Steve Hackett Interview
Interview by: Clyde Richardson – Photo by: Tina Korhonen
Every now and again there comes along some amazing musicians that write, perform and continue to do so on a regular basis until one day…they just kind of go to the wayside. Then there are those that because of their talent and most importantly, their endurance and pure “love of music”, they manage to obtain a somewhat overused term of “superstar”.
Lastly, there are a very select few that have endured not only time but the cycles and trends of this crazy business we call the music industry. Steve Hackett is one of those and because of his commitment to excellence and the willingness to take musical chances and write, play and perform with a true belief in his music we gratefully call him…a legend.
Following is my interview with Mr. Steve Hackett:
Clyde: When composing acoustic-oriented material, how often will you allow the technology to aid in the composition process?
Steve: It really comes in the arrangement process, it’s not so much the writing end of things, it’s how we put it in harmony we use keyboards and computers to play it back what we think might sound good.
To get an idea of a string section to do something by the time you recorded it onto Pro Tools and you got cello, basses, violins, and the others playing back what you’ve just done – you’ve got a pretty good idea of how it’s gonna sound. But its computers, computers are really handy, because you know we work on computers the whole time, it just enables us to edit everything and remember everything, correct everything if we want. It’s just an extension really of the recording studio.
Clyde: You went from Genesis to GTR. Can you bring us up to date from there?
Steve: Well, between Genesis and GTR there were a whole bunch of albums and there’s been similar if not more, amount of albums between GTR which really finished around about 1986 or 87 for me and I’ve been doing all manners of different types of things from recording in Brazil with lots of drummers, which is known as batcha carta.
I did an album called “Till We Have Faces” (1995), I did lots of different things, some of them have been acoustic albums, some of them have been rock albums, some of them have been on location, like the one I mentioned – the Brazilian album and I’ve done a blues album, called Blues is a Feeling, all manner of things, I even did an album called Genesis Revisited which had a number of people that have been in and out of the band plus an orchestra.
So some projects I’ve done have had orchestras and that’s been my tendency where I’ve been tending towards in the future really is a combination of rock or rock band plus orchestra. I like the sound of that very much, but at the same time I like to make acoustic albums as well, sometimes they involve orchestras, sometimes they have to be stripped right back to acoustic guitar, like the show I’m doing at the moment is with an acoustic trio, my brother on flute, John Hackett on flute, Roger King on keyboards.
Roger and I have collaborated on many things in the past few years, many different albums, so its an acoustic trio on the road right now doing stuff from way back from my earliest history to before that from something written by the occasional well known writer like Eric Satie or Debussy or even a tiny bit of Bach.
Clyde: How does your present acoustic playing, with midi technology, differ or compare to your electric playing with similar technology such as in GTR?
Steve: Well, when I play acoustic stuff I don’t use midi technology with it, I think the beauty of the acoustic guitar that it makes such a wonderful sound in the first place that I haven’t really used technology with it. When I do acoustic music I’m probably much more interested in the pure sound of the instruments.
Clyde: Because of the line-up with John Hackett on Flute and Roger King, both being classically trained musicians, would I be correct in assuming that you’ll be playing more of a nylon, classical style guitar during your performances?
Steve: That’s right yeah nylon, that’s right absolutely right yeah it’s instrumental and it’s nylon.
Clyde: If you had to compare your music, to anyone, who would you compare it to and why?
Steve: Oh goodness me, there are so many people and so many influences to be honest, it would be very hard to…(It’s kinda the Holy Grail of questions, it’s so open ended, everybody influences us..) I must be somewhere between Andre Segovia or Jimi Hendrix then in that case.
Clyde: What’s your normal stage set-up for your current tour?
Steve: Well, the stage set-up is ….I just use two nylon guitars, a pair of nylons, in fact, John uses Flute – Concert Flute, Alto Flute, Roger uses keyboards, uses some string samples, piano an occasional other sound, but in the main it’s pretty straight forward, like guitar, piano, flute – pretty straight forward. (That’s an amazing thing to do nowadays).
Well yeah you know we’re taking it back to its roots in a way. (Well you should and I’m glad somebody finally has) Well you know I think there’s a lot to those instruments – they sound wonderful. They’re all capable of their own magic if you hit it right.
Clyde: What do you consider the highlight of your career?
Steve: Oh the highlight….(that’s another open ended question) yeah these are all tricky ones aren’t they? It’s difficult to know really…the highlight is usually the album that I’m working on currently. I am currently working on a rock album but it has a lot of orchestra in it so I wouldn’t want to say it was an electric album, it really is a mixture of the two, it combines a lot of things, a lot of different styles, a lot of different places, with different musicians.
(Kinda all the musical influences that made Steve Hackett who he is today) Well yeah, I mean lots of things that I had hoped to do in the past and you know I think its this thing that Oscar Wilde said something about (he may have been referring to writers or artists), I think he said ”the artist yields to his material” and it’s true.
You end up doing the things that you love because it’s tougher to do things that you don’t really love. So at the end of the day you realize ah…this is what I really love, that’s why I’m doing this (that’s so true, too) that’s why I’m doing this particular thing.
Clyde: What’s in the immediate and long-term future for Steve Hackett?
Steve: Well we have this tour, I’ve done England and I’ve done Europe, with this we’ve played in Japan with this tour, we’re about to do the states, we haven’t played a single gig here yet with this lineup and we finish up in Mexico, so we go south of the border at the end.
Clyde: What closing statement would you like to leave our readers with?
Steve: Well I think I’ve been very fortunate to have music as a constant companion and for anyone who is aspiring to make that their living I would say it was well worth the risk, that you’ve got to persist, just when you think that no one is going to be interested that’s the time when it’s likely to happen, so provided you could do it and not be put off by adverse circumstance, nobody can make you give up your attempt at the summit. (That’s so well put!)
Mr. Hackett, thank you for the interview. It’s been both a pleasure and an honor speaking with you!
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Steve Hackett is renowned as an immensely talented and innovative rock musician. He was lead guitarist with Genesis as part of their classic line up with Gabriel, Collins, Banks and Rutherford, that produced acclaimed albums such as Selling England by the Pound (a favourite of John Lennon). With Steve’s extraordinary versatility in both his electric guitar playing and his composing, he involves influences from many genres, including Jazz, World Music and Blues.
He is equally adept in his classical albums that include renditions of pieces by composers from Bach to Satie, his own acoustic guitar compositions that have gained the admiration of many, including Yehudi Menuhin, and ambitious guitar/ orchestra albums such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, recorded with the Royal Philharmonic.
With Genesis, Steve’s guitar playing produced some of the most memorable moments, from the sensitivity of his acoustic sound on Horizons and Blood on the Rooftops to the dramatic rock guitar solos of Firth of Fifth and Fountain of Salmacis. As he embarked on his solo career he developed his exceptional range, pushing musical boundaries into exciting areas, inventing new sounds and also techniques such as ‘tapping’. His solo career went from strength to strength and the mid eighties not only saw the hit single Cell 151, but also the Steve Hackett and Steve Howe super group GTR, highly successful in America.
Steve Hackett After GTR Steve worked further with many renowned musicians such as Paul Carrick, Bonny Tyler, John Wetton and Brian May, who has credited Steve as an early influence. Steve went on to produce his hit album Genesis Revisited. He went even further back to his roots with Blues with a Feeling, whilst continuing to challenge his own ‘horizons’ with an amazingly eclectic mix of sounds, genres and a sense of the exotic that excites his many followers to this day.
Recent albums have possessed a high level of sophistication, along with an ever-present powerful dynamic, from the dramatic and atmospheric darkness of Darktown and Wild Orchids to the colourful voyage through time and space of To Watch the Storms.
2009’s Out Of The Tunnel’s Mouth, written and recorded in the midst of domestic and professional upheaval, was released to an overwhelmingly positive response from fans and reviewers alike, many of them proclaiming it his best ever. Hot on the heels of OOTTM was Beyond the Shrouded Horizon released in 2011, which has easily received an equally enthusiastic response. In 2012 Steve collaborated with Chris Squire of Yes on the “Squackett” album A Life Within a Day.
Steve’s live electric gigs take his fans on an extraordinary journey drawn from a rich musical heritage. Perennial Genesis favourites such as the mighty Firth Of Fifth sit alongside solo classics, while more recent material, with much of Out Of The Tunnel’s Mouth and Beyond the Shrouded Horizon now included, demonstrate that Steve is an artist still at the very top of his game. Supported by some of the best musicians on the planet, Steve’s unique guitar work remains the fulcrum on which this challenging and exhilarating show is balanced.
Genesis’ induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in March 2010 stands as a testament to the enduring qualities of their music. Steve has always held a torch for the classic Genesis music. His Genesis Revisited II, a double CD, involves several iconic artists and contains many Genesis favourites. It is due for release in late October 2012 and a Genesis Revisited worldwide tour is planned to follow in 2013… Never one to rest on his laurels, though, Steve continues to blaze a trail with new material and to be an exhilarating and groundbreaking artist.
Steve was born on 12 February 1950 at London University Hospital. Except for an initial period south of the river and a brief time in Vancouver, Canada when he was seven years old, he spent his childhood and teens living in Pimlico, London. It was indeed a golden age of steam, with nearby Battersea Power Station and the trains belching out smoke… In contrast was the colourful excitement of Battersea Funfair, which inspired many of Steve’s early dreams.
His brother John was born on 13 March 1955. They enjoyed music together from an early age and both were playing instruments by the time they were in their teens. Both of Steve’s parents June and Peter were encouraging with the music and Peter also possessed creative talent as an artist and painter.
Steve experienced the changing face of the sixties first hand in his daily walks along the famous Kings Road to Sloane Grammar School, and he shared a fascination of all the new up and coming bands, as well as the wonder of books with his first girlfriend Barbara. She introduced him to the works of writers like Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus.
He was heartbroken when they split up, but this didn’t stop his hunger for music. He and his friend Jock loved to make the journey to Eel Pie Island for the musical experience of heroes like Peter Green and Paul Butterfield. Later on bands like King Crimson and the Jimmy Hendrix Experience became an inspiration. Through all this time Steve followed his musical path and put regular adverts into Melody Maker, until finally Peter Gabriel picked up on Steve’s ad…
Joining Genesis was a turning point for Steve – he was now living the dream. All the band members formed equally important parts of the Genesis story. Steve still loves the guys and the stunning work they created together.
He married Ellen Busse in 1972. They had a son, Oliver in 1974 but they subsequently divorced. It was a difficult time for Steve, but he enjoys a good relationship with Oliver who lives in Germany.
Another challenging time for Steve was when he left Genesis. He had enjoyed his journey with them and had some trepidation about starting out alone, yet he also felt the need to explore his own path. He had many creative ideas that he wanted to develop.
Steve married Brazilian artist and jewellery designer Kim Poor on 14 August 1981. They divorced on 18 May 2007. A court case followed which came to an end in 2010.
Steve married author Jo Lehmann on 4 June 2011. They often write lyrics and music together, which Steve then takes on to the next stage with Roger King. Steve is really proud of his band and team.
Steve’s output is particularly prolific these days, as his ideas continue to flourish and grow. He’s always found that books have long been a rich source of inspiration and that life itself gives him ideas. He enjoys the experiences of his travels even more than ever as he explores many places with Jo. The moment he sees the Sphinx or a sunset over the Colosseum his notebook is out instantly and the notes start to flow…