Steve Hackett first came into prominence as the guitarist of the legendary rock band Genesis, whom he played with until 1977. Prior to leaving Genesis, Steve had released his first solo album, Voyage Of The Acolyte, in 1975. His solo career has continued steadily ever since, aside from the mid-1980s, when Steve co-founded the short-lived supergroup GTR. His newest release is The Night Siren, which will hit stores next month via Inside Out Music.
In support of The Night Siren, Steve is embarking on a on a U.S. tour which includes a Feb. 23 stop at Westbury’s NYCB Theater and a Feb. 25 gig at Manhattan’s PlayStation Theater. Downtown caught up with Steve by phone to learn more about The Night Siren, his early days in New York, and what lies ahead for him. More on all things Steve Hackett can be found at www.hackettsongs.com.
I was wondering what you remember about the first time you ever played in New York City.
Steve Hackett: Wow, god, the first time in New York City. I think I remember we played Avery Fisher Hall, and I believe Leonard Bernstein was rehearsing with the New York Philharmonic, I think it was. We were supposed to get in earlier to set up everything and I think rehearsal overran for him. “Great, Leonard Bernstein”…But it did mean things were a bit fraught for us, and one of the other bands that were at the show, Strings & Things, I think they had a problem with an amp, so I lent them mine. Our road manager said, “I don’t wanna worry you, Steve, but your amp’s just blown up.” (laughs) This is the big New York debut and my amp’s just blown up and I already had flu and I was dead nervous about screwing up in New York, so I think I was pretty damn nervous, as was the rest of the band. So I think we didn’t turn in the greatest of performances, but it was to be one of many over time and luckily New York did eventually get what with Genesis was all about. I’ve had wonderful times in New York ever since.
When was the first time on tour or for travel that you actually got to relax in New York and not just play a gig and leave. Do you remember that?
SH: Oh goodness me. Well, I think funny enough the first time through, we couldn’t get that many shows and then we were in New York for a long time. In fact I think to recall that we spent time on both coasts. You’ve got to remember it’s a young struggling band and there aren’t too many things…so I did get to sit quite a bit in New York at that time. Of course one of the early times we were through we heard that John Lennon had said that we were one of the bands he was listening to. I think he was talking to Scott Muni at WNEW, so that was hugely important for us as a young struggling band…But we still couldn’t get a gig anyway, it didn’t make any difference.
For your upcoming show in New York at the PlayStation Theater. What’s to be expected? Are you playing songs from throughout your career and catalog?
SH: Well, what I do these days is I play two sets. It’s a bit like there’s two bands in one. I play a set of solo material and I will pick stuff from the new album, and then we take a break then we come back and we do Genesis stuff…I think I’m doing at least one track from each of the Genesis albums that I made…
So that means nothing from GTR?
SH: Nothing from GTR so far. People have been saying that to me, “Why don’t you do ‘When The Heart Rules The Mind?” So down the line I will probably do that, you know.
So you’ll be playing some material from The Night Siren, which comes out a month or so after your show in New York…
SH: Yeah. Funny enough we just had the first band rehearsal today, and we were rehearsed two of the songs from that album. I have to say, even though we didn’t know every note and it was not perfect, this run for today, even though we’ve all been in individual rehearsal separately, it still sounded extraordinarily-powerful. I’m thrilled that it makes very good live material, that also was the test.
Do you have a favorite song to play live? I ask that because some people had 40 and 50 year careers may say, “You know every song is like my child, I don’t have a favorite.” Other people might go, “Nope, I love my new album…”
SH: Well, I think all of them. Yeah, I think I’m probably in a more…I wouldn’t do these numbers if I did not love them, I think they’ve all got something to say. I think they are all beautiful in one way or another. Some of them are more bombast, some of them more lyrical, but I love them all, you know they’re all my grandchildren. (laughs)
How do you feel about looking at being looked at as one of the forefathers of prog-rock? Is that a tag that you’re comfortable with?
SH: I don’t mind that. I think that whatever we were doing back in the day, mixing genres…practically every style was welcome, including comedy and pantomime, as well as the most serious thing. I’m happy to have been a part of that, we didn’t call it “progressive” at the time…That’s a retrospective catch-all phrase, because we feel that it was okay to do a three-minute single like “I Know What I Like,” and that would be considered to be probably bad form by most progressive bands. But we did the long-form stuff, we did the short stuff, we like to mix it. There were a lot of different include, there was big band, there was classical music, there was aspects of Jazz, there was certainly rock and pop…
Do you listen to any prog-rock in general these days? Are there any bands that you’re interested in?
SH: I think the funny thing is that once a band reaches a certain stature, people no longer say they are progressive. People don’t talk about The Beatles as a progressive band, yet they set the bar for the rest of us. What they were doing was all of a sudden Magical Mystery Tour, you have those aspects of progressive stuff, of course Abbey Road with all those things linked together, vignettes, it’s very progressive. I think there was a progressive aspect that Queen had, and Muse, and Elbow, with their diverse work. You’re doing an excerpt of Chopin and then you’re doing something else that sounds like Prince, like Muse do, that sounds progressive to me.
Is there anything that you haven’t yet accomplished in your career, you’re still hoping to?
SH: Yeah, I haven’t made it as an actor in Hollywood yet. Just kidding. (laughs) I think maybe film work, and I don’t mean acting. I mean music for film, or rather I was hoping that something that I’d done already might be considered by a filmmaker to be dramatic. Something like “El Niño” for instance, off the new Night Siren album…
The film world has been a huge influence for me and many many musicians. I would say Genesis, some of the Disney stuff, the effect on The Beatles…Although I’ve done stuff for film and had a lot of stuff used with documentaries and what have you. Yeah, it’d be lovely to go and score something for sci-fi. That genre, I loved it when I was kid and I still love it now of course, I never outgrow it. I still go and have an imaginary spaceship out the back, and it goes like this… (sings an melody) (laughs) You know that kind of feeling.
Music, I think, has that ability to move you both emotionally and physically, and you feel as if your feet is off the ground. That’s what music does for me. I love slow melodies and fast moving rhythms underneath slow melodies, which I think allow the possibility of iconic melody.
That’s very interesting. So you know if I can put words in your mouth, you revisit Genesis when you perform live, but you are in no way hoping for a reunion. Like that chapter of your life is behind you you’re kind of saying.
SH: I think that it’s extremely unlikely that there will be a Genesis reunion. We’ve tried to put together the band before. There seems to be insufficient common ground or enough, you know, goodwill to be able to do it.
SH: I think I have always been up for it, I certainly wouldn’t stand in the way of it, but I suspect the perception is different from fans to the way the band functions. I know that they’re comfortable with the three-piece, or certainly were, you know when you’ve got a five man team, it’s different. But you know it might happen one day, but somehow I doubt it. I think the power play aspect is what runs parallel with it and the thing is I honor the music. I’m free of the politics when I do this stuff. I’m not trying to knock anyone off their perch, I’m not a competitive musician. I’m trying to do music for the people who were disenfranchised and feel that way, feel that Genesis was something precious and personal at first when it was perhaps more experimental, and I do love some of those early albums. I think I think they have some extraordinary material and some great chord sequences as well.
So when you’re not busy with music or sci-fi, what do you like to do for fun?
SH: I like to travel. I’ve just come back from Cambodia and Thailand on a tour of temples and seeing the bridge over the River Kwai and taking a train over it and seeing living history really. Some of the monumental achievements of the ancients…The temple complex in Cambodia was absolutely extraordinary. There were three temples that look like they’re straight out of either the Tomb Raider or Indiana Jones, and it’s glorious stuff in the heart of the jungle. It’s true adventure. So I love doing that, my wife loves to travel. That’s what we do, we do that and we often pick up instruments in these places and make friends everywhere and we get influenced by everywhere that we visit and everyone we speak to.
So finally Steve, any last word for the kids?
SH: For the kids, you say?
SH: My god, I think anyone who’s a musician is a kid. There’s only one lesson, which is to love it, because if you love it that will get you over all the difficulties. Don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot make a living at music, you will if you are passionate enough.