Interview: Mr. Steve Hackett, master rock and classical guitarist, composer.
Thank you Steve for this e-mail interview. I missed talking to you at Nearfest, so I guess this is the next best thing. Also, thank you for putting my painting of you on your website.
At what age did you get into music? What sparked this interest and who were your first main influences? What was your first instrument. What was the first song you learned?
I got into music at the age of two, although I must have been about four when I got several tunes together on the mouth organ. They were You are my Sunshine, Scotland the Brave, Oh Susanna and God Save the Queen. My Dad and Grandpa were my first main influences.
Please describe the compositional process in a `typical’ Steve Hackett. Do you prefer writing instrumentals? Do you compose on the acoustic guitar?
I vary the process according to circumstance and I often enjoy writing when there is no instrument in my hand. Sometimes it's on the run, such as airports, but everywhere and at all times the muse might call. Pen and paper is important! Sometimes I write on a guitar - any guitar!
For the next few questions, let’s talk about the Genesis years. The band answered your advert in Melody Maker when they were looking for a replacement for Anthony Phillips. Please explain how you gained Peter, Mike and Tony’s confidence to hire you. Because you were the `new guy,’ how tough was it breaking into the compositional process with such a tight-knit group of songwriters? What did you feel you added to the band compositionally during, Gabriel years and after he left?
There was no formula. We just gelled. Our tastes were similarly broad. It was tough at first, but as my confidence grew I realized I gave them an extra edge. My electric guitar has its own voice, which complimented theirs. I gave riffs, lyrics, classical ideas, atonal experiments and many song ideas.
Which Genesis member did you get along the best? Why?
I got on with all of the Genesis bunch, who were so individually brilliant.
What were your feelings about the emphasis on visuals and theatrics during the Gabriel years? At any time did you think they took away from the music?
I welcomed the visuals during the Gabriel years. I was a great supporter of them. I actually felt they enhanced many a complex idea and helped to give it all a focal point for both fans and media alike.
Which Genesis album is your favorite? Why? What is your Genesis favorite song? What made the Gabriel/Hackett-era of Genesis so amazing?
I feel Selling England by the Pound is my favourite Genesis album. We ran the gamut of ideas from Scottish folksong to jazz fusion, all on one disk. I don't have a favourite song, but do really enjoy Dancing with the Moonlit Knight because it's so surreal and powerful. The Gabriel/Hackett years were amazing because we were all just as crazy as each other!
Your first solo album `Voyage of the Acolyte,’ was released to critical acclaim and even went silver; did it give you the confidence to go solo, even though Genesis was beginning to fill huge venues? Through various interview, it almost sounded like leaving the band was almost a foregone conclusion; how difficult was it leaving Genesis?
It felt wonderful to be in control of such a great team with my first solo effort and it made me realize just what the possibilities could be in the future. More responsibility but even more magic! I've been lucky to work with several musical geniuses. I agonized over the decision to leave the band, but I just felt I needed more autonomy at the time. My allegiance has always been to the music itself, wherever that might lead.
Most people familiar with your music consider `Defector,’ and Spectral Mornings’ masterpieces (though I would add `Highly Strung,’ into that group) . What is your favorite solo album? Your most important album? Your most risk-taking work?
My favourite solo album from the early years is Spectral Mornings, particularly the first three tracks, and from later years since around 2000 I've felt really pleased with all my albums. My most important album is always the current one! Playing Bach, particularly the Chaconne on Tribute, for me was the Everest of the guitar world. Doing Genesis Revisited was a huge risk, but it was a success.
GTR, how quickly did it form? Was their enough room for two master guitarists? Was this planned as a short-timed project?
I loved Steve Howe's work with Yes. We wrote the hit song When the heart rules the Mind on practically the first day we worked together. It took a further two years to form a band, secure a deal and produce a hit! There was no master plan - I was just thrilled that it took off and spawned an awful lot of lookalikes (at least the title did).
How did the Tokyo Tapes project come about? Was there any consideration of a longer tour? You have brilliantly put your spin on many classic Genesis songs. Would you ever try to tackle a Hackettized `Supper’s Ready?’
A number of friends who were fans of each other's work tried to find some common ground to cut their teeth on. This was a project designed specifically for Japan. Having been one of the architects of Supper's Ready in the first place, I don't feel any need to reproduce it verbatim, but I think the earlier acoustic passages point the way to new paths.
With the exception of the 2007 `reunion, it seems bizarre that you, the only (former or present), member of Genesis, who doesn’t seem embarrassed (or a better phrase might be- seems most proud), of the `classic,’ Genesis songs such as Watcher of the Skies. Why do you continue to acknowledge the `old days?’ As your solo music still contains elements of complexity as well as strong instrumental riffs, do you think that it matches well with the older Genesis style?
I think the earlier band work was broader. There wouldn't be so many tribute bands if the music wasn't so inspiring. It's the era that turned on other musicians.
`Every Day,’ is still one of my most listened to S. Hackett songs. The track is about drug abuse? Can you explain more about the pieces’s origins?
Every Day was about a girl I used to know, who broke my heart because of her self destruction.
You have added humor in your music on occasion (Ballad of the Decomposing Man, Sentimental Institution, etc. As you progress in your songwriting, do you feel that humor is less important? Do you feel that Genesis lost that sense of humor in their songwriting when Peter and you left?
I've always enjoyed 'end of the pier' humour! Most of my recent albums have contained humour. The band continued to employ humour, which is always very personal.
Your acoustic work has gained acclaims from rock and classical reviewers alike. Were there any trepidations as you- a famous electronic guitarist began tackling `Bay of Kings?’
What classical/acoustic album are you most proud of and why?
I've always loved nylon guitar and orchestras. I've indulged my fondness for both several times. All the acoustic albums are from the same family... Tribute was the most challenging, because of the Bach.
A classic deserted island question with a twist- You can only have five CD albums, one type of food, one magazine, one type of drink, one book, one movie and one type of pet on this deserted island- please list what you would bring and why?
On a deserted island I would like cheese, National Geographic, lychee juice, David Copperfield, Kind Hearts and Coronets and a cat.
You’ve been working on a new album. Please give us a sneak explanation of what’s in store for Hackett fans? As you have a massive body of work, how difficult is it to keep things fresh?
My new album is rock. I've drawn on both personal experience and dreamscapes. As always it spans many oceans of music styles, which is how thngs stay fresh!
Muli-talented Prog-master Mike Keneally (Frank Zappa, Beer for Dolphins), called your music- “haunting, unpredictable melodic/harmonic progression that felt utterly unique and utterly correct. Very chilling, superb music.” What electric and acoustic guitarists do you admire?
I admire Django and Peter Green.
What do you like to do besides creating and playing music? Hobbies?
I enjoy reading about other people's lives, interests etc. I love the sea, travelling. I'm passionate about London,my home town, but everywhere fascinates me.
If you could bring back 5 people from history to talk to, who would you choose?
Spartacus, Jung, Joseph Campbell, Sir Christopher Wren, Clement Attlee.
What’s the next step or progression in the musical career of Steve Hackett?
In the words of Peter Sellers, "I want to become an all round... er... entertainer!" (Twit Conway)
On March 19, 1977 at the Moody Coliseum in Dallas Texas, the Genesis gig was filmed. In the early years of VHS, this was sold in stores as a Genesis live show even if it was roughly 30 mins. Was the entire show shot? And if so, do you think the fans will ever get to see it? Also, was the Milton Keynes `reunion,’ ever filmed?
I remember the gig. It was obviously a bootleg you saw, so I can't comment. Similarly, Milton Keynes was never officially filmed or recorded, but was a very happy memory.
You have mentioned that you are willing to be involved with a `classic,’ Genesis reunion. Do you think it will ever be realized? Are there any discussions or updates on this matter?
No! But you never know...
How do you think the music of Genesis as well as your solo work will be remembered 100 years from now?
In Las Palmas I saw a beautiful sleeping moon sand sculpture on a beach. The following morning it had been destroyed. Perhaps time will be kinder to our efforts, but the sculpture was equally deserving of the world's attention.
Any final words to fans and inspiring musicians?
Just remember it's never to late to realise any dream, no matter how big or small. To quote Clive Barker, 'Nothing imagined need ever be lost'.
Thank you so much for this interview, Steve, though I do not play guitar, you have been an inspuration to me.Keep on creating amazing music. Best Wishes and thank you for sharing your answers and thoughts. Hopefully, we’ll see ya in the States soon? Keep on creating amazing music. Cheers, Lee