Steve Hackett: The Progarchy Interview

Yesterday I had the immense pleasure and privilege of talking by phone with Steve Hackett as he prepares for his 2018 Tour de Force.  Over the course of 30 minutes, Steve was genial, gracious and forthcoming.  He talked about life on a prog rock cruise, his busy agenda for this year, the musicians he works with, his take on where progressive music might be heading, and much more.  Steve’s words (slightly edited for clarity and organized by topic) follow!

About this year’s Cruise to the Edge:

“Absolutely marvelous.  I think this was our fourth Cruise, as was the case for many of the acts, and I think everyone said this time they felt that it was the best of the lot, because so many people knew each other, familiar faces.  They have a boatload of about 3,000 people.  In the end, when you’ve done this thing before, people just keep coming back, and saying, ‘Oh, hi, Steve.’ ‘Hi, Fred.’ All that is just wonderful, it’s mind-boggling, it’s like a sort of brotherhood on the briny, on the high seas.  It’s wonderful that these cruises have become such a success.   I get to hook up with all sorts of extraordinary pals, such as the guys from Marillion and all the Yes guys, of course, and Martin Barre of Jethro Tull, and so many.  So there’s a great camaraderie amongst everybody, so we all got time to hang out together, see each other’s shows, and it’s become a great tradition.”

ctte kerzner hackett

About sitting in and collaborations:

“I sat in with Dave Kerzner on the Cruise, I’ve played on a couple of albums of his.  In a way, I think there’s this thing about helping each other out, as I say, this brotherhood feeling.  And he’s tremendously hard working, he’s done so many things recently, and it’s great.  He often says, ‘Ooh, I’ve got such and such, do you feel like using that?’ in his studio.  Between all of us, we’ve got a ton of contacts and we help each other.  It’s a great time in rock & roll, it’s very much everyone’s feeding everyone else, it’s really very good.”

“We played a version of this thing called ‘Stranded,’ which was on his first album.  It was a poolside thing where we did that at night, but it really took off.  I’m hoping we see a film of it at some point.”  [Here’s Steve’s solo from the end of ‘Stranded,” as played on Cruise to the Edge 2018.  Thanks to Dave Kerzner, guitarist extraordinaire Fernando Perdomo, and Fernando’s friend Cyndi for supplying the video!]

 

“I think perhaps it’s a case of having been in the industry for a certain amount of time, where the people remember me via Genesis or GTR or solo stuff, or whatever it happens to be.  Over and above that, I’ve worked with a tremendous amount of artists, showing up, doing the solos.  Not always guitar – sometimes it’s harmonica or other strange things that I get asked to do, and if I can fit it into the schedule, I like doing it.  I’ve worked with all sorts of artists.  It hasn’t always been rock; sometimes it’s been other stuff – Evelyn Glennie, which is avant-garde stuff, a Hungarian band called Djabe.  I do stuff with them and meet musicians all over the world.”

About the 2018 tour:

“We’re in the middle of a North & South American tour now, having done the Cruise.  We’ll be doing Japan later on, and then the UK later in the year with orchestra.  But meanwhile, on the road, we’ll be doing solo stuff, GTR stuff, Genesis stuff – some of the Genesis epics I’ve brought back into the set like ‘Supper’s Ready’ and ‘One for the Vine’ and many others.”

“Meanwhile there’s a great band on the road that sounds heavily symphonic in the first place – doing spectacular versions of not just the early classic Genesis stuff, but way beyond that.  So it’s all a challenge for them and for me, but we love doing it in front of audiences.  It’s very detailed stuff, extremely pan-genre, many styles.  It really is an extraordinary team that I’m working with at the moment.  So the planets seem to be aligned wonderfully just at this point in time, and long may it continue!”

 

About Jonas Reingold, who plays bass on the current tour:

“I tell you who recommended him was [singer for the Genesis Revisited material] Nad Sylvan.  And I thought that, having seen him on video, he’s absolutely tremendous.  We met up with him – he’s a legend, not just as a player, but also as a sportsman and various other things.  So he’s quite the all-rounder; he’s something else.  Very interesting to work with Jonas Reingold.  And of course, he’s not the only Swede in the band – Nad Sylvan is Swedish-American.  So I gather that Jonas is one of your favorites already [at Progarchy], so that’s great!”

“He is very cool, and I’ve stood there while he plays Bach on the bass, and also playing jazz stuff, furious and fast.  So he’s like a cross between Jaco Pastorius at peak and Chris Squire at peak as well.  He’s able to do both – he can thunder, but he can also fly on the thing.  Very driven character, very interesting, very different from anybody else I’ve worked with – but he fits in very, very well.  Marvelous time.”

 

About the upcoming UK tour with orchestra:

“When we were in Buffalo a while back, actually we were playing at a place called North Tonawanda, a lovely theatre, and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra approached me in the shape of the conductor, Brad Thachuk, and he said, ‘Would you like to do a show with our orchestra?’  People often flippantly suggest things which don’t come off, but he stayed in touch, and a year or so later, we were able to do a sold-out show in Buffalo with the Philharmonic and with my full electric band.  And it basically raised the roof!  They wanted to do a Genesis-orientated show.  We already had some charts that were in existence from having worked with another band in Iceland called Todmobile, who’d worked with Jon Anderson, and I did some shows with them, where they came up with tremendous orchestral arrangements of Genesis tunes.  They did it with unbelievable panache, and I found out that the charts worked equally well for the Buffalo guys.  So we have a relationship now with Brad and his brother Steve Thacuk.  They also did charts of some of my stuff, which we included, and that’s starting to grow.”

“Tickets went on sale in the UK for this, and sold out basically first day, so there [may] be added dates for that.  So it might be a great new future … If we make it a success in the UK, who knows where we can take it after that?  I’ve been approached to [do] this in different places where we haven’t played before like Hawaii, to do something orchestral, and who knows?  It might happen!”

 

About playing with orchestras:

“When it works, it can be absolutely tremendous.  I’ve always thought that when rock and roll grew up, it was gonna start doing what the Beatles used to do practically every other album, you know what I’m saying?  The challenge of that has been there; there have been bands that have worked wonderfully with orchestras, such as Procol Harum.  And when I did the first Genesis Revisited album, I made sure that the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was on it.  So we were able to take music that was at times symphonic in spirit and do enlargements of those things – the lushness of textures that I think orchestras bring to it.  You still have the edge of modern keyboards and guitars and drums doing all of those explosive things.  Techniques improve over time, technology is different, and experience shows you that those years of classic stuff – its day is not done by any means.  It’s wonderful to have all of that, to give it the full works, the gala evening, the full treatment.”

“Again, it has that feeling of perhaps doing enlargements of songs that people have known.  That’s what excites me these days.  Orchestras I’ve always loved, of course; I’ve always loved classical music – I think, since I heard Tchaikovsky as a kid, when I first heard the B Flat Piano Concerto.  And then the first album I ever bought was Ravel’s Bolero, and I’ve noticed that people who love rock like that because they love the power of that.  And again, it’s crossover music, isn’t it?”

 

About the coming together of musical styles:

“In a way films have become the forum for new orchestral works really, because that’s where the investment comes from.  So yes, I think the future is that the walls, or the separate schools, collide in a very good way, I think, with rock and pop and classical and orchestras.  And I think that so much of what I was involved with in the past and continues on …  is that there’s a kind of music, a style of music, that involves so many different twists and turns.  But at the end of the day, it’s a kind of film in one sense for the ear rather than the eye.  So I think it will support, literally, images, but at the same time the music itself conjures images.  I think that’s quite a lot of the appeal of the kind of stuff that I heard in the early days and what we got into with Genesis and many other bands that were like-minded, that had so many broad-based influences.”

“Program music in the classical sense of the word is the same as progressive music in rock.  And of course the term goes right back to Edward Elgar and Richard Strauss talking about [Elgar’s] early work as ‘progressive’ from the early 1900s.  So we’re talking about a genre that’s been around for nearly 120 years or so.  As has jazz been around in some form for a massively long period of time.  So these forms don’t go away; they develop and diversify, and there’s an evolution that accompanies that.  And I want these early songs that I was involved with in Genesis to continue to evolve, and to be interpreted in different ways.  Perhaps take that legacy on, to be able to bring another rabbit out of the hat.”

“So what we’ve got to do is break down all these genres.  And if I didn’t say it earlier, the lovely thing about music is that it knows no boundaries.  There are no walls, there are no countries, there are only collaborations.  It’s something that music can do that the politics seems to be unable to do – to take everyone in and [validate] whatever the world can do at its best.  Let’s celebrate the best in each other’s cultures.  Let’s not exclude people on the basis of race or religion.  It seems that music is the great big healer for all the world’s troubles.  It’s a case of everyone getting a chance to share in each other’s language without words at times.  It’s the language of heaven, if I can be poetic for a moment.”

“The music of Bach has been a huge influence.  From Bach to blues and beyond is always been something that’s galvanized me.  And I love the fact that his marvelous work is still being celebrated.”

 

About the creative process and inspiration:

“My wife and I, we travel the world, we make friends everywhere, and that in a way informs the work.  Just talking to friends and working with them.  Such as one guy from Israel, Kobi Farhi, who’s with a band, Orphaned Land.  And Mira Awad, who’s Palestinian.  Both people who were on [the latest studio album] The Night Siren.  And then Malik Mansurov from Azerbaijan, playing the tar.  Twenty people from around the world that informed the work that’s on that album.  That helps to color it.”

“Plus, I work with my wife, Jo; we write songs together.  The lines are not clearly drawn, sometimes she’ll come up with a melody, sometimes it’s a lyric.  We bounce ideas off each other all the time, and so it’s a very genuine partnership in that way.”

“And I do like to share, because I think that you can take ideas just so far yourself.  But you need to have the input of other people sometimes, someone to hold up a mirror to you and say, ‘Perhaps this song could be more developed; perhaps it could be longer; or it could be shorter perhaps.  We might be able to color it a certain way; we might be able to inform it lyrically or sonically.  We might be able to change the key, change the melody.’  But ultimately, I’m after something that’s a romantic journey around the world.”

 

About the new live release, Wuthering Nights Live in Birmingham:

“I’ve had the news that the Wuthering Nights album just went to the top of the Amazon charts.  In the UK, it’s on DVD and CD and BluRay.  In the States, it’s just BluRay and CD.  It’s taken off in a way that my previous studio albums have done.  There seems to be some strange correlation; or maybe there’s something where, as I say, the planets seem to be aligned in a way where all these various separate influences seem to be coming together in a very happy gravitational pull.  Things seem to be orientating towards each other – it’s the classical side and the rock side and all these other things that were very separate areas of my life.  Perhaps it’s the result of social media and doing a ton of gigs, but people seem to be getting better informed about everything.”

“When you’ve got an extraordinary band on the road, it seems as if it would be silly not to film it.  So the next one we do will be with the orchestra; that appeals tremendously, of course.”

“I love doing studio albums, but I [also] love playing live.  So what we’re doing at the moment, it’s great to be able to film versions [of the tours] that we can release.”

About the new memoir by Genesis road manager Richard Macphail, My Book of Genesis:

“I thought it was very well-written.  You know, Richard poured his heart out into that.  I thought that he was very generous about everyone’s positive points.  You have to remember that Richard was originally the band’s singer, and he sidestepped that in order to create a situation whereby he got them gigs, he provided the place where they could rehearse.  He did everything he could: no one was more important to Genesis’ inception and development.  And he’s a great friend these days, which is marvelous.”

 

Steve Hackett’s Wuthering Nights: Live in Birmingham is now available from InsideOutMusic.  The Genesis Revisited, Solo Gems and GTR 2018 Tour de Force plays Canada and the USA starting on February 10, heading to Mexico and South America in March and Japan in April.  Complete tour dates, Steve’s online store and much more are waiting at HackettSongs.com!

— Rick Krueger (with thanks to Brad Birzer for the opportunity)

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