“Spectrally Speaking” - Steve Hackett talks about his new lived album Time Lapse and his current US tour to TWR’s roving reporter Bill Brink on 22nd August 1992.
INT: It has been six years since we last saw you. Ostensibly you are touring to promote the live album that seemed to have a fairly murky beginning. But I gather that primarily the focus of this venture is to prepare for a new album?
SH: Well, that is true, yes. I am routining new material in front of audiences to see what the reactions are like and also to shake up those numbers in front of a crowd and get the input from the musicians I am working with. I think that to a degree you get to the point where tours areintedned to facilitate albums, but I suspect that the reverse is true; that the former is an excuse for the latter. I actually enjoy touring just of its own accord. What I generally find is that the more emotional moments move me extremely emotionally (laughs). The wilder, more tricky moments…the more pyrotechnic moments… one hopes to sail through without striking a reef. The emotional moments… when I say emotional I mean the more passive type things like Walking Away From Rainbows.
INT: You have established yourself as “Mr Sustain” with the music following a slower and more reflective pace. With the more recent electric albums - GTR and the live record, you seem to be speeding the tempo up a bit. Is that a cumulative effect?
SH: No. Actually, one thing is the live LP and the other is the material I am working on at the moment. I would say that no, I haven’t abandoned the slow motion feeling, it’s just that’s not particularly present on the album because it is full of things that have become stage favourites. There is that feeling on one or two of the tracks but I am not a great fan personally anymore of slow rhythms I must admit. I find that if anything, if I write something slow these days it will be without any rhythm at all or I will write a slow melody on a fairly bubbly rhythm. And I think that’s a development to a degree because I think that ever since I worked in Brazil in 1983 and I was surrounded by percussionists I feel that I am able to think instinctively like apercussionist or drummer now, even though I don’t have the technique to be able to do half the things that they can do, and I’ve never felt the need to actually play drums myself, but there is an appreciation of what it takes to make something work for a percusionist or drummer and in fact, a lot of the new material which I have demoed and intend to record with the band , there are quite a lot of slow things: Flight Of The Condor (Sierra Quemada). Walking Away From Rainbows… there are quite a number of things actually. By no means have I abandoned my roots.
INT: Is there any sort of timetable on the next record?
SH: That is beyond me because… that is not something I can control. it’s like saying when is the next major film release. I can write the script. I can pick the cast, I can film it because I have my own studio but I am not the one who is in the position to release it, to distribute it, advertise it etc. All I can do is what I am doing. My major commitment is to go out on the road and say “hi” to audiences and play. That’s my end of the bargain which I am delivering. Beyond that… business will be resumed as soon as possible. I don’t think that the people who enjoyed what I did in the past will be disappointed, I think they’ll be surprised. I’d like to think that because I am surprising myself with it, and the guys in the band are coming up with things that surprise me so… I think it’s going to be a return to a band feeling rather than the number of sequencers and considered changes. I am humanising it again and I think that’s a good thing, don’t you? Otherwise to a degree, the test tube babies which I have worshipped and adored and raised lovingly from my various sojourns into the laboratory have all been very well but there’s something special about kicking ass with a band live and that is what’s happening at the moment.
INT: Do you plan on touring in Britain?
SH: Again, circumstances are beyond my control… have guitar will travel (laughs). It depends, once again it is not just up to me. I know people like to think musicians are gods and can wave a magic wand but…over the conglomerate purge I don’t know. I spent a year doing charity work, myself and Kim. We spent a year doing charity work for the Vietnamese Boat People. We worked on a thing called “Rock Against Repatriation” which we spearheaded and were tremendously supported in the UK. We made one recording out of it and we had Queen, Tears For Fears, some of the guys from Genesis and Bonnie Tyler, we had half the business involved and lots of people gave things to it. We had an auction of Marilyn Monroe’s swimming costume that Elton John gave us… marvellous things actually. These are the things that you don’t always get to hear about.
INT: Given your very unique writing style, it would seem that you need an amazingly flexible vocalist to keep it up. Have you got a vocalist that can, so to speak, keep up the pace?
SH: I continue to sing my own vocals and in fact I’ve changed the style of the material to suit that, I think. No, actually, I’ve worked with some marvellous singers with cast iron throats and lungs but for the type of material I am doing now I don’t actually feel the need to have someone who can do that. I enjoyed working with …I have worked with some of the very best singers in the world … I ‘v been very lucky but I am not setting myself up in competition with them, it’s just that I have been taking a far more poetic approach to the lyrics. I mean, I write them down and see if they work on the printed page before I turn them into a song and I think it creates a stronger lyric and then you get the music away from the words. I don’t use the lyrics as an appendage to the song anymore, it’s an important factor for song writing. I am enjoying singing myself very much whether I sing flat all evening or surprise myself and hit all the high notes, it doesn’t actually matter to me the degree that it would say, to a band that were concerned with creating say “radio friendly” material. I am not doing that. What I am doing is increasingly more private. I write from the inside out much more now. I write about things that concern me. I Haven’t tried to write a commercial song for many years, I Haven’t tried to write anything that was remotely “radio friendly”.
INT: Can’t that get you into an area where your music could be categorised as “New Age”?
SH: Fortunately I am too old to be new age (laughs). That’s one of the nice things about old age I can tell you! It is one of the nicest things about middle age I should say! I am forty two, I’m honest about it. It’s bad enough that I am perceived as progressive but…I’m nit being flippant about it because the term “progrssive” has been used as a perjorative term by its detractors and I think to a degree … they have a point … the detractors because I no longer feel comfortable being called progressive or.. We’re not very happy with labels us musicians even when we are doing well, we don’t like it. It’s important to jettison this stuff when it becomes too heavy so I think I don’t owe an allegiance to any time or form or period or type of song. I just try to surprise myself. I think possibly my stuff has become earthier if anything.
INT: You have a performance of In That Quiet Earth on the live album. This raises the question: can you draw freely on old material or are there proprietary boundaries?
SH: No, there’s no problem. I can play what the hell I want and I can record what the h ell I want. But I think just in general if I do just the occasional Genesis piece it will be something that was spearheaded by the guitar or it will be something that I kicked off and it will be something that was initially arranged by the band so… Actually live I have been doing Los Endos as well because that was a melody of mine which was developed by the band and so I thought it was time to claim the birthright again. It can be traumatic you know, Oh I mustn’t do that and I guess that was good. My band loved playing that and so it is very good and they have never heard it before you see. With all of the guys in my band, one assumes that they must be full of fans but o not one guy in the band had heard that before I played them the live tape of it and they assessed it as any one of twenty potential numbers they were rehearsing and the reaction was, “Oh that’s a good one, why don’t we do that?” My young drummer, Hugo Degenhardt who’s aged twenty three, is very much a… although he comes from a rock’n’roll background, he loves jazz and all types of music, so he played those rhythms unlike most young drummers that I come across who have a somewhat limited repertoire of moods simply because they are not required to play with that level of technique or whatever.
INT: A compilation album has been mentioned to me several times, is this moving along now?
SH: Yeah, that’s moving along. There will be a compilation of what we thought was the best stuff from the past. Basically it is the stuff that Virgin owns, so that will be a Virgin compilation. I think various things will become available at certain points and this will be dome for them, it’s just that… I’ve released rather a lot of product now and gradually it will all be out there and I would like to think that the committed fan will manage to get hold of everything. I mean, I feel the same way about certain artists myself and I can’t get hold of their records and it drives me up the wall. I want to get Paul Butterfield albums you know, and I’ll have a long wait!