’t recommend that because you can have problems with drop outs and all that and fall bandwidth, I prefer to won the CD I like to own something, read the booklet
JWS: You’ve hit on a good point there, the booklet, people, especially progressive rock fans like to have the booklet, they like the words, the pictures, the lyrics
SH: That’s right, I want to feel it’s a prized possession in the same way as when I was buying vinyl years ago, you’d get on a bus or the tube and you felt proud that you were carrying this huge package home that was the latest offering by your heroes or something that you’d recently discovered, God I used to take this thing out and start reading and admiring it with people looking and thinking, How cool is it to own that the latest record by whoever it was, talk about reading the guys newspaper next to you. In the 60’s full Austin powers time, this was heady stuff It’s like you were carrying dynamite, audio dynamite, I was a huge admirer of the album as a form and when I turned professional that’s what I am I’m an albums animal, singles were something I brought when I was a pre teenager, I still can’t get used to single as being anything other than a confection that was heard on Radio Caroline, I was hearing great stuff back to back, I can’t tell you how many years ago that was, I’d have to go back to hearing Bob Dylan’s I want you followed by the Beatles doing Eleanor Rigby, you know on the same station, it makes me sound an old git, but it is music that’s stood the test of time, it still does sell, and I count myself lucky to be in the music business when these things were considered to be prized possessions. Albums that didn’t necessarily sell wonderfully in their day because we didn’t have a lot of radio play to back it up, you were lucky if you got so much as a radio play, even when we were doing Earls Court you couldn’t guarantee that you’d have a hit single or play on radio, maybe the thing would aired as a live concert on Capital, that didn’t make any difference if you wanted to sell records you had to play to a lot of people, this was pre video age, that pre video age where the majority of the best loved Pink Floyd stuff came out of and Led Zeppelin, I know there is the odd thing that comes out but even so I feel it was word of mouth that sold this stuff and it was only latterly, almost begrudgingly that radio start to play
JWS: I remember when I was a teenager that you could pick up two or three good concerts a week and it was obviously a lot cheaper than it is now, and there was almost more enthusiasm and ownership of the music, you bought the album, the ticket, the T shirt the lot.
SH: I would say the time that we’re in, in music I don’t think the multinationals have the monopoly any more, it’s de-centralised, de-regulated and if people have their own websites and the various ways in which they communicate with fans, it’s almost like you have your own TV / Radio station or virtual newspaper, as regards the website I interact with it very fully, it’s very important that people know what you’re up to, what you’ve done the people you’ve seen, might have been that last weekend you were over in Genoa at an event celebrating 40 years of Foxtrot, so that’s something that can easily be missed but it also shows people that you’re alive and wee, not just kicking but still very much in the game it’s still a passion for me
JWS: I’ve seen your posts on Facebook where you answer fans questions, the way the music business has changed it’s bought a whole new degree of interaction between the artists and their fans or supporters really
SH: Supporters is the best way to see it, Investors although that does sound rather like a bank and it’s hardly like that for us.
JWS: Benevolent investors Steve
SH: Yes that’s it Benevolent investors, the friendly society, and what we do with these shows is we will be mounting a production with screens and lights, so it won’t be just a straight performance it’s taking it to the next stage basically and I think it’s important to re-invigorate those old ideas, so I’m investing in this ,Although left the band and jumped ship in 1977 but still I’m very proud of the early stuff we did together, for me I was hot to trot and I wanted to work with other people and autonomy was terribly important to me, so I got to work with a lot of fantastic people in all sorts of styles, Black American or Hungarian over the years I’ve worked with people throughout the world basically whether its Azerbaijan or central Texas, that’s what it’s been all about for me working in many different genres, but I’m coming back home to my roots with this stuff
JWS: Full Circle
SH: Full Circle yes
JWS: So have the other guys in Genesis heard this
SH: They haven’t heard any of it that I’m aware of, but I’ve always said if they heard it and liked it and thought it was well done there would probably be a stony silence, that’s what I expecting the “No Comment” there might be the odd thing that one of them might say from time to time but who knows, In a sense I’m not doing it for them I’m doing it for fans, I’m doing it for myself to relive what was a golden age of music where we could work in every conceivable style and do anything from classically influences, to rock, to pop, to jazz, to social comment to pantomime to you name it, humour was a big part, so I think it had a tremendous amount to offer before it became constrained in the 3 minute single market requirement, which tend to narrow it down to what any act can allow themselves to do and if you’re not careful and you subscribe to that too much you can end up with the album full of failed hit singles and you’re avoiding what the album is, which is an epic listening experience so I’ve always subscribed to that idea, it’s the equivalent of an epic movie but for the ear rather than the eye
JWS: 2 and ½ hours it’s a lengthy project
SH: It is a lengthy project
JWS: It’s value for money
SH: It is value for money like to think ,I don’t know what it’s retailing at, I’ve let them set those prices they’re the record company they do that, but I don’t think it’s more than you’d pay for a single album but I might be sticking my neck out.
JWS: £11 or £12
SH: Well I think that’s pretty good value £11 or £12, I might even go out and buy a copy myself , if I can find a record shop
JWS: Well there’s another problem if you go to the supermarket they’ll sell all your Rihanna’s and stuff like that but you can’t find anything a bit more worthwhile or deeper unless it happens to somehow dent the chart, so it’s a case of can you can get some publicity or an opening that’s going to help you do that, so that people go Steve Hackett, Genesis, ooh I like Genesis I might invest in that
SH: Well we don’t know, It might chart there have been times when in order to be at the top of the singles charts people have sold just 3000 records, we’ve actually sold more of this with pre-sales at this point so that’s great, I don’t know how it works any more, the charts it’s all funny money to me that, the weird and wonderful world of monopoly evidenced by the charts, I don’t really understand that I was never really interested in the charts, you’ve got to trust your own ears with this stuff and get hold of a record at all costs if you can’t get it anywhere else I’m sure Amazon can find this stuff you can get it from our website www.hacketsongs.com there will be information about the web store if you click on the homepage
JWS: Finally let me ask you about the artwork for the album because it’s very very stunning
SH: I’m glad you think it’s stunning, I think it’s a stunning, it’s actually a Photoshop thing the photographers Maurizio and Angela Vichidomine and they came up with some wonderful images for the booklet that accompanies this, really stunning, and I think it was Maurizio who put this picture together of St Mark’s Square in Venice being overtaken by a tidal wave, it looks like something out of a Hollywood blockbuster , like the day after tomorrow , I was astonished that he came up with that image and we thought it was an apocalyptic vision which might be suitable for Suppers Ready which is a hard one to come up with anything literal for, so it’s kind of symbolic and Venice has crept into the occasional Genesis lyric at times.
JWS: I’ve not seen the full booklet yet I’ve only had the downloads
SH:Well It is a stunning picture and I like to think that it’s dramatic and I’ve been wondering what people might react to when they hear the swirly guitar introduction at the front and I’ve tried to do something watery before Chamber of 32 Doors kicks in with orchestra and I really wanted replay the electric on it with sustain and let it scream out
JWS: I’d better let you go thanks very much for talking to us we will post the link to www.hackettsongs.com and publish this on our website www.dprp.net and I’d like to wish you all the best for this album it’s been great talking with you Thanks Steve
SH: Thanks John all the best
Postscript – 29/10/2012 Genesis Revisited 11 has entered the UK album charts at Number 24 – Good news for real music and hopefully will attract new listeners