Steve Hackett interview conducted via email by Alan Hewitt.
|TWR: Lockdown certainly hasn't slowed down your output, has it?
SH: Yes, Lockdown doesn’t have to be ‘Slowdown’! I’ve managed to record two studio albums, one of which is already out. We’ve also put out both a live album and an autobiography… so strangely, it’s been a busy year…
TWR: With the current situation, I guess having your own studio in your living room has helped, but have there been any technical problems with being in that situation which you would not have had if in a proper studio?
SH: The whole house becomes a studio / office. It doesn’t present any technical problems and we’ve learned how to live around it all, but we plan to acquire more space at some point so give more room for private life as well as work.
TWR: This is your first acoustic album since 2008's Tribute. Obviously you have not exactly been idle since then, but has it been, once again, as seems to be the case with these projects, finding the right time for them? Have any of the pieces had a lengthy gestation period or are they all new creations?
|SH: I wanted to wait for what felt like a perfect moment for an acoustic album. Under A Mediterranean Sky, with its international flavour felt right as a both a gentle album in a difficult time, and a way to virtually travel to several countries from the comfort of your own home. Casa del Fauno was already in existence and I have played it live with Roger, Rob and brother John. Parts of Joie de Vivre were developed from live acoustic shows too. But in the main, the tracks for the album were written and recorded during the Lockdown of Spring 2020.
TWR: The album is another very cinematic one, do you find it easier composing with a specific image in mind and where exactly do those images come from?
SH: It depends on the piece of music. I was inspired by many countries I visited either on tour or with my wife Jo around the Mediterranean. So, in some cases, as with Adriatic Blue, I was struck by the image of the beautiful blue sea beside the verdant green rocky coastline of Croatia. In other cases, as with Egypt, Morocco, Italy and Spain, the inspiration came from a series of images and experiences.
TWR: When did you start work on the album?
SH: The writing began between Jo and myself with the start of Lockdown in March 2020 and I practised a lot of ideas on the guitar. Recording started in May, when Roger was able to join on the project.
TWR: How did you go about marrying the orchestral palette to the guitar?
SH: Sometimes, the guitar came first and the orchestrations were created to fit in. At other times, the guitar joined the orchestra. It mainly depended on which instrumentation was taking the lead.
TWR: The set up looks deceptively simple from the photographs that have appeared on your blogs. For those technically minded among our readers, what software are you using during the recording process and what guitars/keyboards were used?
SH: Roger works in Logic and he plays a Roland FP 90 piano. For this album, I mainly played the Yairi acoustic guitar, which I bought at the time of Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. I also played the Iraqi oud on Sirocco and The Dervish and the Djinn, twelve string zermatis on Casa Del Fauno and charango on The Memory Of Myth.
TWR: On a similar theme, what have you been able to do in the home situation with regard to recording and what restrictions (if any) have there been to the process?
SH: As I mentioned, the set up we have does not restrict what we can do musically. Luckily, these days we no longer need a 24 plus track mixing desk! A small set up with computer, amps, effects pedals etc is totally adequate.
TWR: How do you work with the other musicians in isolation? How do you communicate the ideas that you want for each piece and how much is left to their own interpretation?
|SH: We send over the piece to each musician with a description of what I’m looking for. There is also room for their own interpretation. Generally, this process works well and we rarely have to ask them to re-do anything. The musicians who work with us are particularly innovative and talented as well as being sensitive to my ideas.
TWR: There has been a certain amount of recycling of themes and ideas, there are echoes of pieces from Metamorpheus on several of the tracks, in particular The Memory Of Myth and in the case of Joie De Vivre, there is the return of Mr Mason Williams's Classical Gas, which works remarkably well in its French setting. Are these conscious decisions or…?
SH: The Memory of Myth is only similar to Metamorpheus with the mystical violin introduction which also invokes a sense of the wonder of myth. Joie De Vivre has the influence of Classical Gas, but it is different. It is in a major key as a positive view of the way the French create a special occasion from gatherings of friends and family.
TWR: Roger's input on this has been truly remarkable. I notice that Jo has had an input on several of the tracks as well. How does that work on what is, effectively, an instrumental album?
Jo’s input on the music is not only lyrics. She has a musical background (her father was a brilliant violinist). Jo comes up with lots of melody lines, as well as suggestions for instrumentation. She also helps with ideas for the construction and direction of pieces. She has a good sense too of how more ethnic sounds can be integrated.
TWR: You revisit Scarlatti whom you first mentioned as being one of your inspirations in an early Genesis programme (along with Chelsea's Blue Is The Colour!). What is it about Scarlatti that particularly inspired you? I have a John Williams performance of the same Sonata and it is amazing how your interpretations of the same piece differ so much sonically. How easy is it to transcribe music for guitar that was originally written for completely different instruments?
SH: Domenico Scarlatti was born in 1685, the same year as Bach and Handel. I enjoy Baroque music from that time. Although the sonata in question was written for keyboards in the original key of C Minor, I used the Segovia transcription transposing it to E Minor. Instead of hammering on and off with the left hand, I used cross string trilling to make it sound more keyboard like. Generally speaking, if something was written for violin or cello, you have the advantage of having two extra strings with the guitar. Transposing from keyboards, you have to be more creative, detuning and transposing between keys.
TWR: Tell us a little about the ideas behind some of the pieces, some are more obvious than others and it is always fascinating to hear where they originate from as my conception of that is usually completely different to yours.
SH: To give some examples… M’dina (The Walled City) was inspired by the tumultuous backdrop of the beautiful historic city on Malta. I was imagining all the romance and tragedy over the centuries on that island, so often invaded because of its strategic position. My experience with Jo of the exotic Moorish Alhambra Palace along with the spectacular mountainous scenery and colourful gypsy dances gave rise to Andalusian Heart. Sirocco grew from the expanse of the great Sahara desert as well as the atmosphere of the magnificent ancient Egyptian ruins, along with the bustle and colour of the Arabian souks.
TWR: Once again, you have worked with musicians from a wide background and in particular Malik Mansurov and Arsen Petrosyan, how did you find them and what do they bring to the project?
| SH: Azerbaijanian Malik is an extraordinary tar player and Armenian Arsen is equally amazing on duduk. They bring a particularly exotic and genuine flavour to The Dervish and the Djinn, which arises from the vibe of the Middle East, meeting the Mediterranean via Turkey, Syria and Lebanon. I found Malik via the Hungarian band Djabe, who I sometimes guest with. I first communicated with Arsen when he was about to come to my most recent Paris show.
TWR: It's great to hear John's flute on Casa Del Fauno. Almost like old times in some respects. Do you think you will ever get that project of flute/guitar transcripts of the stuff you used to perform together live, done?
SH: Yes, it’s likely this will happen at some point.
TWR: With the album now in the bag, is there any likelihood of any acoustic shows to promote it?
SH: Nothing is arranged at this point, but I’m hoping to do a Trading Boundaries acoustic show soon, which will feature elements of the album alongside my older material.
TWR: Rumour has it that you are also hard at work on another rock album, how far down the line are you with that?
SH: Yes, the rock album recording is almost finished now, and it should come out soon…
TWR: Lockdown has certainly thrown music and other artistic endeavours into considerable turmoil. What are your thoughts on when/if things will return to normal?
SH:I’m hoping that things begin to change in the Summer, and the chances are that everything will be more normal by September. I very much look forward to the autumn tour!