Monday, August 26, 2019

Interview -- Steve Hackett (Genesis)

"The battle was on 
like a relay race 
for the rest of us."
~ Steve Hackett ~

The addition of guitarist Steve Hackett into the Genesis fold in 1971 can not be overstated.  From the very beginning, Steve Hackett's mastery at filling in spaces with just the right weight, whether electric or acoustic, was just instinct doubled.  His creative guitar techniques and intricate melodies and riffs were gorgeous and sometimes head-shaking.  In a band that was already loaded with incredibly talented musicians, Steve Hackett very much held his own.  From his very first appearance on the bands' third album, "Nursery Cryme"...followed by "Foxtrot."  "Selling England By The Pound."  "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway."  "A Trick of the Tail."  And finally, "Wind & Wuthering”...there was just no drop-off.  Steve Hackett's presence created a nice shady place for his other bandmates to play.  And what an incredible run of albums.  When Steve left the band in 1977, he went on to record an impressive discog in his own right.

Along with his other Genesis bandmates, Steve was finally inducted into the RnRHoF in 2010.  And although Genesis has been successful in both “before and after" incarnations...the legacy of the early Genesis had already earned them their invitation.  Steve Hackett.  Go get you some.

Steve Hackett Interview -- August 2019
Steve Hackett

Casey Chambers:  So, I was doing some electric surfing and saw that you're now performing the classic Genesis album, "Selling England By The Pound" its entirety.  And my jaw dropped.  That's gonna be one heckuva of a show to catch.  And you have quite a few shows lined up.  Sounds really exciting.

Steve Hackett:  That's right.  Yeah, it is exciting and I think it's still a great album.  It came from a time when John Lennon said that we were one of the bands that he was listening to.  And I was always intrigued by that.  And I wondered what it was...what he liked, you know, cause there were so many things that I liked about that album.  So I began performing the album in its entirety.  On a whim.  I've been doing it in Europe and it has's been extraordinary.  The response both in terms of attendance and reaction from the crowd...  Bringing that back has been a really wonderful time.

Casey Chambers:  That's going to be an awesome show.  One of my favorite tracks from that album is "Dancing With The Moonlit Knight."  Just killer.

Steve Hackett:  I think that's my favorite Genesis track of all time, to be honest.  There are so many different musical influences in it.  Everybody in the band was contributing something.  The song at the beginning is really Peter Gabriel's.  And then after that, the battle was on like a relay race for the rest of us.  Tony takes the lead on it.  I take the lead on it.  And the instrumental parts of it is very unusual.  It's this cross between classical music and rock and big band and yeah, it's a very, very, unusual track.

Casey Chambers:  That middle is all like, "I got mine. You get yours!" (laughs)  And what a wonderful way to begin the album.

Steve Hackett:  Well, I think we all felt that it was the strongest out of everything and it seemed to introduce the album.  Plus it had the album title implied in it.  Originally we were going to call the song, "Selling England By The Pound."  But we tended not to do that with Genesis.  At least in those days, we didn't.  The idea was that an album would be regarded in its entirety without bringing too much attention to any one particular track.  So it was called, "Dancing With The Moonlit Knight" instead.

"Dancing With The Moonlit Knight" - Genesis / (Live 1973)

Casey Chambers:  And while you were with Genesis, you were also introducing a rather new guitar technique that became known as finger tapping.  You used that on this song too, didn't you?

Steve Hackett:  Yes, I did.  Yeah, yeah.  It was a way of playing lightning-fast on one string basically. And I was doing sweep picking as well, which is another technique which got to be named long after I was employing it.  And octave jumps.  In some ways, it's a kind of prototype heavy metal solo.  It's fast and furious...but it's also melodic.  So Genesis had the edge on that, I think.  We were all writers with ideas for coming up with melodies.  I think they wouldn't have let me join if I hadn't been at least aspiring to write things.  And that became more the case, the longer I stayed with the band.  It was a very great time.  1973 was a great time for the band.

Casey Chambers:  You're being modest, but this finger tapping technique that you were employing was really ground-breaking stuff.  Actually incorporating it into some pretty complex compositions.  When did you first begin using it?

"Selling England By The Pound" (1973)

Steve Hackett:  I was trying to play something that sounded a little bit Bach-like. A little bit like something from "Toccata and Fugue."  I thought the best way to do this was all on one string.  But it was a fledgling technique and I didn't know whether I could do it in time or not.  So I used to practice it live with the band and I found that I could.  That I could keep it in time.  So, two albums earlier when we were doing, "Nursery Cryme" (1971)  I incorporated it into a track called, "The Musical Box."  In the solo.  And we also used it at the beginning of "The Return Of The Giant Hogweed."  It was difficult to tell what was cabled and what was guitar.  We sometimes used to do this technique in harmony.  I'd be finger tapping and Tony (Banks) would be using a Hohner Pianet through a fuzz box.  He was trying to impersonate a guitar and I was trying to impersonate the keyboard. (laughs)  The technique is born of the desire to imitate.

Casey Chambers:  Another track that you wrote on "Selling England..." was the beautiful instrumental called, "After The Ordeal."   It's at a great place on the album and the song always makes me feel like I've slipped through some kind of time-crack.  I'm glad to hear you're performing it live.

Steve Hackett:  Yeah, we didn't do it live in those days because nylon guitars were not very loud.  We have pickups for those things now.  In fact, back in the day, we couldn't really impersonate a grand piano, either.  Of course, now keyboards carry all sorts of solos and it's not exceptional to find someone sitting there with a keyboard triggering all sorts of things, including a great sounding grand piano. (laughs)  So, the song has a grand piano, nylon guitar, and then the track goes electric. Originally it was written as an electric track, but we thought it might work better as an acoustic thing. And Tony came up with a very florid keyboard part to support that cause.  Originally I was going to be bending notes and everything, but the song ended up becoming a very romantic kind of thing.  So I'm very glad it went on the album.

"After The Ordeal" - Steve Hackett (Capitol Theatre - 2016)

Plus, when I'm performing "Selling England..." live with my band, we use another track which didn't make it onto that album.  It was something that Peter Gabriel introduced but hadn't finished at the time.  Some years later I said,  'Look, I remember that track.  Do you mind if I finish it?  I've got some ideas for it.'  And he said, 'Go ahead.'   So we did a co-write and I recorded it.  Oh, it's been some years ago now, but we do it live.  So part of this project is doing the whole of "Selling England..." plus this extra track.  Including it is a bit like a deleted scene from a movie.  But the album's had plenty of time to ride high in the affection of fans ever since...if I can kind of blow everyone else's trumpet if you know what I mean.  We never did the album in its entirety back when it was current.  And it's full of great ideas.  At that point, lots of writers were involved with it.  And I think we were just a great band.

Casey Chambers:  And what was the name of that song that you and Peter were working on?

Steve Hackett:  Oh, it's called, "Deja Vu."  It's a very reflective tune.  And when performing it live, I do a solo at the end that is very emotional for me.  It's kind of like, ' Here's a track of now...but it's also a track of then, as well.'  So you get a song which straddles different eras.  I probably would not have had the technique at the time to pull that off.  Technology might not have served it sufficiently back then.  But now we do it with all sorts of things.  With acapella and singing choir that's being accounted from the fingertips of Roger King.  And it all has a magical feeling to it as so many of the quieter moments do from, "Selling England By The Pound."  We use that and we use lights to sparkle in the tinkly bits as well.  So I'm really proud of it.

Casey Chambers:  You've created so many instrumental pieces throughout your career.  From the short, classical piece "Horizons" off of my favorite Genesis album, "Foxtrot" (1972) to longer, more ambient mind-spins like the title track from "Spectral Mornings." (1979)  When you're writing, do you recognize a song to be an instrumental in your head before you're finished?

"Spectral Mornings" - Steve Hackett / "Spectral Mornings"  (1979)

Steve Hackett:  Well, originally I imagined "Spectral Mornings" the kind of song that Randy Newman or Elton John might've sung.  A cross between.  And then many years later, two bands... Magenta and Big Big Train...did a vocal version of the song and asked if I'd take a guitar solo on it to give it that authenticity of the original.  When I first played the song for my band as a potential track for inclusion on the "Spectral Mornings" album, they said. 'Oh, this sounds great.  Why don't you just do it on guitar?'  And it was unusual for our singer at the time, Pete Hicks, to talk himself out of doing a tune.  But he had other great moments on the album, so he was happy.  And so that song became an instrumental.

But it's one of those things.  I remember a Duane Eddy track I loved when I was about 10 or 11 years old..."Because They're Young."  It was a huge instrumental.  I have heard a vocal version of that song, but I'll always think of it as an instrumental.  I remember sitting around the record player listening to that stuff when we were kids all those years ago.  We'd sit around and talk about it...and we're still talking 50 years, or are we talking 60 years ago?   A great song is always timeless and it's always a classic.  So whenever I hear one, straight away I'm a kid sitting on the floor around a tiny little Denzel record player again.  Listening and it still thrills me in the same way.

Casey Chambers:  Switching gears, there's a classic rock station I listen to that turned me on to your song, "Narnia" from the album, "Please Don't Touch" (1978).  A cool 12-string melody that leads into some Steve Walsh vocals joining you on the song.  What a great match.

"Narnia" - Steve Hackett / "Please Don't Touch" (1978)

Steve Hackett:  That's right.  It was Steve Walsh from Kansas singing.  They had just had a hit with, "Carry On Wayward Son."  Steve has this extraordinary voice.  And Phil Ehart was the drummer.  I had the chance to meet them and I asked if they would be interested in working with me and we became good friends.  I think they were influenced by quite a lot of British stuff.  There's that cross-pollination between great bands like Kansas and an English band like Genesis.  They did two tracks with me on the album, "Please Don't Touch." (1978)  And Steve Walsh did an extraordinary vocal on both.  Lovely guy.  Can't speak highly enough of both of them and I really loved the experience.  A bit later on I met the whole Kansas band.

Casey Chambers:  Very cool.  And I'll go ahead and mention that "Racing In A" was the other song they were on.

Steve Hackett:  Yeah. "Racing In A" was the other one.  And I had some words, but Steve Walsh said, 'Well, you know, I have some other words for here I could suggest which might make it easier to sing.'  And I was just very, very happy working with them.  I also worked with Richie Havens on that album.  He sang two tracks.  And funny enough, he didn't want to change a word.  I think maybe we changed one word in the song. ("Icarus Ascending.")  I had the word, "slender wings of ambition" and Richie said, 'Why don't we have "splendor wings of ambition." (laughs)  He was seeing it as a positive, you know, whereas I was quite shy and being immodest with the idea that I was ambitious.  'Cause the story of Icarus...he falls into the water because he's getting kind of above his station. (laughs)  But again, a wonderful experience to work with a great American singer.  The guy who kicked off Woodstock.

Casey Chambers:  Going back to your earlier days with Genesis when you first joined the of your first major songwriting contributions was the song..."For Absent Friends" off of the most excellent album, "Nursery Cryme." (1971)

Steve Hackett:  You have to remember the band played at school for many years and they made an album when they were still at school.  And then they made a follow-up Genesis album once they turned professional.  So they were already very experienced songwriters.  And everyone took the summer off.  Stopped doing gigs and we were all trying to learn to write as a team.  For the first time for some of us.  I had just joined Genesis and Phil Collins had just joined three months before me.  We were new to the band.  And I sat down, Phil Collins and I, and we wrote a song together.  We shared it.  I had the music and the melody line and together we worked out a story between us.

I said to Phil, 'I really like the lyrics to "Eleanor Rigby"' because it addressed the idea of old age and loneliness.  So we hit on the idea of having not just one, but two old ladies in the song.
It was about life having marginalized.  At least, that's the way I see it.  The song is full of imagery.  Empty spaces.  It's an empty park on a Sunday.  It's a grey world very much like the weather in England today.  It's summer, but it's grey.  And it was a little ditty about these two imaginary old ladies.

"For Absent Friends" - Genesis / "Nursery Cryme" (1971)

Casey Chambers:  And fans loved it.  Did you see it as a breakthrough as far as writing and getting your songs on the albums.  Sorta like an...' I can do this'...moment?

Steve Hackett:  Well, I think that there was that, sure, but there were parts of other songs that I came up with.  Solos and melodies that were done on guitar.  And that was the basis for joining the band. Pete (Gabriel) said to me, 'As soon as you write a guitar part, you're a fully-fledged writer along with the rest of us.'  (laughs)  So, that was enough for me.  My orientation was much more towards writing guitar parts and instrumentals.  But I learned to write vocal tunes and I marveled at the ability of everyone in the band to be able to come up with extraordinary stuff.

Casey Chambers:  What are some of your all-time favorite albums?

Steve Hackett:  Well, the first album I ever bought was Ravel's..."Bolero."  And I absolutely thrilled to that.  I used to pretend to conduct it when I was 12 years old.  That was my first album.  It was classical music, but I think it turns on a lot of rockers because it has this extraordinary power as it gets bigger and bigger and bigger.  That sense of crescendo.  I listened to Andres Segovia.  He was a big influence and still is.  Just the miracle of being able to play all that complexity on one guitar.  So yeah, I took that influence forward and used some of that with Genesis.  But I loved the blues bands, as well.  I loved John Mayall and Eric Clapton and Peter Green and those kinds of bands.  And Hendrix.  We'd be here all night if I talked about all the bands I love and was influenced by. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  Did your path ever cross with any one of your musical heroes?

Steve Hackett:  Yeah, I've met quite a few of them.  I did get to meet Eric Clapton and that was very interesting.  I was talking to Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck.  I'd grown up listening to the two of them and I guess it's an eyeopener to find out that your heroes are as human as you are.  Jeff Beck was a huge influence on many rock guitarists.  He seemed to invent so many ways of working with the guitar and stretching the boundaries of what was capable.  So, yeah, I had my heroes from the early days.  When I was 16, I was listening to these guys.  Every song I'd go, 'I can't wait for the guitar solo. Let's get to the guitar solo.' (laughs)

I met Eric at Phil Collins' wedding, funny enough.  His second wedding to Jill.  And I met Jeff Beck in London. There was a gathering of a number of guitarists.  There were Eric and Jeff.  There was David Gilmour.  And Steve Howe and I had just formed GTR and we were invited to a gathering to celebrate the life of Hank Marvin...the guitarist with The Shadows.  Marvin was very important for English guys because The Shadows was our first experience of really hearing electric guitar.  The first single I ever bought was a Shadows record.  I think it's the same for all those other guys as well, you know?  This is where music begins.  Hank Marvin was about to move from England to Australia and we all gathered together to wish him well on the journey.  It was an unforgettable gathering.

Casey Chambers:  This has been a real honor speaking with you this morning.  I'm a huge fan of all your music and I want to thank you so much for taking the time.

Steve Hackett:  Thank you, Casey.  It's been great.  Thanks so much.

"Firth Of Fifth" - Steve Hackett / Genesis Revisited: Live At Royal Albert Hall (2014)

Steve Hackett Tour Dates

Good stuff.

Casey Chambers
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