Steve Hackett, as the powerhouse guitarist for inarguably one of the most important progressive rock bands ever, has been a guiding influence for musicians and guitarists for over 40 years and is making his way down to Australia for the very first time bring the Genesis Revisited Tour here.
Genesis, only ever made it to Australia once, in 1986 – years after Steve and singer Peter Gabriel left the band, so Steve is making it up to fans by bringing some Genesis magic to our shores. Genesis classics Dance On A Volcano and Eleventh Earl Of Mar have never been performed here, and Steve’ s incendiary guitar work on a magnum opus such as Dancing With The Moonlit Knight will excite fans. Hi Fi Way: The Pop Chronicles spoke to Steve about the album before our allotted time ran out but it was a real privilege talking to such a legendary musician.
Twenty five solo albums for any artist is a staggering thought to contemplate?
I think it’s me and John Wayne, I’m trying to get up to seventy seven weapons, you know what I mean… I’ve got to work quicker to catch him up with the amount of films made!
How important was it recording the album in many different locations such as Budapest and Sardinia?
It is funny thing, when we started out it was going to be much smaller affair but I kept working with friends all over. I realised I had somethings that were performances I got out of people in the past that were sitting around and I thought it would be nice if I could use this bit and that bit. Some of it is tailor made. other things are being assimilated in to the whole like spare bits of a jig saw. It doesn’t always get written chronologically anyway, so if you are flexible enough you can find a way to a good performance someone might have done either solo or in the case of Ferenc Kovács, a Hungarian guy playing trumpet on 50 Miles From The North Pole he was playing it very lightly and it was the first time he and his daughter had ever done anything together. She was playing didgeridoo and he was playing trumpet. It was an absolute gem this thing and highly improvised and I thought where the hell can I use that?
I recorded it around about the time of the Wolflight sessions for the previous album. I thought I had to find some way of using this and it had a kind of bleak quality to it and this could describe the landscape in Iceland that was about. We took that performance and put drums on afterwards. It was little bit like the approach that the late great David Bowie had with Blackstar where it sounds to me as if the drum performance and lead lines are going on simultaneously without any regard to each other. I think that Roger King happens to be very clever at doing very broken rhythm. So we had part real drumming on this track and part virtual drumming on this track. Roger was coming up with these what sounded like storm drums in this forbidding landscape so it worked out very well.
That’s just one example and the rest of it is just parts from around the well and recorded in unlikely circumstances, sometimes face to face, sometimes through file sharing and sometimes with the use of data and collecting instruments. Formulating data can be pretty much be one of the same thing. I got some instruments from Peru, the charango which is a stringed instrument and the quena which is a flute which plays in this kind of fluttery way. I acquired both those instruments from a visit to Peru whilst I was still a tourist. I went back and did some shows there but again assimilating these in to the whole takes time to figure out what the theme is going to be and where is it going to take place.
Before I knew it I had people from all over the world including Kobi Farhi from Israel who lived in Jaffa and Mira Awad who comes from a Palestinian background working together on the penultimate track West To East and I guess the sub-text of the whole thing is the idea of unity. I think that twenty people from all around the world can work together, I think you can do all sorts of stuff with all sorts of influences. Once you start sticking all these people together and their performances how could you come up with an album like this?
My wife’s influences in terms of some social themes were important because she came up with the first line of the opening track of the album Behind The Smoke. She had the line “behind the smoke was black’ and I said ah is this about fleeing a war torn land. She said yes and I then I asked if this is about refugees and she said yes. Then we talked about our own families background and her background particularly her father’s side and they were Jewish escaping same with my parents escaping from Poland making it across Europe. In her case through Germany and my family’s case via Portugal and then eventually to the UK settling in the east end of London working very hard to earn a living. There’s all sorts of similarities in the backgrounds so in a sense we are honouring the background to our ancestors. That’s how the whole thing was put together, one thing leads to another. I let it write itself and not give it to much conscious thought.
Is this the most satisfying album that you have worked on working with so many different people bringing together so many different elements?
Yeah, the team had never met up and possibly never will but is great for the people who were on it. It is not so much like steering a ship, you’re in command of this thing but you’re delegating that and it is interesting to see where this vehicle takes me. I don’t have to have an ego with this. I like to think I give people enough rope and try and get the best out of people… I’m always proud of that when someone does anything remotely good under my wing, tutelage or whatever it is.
I say just go and fly yourself and see if we can use it. Sometimes you feel like a fraud doing that I should doing this composing thing but I can’t do it in all instances. If I want something to really take off I need to let the reigns go. I have been very pleasantly surprised when that’s happened in the past with other things. I might look back twenty or thirty years to an album such as Spectral Mornings and the track The Virgin and the Gypsy.
The things I tried to do with it seemed to go wrong and it wasn’t until I let other people take over that it really worked. They saw things that I didn’t. I did twelve string tracks with that and it still wasn’t sounding right until Nick Magnus harpsichords in it, suddenly it turned in to something. It’s side stepping and to make the process really work you’re doing what a group does in other words, you’ve got the best of both worlds. Solo careers, solo approach means you can invite everyone to do exactly what a group does but have the final say.
Interview by Rob Lyon
Steve Hackett’s album The Night Siren is out now and be sure to catch him on his Australian tour dates…