Breaking the silence - Steve Hackett talks to TWR' about his latest album, Surrender of Silence. Photographs by Jo Hackett.

TWR: Surrender Of Silence...intriguing title. Whose silence has been surrendered exactly? Yours? Your need to keep silent in the face of adversity or …

SH: There was the need for contemplation during the worst part of the pandemic, which was when I recorded the previous album. That was acoustic, gently taking people around the Mediterranean when they couldn’t travel there. Subsequently, there is the need to release bottled up energy and to express feelings of frustration in a world that has so many problems.

TWR: Let's group some of the tracks together if I may as they seem to have similar ideas/concepts behind them. The Obliterati, who are they exactly? The Woke Generation…?

SH: The Obliterati are the negators, those who would put us down and crush dissent.

TWR: Who are the "Sharks" for whom you have so kindly provided relaxation music...politicians? The media?

SH: Sharks are both actual sharks and metaphors for all kinds of predators, including human.

TWR: Fox's acidic commentary on today's fake news culture. What prompted, or provoked you to comment so vividly on these issues? Were there any specific incidents which provided the germ of an idea…?

Click to enlarge

SH: News with bias that is designed to manipulate, rather than to inform, often supports those who aim to keep people in poverty and ignorance. It was very scary to watch the footage of the storming of the Capitol in the USA. That was a result of people being maniputated.

TWR: How do you go about constructing tracks such as the above without falling into the trap of becoming preachy?

SH: The music is of equal importance and I aim to make these kinds of tracks energetic, so it can appeal on just a musical level. But I also feel that we should all have to right to put protest songs.

TWR: Does writing such material come easier to you these days, as you have always steered away from such direct references until recently!

SH: I feel that the world is at a tipping point these days and my concerns influence my writing. I’ve always written about the things that have moved me. When Peter was involved with Genesis, social comment was often a part of the Genesis tapestry. I also included comment in the song Blood on the Rooftops, regarding apathy.

TWR: The Devil's Cathedral. Mr Trump at Mar A Lago perhaps? What was the idea behind this one? For some reason it reminds me of Harold The Barrel, the same sense of ludicrous humour with a darker element to it. A mini student opera as someone once said (!) You really let Nad and Roger off the leash on this one!

SH: I wasn’t thinking of any specific person on this one. It’s a comment on what can happen when personal ambition gets out of hand and turns toxic.

TWR: Natalia, another reference to your own family's past. What are your thoughts on the current state of affairs in Russia. I noticed the nod to Prokofiev in the music, deliberate or subconscious?

SH: Yes, there is a link between Natalia and my ancestors having to escape the Pogroms. It’s an observation too on how Russia has always been under the yoke of oppressive, murderous regimes. But at the same time, it has given rise to beautiful music, which is consciously referenced within the song.

TWR: Held In The Shadows, a superb description of the situation Jo found herself in for so long. Was this an easy song to write with all of the emotions it so obviously expresses and how does it feel to perform it in front of an audience?

Click to enlarge

SH: Yes, life was very difficult for both Jo and me before we were able to be together full time. I wanted to make the vocal as emotional as possible and I believe I achieved that on this track. I feel the chorus is an absolute affirmation of all the positive qualities Jo brings to my life. It feels wonderful and liberation to play this track live and to have such a fantastic reception from the audience for such a personal song.

TWR: Wingbeats. Hackett meets Paul Simon perhaps?

SH: Wingbeats is a celebration of Africa. Jo and I had an amazing experience of Ethiopia in recent times, with its wonderful nature, wild scenery and extraordinary tribal communities.

TWR: Shanghai To Samarkand, another superb travelogue with echoes of The Red Flower Of Taichi and The Silk Road and yet uniquely its own. The inspirations are obvious, but how easy was it to paint the sound picture of them that you present here? Have you visited the places in question?

SH: The aim was to create a journey from East to Middle East, across the Himalayas. In that sense, there is a filmic aspect, which was an enjoyable challenge, employing several regional instruments, from the oriental harp, to Tibetan percussion and sounds through to instruments like the dutar from Tajikistan & Uzbekistan and the tar from Azerbaijan. Jo and I have been to China and Jo has visited the Himalayas. We’ve both spent time in Japan. When we visited Malaysia, we were impressed by the beautiful hilltop temple to the goddess Kuan Yin, who features in the song.

TWR: Day Of The Dead reminds me somewhat of The Skeleton Gallery, are the resemblances intentional or…?

SH: The similarities are not intentional, but the subject is similar. In the case of Day of the Dead, it’s more like a fun escapist carnival of horror, allowing the instruments to fly and let off steam.

TWR: Scorched Earth, or Sierra Quemada perhaps? A strong statement. Do you think that in these media obsessed days music still has the ability to communicate an important message and, more importantly, do you think the audience is still listening?

SH: A lot of people love this track. I think it appeals to anyone who cares about the planet and the future. I was heartened to see David Attenborough recently talking to Greta Thunberg on the television… the old with the young, both equally concerned and dedicated.

TWR: Esperanza, a Hackett album without an acoustic element is unthinkable and I love the reference to Pandora's Box in the sleeve notes. After all the madness, mayhem and chaos are we still left with hope these days?

SH: Yes, I believe there is hope. Humanity has many flaws but ultimately, I believe that love and compassion can shine through.

TWR: Tell us about some of the new and not so new faces that helped you put this one together…

SH: It felt great to involve my current band members on various tracks and especially all together on The Devil’s Cathedral. Lovely to also include Christine Townsend’s beautiful violin and viola, Amanda Lehmann’s exquisite vocals on several tracks, Lorelei and Durga McBroom’s soulful voices, both Nick D’Virgio and Phil Ehart’s incendiary drumming, Sodirkhon Ubaidulloev’s dutar and Malik Mansurov’s tar. It’s a united nations of a team.

Click to enlarge

TWR: How did you manage to put this album AND Under A Mediterranean Sky together on such a short time? Had the ideas for either been gestating for a while before they emerged?

SH: Because there were no live shows, I just kept going! Most ideas came during that period. Nothing was rushed, but I worked on both albums pretty much every day for several months.

TWR: How long did it take to put the album together? Did Lockdown present any problems and/or opportunities?

SH: It took about six months to put Surrender of Silence together. The only time there was a block on recording was in the early days of Lockdown when I wasn’t allowed to have Roger over to work with. But I used that time to write and prepare for both albums, and to put out around sixty Lockdown videos to help keep up the spirits of fans.

Click to enlarge

TWR: You are releasing albums at a phenomenal rate. Do you ever worry about running out of ideas?

SH: There are always new ideas coming through! With the diversity of the material, there is always something to work on.

TWR: You are currently on tour with Seconds Out, the last Genesis album to feature you. Does this signal the end of the Genesis Revisited era bearing in mind that originally you were only going to be doing this before "normal service" (your words) is resumed. We are now nine years down the line, what next for Hackett?

SH: Genesis Revisited is ongoing, as people enjoy it so much, and so do all of us in the band. I always include my own material as well, keeping the past alive alongside the pulsing lifeblood of new music!

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge