Steve Hackett Calls Genesis "a Very Competitive Band"
Genesis, in its Peter Gabriel-fronted, "classic" iteration, was possibly the most creative, intellectually stimulating, and inspired band of the entire first wave of British progressive rock. There was the weight of albums that displayed the group's uncanny propensity for long-winded (yet never idle) sonic explorations and the perfectly wrought lyrical content that traveled deftly between epics of science fiction and gritty. Also, the colorfully rendered social commentary and the dynamic, visceral assault brought to the music by each of the band's five virtuosos. Early Genesis was an absolute force of nature who's legacy survives mythologically.
Guitarist Steve Hackett played no small role in developing the sound of those records. While Gabriel's dramatic voice and performances and Phil Collins' percussive prowess seem to be at the center of most Genesis discussions, Hackett's flare for pioneering unique techniques (two-handed tapping, off-kilter effects) inarguably changed the way the guitar has been approached for decades while fueling the rock side of Genesis' prog.
Since the first lineup of Genesis imploded, Hackett has spent his time releasing a mountain of criminally underrated guitar records (Voyage of the Acolyte is considered a forgotten masterwork by many). He did a brief stint collaborating with Steve Howe of Yes in the '80s with the short-lived GTR. But most recently, the guitarist took the time to rerecord and revisit a slew of early Genesis opuses in a light he deems more fitting for the ideas and concepts found on those hallowed tracks.
Hackett will be bringing his Genesis Revisited show to Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, April 5, and took the time to speak with us about everything from his motivations in revisiting the albums to hopes of an early lineup reunion. Here is part one.
New Times: It's a pretty unheard of to reinterpret and rerecord a canon as revered -- let alone as complex -- as that of Genesis' first period. Can you tell me a bit more about your motivations for doing it? I know you've said you were unhappy with the original recordings, but could you elaborate a bit?
Steve Hackett: Right. Well, I think from the band's point of view... Let's put it this way, if you asked everyone individually if they were happy with what they did 40 years ago, Phil would tell you that he was unhappy with the drums because the way we used to work was we'd record it to death until he was completely exhausted and then it would be a good take for everyone else. He was unhappy with that kind of stuff at the time.
Personally, to be able to get it in time and in tune at the same time was a tremendous spur towards doing these rerecordings. Also, the idea of expanding the palette available; in other words, real strings at times, the use of the occasional orchestral instrument. Plus, the idea of not having really a fixed team as such doing it but throwing it open to the possibility of the whole world of singers. In a sense, there's safety in numbers.
A lot of singers are sort of, "Oh, if I do this, I'll be up against Pete [Gabriel] and Phil [Collins] and all that" and a lot of people were quite intimidated by that, but I said, "Well actually, you'd be one of a whole bunch of people. There's 30 to 40 people on this album." So in a way there's not so much heat for anybody replacing one of their favorite heroes. Beyond that, I think I'm a different player to the one who worked with Genesis all those years ago. To say that I was technically more capable now would probably be an understatement.
I do realize that from another point of view, of course, messing with people's childhoods, if they considered what they heard then to be gospel -- I could understand why that would not sit too well. But on the other hand, people who had not really heard much of the band's early work are coming to it fresh.
I think, if you start comparing versions, I think those rerecords come out quite favorably. Also, I wanted to tour the Genesis show, and the best way to relearn a number and to teach it to people is to rerecord it; I always find that's the best way. And then it's your part. This is what you should do here, because some of those numbers are extremely complex: It's not "Bye Bye Johnny," and you can't get it in five minutes! It takes for new band members studying this stuff about three months of head-down study. It took me three months to really relearn the stuff in order to be able to go up and do it, a show anywhere approaching two to two and a half hours, with the capability of playing three hours of Genesis stuff. It means we can rotate numbers; we have some license with that.
There were a staggering number of people involved in recording Genesis Revisited II. How did you go about fielding players and guests?
Yeah, it was a long recruiting drive for it. Luckily, most of those people were friends, and many of them I worked with before, so it made it easier. Just choosing people from bands that were influenced by Genesis -- it wasn't hard to find people who had been influenced by the band and people who play and sing wonderfully themselves. Luckily, I think because we're going back a very long way... We are going back how many years is it now? Forty years to 1971, when I first joined in the beginning of that year, so luckily I've had a long time to think about how these numbers perhaps ought to have sounded.
Of course, I'm sympathetic to anyone who thinks for instance what the Beatles did in the 1960s was absolutely gospel, and I'm sympathetic to that few. So I'm happy to take those early versions with all their timing and tuning discrepancies; you know that's a given. But at that time, of course, the Beatles had tremendous manpower on tap to be able to use the world's best orchestras and players, so they made their conscious decisions back then.
Genesis, by comparison, is a band that tended to get smaller and smaller and use other people less and less, with one notable exception I think with the use of Earth, Wind & Fire's brass section. But, you know, I think that's about the only time. That makes for a limited palette with colors, I think. Better to have a wonderful flute player, like my brother -- who Pete was very complimentary about recently, about John [Hackett]. Better to have guys who are specialists in certain fields.
Your playing has very obviously progressed an immense amount over the years, and it shows a great deal on the rerecords.
I'd like to think so, yeah! Just the use of finger vibrato alone isn't something I was able execute properly back in the day. It took me decades to get together whatever it is I do now, on not just electric but on acoustic as well. I didn't start out a finger-style player, and I think that's probably apparent on those early Genesis things, but that's what I ended up doing. I ended up doing a finger style and sweep picking and tapping and all of that. But in those days, I had a limited box of tricks.
Do you feel that the tension and competition between band members was a necessary part of forcing out the greatness found on those early albums, even with the issues you have with the technical execution of it all?
I think so. I think it's not something widely spoken about with the band, but with people starting to open now when they're giving interviews, they tend to be more honest with the odd book being written and the odd film being made about this.
I think some people had a more democratic music view in the band, and others tended to guard it more closely. So when I initially joined up, I assumed I was joining a songwriters' collective -- that was how Pete sold the band to me! But what I found, in reality, it was a competitive band -- a very competitive band! I think we learned a lot from each other over time, and sadly there is no current version of Genesis training the boards, but I would think that the music is the star of the show, which is why it has survived so many reinterpretations from so many acts.
Steve Hackett. 8 p.m. Saturday, April 5, at Parker Playhouse, 707 NE Eighth St., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $50.35 to $177.50. Call 954-462-0222, or visit parkerplayhouse.com.
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