Some artists seem set on an inexorable quest for new musical idioms and fusions. That’s certainly the case with former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett, who continues to expand his musical palette with new forays into world music and exotic instruments on his recent album At the Edge of Light.
The album is suffused with key socio-political references. Perhaps one of the best illustrations of this element can be found on the moving cut “Underground Railroad,” which mixes gospel and blues.
Hackett was partly inspired to write the song by information gleaned on trips to Wilmington, North Carolina, (where he read an article about Harriet Tubman, the Underground Railroad’s conductor,) and to the Slavery Museum in Liverpool. The new album’s spaciousness is amplified by an offering of four “editions;” a CD, CD/DVD Mediabook, 2 LP Black Vinyl, and a limited edition 2 LP Numbered Vortex Vinyl.
Hackett’s musical journey on the album is supported by extensive collaborations with musicians from all corners of the world, including Iceland, India, and Sweden, as well as family members. He melds his trademark melodic gifts with disparate atmospheric sounds, including more offbeat world music sounds, and harnesses them like a balm and healing spirit in a troubled world.
(For more with Hackett, revisit our RockCellarTV interview at this link).
At the same time, Hackett’s current tour encompasses some of Hackett’s seminal earlier work. In that vein, he’s performing Genesis’ iconic album Selling England by the Pound in its entirety and most of the songs on his solo album Spectral Mornings in their entirety.
Ultimately, At the Edge of the Light plumbs music and culture at a deeper level.
Rock Cellar: The title of your new album is very intriguing, especially considering world conditions. What prompted you to decide on the title?
Steve Hackett: Well, the title does reflect my view on the state of the world. I’m cautiously optimistic about the future. One has to be optimistic. I believe intelligence and fellowship will win over. Instead of focusing almost exclusively on local issues, I feel people will increasingly connect to a bigger, wider world. Ultimately, better communication will solve the problems of the future.
Rock Cellar: You assembled quite a diverse, eclectic group of musicians on the new album. How did you manage to gather together all these musicians, and how has that helped expand your music?
Steve Hackett: Well, I’ve done a lot of travelling to places not found on the typical gig map, and have come back with new musical ideas and friendships. As you said, the range of musicians on the album is very eclectic. Many of the new musicians on the album were recommended by other musicians. For example, a Hungarian musician suggested Malik Mansurov to play tar.
We were also fortunate to have Sheema, an Indian musician, play sitar on the album. Her style is like a combination of Ravi Shankar and John McLaughlin. We had the gifted McBroom sisters (Durga and Lorelei) singing on “Underground Railroad,” which was searing and very authentic.
I played dobro and harmonica on that song. By exploring different music genres, I’m expanding my musical glossary far beyond rock and roll. I like to use a lot of different instruments, and this album gave me a greater opportunity to utilize more diverse and distinctive instruments.
Rock Cellar: Both your wife and brother were closely involved with the creation of the new album. How do you approach collaborations with them?
Steve Hackett: Essentially, all records are the product of a team. In general, I like to work with at least one other person. Once I begin to shape a song, I like to have another person offer perhaps a different angle on the songs. For example, my wife Jo, who was trained as a violinist, typically comes up with musical top lines. She likes to incorporate variations in songs, in contrast to many musicians, who love to groove and repeat musical passages. I’ve worked with my brother John for many years, and have appeared often on his albums, especially those done with Nick Magnus. We’re all in the same band, and help each other.
Rock Cellar: The song “Under the Eye of the Sun” seems to be reminiscent of early Genesis and Yes in parts. Is that inevitable considering your background?
Steve Hackett: Sure. There was a lot of cross-pollination between the music of Genesis and Yes. I did an album with Chris Squire, and Steve Howe and I worked together in the band GTR. Phil Collins was a huge Yes fan. We had many of the same influences. For example, Chris Squire, Tony Banks and I all liked classical music.
Actually, I was asked to join Yes at one point, but I decided they were already set with great guitarists, and wanted to pursue my own projects.
Genesis and Yes were and are obviously a major part of the progressive rock wave.
Rock Cellar: Why do you think Selling England by the Pound has held up so well after such a long time?
Steve Hackett: Actually, it’s a lot of people’s favorite Genesis album, including myself (NOTE: Including this article’s author). It’s quirky, eccentric, and quintessentially British. It hangs together well, and is very different from that of other bands at the time. I’m actually doing a track on this tour that was originally earmarked for the album called “Déjà Vu.” Peter Gabriel came up with the original idea for the song, and gave it to me to complete.
Rock Cellar: A “behind the scenes” documentary has been released in connection with the new album. Could you describe the approach taken by the documentary? How will it reveal perhaps different aspects of the creation of the new album?
Steve Hackett: The documentary has been released as part of the DVD accompanying the record, and gives a more in-depth perspective on the making of the album, including solos played by the musicians and the singing of Durga and Lorelei on “Underground Railroad.” The documentary is very relaxed and natural. I’d call it a mini-movie for the ears. It gives the listener a real sense of being present at the album’s recording.
Rock Cellar: Are there yet any chances of a Genesis reunion?
Steve Hackett: I think it’s very unlikely. It’s been discussed by the band, but nobody has committed to it. In the meantime, I’ve tried to do the best versions of Genesis material I can, free of politics.