Steve Hackett, formerly of Genesis, is one of the world’s greatest guitar players. And he’s bringing the classic Genesis catalog to a tour of the United States starting with a show in DC at the Lincoln Theatre in a little over a week on Wednesday, March 26. We Love DC had the remarkable opportunity to chat with Hackett about the show, what else the future may hold for him and his advice for young guitarists! We also couldn’t resist asking a bit about Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins, his old bandmates in Genesis (with whom he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010).
Mickey McCarter: I’m excited to see you’re coming to DC next week. Can you tell us a little bit about the show? What can we expect?
Steve Hackett: It’s a show of Genesis music that was written between ’71 and ’77. It’s classic Genesis. I’m doing exclusively Genesis music on that show. We have a six-piece band.
It hails from the era when we worked as a five-piece and we had five different writers — Peter Gabriel, myself, Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford and Phil Collins. I’m highlighting the era when the band was at its most creative, I think.
I took this show last year on the road and it took off in such a big way. We ended up doing a show in London and we have a DVD from that which is just finished.
The level of interest in all things Genesis, I was asked to do another year of it. So I am committed until December, doing this in all sorts of places in the States and Europe and possibly South America. We’ve had some offers to play Russia for the first time.
It’s a very busy year for me! At the same time, I am working on what will become my next solo album. That’s what I’ll be doing next year.
This year, we are working on this stuff. Rehearsals have been going well. We’ve incorporated a few more well-known favorites from that era.
MM: Can you tell me a little more about who you’re bringing with you?
SH: We have a vocalist — a guy who is Swedish-American named Nad Sylvan. Nad sings with the band Agents of Mercy.
Nad has a fine voice. He has that Genesis singer sound that both Gabriel had and Collins had. The similarity is amazing. When I play with him, it’s very close indeed. He sounds a little bit like a soul singer on this stuff. There’s a hint of Marvin Gaye in there as well. It works very well. He’s a very flamboyant singer. He’s more in the early Gabriel mold than the start of Phil in terms of presentation. He lives the songs. Nad’s presentation comes from somewhere between Interview with a Vampire and Pirates of Caribbean.
As for the rest of the guys in the band, there is myself on guitar and occasional vocals. On woodwind and glass, we have Rob Townsend. We call him Mr. Wind. He basically manages to get a sound out of anything imaginable — anything from whistles to saxophones to flutes. He also plays percussion and some extra keyboard. The main keyboard player is guy called Roger King. He also engineers and he’s worked with me in the studio on just about every project now since the 1990s.
On bass, we have Nick Beggs. He plays bass and Chapman Stick and also a double-neck 12-string. Nick was with Kajagoogoo, who were hugely popular in the 80s. But since then, he’s worked with a quite a lot of progressive people, including Steven Wilson and John Paul Jones of Zeppelin. On drums, we have Gary O’Toole, who also sings. A number of people in the band sing. So we don’t have just one singer.
MM: Can you tell me a little more about the songs and how you selected them?
SH: We borrow from all of the albums made between ’71 and ’77 rather than concentrating on one album. Rather than going out and playing Selling England by the Pound or the Lamb Lies Down on Broadway all night, I draw from many of the songs. One of them even goes back to 1970, which is The Knife from Trespass. It was a stage favorite at one time. Audiences loved it so much. Including it reminded me of what an exciting number it is live.
We have about three hours’ worth of material, which we are going to cut down to two hours and 20 minutes for the show.
MM: Given that the tour has been so well received, are you disappointed that a reunion of the original lineup never happened?
SH: Well, reunions take different forms. It’s probably unlikely that we’ll reform as the original lineup. I always said that I was up for it. But I think a number of people are tired of waiting, including me! It’s difficult when you have an army full of generals. It’s harder to agree where the battle is going to be, if you get my meaning. It’s pretty simple when guys are teenagers or in their 20s. But it’s become massively difficult when you’ve got a number of solo careers and people used to running their own show. Having said that, I like to think I’m the most flexible. I always just wanted to play and sing. I think politics can very much get in the way.
But the star of the show is the music. The music can survive a number of different lineups, and all of the individuals involved in Genesis have been involved in so many things including writing successful books, composing film scores and working in every genre.
We were all inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which was an extraordinary experience. I was really honored to be part of that.
I’m really looking forward to this tour. I can’t wait to do it. I’m also doing a cruise that is coming up. [Cruise to the Edge, April 7-12, http://cruisetotheedge.com]
MM: There are a lot of new bands starting up. Washington, DC, is going through a musical renaissance, and we have a lot of new bands. So I’m eager to ask you what advice you have for guitar players specifically who are just starting out? You are known for mastering so many techniques and having a long successful career. What advice if any would you have for a young guitarist?
SH: I grew up listening to lots of different kinds of music. I would say don’t close your ear to any influence or genre. You may think it has no direct relevance to you yourself, you would be surprised how musical inspiration works. Sometimes you will be borrowing from a banjo phrase or something a violin did. You might immediately think of country music or classical music or gypsy music!
At one time when you are a young guitarist, you hear nothing but the guitar. I used to listen to songs and dismiss them all until they got to a guitar solo. That would be the moment I would be waiting for. But then over time, I learned to appreciate all of the instruments. When you start writing songs and arranging them and recording them, you might think of what you don’t need — the triangle for instance. But after a while, you realize the triangle is just what you need for a certain sound at a certain point.
As we go on writing songs, which some of us are lucky enough to do, it’s a bit like having a giant jigsaw where you have lots of these separate ideas. So Idea #53 might fit with Idea #2,005 at some point. If you have some way of cataloging them, whether it is to sing into some kind of recording media or whether you prefer to write it down, I would say don’t rely on memory. Just write down the notes. If you haven’t had any formal training, figure out some kind of way to remember the meter, if only to compare it to songs that you know.
It’s not an ability of memory. Many things will be forgotten. I’m certainly like that. I often write things down. I used to think the test of a good melody is something that I’ve written but I couldn’t forget. But that’s a very idealistic way of working. The other way is to write everything down and don’t rely too much on memory.
Sometimes the best ideas come along when they’re not expected. I was having a conversation with my brother today. He was saying he was late for an appointment but an idea came into his head, so he started writing it down. It sounded like the Beatles, so he started to write a Beatles-style tune. How many of us have been there? Great ideas come along at the most inconvenient times but you have to have some method of remembering it. Sing it into your iPhone, film yourself doing it, record it in some way.
That would be the advice. And to never give up, of course. Just when you’re thinking the games up, it’s all over, nothing is going to happen, something will happen.
It’s all about persistence and confidence and not trying to be too clever too early on. Give yourself a pat on the back every time you come up with a couple of new notes or phrases. It can very daunting. If you’re starting out and you want to sound like a cross between Jimi Hendrix and Andrés Segovia, that isn’t going to happen overnight.
But with time…, with time I think if you’re a fan of what they both did in two separate fields, it is possible to get there with enough love for it.
So the most important to thing is to love it, and it will get you through lots of disappointments. You have to be mad about it. I was talking to my friend John Wetton [of King Crimson and Asia] about this. People would ask him, “Oh, my son plays a bit of guitar! Do you have any advice for him?”
And John would say, “I would advise someone to give it up! …unless you absolutely love it. Because there are going to be so many disappointments down the road until there is that moment of a break. It might not be a big break, it might be a little thing. But little things lead to big things over time.”
Stay in the game and keep playing the tables. Lady luck will smile on you eventually but you have to be a very dedicated player.
Steve Hackett: Genesis Revisited
The Lincoln Theatre
Wednesday, March 26
Thank you for this interview. I am really looking forward to seeing Steve perform at the Lincoln Theater tomorrow evening!