Interview By Robert Cavuoto
Guitar virtuoso and rock legend, Steve Hackett formerly of Genesis will be releasing his latest CD; The Night Siren on March 24th, 2017.
The Night Siren is a diverse multi-cultural CD with people, instruments, and musical influences from around the globe. It is intertwined with a message of peace that we can apply to our lives – which we as humans need to treat each other well in order to break this era of strife and division.
Also starting from February until March, Steve will be on a 13 date tour of North America for his Genesis Revisited with Classic Hackett.
I caught up with Steve to discuss his new CD, the tour, and of course his guitar genius.
Robert Cavuoto: Your new CD, The Night Siren, has an interesting concept behind it and brings different cultural styles of music and instruments?
Steve Hackett: We found that we have been making friends all around the globe. Along the way, we befriended two people; Kobi and Mira, one from Israel and other from Palestine who worked together in a band called Orphaned Land. I thought it was prime time to say that it is possible for people from Israel and Palestine to work together and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with people from England, US, Holland, and Iceland. I’m thrilled to put together something that is multi-cultural diverse. We have a Peruvian inspired track called “Inca Terra” and an Iceland inspired track called “Fifty Miles from the North Pole.” It’s wonderful to work with so many skilled players around the globe and their influences. America is hugely important in influencing the whole music scene here in England; it seems as if rocks roots are now extending far beyond their own foliage.
Robert Cavuoto: What really impressed me about the CD was how you took all these exotic instruments and musical flavors to make them sound cohesive on the CD.
Steve Hackett: I think it was an organic process as you visit places and acquire instruments. I found that I had to put them on the back burner and say, “I might not be able to use this instrument this time put perhaps next time.” I also recorded people’s performance over time and I found that I can utilize them when the time is right. It’s like a giant jigsaw puzzle. Something that came from the Hungarian sessions for my last CD Wolflight; I’m only now using on this CD. Or like when we were doing a show in Iceland with Jon Anderson who was performing these marvelous arrangements of Yes songs just 50 miles from the North Pole. We were influenced by the dramatic landscapes and turned it into a song “Fifty Miles from the North Pole.” I recall a friend saying, “I’ve seen birds flying backward and waterfalls flying upwards that’s the power of the wind out there.” I thought I can actually use that line in the song.
Robert Cavuoto: My favorite track is “Anything But Love” with the Flamingo guitar; can you share some insight into its creation?
Steve Hackett: At the time, I think I was spending a lot of time playing a nylon guitar and came to the conclusion after watching Gypsy’s play that they were the finest rhythm guitar players in the world. They were able to do complex rhythms by creating beats on the body of the guitar. I thought that I would love to do some of that. I changed the tuning on the 2nd string down as you can still play regular chords but it starts to sound more Arabic and Flamenco -ish. I tend to play the nylon guitar more gently when doing classical pieces but this time I thought to use it as a percussion instrument as I’m really hammering the strings making them snap. Even when the electric guitar comes in, the nylon guitar is still there. It’s the contrast between the electric and nylon guitars as you couldn’t get two worlds apart but luckily it works “have fingers can fly” [laughing]
Robert Cavuoto: Is there a lot of improvisation when recording or is everything diligently planned out?
Steve Hackett: It’s a funny thing you should ask that particularly on the Flamingo track we were just talking about. I started it not with song and not with the Flamingo part but with a guitar solo that you might have done in 1967 with a lot of feedback. It’s a bit like baking a cake, sometimes you can get very tired of baking the cake and forget what it’s really all about; the icing. So I went into it from that perceptive trying to play a solo and capture some of that free spirit of playing. There were so many people that were good at that in the 1960s. I still live in the 60s as there were so many guitar heroes like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Harvey Mandel, and Jeff Beck.
Robert Cavuoto: The CD is beautifully layered with guitar tone, do you spend a lot of time on a quest for tone and how much of your tone comes from touch?
Steve Hackett: Tone can come from touch. You either play with your fingers or a plectrum as there are so many ways to do it. You can thrash it or caress it. I recently acquired two guitars owned by the late great Gary Moore. I just started working with those. One of them has a sustainer pick and you can get feedback but there is no tyranny of volume. You can hold a conversation over the top and I’m able to get great tone. I’m so grateful that guitar manufacturers started to make the kind of guitar that I had been dreaming about 20-30 years ago. I had to wait decades for technology to catch up with my dreams. It’s a wonderful world of guitars we are in right now.
Robert Cavuoto: Do you feel this CD is your most ambitious album yet?
Steve Hackett: I think this is the most ambitious work but it really depends on your definition of ambition. It’s first about pleasing yourself and then to have hopes that people will get it on some level. To enjoy it on a musical level with the player’s dexterity, or on the vocal styles, or perhaps on the message about peace with the lyrics. Happiness seems to echo with people.
Robert Cavuoto: You’re an amazingly talented guitarist tell me how your playing has evolved over the last 40 years?
Steve Hackett: I think I have lost a little strength these days. I had an accident and my left hand is weaker than my right. I use light gauge stings whether on the nylon or electric guitar. I got tired of dropping plectrums so I’m back using my fingernails which make a difference in the sound. But really the most important equipment you can have is your brain, the visual brain really. The human brain is the recording studio; to dream it first and then record it.
Robert Cavuoto: Regarding your practice regime, how much will you practice before a going out on your tour for Genesis Revisited with Classic Hackett? Do you carry the guitar around the house 24/7?
Steve Hackett: I’m afraid at the moment I am walking around with guitar all the time. I’m putting in an extraordinary amount of hours in order to deliver live what we have managed on the record. I don’t think I have rehearsed this hard for any tour. I’m actually neurotic until I get it right, then I’ll know I’ll be able to relax and evoke the best of me live. I do have to practice hard as it doesn’t just come to me. It doesn’t grow on tree though I wish it did. I wish I can hand it off to someone to do for me! [laughing] Guitarists are all mad I tell you, you have to be mad to play guitar! [laughing]
Robert Cavuoto: How long before you are comfortable playing live on tour to get into that zone?
Steve Hackett: The Genesis formula was 3 or 4 shows. There have been times in my life when it has been shorter and times it could be a month or two. There is nothing like getting it right. After that, you can rely on spontaneity. There is something to say about getting it down and honed so that not only the band functions as one but the lights function properly and the live sound is perfect. All of those nuances have to come together so you are better than the school band in the garage and ready for world domination [laughing]