Steve Hackett, who still nurtures a lasting affinity for classical music, has leapt headlong back into prog rock – putting the finishing touches on a collaboration with Yes co-founder Chris Squire, even as he begins work on an album that will reexamine his celebrated tenure as guitarist with Genesis.
Hackett was a member of the band from 1971’s Nursery Cryme through 1977’s Wind and Wuthering, a period that covers the Peter Gabriel-led era through the beginning of Phil Collins’ tenure as frontman. He’s since crafted an interesting solo career, moving fluidly from progressive rock to classical then back again, and was also part of the mid-1980s supergroup GTR (known for the No. 14-hit “When the Heart Rules the Mind,” and “The Hunter”) with Yes guitarist Steve Howe.
More recently came news that Hackett has reconnected with his prog confederates in Yes, this time alongside Squire – the only member to appear on each of the band’s recordings since its inception in 1968. Their album, humorously called Squackett, is scheduled for release in May.
“It’s been ready for some time now,” Hackett said, in the latest Something Else! Sitdown, “but it took a while to do the deal. Nevertheless, the deed is done. It’s ready to go.”
Hackett went in depth on the new project with Squire, the guitarist’s celebrated tenure with Genesis, and the sweeping impact of J.S. Bach on his playing style …
NICK DERISO: This upcoming collaboration with Chris Squire sounds like it could be a very intriguing meeting of the minds. You both have such distinctive playing styles.
STEVE HACKETT: Obviously, there is a certain amount of our two histories involved with it but, in the main, it was written very quickly between the two of us. As far as Yes, I think they were the bigger band earlier than Genesis, and then things started to change, of course – and then they went through so many incarnations. But each time, I think it was exciting. I always loved Chris’ bass sound and the whole vocal approach, which was largely harmony based. So when we worked on this record, the Squackett project, we decided that harmony vocals were going to be the thing. Chris and I both grew up listening to the Beatles and the Who, and there were some great harmony bands around at the time. That’s how we went at it. I would be intrigued to hear what people think about it. I can’t be objective about it. It always seems like, in hindsight, you go: ‘That was a hit for the following reasons, or that didn’t quite make it.’
NICK DERISO: It seemed to me that the name Squackett quickly punctured the idea that it was going to be a quote-unquote Serious Record. You guys are having a little fun, right from the start.
STEVE HACKETT: That’s right. It’s a fun thing. That’s the plan. We’ve got that title, so surely no one buying something called Squackett would assume it to all be intense opuses. One day, for instance, Chris was in my studio and he had a new bass, and he wanted to try it out. He started playing something, and I said: ‘That sounds like an interesting riff. Can you do that again? Because I think I can turn that into a tune.’ So, that became the basis for second tune, which is called “Tall Ships.” It was all very natural. We didn’t stand in each other’s way. We didn’t go: ‘Oh, that’s a terrible idea. Why don’t we do something else instead?’ It was a case of, ‘Well, that’s your idea; let’s relate it to this idea.’ I’ll be intrigued to find out people’s reactions. I’m sure it’s going to be different from what they expect – because they probably think: ‘OK, yeah, Genesis meets Yes. Everything is going to be in 19/5, and it’s all going to be finely clothed.’ But it’s not like that. It’s a very melodic album, with a selection of surprisingly gentle songs at times.
[GIMME FIVE: Former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett talks about key contributions to the band, the short-lived supergroup GTR – and how he created the move that made Eddie Van Halen famous.]
NICK DERISO: One of the things that strikes me about your solos is their great economy. That’s all the more notable in prog, a genre not exactly known for such restraint.
STEVE HACKETT: The idea is to serve the best interest of the song. I try not to let solo sections get too out of hand. I try to keep solos to the kind of length that I would have expected from an early Cream record. Later, I wasn’t quite so interested in the 20-minute version of “Spoonful.” I always felt you could say it in less time. The song itself needs to be able to support the soloist. Once you’ve heard those changes over and over again, I suspect you’re going to get bored.
NICK DERISO: There’s a parallel path to your career, as you’ve continued to explore classical guitar — something you dabbled with as far back as (1972’s) Foxtrot by Genesis. What was the allure of that style?
STEVE HACKETT: The one I am most proud of is an album called Tribute (from 2008). There were six pieces of Bach on that one. What I was intrigued by was hearing (virtuoso Spanish classical guitarist Andrés) Segovia play Bach. From the first note, suddenly the guitar was not a poor second cousin to the keyboard. It seemed like it was just as flexible. It could sound like a piano; it could sound like a harpsichord. It could sound like anything in that man’s glorious hands. Plus, the work of Bach was already without parallel. So I was intrigued by the level of complexity, and yet single-mindedness of purpose. There was a simplicity running through those myriad chord changes that Bach seemed to fuse so effortlessly together. I was intrigued by that, as many musicians are. The one thing that most musicians seem to agree about is, there was nobody who was more fluid than Bach. No one else was quite that good. That’s a difficult act to follow, which is why he’s considered to be the father of Western music. I kind of grew up listening to Bach and blues, simultaneously. They seemed to both be player-based mediums – because you could be completely spontaneous. Bach and Handel were great improvisers themselves; they were probably like the jazz musicians of their day. The blues players, they did more with a lot less chords. There’s a lot of emotion that you can wring out one note, if you are a gifted player. That’s my background.
NICK DERISO: Were you surprised, after your departure, in the overtly commercial turn that Genesis took? Did you see them becoming a pop band?
STEVE HACKETT: I did 9 albums with the band — two of those were double albums — in six short years. It was a very productive time for us all. Obviously, I was pleased for their later successes. I think the last gig the guys did was in Rome, and that was in front of 500,000 people! So, it’s a pretty big crowd for a live gig. That’s not bad going, is it? When I joined the band, Genesis was doing free concerts, playing colleges, anywhere that would have us. As the band progressed, though, and even with the last shows, the band was doing material that we all came up with — and that provided something for the live show. I really have had a love of what we did together, and remain very pleased for the band’s success.
NICK DERISO: There’s word that you are making a return to that music. Is it true that we can expect a new project featuring some of your work with Genesis?
STEVE HACKETT: There are certain things that I want to have a go at again. There’s a lot of great stuff. I don’t think anything that I have done personally has topped it, in terms of records sales. There are two ways of looking at it, though. You can fall in love with your own past, or – on the more negative side – you can say it’s like wearing a curator’s hat in a museum of your own making. So, what I would be doing is coming up with alternative arrangements, to bridge the gaps so that it would be something sufficiently authentic – something with just enough attention to detail that it would be subtly different.
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