Steve Hackett: The 13th Floor Interview Part 1

Steve Hackett was the guitarist for Genesis from 1971 until 1977, playing on albums such as Selling England By The Pound, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and A Trick Of The Tail...spanning both the Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins-led versions of the band.

Since then, he has released a staggering 25 solo albums, the most recent being this year’s The Night Siren.

One thing Steve Hackett hasn’t done is perform in New Zealand. That will change next month when his Genesis Revisited Tour comes to Auckland’s Town Hall on July 28th. 

The 13th Floor’s Marty Duda spoke to Steve Hackett recently and found him to be in quite a chatty mood. So today, we bring you Part One of their conversation.

Click here to listen to Part 1 of the 13th Floor interview with Steve Hackett:

Or, read a transcription of the interview here:

MD: This is being billed as a “Genesis Revisited” tour. If we could start out by getting an idea of what folks can be in store for when you get down here?

Steve Hackett with Genesis

SH: Well, I was involved with Genesis in the years 1971 to ’77 when, originally, Peter Gabriel was the lead singer of the band, and Phil Collins took over. We did two albums as a four piece, A Trick of the Tail and Wind & Wuthering, and I think, as an introduction to New Zealand, I’m going to be best known for that stuff; although, having said that, I’ve just had a hit album, with solo stuff, in England and Germany, Holland and Italy, that started in the twenties in the charts in those places; so, it’s gone very well. What I’ve been doing in the rest of the world, is a set that involves part solo and part Genesis with a break in the middle. I think David Williams – our promoter – was after something that was angled towards Genesis; so, we’ll see how that goes. As I say, it’s an introduction, and I’m looking forward to it tremendously.

MD: As a guitarist: when you go back, and you’re playing these pieces that you originally recorded back in the mid-‘70s, do you approach them the same way now, as you did back then? What kind of angle do you take…?

SH: The idea is to do authentic versions of Genesis tunes, but I do take liberties with it from time to time: for instance, we might substitute soprano sax for flute, in many cases, and I might extend a guitar solo or two; but what I tend to try and do, is do the phrases that were iconic and part of the tune; so, people get ‘Genesis plus’, as opposed to short versions of things. There are reinterpretations of Genesis, that have been jazz versions and orchestral suite versions – because their stuff has influenced jazz musicians and orchestral musicians, and all sorts of stuff – but I want to do things that are authentic from the 1970s; so, it’ll draw from the albums, Nursery Cryme, Foxtrot, Selling England by the Pound, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Trick of the Tail, Wind & Wuthering and occasional things that are not necessarily on those albums, but were done by the band during that time.

MD: I believe I saw you perform in 1981, after your Cured album came out. Are you doing…

SH: Right! That would be a long time ago now…. I think, since those days, I’ve recorded all manner of things – sometimes it’s been rocking, sometimes it’s been classical, it’s been blues; it’s been lots and lots of different things – but in recent years, I’ve been finding that taking a Genesis show back to the masses, has opened up quite a few more doors for me, to be honest. They were songs that I was always proud of, back in the day; very proud of the fact that John Lennon said we were one of the bands that he was listening to around 1973, when we were desperate to get a gig in the States, and that made quite a bit of difference. Mind you, in those days, things moved a bit slow – you couldn’t Tweet that in those days – so, years later, people got to find out the event… and, of course, it became a very different thing later on: Genesis became something else, but I think it was something that turned on musicians, at the time; so, we’re highlighting an era that was very much pre-video, where the songs tended to be story teller based, and it was pan-genre, many different styles were involved with that – what we’d latterly called ‘progressive’, and never bothered to call pan-genre at the time – but that’s what we were doing; so, I’m very proud of many of those songs, such as Dancing with the Moonlit Knight from Selling England by the Pound, Firth of Fifth from Selling England; quite a bit of that stuff. These days, of course – a billion notes later; so much more practice later – where I’ve recorded Bach’s stuff, and those are things that I would only have dreamt of doing back in the day then; so, I’ve decided to invest in technique. I’ve done all manner of albums, it’s not all been technique driven, but – like I say – recent albums have been selling more, as my contemporaries have been selling less….

MD: I think people might be surprised to know that you’ve recorded something like twenty five solo albums, right?

SH: Yeah, well, there’s that as well – a mere twenty five – but then again, I’ve always thought that it was precious few albums, compared to the amount of horse pictures that John Wayne made…. what did John Wayne do… make seventy seven, or so, horse pictures?

MD: Is that how you measure your output?

SH: I measure my output by the amount of work that Bach wrote, and the amount of movies that John Wayne did, if you’re talking in terms of music ‘by the yard’ and sheer quantity; but on the other hand, there are things that I’m more proud of than others, but I’m very happy that I’m investing in rock stuff and it seems to be doing very well. We just did the London Palladium… and we recorded it at Birmingham Symphony Hall as well – we shot a movie there… and that was a very good evening… – and it’s great to be doing new territories that I’ve not touched before; not for lack of desire, but I’m just very happy to be doing it now. It seems like lots of things are opening up for me, at this point in time. Things are on the table – that are being offered – that I’m getting to directly find out about now I’m self managing – and have been for the past ten years. I get to hear about the offers that I should have heard about ten years ago, that are coming my way; and these things weren’t always forthcoming from the management that I had. Once you’re involved with the right people; once you’ve got things set up in the right way – and my wife, Jo, also is involved with the management of the band – it’s made quite a bit of difference.

MD: You also work as a song writing team, right?

SH: We’re also a song writing team, yeah, along with Roger (King) and other people that work with us – we’ve got an extended family of song writers that we can draw upon. Music is still this huge, big adventure for me, and I’m just as passionate about it as I always was, and I seem to be doubling my output and increasing the amount of shows that I’m doing all the time, as people are waking up to the fact that I’m doing something that appeals to – perhaps initially – one-time fans of Genesis who felt disenfranchised by the direction that the band took when they were at their commercial height; but perhaps, at their most artistically interesting, I tend to think of that time when Peter Gabriel was involved, and what we did as a four piece; so, I have to blow my own trumpet for that era. I keep finding that people are coming up to me – everyone from classical guitarists and violinists to jazzers and rock and pop people – who say, “Oh yeah, I really like Genesis,” but they tend to subscribe to one of two eras with the band; and I think later on, it turned into something else, but I think that what we did at the time, in the early days, it was so important to let it die. I left the band for reasons of personal development: I wasn’t allowed to have a parallel solo career while I was a member of the band; but I had a hit album, much to everyone’s annoyance. When I was still in the band, no one was expecting it….

MD: And that’s very different from these days; isn’t it? I mean, nowadays, nobody thinks twice about that.

SH: Nobody thinks twice about that, no; but then I think that when people grow up, or perhaps they have had enough of a slice of their own particular pie, that doesn’t seem to be a threat; but it was considered to be a threat when I started making solo records. I remember Tony and Mike saying they didn’t want to create another Peter Gabriel – in other words, another star within the ranks – so, what actually happened was that they had Phil instead, and had to deal with that. And the fact is that singers are always going to attract more attention than instrumentalists; it’s just the way it is. I do quite a bit of singing, these days, as it happens….

MD: Yes! I was reading about that, and I was curious as to how you developed your singing style over the years – because I assume it’s something that you’ve worked on.

SH: It is, yeah. I don’t know if you’ve heard the new album at all, The Night Siren – the one that’s taken off in Europe’s various charts. Yeah, I have one kind of voice. It’s a very subjective thing, singing, but I do enjoy it a lot, and it goes down very well with people, live, but I don’t have a Genesis voice. I don’t think of myself as a Genesis singer; that’s a different sound. My voice is a little bit more… somewhere between a country singer and various other things; but I do enjoy singing. I think you have to be flexible. Like Bruce Lee said, “You got to be like water, man,” you’ve got to not be concrete about this stuff. I’m extremely flexible about things. I work with people all over the world with different situations. One the latest album that we’ve done had twenty people on it from all over the world – Israel and Palestine working together, Iceland and Azerbaijan, Sweden, United States, the Hungarians; it goes on – so, I love the idea of what world music can become. I don’t think there should be any label that should have a pejorative attached to it.

MD: When you come to a new territory, like New Zealand, do you investigate the indigenous music that may be around, and may be something that you haven’t heard before?

SH: I’m very open to that; so, I’ll be very interested to hear what goes on. There’s nothing like total immersion in a culture – in as much as one can in the amount of days they are there – but I know that that’ll open that up, and I always find it fascinating… it permeates everything that I do; it permeates future work. As I say, what we do is a Genesis thing, an introduction; but it doesn’t stop there: it’s a calling card, but it’s not the end of the story. There is an afterlife.

MD: With your singing – especially when you’re doing it live – have you had to adjust your guitar playing? Does it have any effect on it, or does one complement the other?

SH: I tend to do a sort of ‘question and answer’ thing: I could play a very simple guitar part and sing along, or else you’ve got that antiphonal approach, where it’s ‘question and answer’. Everything B.B. King did was… sings “My baby loves me” diddle de lang”, That’s it. It’s a basis of blues and much religious music. There you are! The correlation between religious music and that profane, terrible stuff called blues; there’s the link…. I’m working with people all over the world, at the moment, with different styles… and it’s truly wonderful.

MD: What kind of band are you touring with?

SH: … We have Rob Townsend on all things blown, and increasingly, he’s been a multi-instrumentalist with us. His chops on sax are without parallel, but he also plays keyboard with the band, and a little bit of electronic percussion; so, he’s an ‘everyman’ with us. Then there’s Roger King, who I tend to record the albums with, who’s our main keyboard player; and Gary O’Toole on drums, who also happens to have a fabulous voice; Nad Sylvan, singing the Genesis stuff, has that kind of Genesis voice: very flamboyant, tall, blonde. On bass, we have Nick Beggs – formerly of Kajagoogoo – basically, he’s a bass virtuoso and stick, and many, many other things, and he’s a whole show unto himself – wearing his kilt, casually, and extremely androgynous…; so, there’s a number of people on stage singing… we’ve got five different singers with the band, which is quite a lot; which means harmonies sound spectacular – if I may be so bold – … and it’s wonderful.

Part 2 of the interview is here: