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Steve Hackett

Interviewed by Josh Turner
Interview with Steve Hackett, 2005
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

It's actually a pleasure to get a chance to talk to you. I've actually gotten to talk to a lot of my favorite musicians, but this is probably the first time that I've gotten a chance to talk to a legend.
Well, we're all the same underneath. That's the deal, you know what I mean?
MSJ: What opportunities does a person have now to actually see you live?
Well, I'm going to be coming over there with a tour with my trio. It's an acoustic trio and we'll be over in the fall, so at some point, we'll be over there. I think we're just sort of finishing up negotiations at the moment for that. It's looking pretty good.
MSJ: I was actually listening to that album that you just came out with, that Metamorpheus one. And, you know, I think that's it's a great album. I'm mostly into progressive rock. But, I really like that classical music. I had a few questions about that. First, what does that name mean, "Metamorpheus"?
Well, it really uses the name Orpheus and, I figured that, it's a story about Orpheus and Eurydice and there've been a lot of versions, which have had great titles, like "Orpheus in the Underworld" and all the great Orpheus names have been had. I was reading a book by a guy called "Ian Banks" one day and one of his chapters was called "Metamorpheus" and I thought that is a good title and it brings in the word Orpheus. So, I can't claim originality with that, but it just struck me that it was something that I've been trying to say and it implies metamorphosis, which we owe originally to the Ovid. So, you know, I felt it sort of brought in the whole of the Greek mythological pantheon really - all of those gods and goddesses, that whole thing.
MSJ: I see you've got some interesting titles, "The Pool of Memory and the Pool of Forgetfulness", "Return to the Realm of Eternal Renewal," do these names follow some sort of a theme?
Well, "The Pool of Memory and the Pool of Forgetfulness," are actually from the legend of Orpheus, and so I was able to take that one literally. The title "Return to the Realm of Eternal Renewal" was from a dream that I had - some idea of continued life, or life restored as you like. And, some of the other titles I borrowed from Rainer Maria Wilke, who was a poet who wrote many sonnets to Orpheus and worked with the sculptor Rodan who sculpted Orpheus and Eurydice on at least one occasion, so it's all part of a tradition and an imaginary character in a way, or at least his adventures as we know it are imaginary. There probably was somebody called "Orpheus" at one point who may have been a priest, king, healer and we just don't know and it's a bit like someone taking the name Fred and saying, you know, "and Fred did this." "And Fred went to Mars and Fred did the following." So, you know, what's become this kind of mythical history that this character had is probably outweighed by what he actually did do in his lifetime.
MSJ: You've actually got quite a history in terms of progressive rock - it goes back quite a ways and now I see that you're doing a lot of classical music and that's a bit of a leap. I'm just wondering if you could describe your songwriting process? How you come up with some of this classical music? What's the process of incorporating all these orchestrations and that kind of stuff?
Well, I guess it starts out with, I started to like the sound of nylon guitar in the mid-sixties. I had an album called "Segovia Plays Bach" and one side of it was nylon guitars and the other side was harpsichord, but they used to do that in those days, you know. You'd get an album that was a mixture of different artists - unthinkable today, but that's what used to happen. So, what I fell in love with was the complexity of the playing yet it seemed like the stuff that Bach had originally for violin and, and cello, which Segovia gave extra harmonies to and transposed and what have you, it seemed as though there was a sort of simplicity of purpose that was running through it, but for all this complexity. So, this kind of paradoxical thing about Bach's music and I fell in love with that stuff and I figured that, you know, maybe one day if I was good enough, I might be able to write something in a similar style. But I didn't really want to learn to play all those pieces that had already been recorded so wonderfully by the genius that was Andre Segovia, but what I did take from him was a certain kind of romantic style of playing. He used a lot of sliding around, a lot of libretto, palmetto, a lot of rabato, the slowing down technique in the middle of a fast run. Sometimes he would slow and hold onto a note and libretto it and that's all part of what they now consider to be romantic playing and, in these days, people tend to stick a bit more faithfully to the score, but I really like that kind of interpretation. It certainly romances me and so that's been a big influence. So all through my career working in various forms of rock and even blues, all of that kind of influences what, what I do. It's a long slow process isn't it? I almost think that working in music is a bit like this big huge jigsaw puzzle and sometimes you come up with a little bit and you've got no idea where it's going to find a home.
MSJ: Exactly.
Eventually, it finds a home way down the line with something else. I've got all these thousands of little bits that are all on a backburner, that are scribbled down in notebooks and sung into tape recorders and it's a long slow messy process, but it's the only one I've got.
MSJ: This might be a little premature since you just came out with an album and you're also talking about some live dates with your trio, but I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about some of the projects that you have in mind for the near future.
Okay, well, I started a rock album, but I always get frustrated with rock, cause I always think, with rock comes implied a certain amount of baggage and a certain amount of a way to do things. So, what I really want to do is to start using more and more of the orchestra involved with some of the rock stuff, so, you know. Rock is an all encompassing term for me really, but I don't want to feel that I can't include something, because it's a little bit too acoustic or classical or jazzy or too bluesy or too anything. I want to feel that it's possible to use the influence of everything in, and I want to sort of echo all of my heroes.
MSJ: When did you decide to get involved in music and decide to become a guitarist?
Well, I started out in life as a harmonica player really when I was a kid and I had to sometimes earn money from that just by holding out a cap and being a busker. And then about the age of 12, I started playing guitar, uh, very badly at first - as everyone does - listening to a lot of it, the records that were around at the time and most of the guitar records I listened to at that time sounded like they were themes to westerns really. That's the sound the guitarists made. Guitar had sounded like the theme to Bonanza and that was it. That very twangy kind, everything kind of based on the low bass strings - the sort of Duane Eddy style in a way and, so I was fascinated with that. And then gradually, of course, people took guitars and started to play them in a different way. The heroes sustain was born and then of course I find myself going back and listening to early things that were an influence, early things in rock. Obviously, Muddy Waters was doing fantastic stuff in the early fifties with tracks that sound as fresh as if they were recorded today. So, you've got the combination of great guitar playing, great harmonica playing, simple tunes, but very, very urgent, very insistent and something I've always loved. I'm very attracted to blues.
MSJ: How did you actually meet all your bandmates with Genesis?
Well, when I left school, which was at the age of 16 at the time, I used to place ads in the back of newspaper here called "Melody Maker". That was a very powerful newspaper for musicians and I advertised there for, it was about five years of ads on the back pages. Later, I got a call from Peter Gabriel and that's basically how we all met up.
MSJ: What does "Blood on the Rooftops" actually refer to?
Well, that's a Genesis track. I wrote that with Phil Collins. The line "blood on the rooftops" was something that Phil suggested and I wrote the rest of the lyrics based on that. That was the title and what he said that conjured to him was a kind of a jailbreak and when you get these rooftop protests. That was what that was all about and I think he might have mentioned seeing something like that on TV. And I thought, well, what if we base all of the action in the song on the TV. It's almost like you're switching channels the whole time. And, so all the levels of action happen on the TV, so everything is a little sort of vignette or in cameo and little piece of this and little piece of that, so it's really a lot of it is largely news bulletin material.
MSJ: In the Watcher of the Skies CD, you arrange some old Genesis classic songs. Are there any plans to revisit any other old Genesis songs?
Well, with my acoustic trio we do acoustic versions of some of the things that were done as a five piece band, so I do a little bit of that stuff. It would be hard for me to go back and try and recreate the past totally. I'm not sure that that's what people want from me. I'd like to think they want to move forward. I realize there's a tremendous amount of nostalgia, but having already done a whole album of Genesis stuff, I think I would be hard-pushed to find material that I could relate to after. I mean, there are quite a few things. I thought about doing a version of "Musical Box". Then I figured that people were going to miss Peter singing it and even "Dancing With the Moonlit Knight", which has got strong instrumental passages and everything, but, I think there's always that problem about the authenticity of the singer. Maybe there's room for re-interpretations some point down the line. I don't know, it's quite interesting cause, there's the one you call "Watcher of the Skies", I think that may have been the title in the States. Over here it was Genesis Revisited, I can't quite remember. I get mixed up with all the albums, but interestingly that was well-received, cause I could have been laughed out of court with it, you know.

MSJ: I definitely like the stuff that you're doing now and, and I like the fact that you're moving forward, because that is what I guess progressive music is about. But, it always seems, you've always got that fanbase that wants to go back.
Well that's why, you know, when I do live shows with, with the band I've got we attack certain tunes like "Los Endos" for instance and my band does a killer version of that I think. But, then I would say that, wouldn't I, because I'm the band leader. Just have to take my word for it or check out the … we do these live archive albums and so there is a live archive of the show in 2004 and there's also a DVD of that show, which we did in Hungary with the five piece, so that gives an idea of what that band is capable of.
MSJ: A few years ago, you did "The City and the Sea" with percussionist Evelyn Glennie. I guess from what I hear that was designed such that it might undergo some changes in its arrangements. Is that anything that you've worked any more on?
Well, funny enough, we've been in contact with Evelyn today and I've asked if she'll play on something of mine and, I think she's interested in me writing something for her or with her, so that's a connection I hope to exploit further.
MSJ: Has there been any Spinal Tap moment in your career that just jumps out at you - that you remember that was just quirky, funny, whatever.
Well, I think that every other moment is a Spinal Tap in music frankly, because, I've been caught out so many times along with the rest. Boy, that's an interesting one, isn't it, a Spinal Tap moment. God, well, you know, there was a time when we tried to play on stage in, Glasgow, Scotland and (chuckles) because the equipment was all alive and no one had the finesse and the organization to be able to get us on stage without getting electric shocks. So we had to cancel the gig and then we came back I think about three weeks later, and I thought the audience was going to kill us, but they did not. They all stood up and welcomed us back. Thank god, because a Glasgow crowd if it's got its nose put out of joint could turn nasty, believe me.
MSJ: What is the last album that you've given a lot of rotation in your own stereo system?
Something that I play a lot, you mean?
MSJ: Yeah, just one of your recent favorites or something that's just getting a lot of attention recently?
Well, I like to listen to a lot of Paul Butterfield for instance, Paul Butterfield Blues Band. I'm a big fan of his harmonica playing and of Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop, who were in the band - not to mention, the rest who were very good. They were absolutely brilliant. I saw them in the mid-sixties live here where I am. I'm in a place called "Twickenham" in England and it's about ten miles away from the center of London and I saw them at a place called "Eel Pie Island". And they were extraordinary.
MSJ: What would you say is your favorite album?
Favorite album? Oh my god, I think it would have to be - well, can I mention two?
MSJ: Sure.
Alright well I really love - there are two Beatles' albums I absolutely adore. One is Revolver and the other one is Sergeant Pepper.  

MSJ: Do you have a favorite band?
My favorite band, well I've lots of favorite bands in different ways and I've just mentioned several of them. I tend to listen more to solo performers than I do bands, although I did really love Miles Davis' line-up when he had a tremendous amount of people with him doing "Live Evil". That's got some fantastic stuff. It's got Airto Moreira, Jack deJohnette, John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, just an incredible line-up. Keith Jarrett, I think was on it, the list goes on and on and on. He's got, you know, everyone, on it. It was incredible at the time. They all play incredibly and it's wild and it's atonal and you think it shouldn't really work and yet it does. He's playing the trumpet like a guitar and at times you can't tell what's guitar and what's trumpet. It's all very cleverly using wa wa's on all the instruments. It's amazing.
MSJ: What would you say is your favorite movie?
Favorite movie, ooh, wow, um, Cinema Paradiso, I think. It's a favorite movie. Cinema Paradiso.
MSJ: Do you have a favorite TV show?
I really like South Park.
MSJ: That's an interesting choice.
I love it. Yeah, sure, we're not talking about anything too intellectual here, but I love the humor.
MSJ: It seems like literature actually affects music a lot these days, so I was wondering if you have a favorite book that you could recommend?
Oh, a favorite book? Yeah, lots of favorite books - I'm reading one at the moment by a guy called "Leslie Flint" who was a medium who lived from the early 1900's in this country. Now no longer living and it's called "Voices in the Dark". That's a beautiful book, incredible.
MSJ: Do you have any pets?
Pets, yeah, sure, we, my wife and I, have a cat called "Flo" who is, uh, she's a Birman. It's like a long-haired Siamese and she's got blue eyes and she looks like a kitten even though she's probably about 12 years old now. And she's a beautiful loving little creature, so, yeah. I've tended to have cats in the past rather than dogs. It's easier when you're traveling around, believe me. They're more self-sufficient.
MSJ: Is there anything you'd like to say to your fans at this time?
I'll tell you what I'd say to my fans. A lot of fans may be aspiring artists, musicians, writers, filmmakers, whatever, and whatever age they are, I think it is important to remind people that it's never too late. Don't worry about being a boy wonder or a girl wonder. Don't worry about that, the main thing and the hardest thing is starting, but give yourself a break and say to yourself, "I'll do this thing and I'll do it as long as it takes." Don't give yourself a hard time about being able to do things quickly or slowly. Don't try and be a virtuoso. First, just remember that all great work comes from doodles. You just have to have enough freedom to allow yourself to make mistakes and doodle and make a fool of yourself. And don't worry about it and pick yourself up again, you know. Just work at it a little bit more. And it's important not to throw in the towel.
MSJ: That's just great advice. It's really great to hear that from you.
Well, you know, cause I figure that so many people are capable of so much more than they allow themselves, to do. So, you know, I figure I've been allowed to do what I do through the good graces of so many people who could have turned their back on me and said "Hackett you suck" and they didn't and I'm very grateful.
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