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I’m Still Standing: Guitarist Steve Hackett Forges Ahead with Autobiography, Live Album and More on the Way
Introducing Rock Cellar’s newest column, I’m Still Standing. Each month, we’ll visit with a veteran artist that you may not previously have known is still producing vibrant, new music and pursuing other creative projects, when applicable. We’ll talk about the past, sure, but our focus will be the present — and the future. First up: Steve Hackett.
Best known as guitarist of Genesis from 1971–1977, Steve Hackett was part of the classic five-man Genesis lineup with vocalist Peter Gabriel, keyboardist Tony Banks, bassist Mike Rutherford and drummer Phil Collins.
Hackett is a pioneer of the “tapping” technique on electric guitar: hitting the strings across the fretboard with your fingers rather than using a pick. Hackett premiered the technique on “The Musical Box.” Eddie Van Halen popularized tapping, but admits he learned the technique from watching Hackett.
After recording a number of popular solo albums, Hackett formed GTR in 1985 with former Yes and Asia guitarist Steve Howe. Hackett resumed his solo career in 1987 and has recorded more than 30 albums, exploring genres that include jazz, classical and blues. He was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Genesis in 2010.
Steve Hackett will release 'Selling England By The Pound + Spectral Mornings Live At Hammersmith' on the 25th September. Watch the video for Déjà Vu here: https://t.co/f1GRjGWmqH – Pre-order the album here: https://t.co/CG0YinX4Vt @HackettOfficial pic.twitter.com/BCexeTjQ0s
— InsideOut Music (@insideouteu) August 7, 2020
On Oct. 16, Hackett will release Selling England by the Pound & Spectral Mornings: Live at Hammersmith, a 2-CD and DVD live recording from his 2019 UK tour. The set features Hackett’s favorite Genesis album, Selling England by the Pound, and his favorite solo album, Spectral Mornings, as well as tracks from his At the Edge of Light LP and a selection of Genesis tunes.
It will be available in a variety of formats, available for pre-order now from our Rock Cellar Store:
Rock Cellar: How did the songwriting process in Genesis work?
Steve Hackett: I joined the band on the understanding from Peter Gabriel, who said that as soon as you write a guitar part for something, you become one of the writers with the rest of us. We all take equal share in the writing. That’s how it really functioned with me. Initially when I joined there might have been the occasional song, like “The Musical Box,” which was already written but then I wrote my own guitar part that went with other people’s chords and structures. So that’s how some of that happened.
Other times, of course, I would bring in a song, Tony would bring in a song, each one of us would bring something in. I wasn’t a founding member of the band, which was already a team of songwriters. I wasn’t really allowed to write that much at first. Neither was Phil Collins. But we were the new boys and we started writing things together and presenting them to the band, a kind of alliance.
We were the new boys, laughingly now when you look back and think of the new boys at the school. The new boys are now the very old boys but the main thing is, I’m still coming up with ideas every single day, as I’m sure all the other guys are as well.
Rock Cellar: If there was disagreement about, say, song selection for an album, how would that be resolved?
Steve Hackett: Pete came up with a song that was supposed to be included on Selling England by the Pound, which I thought sounded absolutely beautiful but Tony refused to do it. Just because, he said, you can’t have “Firth of Fifth” and this one on the same album. Personally, I think the album would have been strengthened by having both those songs.
When I recently did the live version of the entire Selling England by the Pound, from start to finish, I included that song in order to give people an idea of the complete Selling England. It’s a song that was started by Pete, finished by me with his blessing many years later, but you hear that song and you get a chance of looking back at something that had something like a 30- or 40-year history from start to finish. It’s actually a beautiful song called “Déjà Vu.”
Rock Cellar: In 1975 you released your first solo album, Voyage of the Acolyte. What was that experience like after performing so many years with groups?
Steve Hackett: It was liberating because I had the group at my disposal. Both Mike Rutherford and Phil Collins had offered their services as rhythm section and they were very quick on the uptake. I was recording at three in the morning, teaching people arrangements, because we were all very young and felt no pain back in those days.
I used to work to the early hours and through the night. And it was a very liberating process for me. Stepping outside the confines of composition by committee to the idea of anything you want, you got it.
I’ve always functioned like that. Since the days of Genesis I’ve realized that if I play for somebody, if they either hire me or want me to do them the favor of playing something, I always say “OK, you’re the boss, I’ll play something. If you like it, you use it. If you don’t like it, you don’t use it.”
Most of the time, 99.999 percent of the time, people are very happy with the things I come up with — happily at home in my own studio in my own time.
Groups, unfortunately, although they come up with great stuff, they’re very competitive with each other and block each other. The downside to all of that is you’ve got many brilliant people working together, perhaps in top groups, but if they function anything like Genesis was, it was an absolute jungle. Pathologically competitive at times, but you’ve got all these gifted people.
Rock Cellar: You were restricted from continuing to record solo albums while a member of Genesis.
Steve Hackett: Yes I was. Mike Rutherford encouraged me to do solo work and at the time he was ostensibly going to do solo work himself. So the zeitgeist within the band was, let’s all go off and do something to let off steam and then come back together. He roundly criticized me for having done the very thing he encouraged me to do. So it’s a bit like running with the hare and with the hound. In retrospect it seems as if there might have been an agenda there.
I figured that Mike was a very gifted guy and didn’t need to be competitive or indeed to nullify anything that I’d done. It’s like setting someone up for a fall, isn’t it? It’s a funny thing.
Rock Cellar: In 2018 you toured with the Heart of England symphony orchestra. How far back do your roots in classical music go?
Steve Hackett: I never learned classical lessons but I always loved classical music. But I never wanted to go through the classical mill. I never wanted to have my hands slapped: “You’re doing this wrong.” I’ve always been my own pupil and teacher because I’ve learned so much from a thousand different guitarists that I’ve watched.
I figure if someone’s making a great noise then they may be exhibiting a technique that I may be able to follow. And I’ve learned so much just by watching. And listening, of course.
I’ve recorded a few Bach pieces in my time and I add my footnote to that because we know that it is the most complex music and the most through-composed stuff that anyone can possibly do. But I also love the blues. There’s baroque, and that’s got to be just so, and then there’s also blues, and it doesn’t have to be just so. It’s gotta be, what do you feel? Torture me with those notes. Show me your pain. That’s what it’s gotta be. But be honest, for God’s sake.
Rock Cellar: Let’s discuss the new live album. Who were the players in your band?
Steve Hackett: The guys in the band are Roger King on keyboard; Rob Townsend on all things blown and extra keyboard, bits of percussion; and Nad Sylvan doing Genesis stuff. There’s also Amanda Lehmann helping out on vocals on some tracks, and there’s my brother on the album as well, John Hackett. And of course in the regular band we have Jonas Reingold on bass and on 12-string and Craig Blundell, who was described as the Keith Moon of progressive music very recently.
It’s a phenomenal album. My band played it, another band wrote it. Doesn’t really matter. It’s basically me does me with all these other people. It’s a great sounding album, it’s wonderfully produced, it was wonderfully played by a team that had been taking this material around the world for a very long time.
Rock Cellar: Spectral Mornings was recorded in 1979 and is part of the album. Why was it chosen?
Steve Hackett: I wanted to do a grand slam show: my favorite Genesis album, my favorite solo album, as chosen by fans and also myself. I felt that I wanted to have all these favorites side by side. And also stuff from At the Edge of Light. So I was introducing the new stuff, introducing the old stuff. Second half, introducing the whole of Selling England plus “Déjà Vu” to make it complete and a couple of other Genesis classics thrown in such as “Dance on a Volcano” and “Los Endos” from the four-piece Genesis that existed in 1976.
It’s just an amazing collection of songs played by an extraordinary band, virtuosos, some of whom grew up listening to this stuff. So they knew it probably better than I did.
And some of this stuff takes three months just to teach yourself again what you did. The progressive timing of something like “The Battle of Epping Forest,” it takes a long time. It took our singer three months to get that together and took me a bloody long time to remember what I was doing back in ’73 when John Lennon gave an interview and said Genesis was one of the bands that he was listening to.
I heard it just as we were leaving New York about to head for LA. Peter Gabriel told me John Lennon had just given an interview on WNEW and said Genesis is one of the bands that he’s currently listening to. That was totally thrilling. We were barely able to get a gig and you have at the same time suddenly, wow, that was a big deal. I don’t know if there’s anything that quite thrills me in the same degree. Being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, having had hit singles with odd things — you can’t buy that.
Rock Cellar: How do the live performances differ from the original recordings?
Steve Hackett: I’m staying true to the original recordings except when we went into out-and-out jams. At the end of “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight” we went into a section which we used to call “Disney.” And it’s a very slow jam that was never the same twice. And my band does their own version of that. It’s very, very quiet and very restrained.
Rock Cellar: In July you released your autobiography, A Genesis in My Bed. Did you contact any of the band to confirm the stories or did you trust your memory?
Steve Hackett: No, I was checking memory, I was checking dates. But I did send a copy off to some of the guys who I think might be interested in my take on events. I figured that I come not to bury Caesar but to praise him. To celebrate Genesis and all of their individual skills — and I hope that they will individually all get to return to the same place and know it for the first time. That may take some time for some of them. But I think that it was a phenomenally gifted team.
Rock Cellar: What’s one thing that will surprise readers?
Steve Hackett: I think that all of it is surprising if you just think in terms of the existing story. You know, on his headstone it might say, “He played with Genesis, he came up with tapping, and then he fell over.” All of what’s in between, what’s in the making of me and therefore in the making of Genesis during that period, is paraded in all its, well, not necessarily in its glory. Lots and lots of mistakes.
I wanted to humanize and to de-mythologize. I treated it as a kind of confessional. I realized that we’re all interlinked. None of us really exist on our own.
Rock Cellar: You’ve said there is an acoustic album out soon and you’re working on a rock album. What can you tell us about them?
Steve Hackett: There’s an acoustic album, I was going to have an orchestra on this and then Roger King started doing samples, but sometimes we need real players to bring this to life.
It’s one of the best-sounding orchestras I’ve ever worked with. But it’s a small team that was going to be a large team. I think if I’d hired the Berlin Philharmonic, if I’d been able to afford them, I don’t think it would have sounded any better than what I have. I can’t believe that I’ve come up with these musical doodles of ideas and Roger has fleshed them out to such a degree that it’s absolutely extraordinary.
I’m probably not even officially allowed to talk about this, the title of this album, but I’ll tell you what it is: it’s called Under a Mediterranean Sky. And that probably won’t be out until January. So a thousand prog bands will come out with that title between here and now if you let this go viral but hey, what the hell.
Over and above that, I’ve started work on a rock album, it’s about halfway through. It’s very much rock but world music in its fullest sense. It’s not just a few guys sitting on the edge of paradise with their nose flutes, what have you. It’s rock stuff in the broadest sense of the word. I want to be able to take people to places that they’re not able to visit right now. It’s got an influence of Tibet, it’s got the Orient, it has Samarkand, it has many things, many instruments.
Rock Cellar: Is that from your travels or from listening to all these sources?
Steve Hackett: Partly from travels and partly from listening to things. Partly things that I’ve amassed along the way in a kind of Alan Lomax-sort of manner of doing things. It’s a big, wide world out there and there’s some extraordinary stuff that’s just on the edge of the privileged world vs. the 80 million displaced people due to war, due to so many things. People are living in camps, those who haven’t got a pot to piss in and all the rest.
And I’m hugely aware that I lead an extraordinarily privileged life. It’s an extraordinary time. We’ve got to try and redress the balance between those who are living merely under canvas and those who are living under brick. I just invest in the idea that the world of spirit will be able to handle what the world of humans couldn’t really fix.