"Boxed Set Blues" Steve Hackett in conversation about the recent Genesis Boxed Set and his own future projects. Interview conducted at Crown Studios on Monday 22nd July 1998. Interview by Alan Hewitt.
TWR: What exactly are you up to at the moment, Steve? What projects are you working on?
SH: I am working on two recording projects which will come to fruition shortly which I will describe as "Classical" and "Modern". It sounds like dance , doesn't it? (laughter).
TWR: Is one of these the new rock album?
SH: The new rock album? Yes, as I said; the "Modern" (laughs) well, I've been recording a lot of rock stuff over the years prior to the three archival projects and I would include in those Genesis Revisited; The Tokyo Tapes. The Genesis Revisited is really John Wetton and King Crimson Revisited really; and the Genesis Archive whatever the boxed set was called... So, I started it before the three archival projects and I am kind of putting the finishing touches to it at the moment. The finishing touches have been know to go on for SOME TIME! (laughter) Especially when other projects get released before it; as I said "Classical" or "Modern" and we are not really sure which will get finished first.
I find my classical jaunts these days tend to need rather heavy funding and so I tend to apologise for the fact that I donít appear live as often as I would like to because I find that quite a drain on financial resources and I prefer to put all my available resources into making bigger and better albums or certainly bigger in terms of numbers when you are hiring the likes of the Royal Philharmonic which cost an arm and a leg!
TWR: So, maybe expect it before the end of the year or...?
SH: I don't know. I hope so. Except that these things tend to take a bit of time and as I said before, there have been rather a lot of albums from me recently; three archival ones and one; A Midsummer Night's Dream and I tend to think of all these albums as having come out at roughly the same time and they were all hot on the heels of each other, so there doesn't feel like there is a current album - FOUR current albums all of which are very backward looking indeed. There IS new stuff; there is new stuff! The so-called classical stuff will have rather a lot more people on it than the rock stuff which tends to get made with a group but not in the conventional mode but it tends to be a group of people that includes myself; and three engineers who are all keyboard programmers, all of whom tend to fulfil that function and how I tend to work recently has been if I find a great sound it is almost like the icing on the cake, and I sometimes find that the icing is the most interesting part. So the best things are those which are icing driven. 'twas ever thus; the people who discovered things like fuzz boxes... I suspect that without the first fuzz box you wouldn't have had The Rolling Stones doing Satisfaction and I think of that as an icing driven track, so sometimes the fuzz box comes before the hairdo, doesn't it? You need the nuts and bolts before you can construct the machine sometimes.
TWR: As you said, the last two or three projects have been very backwards looking; retrospective and many fans have asked what is the situation with regard to your own first few albums from the time when you were with Virgin/Charisma? Have Camino attempted to obtain the rights?
Steve in action a few years ago
SH: Yes, we have attempted to negotiate with them to get the rights back at which point I will re-master them if necessary and add extra tracks and extensive sleeve notes and try to make them more accessible as albums on the shelf because I find that it's one of a hundred thousand acts that Virgin have and I don't think they understand it just as they don't understand the early Genesis stuff for that matter, and the fact is that it comes out as a reduced album sleeve instead of something which has extra bits and pieces. You should have at least what the album had originally on it plus with albums like Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot they very much came out as cut price albums and that was beyond my control and unfortunately it is beyond my control with the early catalogue, and it tends to be the post Charisma product that I can do anything with but the long term aim is to get them back.
TWR: Many fans have commented on the way Guitar Noir was done with the extra tracks and so on, and they wonder if the same can be done for the likes of Spectral Mornings?
SH: Yes, if I cast my mind back to Spectral Mornings and I would very much like to do that which was an album that had everything going for it.... I can't remember off the top of my head if there were any other tracks recorded at the time that didn't go on it and in those days I tended to write a dearth of material rather than an excess, and this was in the days when I was touring quite a lot and there tended to be just enough songs for an album and every time I wanted to record something it was in somebody else's studio and it was either against the clock or against the calendar. I am not sure, I think there were one or two things from about the time of Defector certainly that were on singles and weren't necessarily on albums and I suspect that those maybe things for ... completists which is a word that gets bandied about a lot these days and I think those may be for completists only. However, there may be one or two things that were never included. I have a few things in the attic and I suspect that some of the existing songs would be re-mastered and re-mixed although I don't think we would go to that extent. Although on things like Voyage Of The Acolyte you've got ... Virgin lost the original master and so when the CD was done WITHOUT my knowledge, and without my co-operation, they used a a production master that was, as far as I can elicit came from Canada, and in those days what you tended to do was your master tape which was first generation and then to the other territories because you were dealing with vinyl, people didnít tend to worry about it and the copy masters were "brightened" so that there was even more noise on them than on the original masters and the result is that if something goes to CD without the benefit of proper quality control, it ends up much brighter and much hissier than it needs to be and eventually we will try and fix that. Obviously I have got a lot of pride in those early albums and I hate to see them going out slightly half-cocked.
TWR: What involvement exactly did you have with regard to the selection of material for the Genesis Box set?
SH: Absolutely none at all. It was presented as a fait accompli and I offered therefore to try and improve the more dreadful moments which meant that I spent... I can tell you exactly what I fixed bits on The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway on Riding The Scree and I believe Tony Banks fixed guitar bits on Hairless Heart. I re-did the solo on Firth Of Fifth because that didn't sound too good. I can't remember why, maybe it didn't sustain or something.
You see, the thing is when we used to do live albums when I was a band member and I had quality control we only released the best of a year's worth of recordings and it just happened that this happened to be available. This recording from the Rainbow and I felt it was very much scraping the bottom of the barrel and I didn't feel too good about the things going out which were obvious mistakes but... very little of it was tarted up if I may say so. The argument for re-doing the vocals if I was to fight Peter's corner and say that what tended to happen was that a vocal microphone with a loud rock band was picking up all sorts of unwanted stuff that made it virtually impossible to mix and as has been said for Peter before; he was doing an awful lot of costume changes and being all sorts of personifications of the music which, often quite literally, got in the way of the microphone.
What other things did I fix? Oh, I did part of the solo on Dancing With The Moonlit Knight which didn't come across for some reason or... The Lamia was another one although that was obviously because of the change in tone but what I must say is that when I was doing The Lamb... on that particular tour I had an accident with my thumb and I couldnít incorporate it; my thumb didn't work and so I couldn't grip the guitar and so my playing on the live version of that album left something to be desired and so, I was quite happy to get in there and say 'Well, this is how it should have been done'.
TWR: Did you use the same equipment to re-record the parts as you had done on the originals?
SH: Not really, no. I didn't attempt to do that and I held back. I didn't try to incorporate certain things like the tremelo which is something I use more in my playing these days and I tried not to go too far over the top.
TWR: Now that both the Boxed set and Genesis Revisited are out, one can ask; did the two have any influence; the one upon the other?
SH: They were actually completely independent of each other. I was already well into Genesis Revisited and I called up Peter and asked if he would mind if I used Déjà vu and he said; 'Oh no, I don't know if you know, the band are doing a boxed set...?' and I said 'oh? What are they doing to my song, ma?' and the two were completely synchronous events as Jung would say.
TWR: Everyone is asking questions about the brief "reunion" at Heathrow. How did it feel to be in the same room with all those people?
SH: Like being in the middle of a sandwich! (laughter) very strange and for a get together for a reunion which was as brief as a biscuit and every moment of which was filmed. What do you say to people who you haven't seen for twenty years? We actually had a get together dinner funnily enough a few nights ago and then I went to Phil's Big Band show at the Royal Festival Hall and some of the guys were at that and I felt...I've seen more of these guys in the last few days than I have in the last twenty years! Funnily enough I met Chris Stewart and I don't think many others had met him either and I'd only met his successor; John Silver once before when he dropped in for a jam when we were doing what became Nursery Cryme, and I enjoyed that.
TWR: We know that there is a second Box set apparently...?
SH: I know nothing about that, I swear to you. If I had the information I would give it to you, what do YOU know...?
TWR: Well, it is supposed to cover the period from Peter's departure until Phil's departure...
SH: There must be Wind & Wuthering stuff. Stuff with Bill Bruford and myself and once again I suppose I will have to go in and tart things up again if they're too dreadful. I did think that Nick Davis did a good job mixing it funnily enough. And I was told that none of the band got involved with the mixes which was good because no one was competing with one another which I think was a good thing. The fact that he was there was a referee because there was a time when handing it over to someone else was the fairest way of doing things, and I hope that they hand it over to the same guy again next time. I felt that things were mixed very fairly and in places it was the first time I was hearing that guitar.
TWR: If you haven't had any direct input into the track selection on this one; what tracks would you like to see on the next one?
SH: Well, I have no idea. I know there was some live stuff recorded at Earls Court whenever that may have been and I can't remember what the hell we were playing but I do know that we were doing live versions of things like Inside & Out and I would quite like to see that included if it was good enough. Of it is already on a famous bootleg then perhaps a decent mix of it might be overdue.
TWR: Is there any other studio stuff available from this period?
SH: I don't think so, because I think the excess; the overflow from Wind & Wuthering went into what became the Spot The Pigeon ep. There was a track which ended up on a B Side; It's Yourself which was never quite finished. In fact it was supposed to be the thing which preceded Los Endos but we just actually used the end of it which is why it fades in interminably to my mind. So, you could listen to that at your peril really. If you really want to hear what a band did, warts and all, then you might as well get that. It would be nice if people got exactly what they wanted.
TWR: Now we go right the way back; is there any chance of the Quiet World album being re-issued? We know it was issued in Japan but would you consider issuing it yourself?
SH: I'm not even sure who has the rights to that. It was Pye and I don't know what the re-issue was done on and I don't have a copy of the album myself, certainly not on CD, so I think you would have to contact the Heather brothers who would probably have the rights by now or not, as the case may be.
TWR: Speaking of old Boys' reunions, you mentioned that you went to Phil's Big Band show. What do you actually think of his...?
SH: He hasn't asked me to join the Big Band - I was most upset! (laughs) I loved it and I eagerly await the album.
TWR: Have you heard, and if so, what are your opinions about the new look Genesis?
SH: Very good production, I thought. I felt that rhythmically it seemed less adventurous and the rumour was going round that it was going to be a darker album and I felt it sounded less dark or less experimental or threatening than it could be and being no stranger to the darker side of music myself (laughter) I've probably scared more people as a solo act! (laughter) and I do feel that if you want to have some menace and threat about it, then you have to go all the way.
TWR: And finally, Steve, with all the talk of reunion with the band, would you be prepared to take part in such a project and under what circumstances would you consider doing it?
SH: Yes, but only if I can play harmonica! (Laughter). I would do it, however, I don't think there is any point pretending to be in the driving seat and I think that while there is a current version of Genesis doing the rounds, it might seem like backing your horse "each way". I think that for it to be viable, it works better if there isn't an "A" team and a "B" team and I gather that they are intending, because I DID ask and Tony Smith told me that there will be a new Genesis album at some point and I have no idea what the line up will be and I would like to qualify the word "reunion". I think if it was to be a live show, which is what people seem to be wanting and a new album from the old line up, might be a bit like it has been with so many others where they called in their parts on the telephone which was what happened with the Carpet Crawlers single which was done for the Boxed set and has since been shelved and I don't know why... (Well, of course, we do now folks - AH).