Steve Hackett: "There's Just Not Enough Serious Music Out There"
We recently posted part one of our interview with prog legend Steve Hackett, guitarist for the Peter Gabriel-fronted iteration of Genesis. He's performing the band's early works this week as part of his Genesis Revisited show at Parker Playhouse Saturday, April 5.
Read part one here" "Steve Hackett Calls Genesis 'a Very Competitive Band'."
New Times: You mentioned being in contact with Peter. The last interview I found that mentioned feedback from your former bandmates about the Revisited project was a few years old. Have any of them given you anything recently?
Steve Hackett: No, absolutely not. Genesis doesn't work that way. I think the guys in the band don't want to be seen endorsing or criticizing it. I think for them, it's a no-win political situation, so "no comment" is the favored stance that they take. So, you know, if they think something is great but they weren't part of it, there'll be one reaction, which is "no comment." If they thought it was absolutely dreadful, it would still be "no comment."
I'm always trying to explain this to people because I don't think people get the mindset of a bunch of guys who were so competitive, but that's how they feel about it. You can call it a repressed Englishness or reserve or call it steely politics -- that's how it is. And everyone else in the world finds it strange that there would be no public reaction to what I've done. That's just the way the band operates, you know?
I think people operate on the assumption that there is still a friendship there, being that you are all open about remaining in contact.
Oh! There's still a friendship. But I think an unwillingness to be drawn on the work, especially when it comes to reinterpreting the band's work. I've gotten used to that. It's just the way life is. It's almost like the way the Chinese think; it's pretty inscrutable. Or, you know, Vulcan philosophy if you will, if you're a Trekkie.
Have there been any changes on the front of a reunion at this point, or does it remain completely improbable?
Well, I haven't heard anything recently. There doesn't seem to be a move amongst anybody to represent the obvious thing. I've always let be known, perfectly and publicly, that I was up for it, if it were on our terms. But if that's not on our front, I would certainly work with the music. And for the rest of this year, that's what I'll be doing. It'll be my second year of touring Genesis music. So I'm putting aside all other solo work considerations until the end of this year -- although I'm working on another album of my own original material. But I don't think I'll be presenting that to the public until the following year.
You've put out a staggering amount of music over the last couple of years. How do you remain so inspired this deep into your career?
Well, I don't know what it is that really motivates someone. I was thinking about this today, but I've come across a lot of really great musicians, and before I turned professional -- many years ago -- I would often come across guys who were really great guitarists, for instance. Guys who were technically way ahead of me, and I would form a band with them, which might last one or two rehearsals and we'd break up and they'd go to whatever else was the main job for them.
I guess it's just one of those things. I think at the end of the day, people who stay in music do it because the music is really important to them, over and above any commercial consideration or financial gain. There are some people who do it because they love music. And I'm always thinking about what I'm going to do next. What am I going to do next? What kind of music? Where are we going to take it from? Is it going to be from the West? Is it going to be something like world music? Is it going to have a world fusion vibe? How much do you take from jazz? How much do you take from blues, from pop? Soul. You name it! Country! Who am I going to sound like as a singer? It's endless, isn't it?
Some more 12-string work would be nice on the next album, when I get around to it, because 12-string is so undeniably beautiful. But then again, so is nylon guitar! Then so is electric! So there are more than enough things to do. If I can just shadowbox with myself -- outthink myself, the next move -- or just answer inspiration as it strikes at any one point in time and don't worry about it being original but worry about being authentically felt.
I think you can run things like equations: You can say "Ah, this equation has not been performed before" and do it as an intellectual pursuit and stick an unlikely combination of time signatures and notes together; that's one approach. Or, it's a case of "Yeah, I think I've heard this sort of thing before -- it's like a comfortable old pair of shoes." But maybe it will be slightly different -- I'll polish it slightly different, you know?
The tambour of it might be slightly different -- you haven't seen quite that color of leather before. If I feel it, I'll definitely go for the nice pair of brogues, if you know what I mean. Other times I'll think, "Well, to hell with it!" I just want to do something that sounds like it's from the end of the peel and it's just old musical stuff. So somewhere in the middle, somewhere in between jazz fusion and all of these other things, drawing from everywhere and everything, somewhere in the middle is this sort of pantomime that we're all heading towards, if we can get it right.
It's a very clinical, very prog approach.
I guess so, yeah! I guess it would be very clinical, yeah! But, you know, we'll try it, and maybe it'll sound like shit, but on the other hand, it might be really, really odd and set up some odd rhythm and do something really spooky, which I'd be most interested in. There's just not enough serious music out there -- that's the problem!
Are there any young guitar players or new music you find exciting at the moment?
I'll tell you who I like very much who I saw in recent years a couple of times live and got to talk with him backstage once or twice. American guy, Joe Bonamassa. I really like his blues style, got great technique, but there's a great energy about his stuff, I think. And I find myself thinking this is a little bit like when I listen to Segovia; if I'm not sure what the nylon guitar should do, I'll watch this video I've got of Segovia, and straight away, about two or three minutes pass and I've got to pick up the guitar myself. And it's the same if I hear Joe and I think, "Ah yes, I can do some of that too." And it sort of renews your commitment to the medium.
Sometimes just a good overdrive sound will do it for me. Something sort of a sort of brassy overdrive, and I'll be really happy to do that. Guitars are still great instruments. But I love harmonica too. I was a harmonica player many years before I became a guitarist, so every now and again, that comes out of the shed, you know?
I have read you say previously that it's not the kit but what you do with it, but are you using any new gear that you have found inspiring or motivating?
Well, yeah. I had been using Fernandez guitars in recent years for the sustainer quality, but also because it helps to bring out the upper harmonic, particularly on the second string -- if you hit it very lightly. That's been interesting. In terms of overdrive, I've been using mainly a Sansamp 150 and a Line 6 yellow box, and sometimes I combine the two so I'm getting a feed from both of them.
Also, I've got a pedal that was built for me by a guy in England. I wanted to get a treble booster from him, and this guy, Pete Cornish, who does custom-made things, did this one for me. Problem is, I don't have a replacement for it and he couldn't remember what he put in it. So he said "Send it to me," but I was unwilling to do that; I'm going to have to take it to him physically at one point and he'll open the thing up and find out what he put inside it. It's very good! It's a great treble booster, a real shredder of a thing! Some people have said they don't think it's actually a treble booster; it seems to do something else. It sounds like when you put this into line it suddenly sounds like you've brought another amplifier into the equation and it scrunches everything up and makes it more powerful, and it's a brilliant device. I absolutely love it!
Isn't it funny how far we can progress technologically in the equipment world, yet still find such inspiration in equipment that has been essentially the same in design since the mid-'60s?
Funny, that! I think so. And I've got a Les Paul which sometimes comes out because there will be times when I just cannot get the sound I'm after except with that. It really is quite lovely.
I sometimes think that I don't understand amplifiers enough. I tend to use things in a computer these days when I'm recording and record quietly so I'm not subject to the tyranny of the volume, because I think it can get in the way of hearing sounds, so I often do that these days. I'm always trying to do things with computers that people would normally need use real amps for. So, like you said, it's a great time for technology.
Who do you feel was the first progressive player as we know it today? Who really turned you on in the early days?
I was always amazed whenever I saw an electric guitarist doing anything using the fingers. That was enough to convince me that he could really play. That was then, of course, and the goal post has shifted. I think, in a way, when I look back as far as the Beatles, obviously what they were doing as guitarists -- and let's face it, there were three of them in that band -- the fact that they were coming up with the blueprint for music that was... How can I put it? The idea of the musical continuum, the idea of work that functioned a bit like film, except for the ear instead of the eye, storytelling.
It goes beyond the notes and it goes beyond the instrument, but the fact that George Harrison had the foresight to include other players like Ravi Shankar. I find it very interesting, and I think full credit really had to go to him, because I can't think of another band that were both more commercial and as broad-based as the Beatles. In many ways, the rest of us all have managed to swing it for ourselves on the coattails of those guys: They showed it was possible to earn a living in music and not just be around for one or two years. It was the end of the idea of the quick flash in the pan. I think that invitation to the rest of the world was important and opening yourself up to masses of influences from many different places.
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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