TARTAREAN DESIRE WEBZINE
Guitarist Steve Hackett released an album with a band called Quiet World in 1970 before joining the legendary rock band Genesis in early 1971 to replace founding member Anthony Phillips. He took part on all the classics before parting with the band after the 1977 live album "Seconds Out" to focus on his solo career.
His debut album "Voyage Of The Acolyte" was released by Charisma Records in 1975. The early albums were all solid chart material in Sweden, UK and the US. Progressive music specialists Inside Out Music now brings us his latest offering entitled "Metamorpheus". On March 17th, 2005, he was kind enough to speak to us about the new album and various other subjects. The interview was conducted by Vincent Eldefors with questions provided by Fjordi.
Hello, how are you?
I'm fine, thank you.
I could say there are two types of orchestral pieces:
soundtracks and classical music in a strict sense.
Soundtracks often are a bit soulless if heard outside
the movie they were made for, and classical music
usually speaks for itself. Just an opinion of my own,
though. Can you tell me what is the difference between
both types of releases for you, and which ones you
Well, the difference between the two is, obviously, that one is contemporary and one is historical but essentially you're dealing with the same colors so I don't see why there needs to be any difference. All I can say is that with this I wasn't working to the strictures of film, I wasn't working for any basis that was laid down for me already by a director. In many ways I am working the way many composers did at one time which was to create something of their own valition [validity?] and it has not function outside of itself although it is programmed music and it is telling a story. Nonetheless, it is only answer more to itself and as I say I am not using this as incidental music, it is not for film or TV but, yes, it is kind of a film for the ear rather than for the eye. We're having a theme that is being used from the beginning to the end and I am very happy to have the music tell a story. However, it may well be that, on another level, it is easier just to accept the music for itself without having to refer to any myth or any story. The music speaks for itself emotionally.
You don't prefer one type in front of the other?
Specifically, I think that a good film score becomes classical if it's a really great orchestral score and I would say that there have been many great film scores which stand up on their own and they get to influence the whole of music. I don't have many film scores in my collection unless other people buy them for me as presents. As soon as there is a hit film and it has got an orchestral score people assume that you must love the music but actually I can enjoy a film on its own and enjoy the fact that there may be a large forces being played but I am more interested in the original influences to those who write film scores today, or what I think are the original influences. A lot of classical music comes out of folk music so you never know if you're listening to an original melody or not. No-one ever knows that.
The album could be categorised as “orchestral guitar
music” or something like that, since the guitar has
everytime the main role. I can reckon some influences
from Spanish classic guitarists (Rodrigo, Segovia...)
in songs as “Return To The Realm Of Eternal Renewal”,
an overwhelming effort by the way. I´d like you to
comment on this topic, to agree or disagree with this
influence, and speak something about this Spanish
feeling noticeable in some moments of the album.
Well, I tell you what I think. I think that harmonically it doesn't owe too much too Spanish music but I think technically in terms of right-hand techniques you can't avoid Spanish music if you're doing guitar work. So, I would say that there was at least as much Eastern European influences as there were Spanish. There is a tremendous amount of Russian influences on the album. Spanish music is very important for the guitar of course but beyond that there's an influence of piano in the music and I tend to think of the Eastern Europeans of course, the Russians, as kings in that area. Of course you've got Grieg as well, you've got Rachmaninov, you've got Tchaikovsky, you've got all these people as well as the influence of Rodrigo and I can mention all sorts of composers, Segovia, Bach, Beethoven... For the orchestration obviously it is everyone who has worked with the orchestra that has some influence over this.
Seems as if you have worked a concept behind the
music, a story or a tale based on Orpheus. Could you
please explain something about that?
Well, it's a very ancient story and many people have done it before. This is my take on it where I am trying to use it as the guitar in a half-like manner, particularly in the piece you mentioned, “Return To The Realm Of Eternal Renewal”, I use a capo on the guitar so I make it sound more like a harp. There perhaps the similarity ends with Spanish music.
Most of the album provides a feeling of contemplation
or calmness. Is it caused by your state of mind when
making the songs, or were you rather influenced by the
things you wished to express through the music and the
Well, I think some of it is calm but I weighted it. There are many unanswered questions that I wanted to explore musically so it's not always calm. There's a questioning aspect, there's also calm and there's a lot of love in it but then there's also a lot of melancholy and loneliness and various things that concern me and in the end triumph of course. I like to think that there's a feeling of triumph in the last track "Lyra" where all these disparate elements come together in harmony in some way. I look very deep within myself to come up with many of the things that you hear working together.
I´d like to know how you decide the musical style you
are going to play, before releasing an album. It´s
something like “I´m eager to make an orchestra album”,
or maybe there is sort of an inspiration that “pushes”
you to play a certain kind of music?
Well, I have a love of classical music as you probably can tell from this and usually I find that I'm very interested in making different kinds of albums. I don't feel that working in one genre is really enough. The artists that I have really admired over the years were able to work in a number of different styles and yet there's something about that makes it personal, that makes it them, and it's a spirit that goes through these things. It's not as much the form perhaps, it's a certain touch that a certain musician has. I'm still working on that, I'm still trying to make the ultimate album all the time but, you know, you never really get there with music. Whatever you do you think "maybe I could do something better next time" and I want to do something different. Sometimes I want to make very simple guitar music, very simple electric guitar music often and let the voice of the guitar speak. Other times, as with this, I am interested in the combination of the guitar and orchestra together because I think they are very complementary sounds.
You don't want to stand still at one point?
No, I prefer not to stand still I think. What will probably happen is that eventually, when I have stopped making albums, there may be a number of albums in a classical style, a number in a blues style and perhaps a number in a jazz style and then there will be all the other stuff.
Some artists have made orchestral albums, but more or
less mixed with rock, or related to rock in some way.
Deep Purple, Yngwie Malmsteen, Scorpions, Rage,
Metallica... tell me what do you think about them.
Well, I think that the next album I am going to make after this will be a mixture of rock and orchestral. Everything will be mixed on the next album, I am already working on it.
Beethoven, Mozart, Vivaldi... which are your
favourite composers and motion picture soundtracks?
What do you find in classical/orchestral music which
rock fails to express?
Well, I think that Bernard Herrmann was very good, Bernard Hermann who did most of the Hitchcook films. I find that work very clever and often very dark and sinister but using very different colors. I mean, the difference between "Psycho" and "Taxi Driver" is enormous, yet it's the same composer and I think that it was a very clever score. That's one person but there are many others of course. I like just about all classical composers in some shape or form.
The ability to be able to detach from life is something that classical music offers that rock can't express. Rock is, to my mind, very descriptive of life and I think that orchestral or classical music tends to be talking about the things that are under the physical life, the things that support it, the undercurrent that runs throughout life, the spiritual side of things. Rock music says to me "I want" and classical music says to me "I know".
Your solo career is quite vast and rich. Is there a
particular musical style which seem to appeal more to
the people? Disregarding sales, the most enthusiastic
reactions so far have been from... what album?
Well, it's a funny thing. Many of the things that I did didn't always produce an enormously enthusiastic response at the time. If I look right back at the early days of Genesis when we were releasing "Nursery Cryme" and "Foxtrot", you know, these were not hit albums if you understand. Subsequently they became hit albums and the same thing is true for a lot of my own stuff and at some point soon I am going to start re-mastering the early albums and it means that people get a second look at that, I get a chance to re-promote that material. It will be interesting to see whether they are considered to be a product of their time or whether they were ahead of their time or merely typical of their time. In some way it doesn't really matter, what I would prefer would be that the whole of what I do is assessed almost posthumously, that's what I would prefer. To be honest, you know. I think that just because one album sold better than another, it might have to do with the advertising campaign that went with it. I think that one of the best selling albums I did was "Voyage Of The Acolyte" which has some of the Genesis guys on it of course which helped it tremendously. I was going to say "Selling England By The Pound" but "Spectral Mornings" I mean, which has some similiarities by the way to "Selling England By The Pound". That, of the all the Genesis albums, and maybe "Wind And Wuthering" has the strongest guitar influences perhaps. But you know, the game isn't over yet, it continues on.
You are going to remaster some of the older albums you mentioned, are you not happy with the original production?
Well, actually many of the original albums were mastered without my involvment and, for instance, "Voyage Of The Acolyte", the first album, was cut from a second generation production master which was already made brighter at the time because that was what people used to do if they were to cut the final if they were second generation and that used to work ok with vinyl but with cd it doesn't work at all, it's too noisy and you need to use some noise reduction and restore the album to make it sound as it originally was meant to sound.
Do you answer too many questions about the Genesis
years? Is it something annoying for you, or you don´t
No, not at all. Now we only have half an hour interviews but once the Genesis questions start it takes time. If you like we could reschedule and I'll answer as many questions as you like about Genesis.
Just two more questions about that topic. How many
times a week you think about the Genesis times? Once,
twice, many... never?
Well, you know, these days I'm a lot more thoughtful about it. I think to myself that it was tremendous to work with those people at the time and it was nice to be influenced by them and it was nice to influence them. I think it was very nice that we influenced each other, I think it was a very strong thing. So, yes, I think about them a lot, affectionately. I think they were very strong people and that it was a very strong band.
Looking back to Genesis´ course of events and
discography, what do you think about the different
periods of the band? What are your opinions on the
latter, more pop-influenced years?
Well, I think the latter stuff is infinitely better produced than the earlier stuff but the earlier stuff had much more creative ideas. In terms of production I would choose the later material but when it comes to ideas I'd choose the early. The early stuff is more detailed but as production progressed it meant that you could make individual sounds bigger. Drums became a lead instrument for the band. Genesis typifies the differences between the 70s and the 80s in one band. If you compare the drum sound Phil [Collins] had in the 70s with the drum sound of the 80s, it set the tone for production with all bands after 1980.
So you prefer the production of the newer albums but the music of the early ones?
Yeah, wouldn't it be nice to re-record the early albums with the expertise and the knowledge and technology of the latest stuff. This is why I went and re-recorded a lot of the early Genesis material myself.
Is there something in music which you haven´t been
able to do so far due to restrictions of budget, time
or whatever? A kind of dream, a weird project you hope
to fulfill some day? For example, to make an album
with someone in particular, to record a live accoustic
album in a particular place like next to a Icelandic
volcano (bizarre idea, just a hint...!)
Well, I think I've been very lucky in music and have been able to fullfil all of my fantasies. I think I am alone in music and perhaps I haven't pursued the hits as relentlessly as some of my partners. There is a certain price you pay if you look for a hit song all the time, you look for the lowest common denominator, almost the dumbing down of things, rather like television. Television was a lot more intelligent at one time, now I find television, at least in England, rather stupid, there's no analysis of things. I think the same thing has happened to music, it is not as thoughtful as it could be. What I am looking for is clever use of instruments and arrangements, it's not enough for me that someone uses a sampler. I am looking for an atmosphere, people who paint pictures with music. I am very difficult to please, I had my favorites and this is why I am working in music myself since I don't hear the albums that I want to hear. I am not looking for a simple solution to anything, I am looking for the best I can find but all I have is my own instinct. Some times I have to go away and hear it again later on before I understand it. Normally I have to do something else at the same time but not just sit down listening to it.
Who is the most interesting guitar player nowadays, in your opinion?
Well, the world is full of great guitarists, what can I tell you. The world is full of people who can do different things with the guitar. I am looking for people who just don't play fast, the fast competition is only part of it really, a lot of it is very technique driven and it's only one emotion I think. So I think that too many guitarists are concerned with proving to you that they can play, proving to you that they have a level of sportsmanship like the Olympians. I am not always looking for guitar heroics, sometimes I look for the heart of the guitar.
Thank you very much for the interview.
Thank you very much. Bye.
Links of interest:
InsideOut Music America