By Thomas S. Orwat Jr.
From being an integral component of prog-rock pioneers, Genesis, to establishing himself as a successful solo artist; legendary guitarist, Steve Hackett, has always been a musician committed to excellence.
After spending the last few years concentrating on performing and re-recording many of the classic Genesis tracks that he was responsible for creating during his time with the band from 1972-1977, Hackett is back with a brand new solo record entitled, ‘Night Siren.’ Many music critics and die-hard fans feel that, ‘Night Siren,’ may very well be the best solo record of Hackett’s career.
‘Night Siren,’ is a 10-track release that showcases Hackett’s stunning guitar work, profound lyrics, and beautifully written musical compositions. In addition to Hackett, this release is unique, in that it features musicians from all across the world.
Hackett just wrapped up a North American tour ealier this month. He will be performing this spring all across Europe.
Here at Rock Music Star, we our honored to bring you this exclusive interview with Rock music legend, Steve Hackett!
RMS: Steve, your new studio release, ‘Night Siren,’ is a very impressive, diverse, profound musical masterpiece. What do you feel was the most challenging aspect of recording this album?
SH: I’ve often had ambivalent feelings about collecting data. In other words, sticking a mic in front of someone and saying, “Just do what you do off the top of your head.” And, if I like what you do, I’ll use it. That’s not usually what I like people to do to me, but, on the other hand it means that, in a sense, it takes the pressure off in performance, really. I know that, when I worked with Steve Wilson a while back, I did a few solos for him face to face. He said that same thing, “Give me that data.” In other words, whatever I did, he’s going to mess with anyway and edit it all together. On one hand, you think to yourself, “I’m supposed to be a professional. I’m supposed to give people direction. I’m supposed to do all of these things that experts are supposed to know about.” And yet, at the same time, there might just be something extraordinary that happens that I can work with and assimilate into a bigger picture. Most people know that they can write a song after they’ve been around enough verses and choruses and solos and productions; those are all the things that are the usual editions of writing. But, to place yourself and someone else in that position of uncertainty is something that I think has become vindicated with this particular project. There are several moments of that type of activity. For instance, the muted trumpet in “Fifty Miles to the North Pole,” which were absolutely gash- I use the word, “gash,” quite a lot, because sometimes that’s the only way to achieve something- whether it’s in time, or even in tune. Sometimes, playing to the music can be distracting. So, you get a genuine solo performance, and then it will function in it’s own time. In a sense, a bit like jazz. A jazz band can tune its own time. Whereas perhaps, other musicians feel the need to stick with the beat to some degree. So, that was a challenging thing. One always has conflicting emotions- “Is this professional?” “Is this not professional?” Sometimes, you’ve got to step outside what you think is professional and slick to take those chances.
RMS: You brought in musicians from all over the world to perform on ‘Night Siren.’ I think that really gave it real unique sound.
SH: Yeah, that was the plan. I’m basically a very introverted person, really. And yet, I’ve developed to the point where I’ve got friends all over the world that I can speak to. I don’t have the lack of self esteem that my personality was saddled with from the very early age. I think it was because of the educational system, which can knock you down. Such is the British way. Constantly, you’re having to beat yourself up against that.
As a kid, I wasn’t a shining light, I wasn’t a beacon. The world didn’t revolve around me and all this other stuff. I was thinking, “Well, I’ve got to fight in the face of that.” I had to learn to fight the battles with myself, never mind the confrontation of others. Just making yourself understood. I am very proud of the album. Of course, it’s not just me; we have team that involves certain people. We have the core team- myself, my wife, Jo, Roger King. The regular touring band, I have. And we have all of these other marvelous people. I’ve got such great ideas and skills spread throughout the world so that we can musically migrate. We ignore our differences and celebrate our dreams together. I wish that that would work in every aspect of human life. We could just have the culture and the diversity of ideas.
RMS: I don’t think that the record could have been recorded or released at a better time. Especially with the current stare of affairs in the world, and in America with PresidentTrump.
SH: I do. I’ve been watching avidly. I see so much scapegoating going on, if you understand the word. It means “finding someone to blame.” Whether it’s the Mexicans being blamed or Muslims. They’ve all come under fire recently, and it’s deeply troubling. What I’ve done seems to have flown in the face of all of that; to have an album that deals with the subject of refugees. And to have a track that has both an Israeli and a Palestinian singer working together towards the idea of harmony and a world beyond national politics. I got the best team that I could find at that time- an American drummer, an Icelandic drummer, a British drummer, a virtual drummer in Roger King. I tried to get the best out of the team, and the best out of the world, as well, out of the best available resources that could be done with time constraints and budgets. It has been an extraordinary journey, or series of journeys, counting on people and instruments to make it work.
RMS: In addition to the record, you also just put out a video, “Behind the Smoke.”
SH: Did you see that? It’s literally out today.
RMS: I did. I saw it; I think I was one of the first people to comment on it on your facebook page. It was really powerful, very eye-opening, brilliantly assembled. After you watched the video for the first time, how did you feel? Were you sort of blown away from the impact of it?
SH: I must admit, it left me in tears, actually. That was the case. I thought it was so emotionally charged, the whole thing, and so honest. I was hit by the power of it all over again. We filmed it in Serbia with an exceptionally creative team. It’s the second time I’ve worked with that director. I was so impressed with the work, before I had even worked with him on my previous album, which was called, “Wolflight.” It looked as though I was watching stuff that was feature film quality, and epic feature film quality at that, when I saw the stuff that they were doing. To be able to conjure armies; obviously the sky’s the limit with CGI and green screen, and all of those things.
The director was very intelligent, and I allowed myself to be an actor for the first time. Normally, I stand box still when I’m playing guitar. He was sort of moving around, sharing with me what he thought a rock star guitarist would do. I tried to copy him- isn’t that strange? But, I tried to do it without any ego, and just put myself in the hands of the director, to become an actor. So, he got things out of me that sometimes look believable, particularly the moment with the girl who falls, I try and pick her up. She has such an expressive face, and she seemed to convey fear so well. Those are particularly moving moments that looked genuine. It did actually feel like it was genuinely symbolic, and i think it’s about the only time I’ve managed to act and put myself really in the moment with bodily gesture. Forget about yourself, as it were. Forget about your own limits and constraints. It’s quite hard, to watch yourself on film, and think, in the midst of a great piece of film like that, “What am I doing in the middle of it, playing electric guitar?” On the other hand, it’s all hugely symbolic, isn’t it? Is the music symbolizing the situation, or is the situation symbolizing the music? I don’t know.
The second time I watched it, I didn’t have any feelings about that. I just thought, “Oh, I’m just another character in the play.” It’s all going on, and it’s all got energy. There were a lot of things I missed in the story the first time. In fact, it was my wife who came up with the idea. She had made films in the past, but she did a rough treatment of it, and the director ran with the ball. He’s a very, very intelligent director. The bodily movements- crouching down, wagging my finger at the camera- it looks absolutely serious and strong. Not cutesy, you know what I mean? Bright guy.
RMS: I haven’t seen a video that impactful in a long time.
SH: It does have impact, doesn’t it? It’s a strange thing, that I’m at the point where- there are so many people that are horrified about what’s going on in the world at the moment- and I have a feeling that I want the album to do more than just sell. I would be much more interested if the album sold nothing, and it just contributed in some small way to world peace, and did something for multicultural diversity. But obviously, the rise of the reichs throughout the world are deeply troubling. We know that Hitler would be voted into power in so many places all over again. We have so much information. We have so many cameras, so many history channels, news channels. We have an extraordinary one, Al Jazeera, they have the most balanced world news. It shows everything from Syria to America to England to Israel and Palestine. And, it does honest documentaries. It’s extraordinary.
I think that’s what concerns me, the destructions of Europe as we speak- the European Union. Brexit is such a horrific idea, but no one is listening to people like Richard Branson. Certain politicians aren’t listening to Richard Branson. I’m just lending my voice to all of that. I do whatever I can. I think it’s the job of intelligent media, and whatever field you are in- if you’re a writer, or a broadcaster, musician, actor- to realize that you have some power. Your voice has some influence. I will never say anything cynical about lawyers ever again, because judicially, they may be the last thing that prevents another Hitler, or any narcissistic leader. I have great respect. I have friends that teach lawyers. We’re not talking about getting into the shark-infested pool, we’re talking about the fundamental reason why law is good. Sorry- I’m talking about all these things around me. I don’t mean to. It’s so easy for me to get up on my soapbox and dismiss the music that I’m proud of. Obviously, the album is about more than these things. There’s some love themes that are addressed, and music in itself.
But, you know, we’re living in extraordinary times. I think that in the 60s, we went through a lot of it, as well. I saw a marvelous retrospective at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It was a 1960s retrospective, and it had music of all the shakers and movers at that time, so you got an idea of the fashion and the music. Then, you went into another room, and it showed the civil rights movement. Obviously, centered on America, the things that had been achieved with African Americans, the equality of the sexes, various freedoms that had been won. You see the monk setting fire to himself; if you’ve got the stomach for it, you can watch it until the end of his life. You think, “My God, the 60s really stood for something, didn’t they?” We need to stand up again, and halt this madness that’s just around the corner. It might be good for business in the short term. But, it’s deeply troubling.
RMS: You just finished a tour of the United States, and you performed in my hometown, Buffalo, on March 4th with the Buffalo Philharmonic. Can you tell me what that experience was like for you?
SH: Wonderful. I was approached to do that, and it was an amazing concert. The combination of different schools of thought coming together with these two teams that would normally not set foot with each other- a rock band, and an extraordinary sounding orchestra- with extremely detailed and difficult music for both sets of musicians to play, full of musical scene changes, and tricky time signatures, and odd-lengthed bars. Brad Thachuk, who conducted, and his brother, Steve, did a tremendous job, organizing the charts. They’re just very wonderful to work with. We rehearsed with the orchestra very early in the day, and the whole team tried really, really hard to make it happen. We had extraordinary sound when we were on stage, believe me.
RMS: It’s a great music hall. Many of the people that went to that show have been talking about it all week long, about how great of a show it was. I’m wondering if you are planning on playing any more dates in America after you are done playing Europe, maybe in the spring or summer?
SH: Well, we’ve got emails going backwards and forwards with the Thachuk brothers. I’m just trying, in the long term, to encourage as much as possible, to take this idea on further. We just have to see if there’s bite from various corners. Once people get the idea that we like this idea. No doubt, he’s the right man do to the orchestra- Bradley Thachuk. Really, he was fabulous. He was great; so enthusiastic, so sensitive to the time signatures, and the way that we operate. There didn’t seem to be any sort of division between the two- what rock ’n’ rollers do, and what orchestras do.
So, I would love to do more of it. We do have some commitments in the coming year, with touring the world. So, we can’t just go off and do this next Thursday. It has to be planned for months, and maybe stretching into the coming year to achieve that. But, I’m open to that. We’ve become an ocean for these two worlds. It’s just such a powerful thing. It’s as powerful as, “Sgt. Pepper,” live. You’ve never seen it or heard it. It’s just incredible, when it works. I think that, so much of the spirit of the music that I do- I owe so much to orchestra stuff, and classical thinking, and this pan-genre hopping that we do. It suites the separate styles; both the European tradition, and the American. So, all of these experiments suddenly have gone from a doodle to a full portrait.
RMS: I would like to ask you a few questions about your time in Genesis.
RMS: On your first recording, ‘Nursery Crime,’ you introduced the two-handed guitar finger-tapping on the track, “Return of the Giant Hogweed.” How long were you using that technique before you recorded it with Genesis? Was that something you were using prior to that recording, or did that just come to you?
SH: I used it on a couple of tracks on that album. I used it on, “Musical Box,” as well- the opening track. We did a lot of doubling of guitar and keyboard, so that there was no real separation between the two, or no separation between the techniques that could be achieved on keyboard. I always tried using it live with Genesis, that year, before we recorded that album.
RMS: Do you feel that the original five Genesis members could ever get back together, and perform again? Do you think that that’s going to happen?
SH: I think that some Genesis members may get back together again. But, I think, even if i possessed all the skills of Andres Segovia, Django Reinhardt, and Jimi Hendrix, I still doubt that I would get the gold to be a part of that team, because I suspect they’d want someone who was more employable and less opinionated. Let’s just say it’s possible, but highly unlikely. Although, I am available to them.
RMS: Steve, I appreciate your time, and I’m looking forward to when you come to Buffalo- hopefully we can do another Philharmonic show- that was pretty brilliant. You really put out a great album.
SH: Thank you. I’m really glad you like all these things, and it’s great talking to you. Thank you so much.
For more on Steve Hackett, please click here.
Special thanks to Chip Ruggieri for setting up this interview, and Dana Kaiser for transcribing it.