Jan 12 2007

Steve Hackett: Music Without Props

Published by at 9:20 am under Interview,Music

by Sander R Wolff
The Long Beach Union
Published 9/8/92

Steve Hackett has a new band and, in addition to performing old favorites from his numerous solo releases, will be premiering new material. He’s at ease playing progressive rock, pop, classical solo acoustic, Japanese koto and the blues. He balks at classifying his music, although he says that ‘Guitar Noir’ may come closest to describing what he does. His newest album, Time Lapse, was recorded live and features many of his best pieces from the last 17 years.

“We have a 4 piece, paired down,” Hackett said in a phone interview. “It’s not the same guys that are on the album. We have Julian Colbeck, who’s on Time Lapse, but a new rhythm section and the rhythm section is dynamite. I’m very pleased about that”

Joining them will be Dave Ball on bass and Hugo Degenhardt on drums.

“It’s great to have a band again. It’s like, for years I’ve been doing tours with an acoustic guitar. I’ve been doing classical things. I’ve done things with orchestras, live things, but I hadn’t had a band for quite some time and it makes you realize… I think I was away from it for so long, it’s a bit like when something is withheld from you rather than personal choice. I think it was all part of a divine plan to make me hungry for it.”

During his ‘acoustic’ period he released Bay Of Kings, and then had the opportunity to play a big festival in the U.S.S.R., with close to 90,000 people in attendance. The other acts played rock and roll and sang their lyrics in English.

‘The audience didn’t have a clue what was going on. There were all ages in the audience, from tiny tots to grandmas, and I played a piece of Bach right at the end and they all went absolutely bananas because I think they knew the piece. I managed to convert these people, as it were. Where rock had failed, music without props had succeeded.

“Bach was the master of complexity, but not for it’s own sake. Complexity, but with tremendous purpose. I think of Bach as the most miraculous, spiritually motivated composer and I suspect that there was modesty at the end of the day, he attributed it all to his creator. It begs the question, ‘How much do we actually do ourselves?’ It begs the larger question that I could get into but we’d be here all day.

“I used to feel embarrassed about the fact that I liked so much acoustic music and classical music, but I’m particularly proud of those albums because they were really not just reliant on whatever technique you can muster but reliant on the kind of writing you can do with the acoustic. They were very personal, but they were personal triumphs of a different order. They were, politically, very difficult to release and very difficult to tour because you’re exposed on all flanks, but I do it because I find that stuff is… it’s just good for the soul.”

Since his start with Genesis, he’s developed a style of playing that is closer to classical than rock, although he confessed that he’s had no classical training and just recently learned to read music.

“It seemed to come naturally to me, that style, for some reason. I think I was always attracted to the fact that most of the guitar music I’d heard in my early years… I’d been impressed by the guitar as a single line instrument. When you start to hear the complexity of lines that can be drawn from the instrument, it’s hard to think in terms of it’s limitations, really.

“It’s the idea of the self sufficient guitar that appealed most of all. The idea of the bass lines, top lines, chords, rhythms, everything on the same instrument. The self sufficiency of it and the fluidity of it when I first heard it done well, that kind of blew me away.”

I asked him if he felt that the spiritual aspects of composition come into play while he’s performing.

“Sometimes I feel uncomfortable with the idea of eyes on me as I’m doing it. I’d much rather it were just the digestion of the music. That would be something else, but that is live performance, isn’t it. Live performance is the response to the person, but really the music has to be the thing that comes first, not what kind of shoes you’re wearing and all that kind of stuff. It’s funny, that. That’s the aspect of confidence that is probably the hardest. On this tour, I must say, there are moments when I haven’t felt that kind of physical barrier.”

In addition to breaking barriers with electric and acoustic guitars and guitar synthesizer, he’s rediscovered an old axe.

“I play a lot of harmonica in the show as well, oddly enough. It’s funny. Of course the harmonica is even smaller than the guitar. It’s a tiny little blues harp. I haven’t had much harmonica in the past, but I do a lot of it in the show, believe me! I started out life as a harmonica player and guitar came second. People used to say ‘we really like your harmonica playing but your guitar playing is not quite as good,’ at one time and I think they used to say the same thing about my singing, which is rudimentary. These are the areas that I work on.”

Hackett recorded a couple of albums that featured Sally Oldfield, Phil Collins, Richie Havens and Randy Crawford on vocals. I asked him if he felt having people fronting for him removed him from his songs.

“It does really. It takes a while to figure out over the years, especially when you come from a band context. The guy who hires a bunch of singers, even if they’re the greatest in the world, it’s still a case of lost identity as other people become your mouth piece. I did one or two albums like that and I was fortunate enough to work with some greats, but I like to struggle through the cracked notes and tuning that wanders off. I think it’s the best way to go.”

Despite his concerns, his skills as a composer, instrumentalist and performer have, at long last, brought him back to the concert circuit.

“I’m just happy to be out on the road playing in front of people, quite honestly. I’ve been humbled by the tremendous attendance and response I’ve had on this tour. I started out wondering if there would be anyone at all that was going to come and, in fact, it’s been a tremendously emotional experience, the whole thing, so far. There have been some places that we’ve sold out and I’ve just been amazed and wondered what I’d done to deserve it, quite honestly.

“I can assure you that it’s been a very pleasant surprise and a tremendous relief and release. It’s actually been wonderful. There hasn’t been a moment, even on some of the 18 hour drives when I’ve been dead on my feet, that I haven’t felt grateful, believe me.”

One of Hackett’s special abilities is bringing together wide ranging musical elements and blending them together seamlessly.

“They all filter through, whether it’s a Chinese phrase in my brain or if it’s something from down south, it all feels right. I worship all of these forms. They occupy me totally whilst they’re around, demanding to be let in. I love that. That’s one of the joys of music, I think, is something taking on it’s own character, speaking to you, revealing itself and then they’ll cart me off to the funny farm. I hear voices…..”

Barring unforeseen commitments, (That was a pun! See previous paragraph.) he will be knocking ’em dead at the Strand tomorrow night. I’ll see you there!


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