I caught up with Steve to discuss the forthcoming new album, the 2017 Tour and all other things Hackett-related. Many thanks to Steve for being so generous with his precious time, and also thanks to Jo Hackett facilitating the interview.
Tim Darbyshire – Hi Steve!
Steve Hackett – How are you doing Tim?
Tim – I’m good thanks how are you?
Steve – Fine thank you.
Tim – Thanks for your time tonight.
Steve – That’s alright.
Tim – Ok, so the new album, when is that due out?
Steve – Well, I think it’s going to be out in March.
Tim – Does it have a title yet?
Steve – We do have a title yes, but I haven’t officially given it out yet, so once the record company says ‘green light’ , then I will. All this stuff is being agreed at the moment – I’m just finally assembling the order of the songs. We had an order on Friday, but with some record company input there were a few changes, so we now have a new order as of today – and if it still passes muster tomorrow then that’s the one we’ll go with.
Tim – But the album is completely finished, it’s all in the can?
Steve – It’s basically in the can yes, bar the odd tweak it’s all in the can. It’s mastering at the moment, we’ve done the mixes so it’s basically down to the mastering. We’ve done a 5.1 mix as well as a stereo mix and we’ve done mastering for vinyl, except we’re doing it all over again due to the changed order. It’s a knock on effect, domino effect but in a good way I think.
Tim – So there will be a deluxe version with the 5.1 mix, maybe a double cd?
Steve – That’s right, yes I think in terms of formats there will be a blu-ray, and various things across the board basically. I’m finding it hard to keep up at the moment to be honest – I’ve been working flat out on this for over a year, but it’s coming to fruition and I’m very pleased with it. We’ve got people from all over the world on it.
Tim – So there are guest musicians besides your normal band?
Steve – Yes, there are guests on it, quite a lot of guests. There are about twenty people on it, from as far afield as Israel and Palestine working together on it.
Tim – That’s a good thing.
Steve – Azerbaijan, Hungary, The States. Some stuff was recorded in Italy, some in Budapest, some in London, it’s like an ‘on location’ kind of thing – and it’s got that kind of feel about it. I think it’s got a very….I’ve never used the word international before…… but it has a kind of international feel to it. There are aspects of World Music on it, it’s basically a rock album – but it does keep wandering off into other genres, crossing borders all the time.
Tim – Sounds like a very nice eclectic mix.
Steve – Yes, it is a nice eclectic mix and I’m just playing it to people for the first time. I’m just at my mother’s tonight in fact – she hasn’t been very well – and I’m playing it to her and she loves it already. It’s making her feel better, so it’s doing its job already! Music is supposed to heal, and that’s what it’s doing at the moment, and I’m pleased about that.
Tim – I hope she gets well soon, I know she’s a big supporter of your music.
Steve – Thank you, yes she’s been a huge support and huge enthusiast, all of those things. I think she will recover, but for several weeks she’s been ill with the lurgy basically – I think she’s on the road to recovery, but she’s having to fight this and it’s a little harder for her because of her age. There aren’t too many concessions to age with my Mum!
Tim – So early 2017 sees you back on the road, and I see you’ve got Nick Beggs back in the band.
Steve – Yes, Nick Beggs and we’ve got Nad as well with the regular band. We’ll also be celebrating the 40th year of ‘Wind and Wuthering’, so we’re doing quite a bit of that album – not all of it – but we’re doing what I think are the strongest tracks.
Tim – I was reading online that you’ll be playing ‘One For The Vine’ and ‘Inside And Out’, which is an interesting selection.
Steve – Yes, ‘Inside And Out’ wasn’t on the original album, but if it had been a cd it would have been on the original album as I think it’s very strong. To my mind, stronger than some of the tracks that ended up on the album, but I think it’s a favourite of fans and deserves to be more widely heard, so we’ll be doing that as well and I’m looking forward to it.
Tim – What was your involvement in that track originally, from a writing viewpoint?
Steve – Mainly the instrumental stuff at the end. That and guitar parts in the song itself.
Tim – It has a kind of latter day ‘Cinema Show’ feel to it.
Steve – I think it has some aspects of that, in that it has 12-string then it expands away from that. It’s very much in the Genesis tradition – well shall we say early Genesis – where songs started small and became very big, so you’ve got that dynamic range being covered within a song that is also a story. I think that’s something the band did very well.
Tim – You did actually play it live towards the end of the 1977 tour didn’t you?
Steve – We did, we played it in 1977, it was part of the live show so it couldn’t have been so bad!
Tim – And ‘One For The Vine’, that’s another epic song isn’t it?
Steve – Yes it is an epic, it’s a favourite of many people, many fans including my wife who said ‘Why don’t you do that?’. I cracked under torture! I’m just kidding, seriously…..when I left the band I saw them playing it live a few years later at Hammersmith (1980), and I thought it was very very strong live – perhaps stronger than on record, it just seemed to work so very well. I thought, ah I finally see what this is all about, which is often the case, some songs work extremely well live, it’s all about the band, it’s all about the performance, the response of the crowd, the lights – the whole thing, the show, the presentation.
Tim – Will you be playing ‘In That Quiet Earth’, ‘Afterglow’?
Steve – Yes we will be doing ‘In That Quiet Earth’, ‘Afterglow’, we’ll be doing ‘Blood On The Rooftops’……what else, we’ll be doing ‘Eleventh Earl Of Mar’ again as well. We were doing that at the beginning of touring the Genesis stuff about three years ago, or was it four years ago, but then we sidelined it. To do a set of things from ‘Wind and Wuthering’ I think we really have to do that, I think that’s all of the ones that we’re doing…..the ones that are more dramatic live. I know there’s other songs on there which are catchy and what have you, but for my money that’s the strongest live stuff.
Tim – I also read you’re bringing ‘Dancing With The Moonlit Knight’ back in?
Steve – That’s right, yes
Tim – And you’ll be playing ‘Anyway’ for the first time?
Steve – That’s right, yes, I’ll be playing ‘Anyway’ for the first time since 1975. Yes we haven’t done that one for a very long time, and I look forward to doing that one – at the suggestion of Nad funnily enough, he said why don’t you do that, so again I said ok if you like that. I think it’s a very good tune. I’m hoping I might be able to play the three-part guitar harmony because these days we have intelligent harmonisers, so I’m hoping I can get close to it, we’ll see how we go.
Tim – Will it be similar to the last tour where you do a set of solo material then a set of Genesis songs?
Steve – I’ve started a tradition of being two bands in one, I think. Whatever we play of the solo material – we’ll be doing some stuff off the new album – I’m fully aware what most fans tend to want is a reminder of what they were doing when their hormones were raging, and so the plan is to have one eye on the future and one on the past. I try to deliver all things to all people……
Tim – It seems you need to play two hours of solo stuff and two hours of Genesis then everyone will be happy!
Steve – Yep, I might get to that point, but I probably would have to have two bands, because I don’t think one band would be able to stand the pace of that….. then I’d be going one better than Bruce Springsteen wouldn’t I? Four hours on stage, we’re heading towards Wagner here if we do that.
Tim – Wishful thinking. There seems to be a trend these days of announcing part the setlist ahead of time. Is that promoter driven or fans wanting to know?
Steve – Yes, that’s true I seem to have given away most of the setlist off the top of my head. I think there’s a trend towards that, people like to know what they’re going get these days. It’s driven I think mainly by fans, so I’ve said I’ll do one of the tracks on ‘Darktown’ – ‘Rise Again’ – that was a favourite at the time and in a way it’s a vocal style I’ve adopted again on this new album – starting the melody down the octaves, a kind of intoning voice and then it becomes a cry. It’s a vocal style that I feel comfortable with, so very happy to be playing that. We’re also going to be doing ‘The Steppes’ – people have asked for that – and ‘Serpentine Song’ which I believe is off ‘To Watch The Storms’, another favourite. So, I do respond to people’s suggestions but I can’t keep everyone happy……
When we do the show with the Buffalo Symphony Orchestra that’ll be a different set, that will involve ‘Supper’s Ready’ and various other things so we’re kind of learning two sets, kind of heading a little to what you were talking about, the three, four hour show, but often these sets end up being two and a half hours or slightly more.
Tim – We’re coming to the Buffalo show, so really looking forward to that.
Steve – I’m looking forward to that, I’m looking forward to the Cruise, I’m looking forward to the tour, to everywhere we’re going to play. I’m also looking forward next year to covering places I’ve not been to before like Australia, New Zealand, Jakarta, Hong Kong, Singapore – the world seems to be opening up to this music which has had quite a gestation period to achieve its…..if I said ‘target audience’- I mean hardly because back in the day it was all a shot in the dark. It’s nice that it’s survived in the affections of so many people.
Tim – It has matured with age?
Steve – I think so, yes, like a wine in a cask, I think for some songs the prime time is now, having been in that period of fermentation shall we say, fermenting in the affections of people for a very long time.
Tim – Going back to the Buffalo show, is there a lot of preparation work you have to do with the orchestra? I guess they’ll be reading sheet music?
Steve – Yes, they’ve been doing arrangements and there’s some arrangements which I played live when I was in Iceland doing two shows with the band called Todmobile – who have also worked with Jon Anderson, doing great versions of not just Genesis stuff, but Yes stuff as well. They did a great job, so there are some charts from that and some charts that the Buffalo Symphony Orchestra have come up with.
It’s all not so much dipping your toe in the water as jumping straight in. I love what orchestras bring to rock music, I love the marriage of the two. Ever since we started experimenting with mellotrons, using that as a kind of surrealistic time machine – I always felt that if for instance I talk about my early heroes The Beatles, they were at their most interesting when they had as wide a sound canvas as possible.
That use of the orchestra, the way it worked with them and obviously mellotron as well, it was a great combination of things, so we kind of use everything, anything we can lay our hands on. I think that’ll be a very interesting show. Obviously you have to take risks – the biggest risk is who’s going to count 1, 2, 3, 4? Normally it’s the drummer, will it be the conductor?! It all has to be in sync, you have to have an agreement with an orchestra.
Tim – Might this become more than a one-off venture?
Steve – Well it’s a one-off, but if it works of course it means that we have the facility and the possibility of working with this thing more in the future. Not that I would want to have an orchestra that I was carrying round – I don’t want to flounder on that rock – I think you’d have to use different orchestras in different places. But it is starting to happen with me more, I worked with an orchestra in Germany a while back, I worked with an orchestra or two in Iceland, and it went very well in both cases, and now we’re doing it with the Buffalo people. It’s all a case of the more risks you take, the more inclusive and immersive the whole thing can be.
Tim – So the Genesis days, 40 to 45 years ago now, six great studio albums you were involved with, as we’ve just been saying it seems to be getting better with age. At the time though was it a bit of a struggle, financially and personally?
Steve – Well yes, I think all bands have their problems, as you say to finance it…..to finance it there was a lot of investment, not just financial but emotional as well. But it was worth it, it was a huge challenge from beginning to end for me, but my heart is still very much there in lots of that music.
Tim – Why do you think maybe it isn’t for the other four?
Steve – I think in a way there are two types of Genesis. There is the earlier band, the pre-video era – I like to think of it as the pre-pop era as well – and many of the fans loved that music. In the end, for the last two years with the band we were playing arenas and filling them, so there was a huge audience for that kind of music, so I think it proved itself to be hugely commercial and has sold ‘billions’ since. It all depends on your perception, I can understand it in terms of a band that becomes more streamlined, less personalities, less politics……and so I think it’s very easy to throw out the baby with the bath water and for them say everything prior to that time was a problem because of da da da da da……
But I don’t think fans see it like that, and many fans that love the early work of the band – who I suspect are the same fans who listened to Pink Floyd and Yes, and ELP and Procol Harum and many bands who were very melodic with an emphasis on musicianship. I think that they felt disenfranchised by the new direction of the band, but I’m certainly not going to complain, because once you leave a band it’s going to become whatever it becomes, and I totally respect what it became and think the band was interesting in all its incarnations but obviously I’m drawn to something that is closer in spirit to this pan-genre approach which includes what orchestras can do and what big bands can do, and a kind of music that is able to turn on a dime and bridge generation gaps and do all sorts of things that I think a three or four minute pop single doesn’t do.
So all I can say is that I’m interested in prolonging the life – certainly live – of the music that I considered to be weird and wonderful and a kind of musical odyssey and journey and all those things that Peter Gabriel still describes it as. There’s a lot of good stuff, and I’m only too happy to go and play that stuff again.
Tim – Would you say that ‘Voyage of the Acolyte’ sowed the seed that maybe you’d rather go out solo on your own?
Steve – Well I think certainly composition by committee has its limitations for groups. I think groups can write wonderful things together, but at the same time it’s impossible to keep a lid on it. If one guy wants to go and do solo things, and you know the others don’t really want him to go and do it…… Pete wanted to have a solo career in parallel with Genesis and certain factions in the band made that impossible, so in the end one’s allegiance has to be to the music, or the totality of what music can become – at the same time it doesn’t mean that I disown those songs, those songs don’t become orphans just because I say ‘no son of mine’ (to quote a particular song).
I still love those songs, they’re all shared-brain children with the other guys and I care hugely about them, otherwise I wouldn’t be playing them again.
Tim – Have you had any feedback from the others? Have they seen the show at all?
Steve – No no, the other guys don’t come to the shows. Genesis is a very competitive band, the individuals are all very competitive.
Tim – Even now?
Steve – Yes, they don’t do that sort of thing, it’s an unspoken rule. You have to be able to speak ‘Genesis’ to understand it, and I totally respect it you know, if you’re that competitive with your thinking you won’t do that. I think everyone wants the other guy to do well, but maybe just not quite as well as you’re doing yourself if you know what I mean? It’s a very British repressed fucked up kind of thing, but hey, what the hell.
Tim – So ‘Wind and Wuthering’ is forty years old, when you recorded it was the writing truly on the wall for you?
Steve – Oh yes, the writing was on the wall for me at that time I think, it wasn’t that I didn’t love the album – I certainly thought the album was very strong, but politics played its part with all of this, and you can’t keep a good Hackett down! I had to get out there and work with other people, I couldn’t have still-born brain children and that was what was on offer so I had to go out and work with other people. Wonderful people as it happens, wonderful then and wonderful now.
I still love all the guys of course, all hugely talented and they’ve all written wonderful songs and done wonderful stuff, you can’t knock that you know. Genesis was a force of nature, it’s sad there is no band at the moment but you’ve got to respect everyone’s right not to play that stuff or not to be that thing, but that doesn’t mean I can’t celebrate those early years because I gave it everything I could, gave it my full attention, writing and shaping the live show and trying to do some things by stealth – noticing things that other people didn’t notice, trying to put those things right. I’m writing a book at the moment, so I’ll put the record straight for all those that have collective amnesia with this.
Tim – Great, I was going to ask about an autobiography as it’s been a few years since Alan Hewitt’s book.
Steve – Yes, I’m working on it at the moment, once I’ve got the album out of the way I’ll be concentrating on that.
Tim – You’re always so busy.
Steve – I’m a busy boy, yes!
Tim – I’m sure it’ll be a very interesting read, I did enjoy Mike Rutherford’s, Phil Collins’ and Peter Gabriel’s recent books.
Steve – Yes, Phil has just done his and I enjoyed reading their books and I’ll get my own back with mine!
Tim – Is there any thought to doing any more studio recordings of Genesis material?
Steve – I’ve got it on a back-burner, but it’s not a priority at the moment. There are many things that we’ve done live that I haven’t recorded, or re-recorded, so there’s always the possibility of that at some point but I’m not looking at ‘Genesis Revisited 3’ at the moment. I think it’s also important for music to have a future, much as it’s nice to keep the museum doors open, I think to pension yourself off is not a good idea if you’re hot to trot in terms of new stuff – look what guitars can do now for instance, look what technology affords one and what experience brings to it, so I’m still as passionate about it all as I ever was.
Tim – It sounds like you have a nice balance between creating new music and celebrating the past?
Steve – Oh well that’s it, that’s the whole point isn’t it? I think if I saw for instance a Paul McCartney gig, I know I’d be very happy to hear him do ‘Band On The Run’, but I’d also be very happy if he breaks into ‘Eleanor Rigby’ you know, and ‘All My Loving’ and all that – I think they’re gorgeous songs from out of the jewel box.
I have much the same affection for the songs that I think were rather wonderful that we did at one time – I’m allowed to be a fan of the other people in the band, a team of great writers who came up with wonderful stunning material and it’s great to have been part of that, it’s great to have written with everybody.
Tim – It’s important that you’re keeping it alive.
Steve – That’s the idea, keeping it alive.
Tim – Great Steve, thanks for you time tonight, looking forward to seeing you in Oakville and Buffalo next year.
Steve – Brilliant, I look forward to it as well, absolutely. Thank you.
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