Steve Hackett’s departure from Genesis in 1977 couldn’t have come at a better time. He had pushed himself as far he could go within the confines of the group model and was finally free to unleash the technical wizardry of his solo career on the world. When reflecting back on the ambition of his first two post-Genesis releases, one has to wonder how long those concepts were gestating before he had an opportunity to bring them to life in the studio.
42 years later, Hackett continues to test the limits of progressive rock and his upcoming tour promises to be an exhilarating confluence of everything fans have come to expect from the catalog. Because the chances of a full-on Genesis reunion are slim, watching him faithfully recreate such seismic compositions as “Firth of Fifth” and “The Cinema Show” is a must-see for anyone who calls themselves a fan.
MNOD: 2019 marks the 40th anniversary of “Spectral Mornings.” What is it about that album that makes it such a compelling one to revisit?
Hackett: It’s an album that I’m hugely fond of. That was my first touring band as a solo artist and I remember what a great time we had recording the album in Holland. We’ll be playing the majority of it on the upcoming tour alongside “Selling England by the Pound” in its entirety and selections from my latest release “At the Edge of Light.” There’s a track called “The Virgin and The Gypsy” that is still one of my favorites to perform.
MNOD: Your solo material explores many different genres and there has always been something deeply spiritual about the way you approach the guitar. How does “At the Edge of Light” expand upon that legacy?
Hackett: It started with a number of songs I had written with my wife. There are aspects of world music, but we also wanted to make an accessible rock album. The social commentary adds a deeper dimension to it, as well, which is important to making it stand out. I had always wanted a fully orchestrated album where the orchestra becomes almost like another member of the band. I think it was Gary Brooker of Procol Harum who said “Get the angels in” and he was referring to the orchestra members. It’s become one of my favorites and I get quite a thrill out of performing it live.
MNOD: You’re often credited with inventing the finger tapping technique on the guitar. Where did your inspiration for that come from?
Hackett: I was trying to play a phrase by J.S. Bach on the guitar and thought that playing it on one string would be the most efficient way to go about it. In order to play faster on one string, I had to treat the fretboard like a keyboard and use a finger from my picking hand instead of the pick. I started using that technique with Genesis in 1971 and then Eddie Van Halen came along in 1978 with his own take on it. He popularized it and he’s certainly a great player, but he has credited me as an influence.
MNOD: Are there any other styles or techniques that you’d like to try in the future?
Hackett: I’m interested in anything that pushes the envelope and elevates the form even by today’s standards. For instance, I used tapping and sweep picking on “Selling England By the Pound” in 1973 and they didn’t even have names at that time. I was playing what were prototypical metal solos in a progressive rock context and I wanted to get the most out of the guitar rig I had. I was using a high watt amp and a fuzz box to experiment with a lot of different sounds.
MNOD: Can you describe how you came to join Genesis?
Hackett: I had been advertising in Melody Maker magazine for five years and I met tons of talented musicians, but nothing permanent. One day, Peter Gabriel answered the ad and the rest is history.
MNOD: Did you fit in right away or did it take a while for you to get comfortable?
Hackett: It took me a while to really feel comfortable, because we came from different backgrounds. The other guys went to private school together and that’s how the band initially started. Phil Collins had done both stage and film work such as singing the musical “Oliver!” and I was more of a town guy from the center of London. We became more comfortable with each other as the band continued on and the quality of our work reflects that.
MNOD: “Selling England by the Pound” has always been my favorite Genesis album. What stands out to you when looking back on that time?
Hackett: It’s an album that has developed its own character over time, so revisiting it on stage every night is an exhilarating experience. It’s hard to really describe what goes into making a record in the studio, because the process can sometimes be laborious. The opening track, “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight,” is an amazing piece that stands out for me, because it was initially going to be connected to “The Cinema Show” until we decided that it would be a little too close in length to “Supper’s Ready.” By breaking it up, we were still able to incorporate the 12-string work without being repetitive. I have many favorites from my time with Genesis, but “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight” gets more exciting every time I play it. It starts out slow and elegiac, and then it takes off like a rocket. It’s a unique piece and there’s nothing else quite like it.
MNOD: Your solo on “Firth of Fifth” is arguably the finest you’ve ever recorded. What do you look for when putting together a guitar solo?
Hackett: I think it all starts with the sound. If you find a sound that you feel you can go anywhere with, the guitar kind of leads the way. I follow it. Sometimes, I’m trying to emulate the sound of a voice on the guitar and, other times, I’m trying to emulate the sounds of other instruments. A lot of French composers were looking to the East as an influence and the “Firth of Fifth” solo is the same way.
MNOD: What is your relationship like with the rest of Genesis today?
Hackett: We still see each other from time to time. The last guy I ran into was actually Peter Gabriel. When we’re around each other now, it’s as if no time has passed. I usually compliment them on something they’ve done recently and they do the same for me.
MNOD: How did you assemble the current band you’re playing with?
Hackett: Some of the guys I’ve been working with for 20 years. When it came time to do the Genesis Revisited project, I realized that I needed a chameleon-like voice that could credibly pull off both the Peter and Phil material, and Nad Sylvan is that guy. Jonas Reingold is a bass player influenced by both Jaco Pastorius and Chris Squire, and he plays with the panache I was looking for. I met Jaco and collaborated with Chris, and Jonas understands and incorporates the best of both of them.
MNOD: Was there ever any pressure to accurately recreate the Genesis material on stage?
Hackett: For a while, I didn’t play any of those songs on stage at all. I started playing with John Wetton when we decided to play songs from each of our catalogs again. The second Genesis Revisited album went gold, which was very rewarding. Genesis Revisited was an idea that initially had legs and now it appears to have sprouted wings given how strong the reception has been. I love touring and playing this music in front of an audience. The material gets tighter as the band goes along and we’re ready to go out on the road again in a few days time.
MNOD: Are there any modern guitarists that you find exciting?
Hackett: I enjoy Joe Bonamassa very much. I remember Chris Squire telling me that I had to see this guy play. He was playing “Los Endos” from “A Trick of the Tail” and Yes’s “Starship Trooper,” and he was great. I’ve actually met him a few times and he has reinvigorated the blues in a way that is very cool to see.
Steve Hackett brings “Selling England by the Pound,” “Spectral Mornings,” and other album highlights to The Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda, NY on Sept. 12.
The show is sold-out, but there are still meet-and-greet packages available in the event that you already have a ticket.