Interview with Steve by Roman Walczak

Roman Walczak -
Original interview in Polish can be seen HERE
Translated interview into English below. You've recently played in Poland two times in Inowroclaw and Wroclaw. Your kind words about Wroclaw that you wrote on your blog brought warm feelings to our hearts.

Steve Hackett: That's very nice. It's a lovely place. We're not always familiar with what's going on, but it was extraordinarily festive. There was so much going on and it seemed to be naturally accumulated into the fabric of the town. So you had so many things going on at once and yet all seemed to be manageable. The idea to get 5000 guitarists together to do things was very ambitious. I've never seen so many guitarists in one place in my life.

AR: It was almost a world record.

SH: I think it probably was world record.

AR: Well, they wanted to beat the record, but they failed. There were not enough guitarists. I am really amazed by your attitude. Most of the musicians just see the place they stay in and the venue. And you try to see as much as you can.

SH: There's a reason for that very often, like today. I've been to Warsaw before, but it's Jo's first visit. We left Rome very early to get here. Everything so far has been in function of the schedule. So we haven't had that moment to really walk around even the park. If we get up early tomorrow we'll have a chance to say hello to the city.

AR: Do you still have a lot of happiness...

SH: To play live?

AR: Yes.

SH: Yes, I do. There's always the concern that the equipment will be okay, so always cross fingers. I think when things go remotely well live that atmosphere is palpable. You can feel the connection with the audience. And also with the band whether it's the trio or the six piece rock band. So I'm looking forward to playing with Randy Brecker tonight. I've never done that before. I think we're playing a Hendrix number, which I've never played before. It'll just basically be a jam, jumping off-point.

AR: As to your live side of musicianship, you've released a new album called "Live Rails", which I believe is one of your best works.

SH: I think it's the best live rock album I've done. I think there's something about the way this band play the material, whether it's my or Genesis material. Saying "this band" I mean the band that I've been touring in Italy with the six piece band and on "Live Rails". They have really unique sense of the material, they bring their personality to it.

AR: Gary O'Toole is an interesting character. He has his own music school...

SH: Yes, he does. He has a drum school. In his time he's done martial arts and his family has a show-biz background (TV). In some ways he's similar to Phil Collins, because there's the sense of him growing up on stage. He was performing on stage when he was 4 years old. There's a link in a way, because I was playing tunes since I was 4 anyway that I could. It's kind of in the blood.

AR: You said once that you feel that the songs from the "Out of the Tunnel's Mouth" album came out better live on "Live Rails". Is this rather the case of changing some things or simply the power of the live performance?

SH: I think the live performance is different. The album version has another kind of energy to it. It's the product of more overdubs, but the live thing has something very exciting. Sometimes that can be quite desperate to try and get all of the ideas across. Sometimes when I'm recording with Roger King we find we're recording stuff and we've got 200 tracks going, because of the way rock works. Only because he likes to keep things separate so he can treat them separately in the mix. It might just be a triangle or single tambourine. And that works on record, because the computer system allows for that. But live is the reduction and the amplification in another. You have volume, you have the public and you have the musicians sometimes not always treating the material completely reverently but being free with it. Which is what I think will probably happen when we do this other thing. Let's hope the amplifying works.

AR: Since you have this two sides of your musicianship, which is the rock side and the acoustic one I have always been wondering whether you're familiar with Baden Powell's work.

SH: I know Baden Powell stuff. Sometimes he does that thing that is typically Brazilian, but there's also the classical side of his works.

AR: He used to play Chopin.

SH: Yes, I know. It's extraordinary. I think he was a very gifted player. It's really great when someone can make a name with nylon guitar, because you can't beat people over the head with volume. You have to seduce them with something else. You have emotion. And of course he worked with the orchestra, which was also very beautiful. He managed to combine a lot of aspects. I think Baden Powell did something based on the Orpheus, but I don't know the name of the album. Very dramatic. Sometimes the aspect of french horn with orchestra seems to go straight to the subconscious. Something almost as if it's the sound from the depth of the underworld. I see musical instruments as very magical in themselves. Particularly acoustic instruments. I love electric music for what it can du, but acoustic music can be very, very powerful.

AR: Let's talk about history. How do perceive your past with Genesis from today's perspective?

SH: Before I joined Genesis I saw them live and I thought... I've never really worked with the band live. I made an album with the band called Quiet World, so I had a limited amount of recording experience. But I had a very idealistic view about what a band could do. I had an idea that there shouldn't be any distinction between what a group could do and what an orchestra could do. It seemed to me that the palette of colors was expanding all the time with the expanding in keyboards. I was also concerned that Genesis should have its own light show and presentation. So it didn't rely entirely on music. When you have songs that are attempting to tell the story you need visual clues to have an idea where that's leading. At the point when Genesis started to experiment away from acoustic instruments and making the leap to electric things. They'd always done that to the degree, but I think guitars with Genesis were very much of the idea of multi-layered 12-strings and really not so much electric. Electric songs used to make a guest appearance on the Genesis stage. Whereas at that time I thought I was primarily an electric player, but luckily I love the acoustic music and I already had a 12-string guitar. I think maybe they were looking for someone who could play in different styles. I had an idea that it could go three ways for me. Music might have been melodic and pastoral, or it could have been experimental and avant-garde, or it could be more blues based. And when I played these ideas to Genesis at my audition with Pete and Tony, they just seemed like exchanging the ideas and I said: "What of these ideas would you be most interested in?" and they were absolutely much more interested in the pastoral side of things. I was just as happy for the electric guitar to be played with jazz tone, so gentle. Like a Fender Rhodes piano really. They were looking for delicacy and subtlety and most of the bands weren't. They were also looking for someone, who would be a full songwriting partner. And I hadn't really written much. I was quite self-conscious about writing songs... and I didn't like to sing them. Of course Genesis lived up to all my ideals in a way and far exceeded the way I thought we're heading.

AR: And you were saying that you hadn't been such a good player as they were and now you've become superior to them in some ways...

SH: Well actually I thought they were superior to me in terms of songwriting when I first joined. Because I hadn't really written song with other people. So I had a lot to learn. With songwriting everyone has a lot to learn. Even the world's greatest composers still got a lot to learn. It's good to have a sense of limitation. To realize that there's room for growth within writing songs.

AR: I have also one question about re-writing songs. What was the main cause of recording the "Genesis Revisited" album? My friend suspects that it was too expensive a venture to be something made of sentiment and it was just to satisfy the demand of the Japanese market.

SH: Well I started funding it myself originally and I found that it was a very expensive project, because there were a lot of people involved with it, orchestra and many other things. The Japanese luckily were interested in it and I was able to finish the album. I've spend about 18 months on this thing. When it was probably half-done the Japenese said: "We'll give you the money to finish it, but could we have it in six weeks?". So I got up every day at about six in the morning and I was working for 5 hours before I got together with Roger. There were lots of production ideas. So it wasn't driven by the Japanese but it certainly helped.

AR: There's another story about releasing of an album, but this one hasn't been released to this very day. I mean you have been invited by Eddie Jobson to play on the third UK album. What happened to that material?

SH: I don't know. I've played some really interesting stuff with Eddie Jobson and John Wetton and also I had the Bulgarian woman singing and also some samples of that. This stuff was really interesting melodically. Maybe one day it'll be released. I don't really know what has happened to that.

AR: So you didn't use any of these material in your following works?

SH: I didn't. This was something I was invited to.

AR: What do you think about Peter Gabriel's past and presence?

SH: Well... Peter is obviously a very interesting character. I think that conceptually he was already developed when he was with Genesis. But I think that as a singer he found his voice and a certain depth to it once he left the band. I think we all had that sense in Genesis when we were listening to his albums for the first time. We thought how well recorded his voice was. When he re-sang some of the Genesis stuff his voice had deepened a lot. So original keys were not necessarily the most favorable to him. He developed all sorts of things. Also I think his political and humanitarian projects gave him the respect of both the industry and the public for sticking his neck out and doing some amazing things.

AR: Many musicians are just supporting organizations and he is creating it. Also he is backing many African musicians which is great.

SH: Yes!

AR: What do you listen to today?

SH: ...

AR: Tough question?

SH: It is a tough question. There are certain bands I check out and I like a lot of what they do... I enjoyed Muse. I liked the "Resistance" album. I think it was really interesting. One of the things I liked was the fact that one minute it could be rock music and the next it was classical music. The influences were paraded so openly. Music with technology and also the emotional vocal style. That's one of the bands. Just recently I've been working with number of people. All of them seem to be doing fantastic work. It's quite an extraordinary thing. People like Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree. He's doing a solo project that I'm on with Nick Beggs. I also work with Gary Husband, who plays with Level 42 (drums) and also plays keyboard with John McLaughlin (keyboards). I worked on a jazz album with him called "Dirty and Beautiful". This album has John McLaughlin, Alan Holdsworth and many other guitarists who are all tremendously proficient jazz rock players. I also worked with the guy called Rob Reed who is working with the band called Magenta. That was very interesting stuff as well. It was a beautiful song I was asked to play on. I played a nylon guitar on it. It was very high with cutaway nylon. With harmonies that you can't really access that well in one go. Also Nick Beggs has been working on some material. I don't know whether it'll come out as his solo stuff or not. He's asked me to play on it. Suddenly it seems like British musicians are flowering again into areas that one time I would have thought it was like an explosion of the sixties and seventies. Almost as if it's post-progressive, post-pop, post-punk. It's post all of the things and those people that had success in bands with a wide radio coverage have stopped and said: "What is it we really want to do?". And they come up with very surprising material. Very challenging, beautiful stuff. I can't believe that it's all happening at once. I don't know why. I suspect it's harder for musicians to just walk into the situation and be guaranteed a certain amount of record sales. Because music itself is marginalized. Musicians seem to be taking the attitude they might as well be involved with the real thing. It's almost as if music has become their hobby once more. From profession to love what you're doing. I think music can't stay still. There's no more room for stasis.

AR: Like they say – stagnation is regression. Let's leave music for a little while. What are your passions outside the music? What do you do when you go back home?

SH: I don't have as much time as I used to, because we're working on a lot of things. So when I fall in home and I am not too exhausted I pick up a book as the first thing in the morning. I don't get as much time to watch TV or listen to the radio as much as I used to. Now I think that the clock is ticking and I'm aware of it all the time. You reach a certain age and you think about the idea of life is holding still as a freehold. You can't own a shop but you can work in it. That's how I see it... I love going for walks. Also I find myself more interested in history than I used to be. I'm interested in almost everything if I can get enough books. If we do ever watch TV the only things that really holds my attention seems to be documentaries talking about the mixture of geography and history. These were subjects that concerned me when I was very young. There's also poetry... There's film. I'm interested in what individuals can do in the way they affect the world they inhabit. I think that each individual can be powerful. Not just for others but for themselves. So I think it's very much case of what you get out of life it seems to me.

AR: You're again getting much out of life - you're in a relationship...

SH: And we're about to get married. I'm very privileged to have such a dedicated and wonderful partner as Jo. We're working together on many things. I feel very privileged and lucky.

AR: Do you have any favourite movies?

SH: I like Cinema Paradiso very much.

AR: You used to play the theme from this movie.

SH: There are some beautiful themes from it. I've just played one of them at one point. When you first hear the theme just in played on piano in mono you think: "It sound OK", but you can't imagine how that theme is going to develop. That's how music works as well. It starts with a doodle and if you're lucky it ends up with a symphony.

AR: Was there something you had to sacrifice for your musical career?

SH: I think in order to play live in front of people you've always got to be prepared to accept that you can't always be the immaculate conception. Sometimes you plug a guitar and it simply doesn't work, or you sometimes break a string. But in a lifetime of music there's always something that's going to happen. That's how you ride it. You can be an idealist, but it also seems to be important to be realistic. I know that something funny Phil Collins said about idealism and realism. "The important thing is to enjoy yourself playing live". He's a perfectionist, but also a realist. You get as good as you can in the time available. And then comes a point everyone has to go home and fall over.

AR: So what will be going on in your future? New studio album?

SH: I'm working on a new album. It's going very well. I think in a few weeks I'll be finishing that. Maybe in a few days. Whenever you sit in front of your computer you just hope to it works. It can happen in 5 minutes or 5 days. It's the nature of technology.