Last year as the pandemic was landing around the globe, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame guitarist Steve Hackett found himself flying across the Atlantic headed home on a last plane back from Philadelphia – with none of his electric guitars in tow.
His writing solution was simple. Go acoustic.
“I had time on my hands. My toys has been snatched from me. Why not do an acoustic album – indulge the gentleness and romanticism – but based on different regions. Something typical of each of the regions - French, something Greek, a Turkish influence, Italian, Baroque influences, and world music. We were able to do that and change perceptions what you can do with an acoustic guitar.”
Changing perceptions is something Steve Hackett has been doing for more than 50 years.
His acoustic collection Under a Mediterranean Sky was released in January. His electric guitar and world music influenced album – another pandemic project Surrender of Silence drops Sept.10.
Genesis Chapter 1: in the beginning
Hackett was a jobbing guitarist when he put out an advert in the classifieds of a local London music rag, Melody Maker.
“Imaginative Guitarist-writer seeks involvement with receptive musicians, determined to strive beyond existing stagnant music forms Steve 730-2445.”
The advert was noticed by Peter Gabriel – then the lead singer of the band Genesis. Hackett auditioned and was in as the band’s new lead guitarist. Flash forward five years later, Gabriel departs the band and the drummer in the group – Phil Collins – takes over lead vocals. Bass and guitarist in the band Mike Rutherford would go on to create the band Mike + the Mechanics as well.
Hackett left the band a few years later after six studio albums and three live collections with the band – and has since carved out a career as the most active member – former or current – of Genesis. Hackett is behind almost 30 studio solo albums – as well as creation of 1980s super group GTR with Yes and Asia guitarist Steve Howe, as well as all kinds of live albums and guest projects.
Talk about working with, breathing, and exhaling rare musical air. In 1986 – Hackett and his former Genesis members in the band or solo had 7 of the top 100 tunes on the charts.
The here and now.
Surrender of Silence is a world music feast – with nods to all kinds of European locales, juxtaposed with aggressive guitar confronting North American media coverage of the last 18 months.
When it comes to the world music focus of the last two works – Hackett – who has always preferred the romance of places and things over the personal divorce-fuelled songs of other Genesis members – says working with people from all over the globe makes the music.
“It’s a consequence of having friends all over the world. Everyone you work with informs. Maybe it is more like a relay team where everyone does their own part. For example, working with Brian Eno on ‘The Lamb’ album with Genesis – he was so fresh compared to what the old school was doing.”
The track Natalia on Surrender of Silence rolls through a handful of distinct influences of Russian music – before Hackett’s electric guitar is heard.
“From Tchaikovsky to Stravinsky and more, separate sections with deliberate nods to these people being both referential and differential.”
Durga and Lorelei McBroom also feature on the new record. Between the two – they have worked with both The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd.
“The McBroom sisters have worked with everyone. Great soul, great voices and great experience. The social conscious they have is great as well,” Hackett adds. Other vocalists on the new record include Hackett, his lead band singer Nad Sylvan, and frequent collaborator Amanda Lehmann.
“There are times I do something where I think I’m the right singer – but most times there is so much more – our lead singer Nad and his narrative style, or some of the female singers are the right singer for the job.”
What does Steve Hackett do when he’s not writing or performing music, or promoting it – when he’s off?
“Catching up with friends. We visited Hampton Court (home of Henry the VIII). It is an inspiring garden, the Italian influence and the sumptuous setting, languorous guitar,” Hackett says perhaps projecting a focus of a future collection of tunes written on the lute or dulcimer.
“We went to a town called Rye (a village from the 1400s). Extraordinary to connect with all that history. It has its own atmosphere.”
On the music business.
“The music business is a business. It is one you can indulge your ideals. I love pitting my energy against doing something that is extraordinary. It is great to meet people I admire and find out they like what I do,” he says.
“Guitarists in particular do listen to each other. People that are sometimes working in a completely different style. It is your instrument but we listen to who others can work with it, and what they bring to the guitar.”
Former bandmate Collins’ debut album Face Value gets uber credit as an atypical divorce album. Hackett’s Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth from 2009 is his contribution to the genre.
“It’s my divorce album. Phil’s album was eclectic. I don’t know if he felt less pressure. He was using slide bottleneck and blues feel, and some Americana. Phil was perhaps able to relax into that,” he says.
“Out of Tunnel’s Mouth, yes there were things that hinted at my divorce. The traumatic aspects. There was an aspect of pulling away and self-preservation. All of that.”
The silver screen.
“My stuff is usually done for pals, and becomes part of the invisible score. No one is phoning me up to do Tarzan,” he says with another nod to Genesis.
“Scores can draw on so many traditions. It’s the widest canvas in the world – lots of options.”
Surrender of Silence.
“I was going to use an orchestra on the song Natalia, but it wasn’t possible. However there are no limits to imagination – so we did stuff that was worthy of the Berlin Philharmonic, ‘he said immodestly’.”
Many of the songs flow together on Surrender of Silence.
“I like the idea that someone could get lost in it. Switching off the lights, and being immersed in it. It has been a journey for me – things are borne out of physical journeys – Russia, Ethiopia, the east, but being able to turn that family snapshot into something for people to jump into the frame with.”
Back into the studio.
“Yes I do hope to work face to face with people again. One on one. Sometimes a room full of people waiting for their moment, is sometimes not the best way,” he says.
“In a band – there’s a lot of repetition and not the best use of time, but that’s what young people do, and then down the line we explore other aspects. Face to face is one way, not the only way. Technology is a wonderful thing,” he says.
“Working in small forces is as good if not better as the real thing. Heresy! But here we are. Sometimes we have to embrace heresy to make a noise at all.”
Golden age of Hackett.
If the world does keep slowly opening up – he sees nothing but live dates in the future.
“Live dates in the UK first of all, then European, Scandinavian. Then the United States, Canada, all of these things provided the world is still there and has not gone up in smoke, flood, (or the pandemic).”
These days finds Hackett wearing a mask more than band mate Peter Gabriel was in the 1970s.
“If I do these things – it’s more likely I stay around. I will be going to a gig and playing gigs,” he says.
“I’m interested in longevity.”
Makes sense – as we hit the golden age of Hackett, at 71, has more music to make and more to say with his guitar.
“I’m always working on new music."
He says the work of anyone creative is simple. Do it each day.
“Make discoveries. If you paint or make a noise, you discover things. The first moment you pick up the guitar whether it’s an old instrument or new – is inspiring. So many things to be reawakened each day instead of letting it stand in the corner,” he says.
“I play every day – it works like that.”