"Just for the record" - Steve Hackett talks about his career with Genesis. Interview by Alan Hewitt, on Thursday , August 21, 1997.TWR: Last time we spoke about Genesis, you mentioned "Horizons". Tell me a little bit more about how that track came about?
SH: That was the only totally solo track I performed with the band on a Genesis album. I believe I wrote it over a period of about twelve months. I wrote it very, very slowly for such a short piece! (laughter) It is only one minute and thirty seconds long. I had been influenced by a piece that Julian Bream played, in fact, and I didnít know who wrote it, and I found out years later that it was a piece by Bach and I transposed it to another key and... Bach tends to figure highly on my list of all-time favourite composers.
TWR: What was the reaction of the guys when you brought that piece in to the band?
SH: Well, I played that piece to them on an electric guitar, although I had written it on an acoustic steel guitar and really it should have inhabited neither of those regions but the nylon! (laughter). So, I played it to them a little nervously, thinking "They won't like this; they'll reject this" and it was Phil who said; "It sounds like there should be applause at the end of that..." and they sort of clapped and so I was elected to perform this piece on my own on the album, which most people thought of as part of "Supper's Ready", because it pre-figured that and the segue went almost straight into that, but it was a separate piece. And I have been interested in people's reactions to it over the years, and most say that it conjures up a picture for them, and it is either that it felt like a boat on a river or a punt on a summer's day. I was very surprised by the reaction to it after all - it is a very short piece, and very reflective for a start.
TWR: That was your main contribution to the music on that album. What else do you personally think you brought to that album?
SH: It's very funny really, because I have been talking to Mike Giles and he was telling me what he thought his role was in the early days of Crimson, and through that I have come to realise what my effect was on Genesis, particularly with tracks that I didn't write, although influenced in a way that just... gave them a puff of wind, or something. Gave them a little more cohesion or something or other, for instance "Watcher Of The Skies", I remember being the one who said "We've got to get a Mellotron, we've got to get a light show..." And later on, "We've got to get a synthesiser..." And... "We have to be in the front line of all this technology" because we have to control our own environment with lights, we had to sound as big and broad as an orchestra if we were going to do all this allegorical stuff.
You know, if you really want to truly inhabit the fairy tale regions, then we needed as wide a canvas as possible. I remember being against doing "Supper's Ready" live before we had all these things, because I felt it wouldnít work, and I remember it was me and Pete and the two of us were saying "We shouldn't do it unless we've got all the sound effects, of the train doors slamming and Uncle Tom Cobley and all" because we had performed a number of these type of things live and people just wandered off to the bar and we wondered why? It wasn't because the sound wasn't enough, and so we really had to get the whole production together before things started clicking with Genesis in those days.
Steve with Genesis in 1972
(Photo - A. Gallo)
So, with a track like "Watcher of The Skies" unless I pushed, I donít think we would have inhabited that Mellotron/Orchestral region and I think my contribution to that was not harmonically but dynamically and conceptually, if you like. I am trying to think of the rest of the tracks... "Can Utility & The Coastliners" was my verse really. I wrote the verse and the lyric. On "Time Table" I detected a slightly sort of Beatle-y feel and so I tried to play guitar in a Beatle-y sort of way. I played it through the Lesley cabinets with the guitar and just did an arpeggio guitar figure, very underplayed because I felt it was very much more a keyboard thing where the melody modulates and is almost a sort of Henry Mancini melody and I felt that all I needed to do was play underneath it. There was a little bit in there of mine, where I go into the area of distortion, and try to give the music some angst that it doesn't have at one point. I think my contribution to that track is fairly minimal, but if you play the track back without me, you would notice the difference.
As was often the case with Genesis songs, I felt that my job was to provide a little bit of the shading in one corner of the big picture, and I was content with that because so many times Tony was so self-sufficient, or the trio were so self-sufficient, that the areas that were left for the guitar to inhabit were either the orchestral or synthesiser regions, and this was really before synthesisers, and so I would try and do impersonations of other instruments, and it went into the area of pastiche such as on "The Musical Box" when they played the number which was written before I joined the band, and I realised that no one was making the sound of a musical box, and so I came up with the line that suggested the sound of a musical box which was the most obvious thing that nobody had done! (laughter) and I thought "it's up to me to be the musical box" and I had that approach with so many Genesis things... it is crammed full of chords; they donít really want a lead line; what the bloody hell can the guitar do here? (laughter). So, either I joined the rhythm side of things with something strange, or the vocal area, or I could try and blur the edges, and no one knows which is a keyboard and what is a guitar, and I felt that often my role was to ghost something in such a way that it confused it slightly, but gave it a little bit of mist and gold dust in one area...
TWR: What was your reaction when Peter started to wear the costumes...?
SH: Well, he sprang that on us one night, when we were doing the Rainbow I think, in London, and I was happy that he did that. He just brought them along and they were just standing there backstage before the show. He didn't rehearse with them and he just put them all on during the numbers and I thought it was... in a way he didn't say "What do you think, everybody?" he just did it because otherwise there might have been a school of thought within the band that went... "Well... I'm not sure about that gold lame number...!" (laughter). So, I think he had the right steamrollering approach.
If he wanted to do it, he just did it and I felt the same musically, and it was sometimes better to steamroller things than to try and do them by committee. Composition by committee is something that is very hard to employ in practice. There comes a point where you have to be sufficiently bloody minded to get your own way and you are not going to get everybody to agree to every idea and sometimes even the best of players sometimes underestimate each other's great ideas. I had this with Genesis before "Foxtrot", I didn't think I had contributed sufficiently to the songs on that album. I felt that they were very strong without me, and I felt... "You know, I think I ought to leave, you guys are strong enough without me..." And they said - Tony and Mike said... "Oh no, Steve, we really like your guitar playing and we really want you to stay with the band..." and this was day one of recording at Island Studios and at that point I hadnít really understood that they liked my playing and I didn't really understand that and so suddenly the pressure was off and "They think what I do is good" and my confidence was at a very low ebb at that point.
Steve with Genesis in 1973
(Photo - A. Gallo)
I didn't know if I was the man for the job, and I didnít know if I was up to the job. They had much more experience as song writers and they seemed able to come up with wonderful melodies and I felt very much like the "New Boy" all these things came out and I thought I was going to get the sack at any minute and I felt that I was just filling in until this professional guitarist was going to come along. Gradually I began to realise that it was a job for life if I wanted it, and when I did eventually decide to abort the mission - Mission Impossible had become Mission Improbable really. Mission Complete really.
TWR: That brings us nicely to the next album - "Selling England By The Pound", which is one of your favourites. What makes you single that one out above the others..?
SH: Well, having been involved with a bunch of guys who were a songwriter's collective as they originally presented themselves at that point, I felt that I hadn't really come up with any songs for the band and at that time I felt that it was time to express myself spontaneously as a player, and I felt this is never going to wash with the band, but again, I was underestimating the power of the spirit, because I said: "I've got a few bits that go like this..." (hums the tune that became "Dancing With The Moonlit Knight") or bits that could become solos and I said "What I am really all about is this, but I don't think you guys are really in this ball park, are you?" And Phil said "Hold on, I think we've got something..." and he did... I don't know exactly what he did but everybody was suddenly playing away with the player's mentality on a lot of it, where the band up to then hadn't come across as demon players, and I felt that perhaps we were lagging behind the likes of King Crimson and Yes and I wanted to express an area of technique that, thankfully I have now outgrown but the young player I was at the time, wanted to fire off a few fast rounds.
TWR: The impression many fans have of that album is that it was, to some extent, a very difficult one to put together...?
SH: Well, there were difficult things going on in my home life at that time, but I never felt as much at home as when I was with the band particularly playing with them live. I felt really at home in 1973 particularly when we were playing in America, I felt very much at home. I felt we were playing all the best numbers, we had three albums to draw from that I had been involved with. We had the best of "Nursery Cryme", we had the best of "Foxtrot" and we had the best of "Selling England By The Pound", and I felt that this was a mighty set that we were doing, and I had belief over and above all the rest who felt that that album wasn't our greatest in terms of sound, but it did a quantum leap in terms of sales.
I could see that we represented all things "English" and that America was falling under our banner, and then there was this interview with John Lennon where he said that he was listening to two bands at that moment - one was Genesis and the other was ELO, and I thought, ELO was a love letter to The Beatles but Genesis... the influence was there, but it was very subtle. So, I thought that was a feather in our cap absolutely. And on the same tour where we were sometimes playing to packed houses and sometimes we couldn't get a gig anywhere, and it was very much like an army, and by the time we reached The Roxy we sat around there for a week or two not able to get a gig and then we did these three nights at The Roxy, two shows a night, and they were sold out, and they were hanging from the rafters and they loved everything we did and they were, to my mind some of the greatest gigs the band ever did, because it was a small room. It was very powerful and I felt very much at home. I felt I knew what I was playing, and I knew who I was, and I was wearing a terrible jacket with strawberries all over it! (laughter) I was going through my phase of looking like the guy from Spinal Tap who had the moustache (laughter). Nonetheless, they loved us and I felt we were right; this was the greatest stuff the band is ever going to do, this is it.
And there were things happening on stage - Pete and Phil were so loose and they would start going into comedy routines (laughter), at one point they would start doing this thing where, I think, it was Pete would start doing this impression of Alan Whicker (laughter) and then Phil started doing the same thing, and of course, the audience didn't know what they were doing but the band were falling about. We were in tears of laughter, and we were so relaxed. We did a Christmas Eve show where, in those days in order to sound like Mickey Mouse you couldnít get your voice up that high, so Pete took helium and he too so much helium that after the show he had hiccups (laughter) and he had them for a day or so afterwards but for God's sake, he went for it. He dressed up as Father Christmas and it was just great, you know. Pete put in 1000% and really Pete was the reason I joined the band - it was his advert I replied to and for so many reasons I have affection for Pete over and above the ideas and the days when we sweated shoulder to shoulder.
An ad for a Genesis gig from 1973
(Photo - A. Hewitt/TWR)
Anyway, for me, I tend to come alive when I think of "Selling England..." I think I was able to infuse that album with the enthusiasm of a player, and as an interpreter on, for instance "Firth Of Fifth" basically the whole song was Tony's baby from beginning to end apart from the lyric which he co-wrote with Mike and the thing that people mentioned about that song was the guitar solo, which is my most well known solo really, and really that interpretation of that melody played legato with all that anguish...
TWR: You have spoken about your "Genesis Revisited" project, and we know that you recorded "Déjà Vu" which had been written at the same time as "Selling England..." - Were there any other pieces written at the same time, that haven't been recorded?
SH: Well, that was due for inclusion in the album, but I think that was really the only one although I can remember one or two things that we were trying to get off the ground and I was disappointed when that one wasn't included on the album at the time because I felt that it had something to say. And that is why I made the recent attempt with that track. At that time it had "I'm on my way" and "I do believe I've been this way before" as lyrics and he hadn't really tied down the words to go with the music of it yet...
And that's it for another issue. My thanks again to Steve for taking time to reminisce to us here at TWR. Next time we focus on Steve's memories of "The Lamb..."