Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett has been making his way around the UK playing a mix of old classics and new material from The Night Siren. The Carouser catches up with the man himself to talk drinks, Genesis and riding his own personal spaceship.
What’s your favourite tipple? I read you used to like a pint of warm, flat Watney’s red barrel.
Scotch and coke I think is my favourite tipple. Or if I’m in America, a whiskey sour.
Do you have any Genesis drinking stories you’re willing to divulge?
Haha! Well in the early days of Genesis, I used to drink before I went on and then I found I couldn’t do it with that kind of music. It’s that thing about dashing off stage at the end, everyone’s back on-stage to do the encore and I’m still in the loo!
It was alright in the old days when you were playing to three men and a dog but it didn’t really work professionally. I thought it would help calm my nerves but I couldn’t.
So you were quite nervous in the early days before taking the stage?
I was! I’m not so bad now. I think the more touring you do and you get into the act of doing two shows a night, you get too tired to be nervous and that’s very good for you in a way. It’s a very good cure for nerves. I’m a lot more apprehensive at the beginning of a tour because there’s a lot more things to get right. It’s usually the stomp boxes, treading on the wrong ones. But after a few gigs you get into it.
What do you think of the evolution of Genesis both as a member and as a previous member after ‘77?
When I first saw them live, they were doing a free lunchtime show at the Lyceum in London, Christmas Day 1970. I thought ‘They’re not bad…they could do with a harder edge. Maybe I could give them a harder edge.’ I thought it was all going to be easy until I discovered a lot of the songs were written in guitar unfriendly keys like F sharp. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it was going to be and the characters weren’t as easy as I thought they were going to be either! It was a bit of a shock but I had to give it back, do you know what I mean? I had to be as outrageous as they were to get my ideas done.
Was it hard letting go?
Yeah, it was hard. I knew that I needed to work with other people by then and I knew having a parallel solo career wasn’t on offer. It was either you’re in the band or you know what you can do. And so I bided my time. From ’76 to ’77, I agonised about whether I should quit the band.
That’s usually the time to quit, isn’t it? When you’re agonising about something that much.
Yeah, when it’s bothering you every night, indeed. So I had to go.
You nearly had Brian May on board for the so-called superband GTR. Is that true?
Well at one point, I approached Brian May and he and I did some stuff together which came out on an album called Feedback 86. He was also working with me on Rock Against Repatriation so we were involved on a couple of projects and he’s a fine guitarist, as is Steve Howe and there were many similarities but also many differences.
Yes, I imagine the coming together of a number of guitarists in one room can be an interesting experience.
I think people vary. Not all musicians are cut from the same cloth. I personally prefer to work with friends where it’s easy come, easy go and if you want to make noise, you do that and I’ll do something else. When you work with people you’ve got to honour them and not try to reshape them. You can reshape the song but not the player within it. Not everyone is always going to be as flexible as you are. A solo career is always going to be easier as you’re not in a group where everyone feels as though they own you. (playful voice) No, you don’t own me! I’m a free man!
So the new album, The Night Siren. There’s always something new going on with each listen. It has everything going on that I think a prog album should have. Two of my favourite bands, Opeth and Sigur Ros are both influenced by early Genesis and despite them continuing to be successful prog bands they have arguably become safer and a lot of people put this down to record labels being unwilling to take risk. Have you found this to be an issue?
I’m at the point where InsideOut are a company who have been open. I know they wouldn’t be particularly keen on me doing a classical album or a pure blues album so I’m moved to do any of those things I have to look elsewhere so I’ve been involved with a number of labels. But with an album like The Night Siren where you have twenty musicians flown in from all over the world, they’re (InsideOut) are very open minded about that.
You sound as energetic as on your earlier releases, just a little less frantic and your ideas seem more controlled somehow. Do you still get excited about new albums?
Yes I do. It’s still like being a kid in a toy shop, it’s still amazing what music can do to you. It does something to me that nothing else does. I like looking in the corners of the instruments and finding sounds that have never been heard before. It’s a lifelong quest and I don’t give myself as much of a hard time as I used to. I have to be moved to do something. I start out with the idea to do something that oughtn’t to work, something outrageous in one way or the other but equally sometimes we want to flash back. The first thing we recorded was the guitar solo on the song ‘Anything but love’ and I thought ‘I just want this to sound like Cream, 1967’.
And we are not going to complain about that.
It’s that freedom. Letting the solos fly, like you’re riding your own personal spaceship. It’s not held down by too many chord changes, it’s not too melodic, it’s not going to please any keyboard player… I’ve recorded baroque music and the blues and I have no problem jumping back a few hundred years or forward a few, it’s all music. I never thought I’ll try to make a modern record, I wouldn’t know how. I like to think I’m the sum of my influences and sometimes I wish I could be influenced more by music from around the world like Moroccan music or Spanish music. You’ll hear a flamenco guitar player solo and wish you could take some of that because they are the best strummers and rhythm players in the world.
Just over 45 years in the business. Guitarist for Genesis, played in a super group and had a great solo career. When do you think you’ll have had enough?
I’ll only give up when I can no longer dribble in tune! [makes gargling non-sensical noise] Why not? So they can all go ‘He should have given up years ago!’. I haven’t heard that yet though but I’d be too gaga to notice by then. But then maybe that’s when the really interesting stuff will come out, like an a-tonal jazz album! ‘The Gaga album’!
How do you feel about revisiting these Genesis songs again? You must still love them a great deal.
I do! I wish I could play other songs but we have to sideline some of them in order to play some solo stuff. Half solo, half Genesis, although it’s probably a 40-60 split with this current show. I enjoy both ends of it, the new and the old so it’s nice to be still making a noise for a living!
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