Interview & live photo gallery by Menno von Brucken Fock
Beyond The Shrouded Horizon (DPRP Duo Review) is the 27th studio album by former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett and the successor to the highly acclaimed Out Of The Tunnels Mouth. Steve found new happiness with Jo Lehmann whom he married on June 4 this year. With his current live band, including Jo Lehmann’s sister Amanda and a number of celebrities Steve recorded this album. Special guests are Chris Squire (bass), Simon Phillips (drums), Dick Driver (double bass), Ben Fenner (keyboards), John Hackett (flute), Christine Townsend (violin) and Richard Stuart (cello). Another great album by the gifted guitarist of which I can only recommend the special edition with a truly nice bonus disc. Steve will be performing live throughout Europe in the fall and particularly the show in Zoetermeer (November 26) should be in the agenda of every Dutch prog-fan! Steve was eager to share the background of the music and artwork of this album and this is what he had to say…
Menno: Hi Steve, just over a year ago we talked about the superb Out Of The Tunnel’s Mouth” and it seems you’re getting busier than ever because you’ve done it again!
Steve: Well, yes I try to be a busy boy, you know, the clock is ticking and I’m trying to get the most out of it. I’ve been quite slow for about twenty years.
Menno: You’re just over 60 now so usually people try to slow down a bit?
Steve: Oh no, I can’t. I don’t know how to!
Menno: By the way congratulations with your marriage with Jo in June! Viewing all the pics it must have been a beautiful day and it means a new phase in your life?
Steve: Yes it really was a beautiful day, a little windy perhaps but sunshine everywhere, it was a fantastic. Indeed it means a new phase absolutely, new energy and it’s very pleasant thank you!
Menno: It must have felt great to be back in your own studio again? Does it mean your ‘court days’ are over?
Steve: As much as I enjoyed working at home, these were more difficult conditions and with the pressure off we were able to work under more normal circumstances. Indeed it means my ‘court days’ are over. Everything has been sorted out, so it’s plain sailing from now on. I wouldn’t wish litigation on anybody but I think it’s produced some extremely good results, in adversity, if you know what I mean.
Menno: No doubt Jo has been an ongoing source of inspiration for you again. What was her role in the making of Beyond The Shrouded Horizon?
Steve: She wrote songs along with me; also I worked with Roger King. We work very closely, side by side and pretty much every day and I think it’s produced some very good results. Jo has been actively working with me and she also involved in running the business so she a very busy girl! She demonstrated to be a really clever songwriter too. Many songs have been born out of musical conversations and sometimes just regular conversations: it throws up imagery to use with songs, subjects for songs. I like to think it’s a team that build each album and that’s what’s going on at the moment. Even if it’s a solo album there are many people involved with the performances on this album: the band but also the orchestral contributions by the string players -Dick Driver, Richard Stuart and Christine Townsend- have been outstanding. They’re all brilliant players actually.
Menno: Is she by any chance related to Rob (Townsend, plays flutes and sax in Steve’s band – MvBF)?
Steve: Hahaha, no she is not, strangely enough, nor to Pete (The Who – MvBF) but nevertheless she’s a great player.
Steve: Yes, it’s a picture taken by Harry Pearce from a Balinese temple he visited. It’s taken around 4 in the morning, just before the light comes up. We were working along the title of the album that had something to do with traveling; we were thinking about the idea of ‘shrouded horizon’ and we were thinking of sea pictures. But then he did this thing on this temple, which was actually a larger picture, stretching out over a lake which had mist coming up but we found we couldn’t make that work to square it up with the album sleeve. So we used a cropped version to fit it into album sleeve shape. It’s very beautiful and it seems as if the horizon has been shrouded, shrouded in mist. Shrouded in mist is very much a Genesis idea; a shrouded horizon tends to mean symbolically not being able to see into the future. You would want to pear into it, you’re dying to know what’s gonna happen, but you just have to wait, that’s how it works.
Menno: Do you know Harry Pearce through Jo, because they’re colleagues?
Steve: Actually no. I’ve worked with Harry on many occasions: he’s been involved in many album sleeves and with the layout of those sleeves. He’s a designer who has done many books, many album sleeves. Not just for myself but also for Roy Harper, classical people and he’s also designed part of museum like the Science museum in London for instance. He also works with Peter Gabriel with Amnesty, the witness program I think. It all goes full circle cos’ Harry loves to play guitar, he’s also a nylon guitar enthusiast and he likes to play himself and he loves blues and classical, all the things that I do! He’s a big Ry Cooder fan too. He likes his music to be intimate sounding, just one or two instruments.
Menno: Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth has been recorded in your living room, the new album in your own studio again… how did it feel? No headphones, pounding drums again?
Steve: Well, we did use amplifiers this time, but also virtual amplification within the box, so the box is a little bit mightier than the building sometimes. The computer really is the inner building; the outer building is the studio in a way. We used physical space for it, but not as much as you might think. We used it for recording the bass stuff with Chris Squire, the drums by Simon Phillips & Gary O’Toole, for tracks like Turn This Island Earth and Catwalk.
Menno: You just mentioned Squire and Phillips, several distinguished guests but you have a fantastic live band: why choosing other musicians as well?
Steve: I started the album some years ago and some of it had to be put on one side until we’d finished certain other things and the rights were contested to some of the earlier material before I went through the court case. It was when I just finished working on Chris Squire’s Christmas album, when I said to him if would want to work on my stuff, so he came in and worked on my stuff until I started working with Nick Beggs on the live shows. Nick was fantastic because he was able to do an extraordinary impression of all sorts of bass players: sometimes he uses a Rickenbacker, a Music Man but he was able to do fret-less too and …. he plays the Chapman Stick! So I have been surrounded by great bass players and great drummers … I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve to be surrounded by such talent. They really have been quite extraordinary, all of them.
Menno: I think you’re too modest now… you are a truly great talent yourself!
Steve (smiling): Well one tries you know. Years ago somebody said to me: the only difference between an amateur and a professional is, a professional keeps trying! (Menno laughs).. I just try to get it right…
Menno: In your own words you described the album seventeenth century dance ditty to the heavy thrust of a stampeding army of sound. Why such a diversity?
Steve: I think that some people draw a distinction between diverse music and progressive music and progressive music seems to imply the use of analogue keyboards in order to create that effect of an orchestra: your Hammond organ, your Mellotron, your practically monophonic synth… It’s almost like the pre-raphaelites, almost like the “predigi-ites”. Obviously since then there’s a thousand presets and sounds we can use. So much as I love all of that, there’s nothing wrong with a Hammond: I love it because it’s a very adaptable characterful sounding thing as is the Mellotron, particularly Mellotron strings & brass, flutes and not to mention the voices. But there is a world beyond that and there are so many instruments I’m thrilled to the sound of that I work with at the moment. Also I think the guitar is a very adaptable instrument: it could sound like so many things, it’s a little bit like a voice isn’t it: you take away percussion and decay with the use of a sustainer pickup, e-bow or any other way of expanding a note and it really is the closest thing to a woman’s voice that I can think of.
I think the highest compliment for an instrumentalist, for example a violinist, is to say it sounds like a voice. I look for that in the guitar certainly and I also think it’s the audience, it’s the listener that owns the song at the end of the day, not the performers or the writers, you know. They do what they do and go on to the next thing but if gets resident in someone heart or mind, that’s the prerogative. It’s the world of the listener. I have my heroes and my favorite tunes that will move me to tears or make me laugh or energize me. To be able to do that to yourself when you know you lived through the anxiety of every influence, it’s much harder because you’re aware that there’s a certain alchemy that takes place. It’s a bit like creating fire: you know all about the flints you rub together in order to do that, you’re very aware of the root of each thing. It’s somewhere between the roots and the mechanics of each song.
When you play live you don’t really know if it’s working or not, you just get an idea from the crowd because on stage you’re not getting the balance that’s heard. Performing live can sometimes be like an all in wrestling match: you’re wrestling with being able to hear yourself for a start, being able to keep yourself in tune and time…. you’re walking kind of a tight rope but have fun! The benefit of being a member of the audience is you’re seeing sound and lights at a selection of balance; it’s not actually designed for the people on stage. Neither are songs really designed for the people who sing and play them… as I said, the audience owns the song at the end of the day!
Menno: Talking about Chris Squire: he participated on OOTTM too and last time you told me the two of you were working on something. What the status of that project or album?
Steve: The status is that a deal is being negotiated at the moment with a record company that I hope will produce a fruitful result. It’s been a long time coming; you know in order to keep a number of people happy, both the record company and the artists. That album has Jeremy Stacey on drums, Amanda Lehman on vocals, of course there’s me & Chris and there’s Roger King on keyboards as well and also Roger producing. The album is finished and I hope it will be out soon.
Menno: Then the new album, of which you are very proud I presume. You already explained a lot of things about the album on your website, but maybe you’d like to go through the songs and mention the most important things like influences and sources of inspiration?
Steve: Yeah sure, Loch Lomond for instance. Really Loch Lomond and The Phoenix Flown were one track but we had a false ending, a fade out, a little bit the same as in Strawberry Fields (Forever), except we went down to a frozen reverb on it and people were always saying to me “Oh is that two separate tracks?” In the end we chose to have them on the album as separate tracks. There’s a different feeling once it goes to the pure instrumental at the end. Loch Lomond is a song that shifts and changes genre like a decoy before an ambush. I thought I knew the language of the guitar but it kept coming at me when I least expected it: it kept me awake at night, it kept haunting me and the song was getting longer and I found I couldn’t really turn away the ideas even though we were working on it. We were thinking it was a bit long but it didn’t feel like it by the time the whole thing was done. The second half, The Phoenix Flown, I was thinking of influences musically, the kind of phrases Borodin uses. I was thinking of two chords and just fundamental bass over most of it. There’s a vocal melody that’s reflected in the guitar work that comes back, a sort of sense of renewed life, the idea of a dream reborn with a certain purpose, almost as if you were feet on the ground and head in the clouds. Those phrases could equally be played by a string orchestra and could be handled in an orchestral way. Even if it’s electric and it’s really a group, it’s still inspired by these orchestral ideas by Borodin. A sort of East meets West feeling.
Menno: There are both Oriental but also Scottish influences there I suppose?
Steve: That’s right there’s Scottish influences there, there’s the Celtic thing and also the Irish thing as well. It’s certainly influenced by that and I’ve used the influence of the bagpipes and the guitar sounding a little as bagpipes as well. It makes sense to me and in a way it’s a sort of flagship track for the rest of the album: once you’ve come on board and the rest of the band kicks in with that powerful driving rhythm, it’s rock music to its fullest. There’s a little bit of reusing the bass lines that I had on Cell 151, where I had basses and cellos doing it. It’s driven by guitar, by strings, ‘electronica’ and real drums and it’s certainly the most powerful track on the album and a song with contradictions as well, like a place that can’t really exist, only in your imagination.
Menno: Then we have a piece on the acoustic guitar?
Steve: Yes, Wanderlust is a sort of an interlude influenced by Borodin again. The kind of phrases you could find on Prince Igor, very romantic music at the same time. I used that interlude as a kind of conveyance between the two separate keys of E major and C major, which is the next track, Til These Eyes. That’s really a song of love lost and found, a song of moving on through sadness and pain but the payoff is in the very last line of the altered chorus which changes from ’til these eyes have seen enough’ to the positive ’til these eyes have seen love’.
Prairie Angel is not a love song really. Prairie Angel and A Place Called Freedom were originally one song but I decided to separate them in two songs. People who like the love stuff could tune into that, the more melodic aspect, more country biased and go directly to A Place Called Freedom. This track was inspired by Jack Kerouac’s book ‘On the Road’ in one sense, by one of the characters he describes, the influence of the wide open spaces in America. A Place Called Freedom is really an attempt to do a ‘western for the ear’ rather than for the eye, a song that tracks the trails of the pioneers. I was thinking of love of an Indian girl and a white settler.
Menno: You stated on your site it was Bob Seger who influenced your style of singing: are you a fan?
Steve: Yes, I am a fan! I like the fast delivery and the kind of desperateness in the sound of his voice so I tried to get some of that in my singing. I realize I sound nothing like Bob Seger and I wouldn’t really attempt in any way to sound like him but it’s just the idea of the desperateness in the voice. Like an actor taking on a different part: I think I sound different than I ever sung before, it’s acting the role really.
Menno: That moves on to Between The Sunset And The Coconut Palms?
Steve: This title is really from a sketch by Peter Sellers. I guess you’d have to hear the sketch to know what it’s all about, but it was a romantic idea again. It’s pure escapism; the idea of a night sea journey and refugees leaving behind a tattered world and in another sense it’s following the boatman’s call into the unknown. There’s a jerky part in the middle; I was thinking of people having been marooned on a beach, dancing round the campfire type stuff .
Menno: Then we have Waking to Life sung by Amanda Lehmann with a kind of oriental feel?
Steve: Indian influence and there’s also some Japanese influence in there, but essentially it’s ‘eastern exotica’. I’m trying to contrast the use of ancient images -lyrically- interpreted by modern technology. And really it’s from the point of view of a young girl, awakening beyond her personal shrouded horizon.
Menno: The next track has been written in Cairo. Did you actually look at a sphinx when you wrote this song?
Steve: Yes! The virtual voyage continues with Two Faces Of Cairo and I was looking at the sphinx on the day and I was writing down phrases in a book. It was as if it was singing to me and I was just blown away by it and I could hear all this music, like this sphinx was a huge amplifier that seemed to be picking up music from if not another planet, from the ancient past. I was trying to think of melodies that would work on the guitar with the uses of quarter tones as you’ll find in Arabic music: the music of India, the music of Azerbaijan. That’s where all those things link and again very hi-tech in a sense with drums as army. A mixture of military and romantic in there and the contrast of the majesty of the old kingdom of Egypt, the enigma of the sphinx with the other face of Cairo which is the desperate poverty of the people who live in a district where people are living literally with the dead in the graves, where there is no street lighting. I’ve found that tremendously disturbing but equally powerful images.
Menno: Have you actually seen that with your own eyes?
Steve: Yes. And this was before all the political unrest but it doesn’t surprise me in the least: I was only surprised that it lasted so long and maybe religion kept everyone in their place but eventually their call had to be answered.
Next track is Looking For Fantasy. I had a dream, it was a Hendrix dream and he was giving a free concert and he was singing this melody which seemed to be a lament for the fact that he ended his life so early and he felt the responsibility towards all the others that died under similar circumstances. So the melody was his but the lyrics … I was thinking along the lines of a lost generation of flower girls and every now & then I find a friend who bit in the dust and I find that tremendously upsetting. So it’s an affectionate look at a composite picture of a number of girls who were around in the sixties with that mixture of optimism and naivety which was so prevalent during the use of drug-culture . A sense of the unfulfilled longing of that generation of women. Many of whom are in desperate circumstances today, if they managed to survive. But above all it’s the affectionate look at that.
Menno: Than an interlude again?
Steve: Right, Summer’s Breath is a sort of an interlude to allow you to literally draw back from fantasy to Catwalk, which is a more bluesy thing. Summer’s Breath is influenced by Spanish music and the idea of a sort of siesta on the beach if there were such a thing. The work of Segovia is not far away whenever I pick up a nylon guitar. His influence is always an eternal dream of Segovia’s sun-drenched Spain: languid, lyrical, romantic and that idea of dreaming with music that he had so much, which really sets you up for the beginning of Catwalk, which steams in, in the midst of all that siesta. It’s probably the most basic, urban and bluesy track on the album and the least subtle. It’s a trio with myself, Simon Phillips and Chris Squire. It’s all really about the ‘catwalk stare’, all those models with their staring eyes and the clack of their cruel stilettos. It’s the urgency isn’t it, the major instinct and the kind of ‘come and get me if you dare’. There’s potential ‘femme fatales’ I think.
Menno: The final track of the regular edition is the epic?
Steve: Yeah, Turn This Island Earth is a kind of return to some of the themes Genesis came up with in the early days. The idea of space travel, I was thinking of Watcher Of The Skies. It’s sort of twinned with that in a sense. Pure escapism in terms of a trip around the universe, but of course it isn’t as much escapism as it was when people were in the nineteen fifties, writing sci-fi novels or making sci-fi films. But fantasy became fact and nowadays space travel is an everyday occurrence, it’s no longer the exotic impossible thing that it was one day. The story started off in “Starbucks”. I was there with my wife Jo, sharing a Cappuccino. It started off with a Cappuccino and as we were talking it ended up being a journey around the universe, a Sinbad type of journey.
Menno: Sometimes it sounds like a soundtrack?
Steve: It brought in a lot of things, images of Sinbad and Aladdin and a few other things as well, a bit of Pinocchio, yes there is some Disney in there. It’s a celebration of film. It’s my celebration of films that influenced me and it’s by far the most vastly detailed track I’ve ever recorded. It’s certainly orchestra plus and the upwards of at least 300 tracks so it was a mammoth thing to stick together. The computer wouldn’t even play it back at first! Roger had to update his computer just for this one song. I hope he will forgive me for this.
Menno: He probably will! Maybe it’s nice for our readers to reveal something about the second disc of the special edition?
Steve: Well of course! Disc two is mainly a collection of guitar solos, an occasional song and a bit of classical music. There are one or two tracks that have come up for renewal: the Japanese used to ask for two extra tracks for each album and of some of my favorites, the rights reverted back to us so I included one or two of those like for instance the Focus track, I’m talking about the band Focus. That beautiful slow on Moving Waves called Tommy; it was part of Eruption, a really beautiful guitar melody Jan Akkerman played and van Leer wrote. There’s also a really cool version of Air-conditioned Nightmare that we’ve called Reconditioned Nightmare, just done by the two of us, Roger and myself. The opening track has Chris Squire and Simon Phillips on it and then it goes to a series of improvisations. Those tracks are called the Four Winds: they are all different version of tracks that are all ‘blowing’ in the literal sense of the word and there’s a lot of improvisation going on, but they are all very different in nature.
Menno: Recently you played electric guitar for a lovely track on John Wetton’s latest album Raised In Captivity as well as recently on acoustic for Rob Reed (Magenta)?
Steve: Yes it’s a lovely album John’s done and his voice is as spectacular as ever. I played on a track called Goodbye Elsinore and I loved playing on this song. I did a deliberately very simple guitar solo for him, nothing flash, just something that provided an alternative to the vocal melody. I loved the chorus on that track! I did some acoustic for Rob Reed and that too sounded very beautiful indeed and also I did some stuff for Steven Wilson on his forthcoming album.
Steve: Mmmmmm, I tend to work with friends, just for the fun of it, know what I mean? I don’t think of myself as a session player and fortunately I don’t need to do that for a living. I do like to work with friends and I don’t draw the distinction: if someone is doing something interesting musically and I get to work on it, I think automatically we become friends because we’ve shared a deep passion for music. Those three that we’ve been talking about, they were all very interesting in different ways. Oh yeah Gary Husband too, I work with Gary on something of his, an album called Dirty & Beautiful, featuring John McLaughlin amongst others. The album features many guitarists and I’m proud to be one of them.
Menno: Matt Groom of Big Beak Productions is working on a documentary on you?
Steve: Yes he is been working on a documentary but this isn’t something I’ve employed him to do, it’s something he wanted to do himself. Every now & again he comes in to film something but I have no idea how it’s going to turn out. He does something else for a living, which is running RSK, but his background was in film making so a real look at backstage and me struggling to play certain guitar parts and what it takes to before things are perfect, know what I mean?
Menno: Will it be covering your whole history?
Steve: I think it will cover quite a bit but it all depends on whether he will get hold of footage from way back or whether he keeps it contemporary… he ‘s the filmmaker you know and I am just the interviewee!
Menno: Can you reveal something of the set list of the forthcoming concerts in the fall (among others De Boerderij – Zoetermeer on November 26)
Steve: I’ve just been talking with Amanda (Lehmann) about this yesterday. We hope to be able to play the central tracks of the new album. We were talking about the possibility to play Loch Lomond and The Phoenix Flown and we want to be able to Waiting To Life with her singing. I’m looking at other tracks as well such as Prairie Angel and A Place Called Freedom, I’d like to include those as well. We might be able to do Two Faces Of Cairo, that would be track 6 from the album. You know it depends; I’m not sure at the moment. Some things rely more on production, some things more on playing. In the rehearsal room we’ll find out what we will be able to play.
Menno: any ideas which of the older songs we will be hearing live?
Steve: Well, there are some ideas but these decisions will be made in the rehearsal room and we have to see what we can do in the available time too.
Menno: Oh, but we wouldn’t mind you playing two and a half hours…
Steve (laughing): Thank you! Actually some of these last shows were as long as two hours twenty minutes but it’s hard to keep everyone happy. I stopped playing Spectral Mornings for a while, because I wanted to play some of these other things but there seems to have been a backlash of protest so I’ve started playing that again.
Menno: Last year in Zoetermeer you played Spectral Mornings indeed.
Steve: Oh well, maybe what I have to do is to remember what I played in each individual territory because in some territories we didn’t perform SM. Some people want to hear stuff from 1973, others are hungry for the future. I’ll try to strike a balance as much as possible and keep everybody and I hope people will be happy with the new album…
Menno: No doubt in my mind they will! Is there any particular kind of music you listen to yourself?
Steve: I listen to many things. Recently I’ve been listening quite to a lot to singers funny enough and I like the hybrid of styles. I tend to like singers with a fast vibrato in their voice. I ‘m thinking of Ney Matogrosso (Brazil) or Bob Seger, very emotional voices and not to forget Roy Orbison. So if I could sound like any of those people, I would be quite a singer indeed. Meanwhile I’m essentially a guitarist who’s filling for a missing vocalist, that’s my take on it you know. I play but I also sing to stretch the possibilities further.
Menno: Once I’ve read on your website that you still regret the decision to leave Genesis…. but then again we wouldn’t have had all those 27 magnificent solo-albums?
Steve: Oh yeah! Well… to be honest (speaks slowly – MvBF) I don’t regret the decision to leave Genesis and that might sound like a contradiction in time. Part of my heart is always with Genesis, but it was made clear to me in Genesis that I couldn’t be part of the band and also have a solo career. I felt that I owed my allegiance to music over and above my allegiance to what was arguably the world’s best band. Unfortunately even if I’d been a member of the Beatles, I think that if I’d had to subordinate all my musical aspirations in favor of the group whole, I still would have made the same decision. Basically my whole relationship with music is to reinvest everything, whether it’s financial or emotional, back into music, that’s just what I do. Its its own currency and its own reward and if I can keep funding things, that’s good. Luckily the last album did better than in a long time and where other people’s sales have been going down, mine ended up going up. For an album that was made in the living room! I can’t work out why that is the case, maybe just a combination of people and ideas.
Menno: Isn’t it true that when you’re in a deep emotional crisis you tend to come up with the best ideas?
Steve: I think so yes, an emotional crisis may lead to musical highlights to compensate this emotional crisis because you’re desperate to get that across in your music. Adversity can often produce some of the best work but it’s a hell of a thing to go through and a hell of a price to pay to come up with those gems! Still the magic comes from the audience. Singers and musicians do what they always do but the response from the audience creates the event. We’re just the performers…
Menno: I don’t think the feedback will be favorable if your performance would be lousy now would it?
Steve: Surely you have to perform, but sometimes the job can be done for you, there’s enough grounds for support. It’s not as if every act has to prove itself over and over again with every gig: I went to see Blind Faith years ago and a friend of mine said “these guys already proved themselves” and I think he’s absolutely right.
Menno: What will be your next endeavor?
Steve: The next thing will be a DVD. I’m mixing a DVD from the last live show we did in London at Shepherd’s Bush and we’re mixing that in 5.1.
Menno: Does it have a different set list from the shows in the Netherlands early in 2010?
Steve: I think there were some changes. I’ve got a feeling in 2010 we may not have been playing Shadow Of The Hierophant and Sierra Quemada. There was also a guest spot from John Wetton and we did a version of All Along The Watchtower and Steven Wilson is on there too.
Menno: That’s great news and no doubt it will be awesome to see you and the band in Zoetermeer in November and I will surely be in that audience.
Steve: Thanks very much Menno, be seeing you then!
Zoetemeer De Boerderij – 2010 – Photos by Menno
Official Website: http://www.hackettsongs.com/index.html