Prog rock legend/guitar virtuoso Steve Hackett needs no introduction.
OK, maybe he does. While Mr. Hackett, long one of rock's most innovative, versatile (if underrated) guitarists, played an integral role in the early/middle years of the legendary prog/art/pop band Genesis, providing a beautiful array of guitar parts (of both electric and classical nature)—subtle, nuanced, always under control. Unlike many of his prog peers, he avoids the ever-present urge to show off, instead choosing his shimmering, effects-drenched notes wisely. His most powerful moments (look no further than his haunting, melodic solo during 1973's "Firth of Fifth) serve as highlights in the band's vast, sprawling discography, but his contributions have been largely overshadowed in the critical rear view since his 1977 departure (This is a band, after all, that included future megastars Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins).
But I shouldn't dwell on Genesis. After departing from the band during the mixing process of their live masterwork Seconds Out
, he started a productive and equally creative solo career, one that has actually endured to the present day, unlike many of his fellow guitar virtuosos. And maybe that's the point, after all—Hackett, despite his clearly elite abilities on his instrument (most perfectly exemplified by his classical playing), is more than just a guitar man—he's a songwriter
. While his solo albums haven't brought him as much fame, notoriety, or chart success as his work with Genesis, there is quite a catalog to dig through, if you're fortunate enough to run across one of his albums.
Hackett's been especially busy lately: Besides his induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Genesis (Finally, prog rock gets some Hall of Fame love!), he's released two albums within the last year-and-a-half (2009's full-length Out of the Tunnel's Mouth
and the 2010 live album Live Rails
recently had the chance to catch up with Hackett, touching on his recent projects, his inspirations, and the inevitable Genesis questions...I'm very impressed by Live Rails and how faithfully you were able to recreate the dense atmospheres of your work in a live setting. Do you ever feel like you've actually improved a song on-stage?
I feel the extended version of "Sleepers" benefits from having performed it live. It helped the arrangement and the sounds.Tell me about re-creating the old Genesis tracks for live performances. Do you simply do it for the fans, or do you still get the shivers (like I do) on the "Firth of Fifth" solo?
I still get moved by the same moments I always did. Genesis music has a power that stays with you.Out of the Tunnel's Mouth, your most recent studio album, is a spectacular, and very eclectic, piece of work. Could you talk a little bit about the eclecticism of the album, and about how these songs came to exist?
The songs run the gamut of styles and emotions, including rock, classical and flamenco, which might seem like opposite styles but when combined create create a whole new picture. Some tracks such as "Fire on the Moon" come very much from personal feelings, whilst others like "Nomads" were inspired by a fascination with the romance of gypsies, and like last "Train to Istanbul", "Nomads" was also inspired by the exotic nature of a foreign place. "Sleepers" was actually inspired by dreams I have had. A piece like "Tubehead" is cathartic - like having a good rant on the guitar!There are a lot of notable guest players on Out of the Tunnel's Mouth, including Yes bassist Chris Squire, your brother John on flute, and former Genesis guitarist Anthony Phillips. What's it like working with such a star-studded cast of players? It certainly seems like your most high-profile group of collaborators yet...
All these people are friends, and it makes for a very easy going working atmosphere, especially as they are all so talented.You're obviously a very versatile guitarist, with your work in classical, prog, and pop. I'm sure you immensely enjoy playing all of those styles, but if you had to isolate one style that you would play for the rest of your life, what would it be, and what specific instrument would you choose?
I really can't choose. It's the amalgam of styles that creates the breadth and magic of the work.Most fans don't think of you as a vocalist. Tell me a little bit about your vocal development throughout the years: in terms of ability, style, and confidence.
Listeners that approach via the Genesis catalogue will think of me as an instrumentalist, although in recent times, people have been more complimentary about my vocals. During the last few years, I have put energy into developing my vocal skills. I also like to use a lot of harmonies, and my band are very good at this.When Genesis were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, it was pretty huge news, especially since progressive rock is a genre often frowned upon by music critics. What do you think of the honor, and why do you think prog has such a bad reputation?
I don't think prog has a bad reputation these days - it seems to be undergoing a revival, as people are less afraid to experiment. I found the event to be hugely emotional and I felt incredibly honored to be in such outstanding company as all the artists who were being celebrated that night.As a diehard Genesis fan, I originally stumbled upon your solo work while filing through used record bins. It got me thinking about the length of your career, spanning the vinyl age and the digital age. Are you still a "vinyl guy"? And do you think anything has been lost in the transition to the ProTools age of recording?
I don't feel as though anything has been lost personally. I still release albums on vinyl as well as CD and download to keep everyone happy. It was great to hold vinyl in your hand and to pin the album cover to the wall like a flag - it was instant art. Although recordings today are of a cleaner quality, vinyl had the advantage of compression and distortion which gave the music a certain power. Roger King and I sometimes like to re-create that power, but under more controlled circumstances.I know you probably get this question on a daily basis (and that it must get annoying), but being such an enormous fan, I have to ask it: With Phil Collins' recent injuries and with the busy schedules of all involved parties, do you honestly see any chance in a Genesis reunion? How about reuniting without Peter Gabriel (with Phil Collins on vocals)? Would you have any interest in a partial reunion?
My door is always open, particularly to much loved old friends, but it's also up to them.Do you have any major regrets in your music career?
No, I'm proud of all of it, warts and all! Even the mistakes you learn by.What are some current bands/guitarists that inspire you, both prog and otherwise?
I like Muse, Porcupine Tree and also Joe Bonamassa, to mention but a few!What projects are you currently working on, and when should fans expect a new album?
I'm currently working on a new album, which I hope will be released somewhere around the middle of this year.