Steve Hackett: “Changes Are for the Better”

by Keith Valcourt

Photo by Mick Bannister

 A puzzle is never complete without the proper pieces. For the band Genesis, Steve Hackett was that piece. He and his guitar joined the band in 1970 and helped grow the partnership of Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Tony Banks, and Mike Rutherford into one of the greatest progressive rock bands to ever walk the earth. After seven albums together, and at the height of the band’s powers, both Gabriel and Hackett split to follow their own musical journeys. Genesis jettisoned the precise playing that made them great in favor of pop success.

In the years that followed, Steve Hackett has released thirty highly acclaimed solo albums and has become regarded as one of the most diverse and respected players in music history. His influence can be heard on every axe slinger that followed, from Eddie Van Halen to Queen’s Brian May. 2020 sees Hackett returning to the U.S. to play a series of shows that feature the guitar god revisiting his favorite Genesis album, Selling England By the Pound, in its entirety. If that wasn’t enough, he will also be playing some solo hits and other Genesis gems. The tour hits the Warner Theater in DC on March 6th. In advance of that, I spoke to Steve on the phone from England to discuss Genesis, guitars, and Genesis again.   

Q: Why is Selling England By the Pound your favorite Genesis album? 

A: I think it as at the time when the band was making a quantum leap in the ambitious side of writing. The band was at its strongest as a five piece with five separate writers pulling in different directions. Also, the playing had come on leaps and bounds. It was a quantum leap from Foxtrot, a much-loved Genesis album amongst fans. Personally, I think Selling England By the Pound is the strongest Genesis album. Also, when John Lennon was giving an interview and said Genesis was one of the bands he was listening to. For me, it all focuses on 1973 when Peter Gabriel

was the lead singer of the band. He had an actor’s approach to singing long before people were using that description to David Bowie. 

Q: Did you ever imagine that you would be playing songs from that classic album some 45 plus years later?

A: No, I didn’t. No. Not at all. 

Photo by Lee Millward

Q: Do you discover new things when you revisit the material?  

A: Yeah, all the time. There are various moments in those songs where we let ourselves improvise. The live version of “I Know What I Like (in Your Wardrobe)” always had an improvised section in the middle. My band now does extraordinary things with it. Because we have an extraordinary level of musicianship in the band. We can take it to other areas I don’t think Genesis could do at that time. Great band though it was. It becomes many things. We honor the spirit of the original recordings while allowing it to change. We let it evolve as we did back then when it was first written. 

Q: There is a theatricality to the songs. Do you bring that theatricality into the current live shows? 

A:  Yes. For us now that theatricality in a way comes from our Swedish American singer Nad Sylvan who sings the Genesis stuff. He’s very flamboyant. Tall and blonde and has a chameleon like quality with his voice. It is very difficult when you take over for the singers with the stature of Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins. It takes a long time for that to bed in. Phil had a hard time when he took over for Pete. There was tremendous amount of resistance from die-hard fans. Of course, when Nad started singing this stuff in my band, he was getting that resistance. Because fans never want anything to change. I think the changes are for the better. Nad has won the fans over. He brings his theatricality to it without maybe using as many costumes as Peter Gabriel did.

Q: You are also playing tracks from your third solo album Spectral Morning. Is that your favorite solo album?

A: Funny enough, I would have said it was, up until last year when I did At the Edge of Light, that Spectral Morning was my favorite solo album. Then I have to say it is now a close tie between Spectral and last year’s album. We do “Under the Eye of the Son” and “Beast in Our Time” from the latest album. We also do some tracks from my album Defector because that’s also forty years old. We are also doing a couple of other Genesis classics. We do “Musical Box” and “Watcher Of the Skies.” It’s basically a three-hour show packed full of stuff. I don’t think there is a weak moment or weak song in the whole show. I think this is the best show I have ever done with any band. It’s quite the band. 

Q: How many guitars do you own, and how many do you take on tour?  

A:  I’ve lost count of how many guitars I’ve got. I would have to just pull a figure out of the air because they are held in three different locations for security reasons. I’ve probably got about forty guitars. Six of those will be on tour with me. But some of those are spares.

Photo by Tina Korhonen

Q: Do you have a favorite?
A:  Gary, the fine Irish guitar player and singer who played with Thin Lizzy and had great solo success, I inherited one of his guitars. It’s a gold top Fernandes guitar. That’s my go-to for most of the time. Also, my 1957 Les Paul.  Either those or my Zematis twelve string. He is a great British guitar builder who built guitars for George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Greg Lake, Mike Rutherford, and me. Extraordinary sound. A little more like a harpsichord than a guitar, really.

Q: Do you think there will ever be a Peter Gabriel era Genesis reunion?   

A: Well… We all convened in 2005 to talk about a possible reunion. The plan was to do some shows centering on Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. At the time the idea was also on the table of doing The Lamb… as a musical. As well as the original band doing some shows. Let’s just say there were factions, or a faction, in the band who scotched that idea. It meant that there simply wasn’t enough common grown to be able to progress as the team that existed 1971 to 1975. It is very difficult to turn the clock back. 

Q: If there ever was a reunion, would you be there?

A: If there was a reunion. Of course, I am up for it. But I think it’s unlikely. Meanwhile, I honor the music, and it continues to evolve. Because I’m very proud of it. I think of it as the epitome, the zenith, of that form. There are guys in the band who disagree and say, “No, Genesis was all about hit singles in the eighties.” For me there are two types of Genesis, if not three. The story-telling journeying songs, the musical continuums, and the audio adventure come from the earlier era when we were at our most creative. I am still proud of that stuff. Whether I do those songs with Genesis again or in my solo shows.   

Q: What’s the one thing you enjoy about touring America?

A: Saying hi to old friends and making new ones. I love being on stage wrestling with the same things every night. Pulling focus from it. Knowing it is firing up the audience of all ages. It’s not just men of a certain age who show up at these. There is a lot of romance involved with the various eras of the music I do. I’m on the romantic side of what we call progressive. I feel at my fittest when I’m playing live because I get a three-hour workout every night and that’s good. That gives me a spring in my step.

Steve Hackett is playing the Warner Theater in DC on March 6th.

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Keith Valcourt

Keith Valcourt is a Los Angeles based music and entertainment writer. He has interviewed thousands of celebrities in the worlds of music, film, TV and comedy for dozens of outlets including: L.A. Times, Washington Times, LFP Publishing, ChelseaCommunityNews.com, RetroRoadMap.com LaArtsOnline and more. Much More

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