"The Genesis of a Guitarist" - Steve Hackett reminisces to Alan about his career with Genesis. Interview by Alan Hewitt, at Steve's studio, on August 22, 1997.
We continue our chat with Steve about his time with the band. This time we reach "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway"...
SH: One of the times when the band clicked was at the end of "The Fountain Of Salmacis" where Tony played those chords and Mike kept his foot down on the bass pedals and I played a guitar solo over the top of it and that's how it came out. The same thing happened with the bit of "The Lamb..." that we used to call "Pharaohs" which became "Fly On A Windshield" the bit that has no melody but is full of portent and has the idea of almost the "Ben Hur" rhythm; the guys in the galley (laughter) and I thought; "Oh that's good" and so the guitar became this sort of screaming voice over it and I went for Egyptian phrases as we made the same modulation from E to F sharp that roughly parallels the modulation on Ravel's Bolero at the end; a tone up in other words.
It gave the piece that tonic lift and I suppose what would be trite in song you know, when the chorus goes up like that in an in instrumental piece work really well. That came together spontaneously and there was one other instance... I'm trying to think of... oh yes, I know what it was... "Dance On A Volcano" the intro to that was another where everyone hit the same accents together in an ascending sequence over the jangly twelve string guitar that Mike was doing. So we all doing something that was synchronous and telepathic and that happened only very rarely. But of course, if you take the idea of atonal music like the thing we used to call "Evil Jam" which became "The Waiting Room" strangely, I wonder where I have heard that title before?! (laughter) that was by necessity more spontaneous and should have been more telepathic but I will do more of that stuff in future...
TWR: This album was also, at the time, the longest tour that you had done what were the highlights and dare I ask, the low lights for you personally on that tour...?
SH: Well, meeting Kim in New York was a very big change in my life and it was an enormous up for me where I had just come out of a broken marriage and a tremendous amount of disappointment and all those feelings of guilt and all the rest... I felt forgiven at that point and blessed.TWR: All was mended in fact...?
Steve in 1976
(Photo - A. Gallo)
SH: All was mended. The fact that she responded very strongly to "The Lamb..." and she liked it very much. It was almost her "Beatles" if you like, she was enjoying her "Sergeant Pepper" but also she was romantically involved with one of the perpetrators if you like. So this created... I felt that any people were drawn to our circle at that time because we were giving off a nice ambience because we were very happy. The other members would start hanging out with us very much more, and people would start wandering in and stuff and it was very happy and in some ways Kim opened up so many doors within the band for me in so many ways where people were no longer "stiff upper lip" and I think it was a very big up for the band at that point in time and growing confidence for myself and sadness at the loss of Pete but it was a new chapter.
TWR: Did he make his decision to leave before the band went on tour or during the tour itself?
SH: Yes, before the album as far as I am aware. He was going to come back and do this one last thing and tour it and fulfill all the obligations and I felt that he was able to give it a lot; you know he gave it everything he possibly could and it was very much his thing with the band as his backing band for that and I have respect for it. It is much easier now looking back at it to realise that this is what he needed at this point. Musically it wasn't fulfilling my needs or necessarily the needs of the others things started to become secondary to the story and there were bits of instrumental things that ended up being vocal things and so on and maybe it was a bit crowded, perhaps "Crowded House" would have been a good title! (laughter).
TWR: Were you at the same time as this album also working on the ideas that later were to become "Voyage Of The Acolyte"...?
SH: Yeah, before that was complete I was recovering from the hand injury and as I was doing that; I started practising at home and a few ideas I had which I thought might become something.
TWR: Did you think of bringing any of these ideas in to the band for "The Lamb..." album?
SH: Well, to be honest by the time I was in recovery; the album was already being mixed and so it was a long haul, it was about six months in the making as I seem to remember which was three months longer than any other album that was taking place at that time. The truth is that I would have liked to have put some of these ideas forward but I couldn't, there were already too many ideas and it was already a double album.
TWR: Then you moved on to the "A Trick Of The Tail" album which, apart from the fact that Peter was no longer in the band, what was the most noticeable thing about that album as compared to say, "The Lamb..."?
SH: The difference was that everyone had become a slightly different person. I had had some solo success by then... in fact no, by the first day of rehearsal I hadn't but I had had the success in terms of being able to produce a whole album for myself whereas if I had just come up with a bunch of out-takes. So I was writing more material and I was at the point where everybody had gone off and done separate things, apart from Tony who was very disappointed that everybody hadnít been saving material particularly for Genesis and he said; "I'm the only one who has been writing material for this band..." and he was very disappointed about that but as far as everyone else was concerned no one was even sure if the band had a future; Pete had left and most of us were hedging our bets as to whether the band was going to have a future or not. It looked as if everybody was going to be in separate camps so I was actually quite bereft of ideas by the time we'd started "A Trick Of The Tail" and I really had to think on my feet for that.
So my first memory was of day one of rehearsal of being very tired. As if I'd just given birth once and I was required to come up with another baby very quickly! (laughter). The atmosphere was a little strained within the band because I sensed that everyone was sensing each other out and we didn't have a singer; an appointed singer and so we were there to produce an album and find a singer to song the songs we had written. It seemed much more shaky than history would ever believe.
TWR: After all the angst and the agony and perhaps the ecstasy that went into "The Lamb..." this should have been a very dark and gloomy album but it is not. Was that a conscious decision?
SH: It is a very 'up' album isn't it? Well, again I was essentially happy and that translates... We were rehearsing as far as I can remember it was summer and these things do make a difference. I remember that during one of the first days of rehearsal, somebody who was running the place, and it was in Acton and they had a lion cub who was literally playing on the floor like a kitten and I remember playing with this lion cub and stroking its head; it felt like a horse hair mat; so wiry and it licked me! (laughter) and the tongue was so rough! And it was delightful. That was one of the most pleasant memories I have and if you see any photographs of that time we are all laughing and you can see it is becoming a happy band again.
TWR: And what were your thoughts when Phil, to use his own words, decided to come out from behind the drum kit and "wiggle his bum..."?
SH: Well funnily enough one of the first people to suggest that he should be the singer was Jon Anderson who came to Phil's wedding at the time and I said to Jon; "Hi Jon, nice to meet you" and we started very quickly talking about the band's future and I said; "I've just done a solo album and Phil sang wonderfully on it..." and Phil had sung the first song I'd ever written for Genesis - "For Absent Friends" - and I said "Phil's got a wonderful range" and he said; "Why don't you get in extra instrumentalists and make the band stronger? Phil's got a nice voice you seem to be aware of that already..." And I said; "Really, Jon I don't think the band will wear that one really, because they see him as a drummer..." So eventually we did take somebody into the studio and record and he sang a version of "Squonk" and he had considerable trouble with the melody lines because it was written by instrumentalists where the melody was up and down, weaving all over the place, not an easy melody for a singer to sing and he found it very difficult to respond to it and Phil deliberately stayed away on the day when we had the guy come in and we'd been through a series of auditions by now and he was the best of the bunch but he had enormous problems with the melody and it was very uphill and he was sweating away trying to do it and the guy had a perfectly good voice he just wasn't right for the part. And so, I remember Mike and Tony saying to Phil "What do you think Phil?" and he said; "I'll tell you what I think; I think it sounds fucking average; let me have a go..."
Genesis performing "The Lamb"
(Photo - J. Beermann)
So he went in and did it in a few hours and as it was being played back; Tony Stratton-Smith was wandering by as I seem to remember and he said; "God, he sounds just like Pete. Sounds like you've found your vocalist, chaps!" (laughter). Tony was very good at going in and giving everyone a short sermon and buoying everyone up and then leaving you know... Everybody thought that Phil had done such a great job on it that there were no questions from then on. He was the vocalist and Tony Banks had seen Elton John playing with two drummers and had said that it was really stunning live seeing two drummers live; Ray Cooper and Nigel Olsen... So Phil became the singer and Bill Bruford came into the band and gave us a big up because he was somebody who Phil admired and we had all admired in Yes and so Bill came in and gave us all a big up and when he arrived he was immediately cracking jokes and he dispelled any feelings of... and he jammed along with us and said; "Yeah, that sounds great and this will be fine..." and it wasn't any kind of angst ridden; is this going to work out right? So he immediately put everyone at ease with his humour which was great.
TWR: You put all that to good use in your swansong with the band - "Wind & Wuthering". What are your feelings about that album now...?
SH: I'm trying to remember where we rehearsed it. I can remember where we recorded it in Holland at Relight Studios and that was very nice. I enjoyed working away from England in an environment that was just given over to music and I remember having a good time recording that album in fact. Then coming back to England and mixing it; continuing to mix in Trident Studios in Earl's Court as it was then. I don't know if it is still there. I enjoyed the album but in my own mind I was already working outside the group, I was already thinking of Randy Crawford and working with other gifted, gifted people. Tremendously gifted people, singers, people who are geniuses in their own right. I felt that I still had a lot to learn and the only way to do that was by immersion in separate cultures; black, American, white American and not be exclusively involved with European music.
TWR: Did you bring any of the music that ended up on the "Please Don't Touch" album to the sessions?
SH: Yes, the track that became "Please Don't Touch" was something that Genesis rehearsed up originally and we didn't include it on the album and we did not develop it and I felt that it was a gem because the band did not develop it and I felt "Hang on; here's one of my best ideas and we are not using it, why are we including this one and not that one?" So I became aware that the intensity of playing that was so important to me was not quite so high a priority to the others as they were starting to relax a bit more and as they did so and became more themselves; the process of individualisation for me was one that had to take place outside the group, and that was, in effect my removal from the Eden hat was really.
TWR: That begs the question when you came to leave the band, was it a case of "did he fall, or was he pushed?"
SH: Well, I wouldn't like to see it as a fall from grace because I feel that it is only now that I feel that I can truly express myself in music. I think at the time I was anxious to do a string of solo albums and this was something that worried both Mike and Tony. Phil wasn't in the least bit worried; he'd been operating with Brand X for quite some time but I think it was regarded as less of a threat because at least he wasn't pushing out albums under his own name but everyone knew that by that time that Brand X was his band and he was going out and doing gigs with it so, perhaps if I had come up with another group title or something it would have been less of a political hot potato but it did seem to create waves.
Nonetheless I felt I was coming up with far too many ideas for the band to fully exploit... explore is perhaps a better word, and in order to develop I felt I had to work with some other people. I already was working with great people in Genesis. I realised at this point that they were a great band and they were great at what they did and they'd done great things but I felt to prove or to attempt that level of greatness for myself; I had to do that outside of the band. I felt that I needed to paint pictures on my own which would not be seen as a threat to the established order almost. It was perceived as a threat however, and it was basically a two year decision. I didn't make it lightly, it didn't happen overnight. I think I perhaps underestimated how difficult it was going to be but nonetheless, even now I still think it was the right decision for me because I would have to say goodbye to a lot of great music. I won't say I totally came up with it was a combination of me working with a lot of other people and a lot of other things that were comparably good and others which surpassed the things with the band. I know that that won't please everybody, my saying that, and a lot of people might say; "Genesis was Steve's finest hour" and "Genesis' finest hour was with Steve..." and "Wouldn't it be great to turn the clock back... what a pity..." And I realise that when I look back at tremendous gigs that I have seen and people doing exactly what I consider to be the right thing on stage...
There you have it folks; a small insight into Steve's career with Genesis. It is amazing to see that he is still "doing exactly the right things" both on stage and on record, and I hope that he continues to do so for a great many more years yet - thanks again, Steve!