Steve Hackett speaks Genesis Tour, solo career
Legendary guitarist and integral part of the iconic rock group Genesis – Steve Hackett – is a man that is accomplished beyond his own career span. He served as the guitarist of Genesis from 1970-1977, producing six studio albums and a slew of other live recordings and Eps. He’s maintained a solo career that spans another two dozen studio albums and several contribution abroad. So, needless to say, he’s left his mark in rock ‘n’ roll and he still continues to delight and dazzle the rock circuit today, attracting just as many generation Y fans as generation Xers. Now on the second leg of the Genesis Revisited tour – the Genesis Extended tour – Hackett remains a devout solo artist, and aims to continue that way. This will be the last of his Genesis branded circuits, and the last chance for fans to catch this show live. Coming to Massey Hall on December 2, Hackett took time to speak with Martyr’s Devin Size from his New York City hotel room on Friday, Nov. 14, before his appearance at The Town Hall.
DS: It’s amazing that you’ve brought back to life the songs of Genesis in Genesis Revisited & Genesis Revisited II, even better now that the live portion has been extended – considering how greatly those years with Genesis shaped your music career and live performance, how does it feel to be reliving those moments now on stage?
Hackett: To play these songs that I once loved, and to be able to play them now, becomes in a way more important to me now, since I can play them now in a way where the experience counts for a lot. To be able to play things technically, in a way that before I could’ve only dreamed of, and the aspect of technology that makes new things possible is amazing, there’s no longer the tyranny of volume. No longer need to deafen myself against my Marshall stack. That’s been a complete joy. And I’ve been getting to indulge the other side of my passion which is the nylon guitar. I love doing these things live, it feels extraordinary. Especially with the band I have now, they grew up listening to this stuff, and they play it with such a fire and passion, making it all theirs. They’ve got my seal of approval. They keep it authentic while making it their own. We can do things now we only dreamed of back then.
DS: I like that you say it’s like putting polish on an old classic, since that’s how most people feel getting to see such a classic act, yet in a completely new era.
Hackett: Exactly, it’s as if you took the Mona Lisa out of its crate, and it had that layer of grime on it- to be able to not only dust it off, but to bring it back to life. Also it’s nice to be able to cherry-pick through a catalogue of much loved albums. I’m not taking the route of playing through an entire album because I feel like the entire catalogue is so rich. At the time when I was playing with the band back in 1973, when I feel we had peaked, and had just started touring on this side of the water – and even though we couldn’t get a gig, we had people like John Lennon saying kind and praiseworthy things about us. At this time it was huge for us to have those kinds of seals of approval since we grew up listening to all that stuff. It’s different now playing again, but with 40 years’ experience.
DS: It’s good that you speak of experience, especially looking back to those days. I think it’s fair to say that those six short years with Genesis greatly shaped your musical career, especially your live performance considering how shy you were on stage back then and now being so energetic and enthusiastic on stage replaying these songs, so how does that dichotomy play out for you?
Hackett: It’s a funny thing – but I remember joining Genesis, and before that I had already done a handful of semi-professional gigs, and I had made an album with a band called Quiet World, but hadn’t done too many shows being that I was still holding down a day job back then. But you’re right, back then I was quite shy, and we all sat down to play on stage and kept our heads down while Peter Gabriel was the visual feast that everyone watched. By the time he left, of course, in 1975, the rest of us were forced to invest more into the live show – the lights and the glamour. We had to stand up and move around a little bit. You were no longer able to be comfortable just doing what you were doing. It forced one to concentrate on the show, and what people wanted to see, not just wanted you wanted to see in yourself. Sometimes sitting on my stool I was so damned nervous I had a permanent tremolo going, I was that fearful. But of course, decades later, I approach the stage very differently now. The sky’s the limit now.DS: I want to talk more about your solo work, versus your band work. Like you said back then, there was a certain “direction” you wanted to take Genesis in, but couldn’t always.
Hackett: I feel that in a way, Genesis, as we were big fans of the Beatles – and what they did in their own forthwith and clairvoyant way – was know when to downplay themselves, and get the angels in to play for them. It was very important to me. If John had always played guitar and Ringo the drums to their best ability, their songs wouldn’t have conveyed the messages and effect necessary – it was their maturity that made the difference. I think it’s possible to do something very experimental, yet very calculated. I think it’s music that is on the periphery that really make it grand. To have full creative control and bring it back to that essence is crucial. I’m putting out a new solo album next year, and it’s very orchestral – depending on what your perception of orchestral is. We’ve got everything from singing animals to campfire music on it.
DS: There truly are no limitations when you consider the genre of progressive rock – and I feel like as an artist you’ve always epitomized that version of prog-rock – the term progressive obviously means forward-thinking and ever-changing and that’s always what you’ve done with rock. You’ve creative an original rock song, and I feel like that is what keeps you poignant, even today, what do you think?
Hackett: Well I think that change is important. To allow a song to breathe properly, change is essential. If we think of what defines progressive music, the lowest common denominator is the idea of something that allows itself to develop naturally. It’s not about the short song. But it’s also an area with no rules, so it is possible to do a progressive three-minute piece – or even shorter. The personal moments matter too. It doesn’t get much more personal than you and your instrument. I love worldly music, and if you can get some of that into an album.
DS: Getting back to the tour itself, it’s interesting that the success of the first leg of the Genesis: Revisited lead to the second leg Genesis: Extended. But you’ve said this is the last time you will perform Genesis live – why is that?
Hackett: Well, the idea behind that is that many fans of the band’s earlier work as opposed to whatever the band became in the 1980s, I think many of them felt that they had invested a lot of time and money into a band that was doing extremely atmospheric and adventurous music. They then felt disenfranchised, left out in the cold, with what it became. What happened subsequently was done very professionally, very slick and hugely appealing to the new world market. But, the people who understood that the band was using that pan-genre approach – those people were looking for something else. It was a band that once felt with its veins – in an era that left bands struggling with strong media opposition, it had absolute indifference to the radio game. It made it hard to appeal directly to one audience. By the time it was a given that the band would release album after album and hit after hit, it was a feeling of comfort. Even in 1977 when I left the band, its future was assured – playing arenas every night. I couldn’t help thinking about back in the day, when we were struggling in clubs in LA, or even Paris. There was something going on, that informed the music. That’s a magical quality I’ve always sought. It’s not about numbers for me, musicians shouldn’t think that way.
DS: I’ve got to ask, because everyone wants to know more. You’ve spoken out to Rolling Stone about your disagreement with BBC’s new Genesis documentary, how did you feel they missed the mark?
Hackett: I have to cut this short for another interview, I’ve gone over time. But let me just say that the companion piece, the live album that comes with it is much more representative of the band together than apart. I feel the documentary fails to deliver its message and I’ve had many complaints from fans and all I’m saying is that I won’t be selling it or promoting it via my website. I’m not condemning it but I’m also not condoning it. I don’t it totally represents the reality of things. And with that, I’m afraid I have to go or I’ll miss my next interview! I’m looking forward to playing Massey Hall and seeing you there. Cheers!
Interview by Devin Size, Martyr Magazine