Former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett has spent the several years revisiting the body of work he’s most recognized for developing throughout the 1970s. Hackett’s ‘Genesis Revisited’ ensemble has performed for audiences across the world, gathering solid acclaim from longtime progressive rock listeners and newcomers alike.
Considering his recent dedication to this celebrated body of work, it’s not entirely surprising that when Steve Hackett would enter the studio to record his new solo album, the end result would be in the vein of his earlier efforts as a member of Genesis. Due for release on April 7 via Inside Out, ‘Wolflight’ explores many regions and landscapes of world music while maintaining a distinctive progressive rock attitude.
Music Enthusiast recently had the opportunity to sit down with this prolific guitarist to discuss how some abandoned Genesis concepts had a role to play on his new effort, how his travels influenced the direction of ‘Wolflight,’ the wealth of musicians who appear on the record, his thoughts on the music of Genesis after his departure and his stance towards a future involvement with Genesis and GTR.
Music Enthusiast: You’ve never quite stopped creating new music, however ‘Wolflight’ easily stands as one of your more impressive artistic statements since your career with Genesis. What was your mindset moving into this new effort?
Steve Hackett: Well, for the past two years I’ve been touring exclusively Genesis music, and that was so well received. It’s always nice to ride on the back of having played to full houses and tremendous enthusiasm for the idea of bringing back the dream that was early Genesis, mid-period Genesis. So for me, that was a tremendous shot in the arm. I thought, you know, it’s very easy to slip into the idea of being a curator in the museum of your own making.
People love to hear those exhibits again and again and I love playing them live, believe me, but as far as I’m concerned part of what I do is writing new music and to write in as many different genres as possible, and if possible combine them on the same record. So we have many different styles of music on this album ranging from pop to rock to jazz to classical to blues, and the importance of world music struck me as important.
I’ve done a tremendous amount of traveling over the past forty-odd years as a professional music – in fact, what am I saying? It’s probably been 45 years now, and all the places I get to visit has been an influence. My wife Jo also loves to travel and write as well, so we end up writing about the places that we visit, sometimes in a contemporary way right back to the ancestral roots of those places.
You’ve previously said that ‘Wolflight’ was meant to invoke our “ancient past,” exploring such cultures as Greece and South America while maintaining the progressive rock attitude which you’re well known for developing. How did you go about assembling this stylistic challenge?
I think ever since The Beatles, who basically started world music, I think the gauntlet that was thrown down basically from the mid-1960s onwards was to say “Why shouldn’t you have Indian musicians turn up?’ and “Why shouldn’t you have exotic instruments? Why should it always be guitar, bass, drums and harmonica?”
Those instrumentals are all… they’re wonderful, of course, but there are other instruments out there that are worth looking at.
For instance, one of the guys that’s on this album is a guy from Azerbaijan called Malik Mansurov who plays a thing called the tar, the word root of guitar and sitar and means “gut.”
He plays in a style called Mugane… I think of it as an Arabian style, basically. It works with all of those exotic Eastern scales, and he’s a master at it.
It’s like watching someone who’s a cross between Ravi Shankar meets John McLaughlin. It’s fantastically fast but at the same time he does these little fairy notes. It’s just amazing to watch him work, so that’s really part of what fired me up – the expertise of others.
There are some songs on the album, such as “Out of the Body” and the title track “Wolflight,” which could have felt right at home on a new Genesis record from around the ‘Wind & Wuthering’ and ‘Trick in the Tail’ period. Were you in some way trying to reconnect with your original approach?
Well my original approach has always been pan-genre. I wanted to stretch the possibilities of what Genesis could do in the very early days, which was why I was always keen on us getting a mellotron and then I hoped on us getting to work on an orchestra together. During my time with the band, it was sadly not to be. Obviously, yes, we got the melotron and the synthesizer, we got the light show and all the rest. And we got some wonderful songs written, but I wanted to go further and I still do.
If it was something that was common to the spirit of early Genesis, mid-period Genesis and the spirit of what I’m doing now, it’s an attempt to have a kind of pan-genre approach where you have complimentary collisions, different styles falling into each other. In other words, one minute you’ve got the wolves at the beginning of the album, then you freeze one of the wolf notes and then the drums kick in over the top. So you’ve got the two things happening, and then the band kicks in. Then you’ve got group + orchestra, you know? So straight away within the first few seconds, you’ve got these shifting sands and changing styles, as it were.
The new album features appearances from such longtime contributors as Roger King and Rob Townshend, as well as Yes bassist Chris Squire. What role did these musicians have in the formation of ‘Wolflight’?
They all played their part, I think they’re all passionate about music and they’re all technically very gifted. We’ve got Roger King, he’s a great keyboard player who also happens to be a great engineer and arranger. He was trained originally as a cathedral organist, but he’s worked on feature films like ‘In the Name of the Father’ and ‘Cliffhanger.’ He’s done music for those things along with other people collaborating, but he’s a big part of that. The lovely thing about Roger is that because he’s had classical training, between us we can come up with convincing orchestral arrangements and then hand that to other players, and twin it with samples when necessary.
And someone like Rob Townshend, he’s fantastic. He’s a professor of music. He teaches jazz and is a wonderful virtuoso sax player, basically. In recent years, he was just getting better and better on flute and whistles, and then he had this Armenian duduk that he played for the first time on the track called “Corycian Fire.” Now he’d never played it before but he had just this fabulous sound on it, so that was lovely. Then I got ahold of an Arabian lute myself. It’s like a fretless lute, and I was able to work on that in an out of character kind of way.
Christine Townshend on violin, or viola, helped give it that classical sound, and didgeridoo from Sara Kovaks when we were recording in Hungary with Malik from Azerbaijan. So yeah, it was a very nomadic experience, a bit like a second camera unit going off at times. All of that travel log experience comes to bear on the new album. The places you travel to eventually become songs – at least, that’s the way it seems to me.
For the past several years, you have been actively reviving the body of work from your career with Genesis through your live performances, as well as your past two studio efforts. Do you feel this had any impact on your method for developing new material on ‘Wolflight’?
I think that it did, yes. It had an impact on the way the album sounded. I used some early Genesis ideas, some Genesis rejects, the style of what we were doing in the early days. Both the style that we did then and the style of things that were visited after that. I was thinking of the world music aspect. I think Peter Gabriel and I overtime have explored instruments that were on the periphery, whether it’s something that’s percussion driven or an oriental instrument like the coto which I was using back on “Spectral Mornings” way back in the late 70s. So… I think to borrow from other areas and to be able to sketch in a number of styles is a good thing. I don’t think you have to be a virtuoso on an instrument every time to make it work. It could be something as basic as using a washboard or a salt shaker from the kitchen. I kind of use everything, really.
While we’re on the topic of your work with ‘Genesis Revisited,’ you have assembled a rather impressive touring lineup centered around Nad Sylvan, who rather remarkably almost sounds like an authentic cross between Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel. How did you discover Sylvan?
Well funnily enough, he was recommended by a guy who organizes a festival in Germany in Lorelei in the Rhine Valley. It’s a guy named Wilford Volkrine who had worked with him. I think it was the connection with Roine Stolt, they had a band, or occasionally have a band called Agents of Mercy. I saw some footage of him singing some original stuff and then heard him doing a version of one of the Genesis tunes, and I thought he just had the right voice and kind of mesmeric look which audiences have warmed to. Also because of that, Roine is going to be joining the touring band later in the year when we’ll be doing Europe, the U.K. and the States. So he’s going to be part of the team, I’m pleased to say. So there’ll be two Swedes in the band, which will be extraordinary.
I agree. The majority of your current touring lineup, including Gary O’Toole and Rob Townshend, make appearances on ‘Wolflight.’ Was there any temptation to have Sylvan offer his lead vocals to the album? Or rather, what deterred you from making that decision?
Well, I think that I wasn’t trying to make a Genesis album, and I think Nad has got the perfect Genesis voice. As you say, he’s got that hybrid somewhere between Pete and Phil. It’s a very big sounding voice. But I wanted to sing this myself and work with some girl singers. I think if you’re making a solo record, even one as varied as this, to be able to work in an area that I also have a passion for, which is vocal harmonies, I wanted to be able to do that.
So I think the harmony sounds that I achieve with Amanda in particular was really good. My wife Jo also plays a part in that. She suggested harmonies on “The Wheel’s Turning” for instance, which I think is one of the strongest harmony songs on the album. They’re both singing on that with me. So… yeah, I wanted to make an album that was not as dependent on rock singing as most rock albums.
I wanted to be able to work under the influence of other things: the influence of folk music, the influence of French songs, a little bit of influence of flamenco.
To be influenced by everything as variously from The Carpenters to Stravinsky, frankly. I didn’t want to be limited to one thing. I felt that having sung vocals on many of my albums myself, I felt that it was time to stand up and be counted again as a singer. I went through all of the Genesis stuff in the main, although I did sing “Willow Farm” on the ‘Genesis Revisited’ album.
But when I undertake the Genesis stuff live, of course, I wanted to authentically be the guitarist that I once was but with the experiences now and the technology of now. I do enjoy singing and will be singing live, as well. We’ll be doing a mixture of things.
It’ll be the 40th anniversary of my first solo effort, ‘Voyage of the Acolyte,’ so we’re doing a set that will be a combination of ‘Acolyte’ to ‘Wolflight,’ but agents and promoters have also asked me to do a substantial amount of Genesis stuff. I think they would be happy if I did half, and we’ll probably do about 40% Genesis, I suspect.
Right. As you just mentioned, the upcoming run has been announced as the ‘Acolyte to Wolflight with Genesis Revisited Tour.’ Considering the rather broad catalog of material that separates the release of your debut 1975 solo album and your latest offering, what can fans particularly expect to show up during these live shows?
As I say, Nad is going to be in the band for that. We’re going to have a number of people singing onstage. Nad is going to be doing the majority of the Genesis songs and the solo things. I’ll be doing the majority of it, but there’s going to be a lot of harmony singing with my stuff. I’ll be undertaking lead vocals on those things, and we’ll also have Roine Stolt in the band doing bass, twelve-string and some lead stuff with me. It’ll be all of that and Rob Townshend working his magic, and Gary, who’s also got a fine voice himself, Roger King. It’s essentially the band that brought the Genesis stuff back, who did it so well. I think this band is more than capable of thrilling, and the pre-sales for ‘Wolflight’ have already outdone everything I’ve put out until now, so I’m thrilled about that.
That previously mentioned timeline also happens to include your 1986 album as a member of the progressive rock supergroup, GTR. Has there been any talk about including songs from that effort during this upcoming tour?
It’s a funny thing. Steve Howe and I just started talking recently about possibilities of things, so I’m not closing the door to that. At this point in time, obviously there’s a lot of other things on the agenda, first of all. So we’ll see how that goes.
Alright. When you spoke with Steve Howe, was there any talk or a proposal to revive that project sometime in the future?
Well, ideas are always being kicked around, you know? Of course, Steve works pretty much full time with Yes these days, and of course I’ve been working with Chris Squire in another way with the Squackett project. He’s also on the ‘Wolflight’ album, and so all roads lead to Rome, whether it’s called on thing or another. There’s a natural harmony that exists between people or in those styles, I should say. People that love orchestras and big sounds. I’ve had a lot of pals in that band and I’ve worked with a whole bunch of them variously over the years.
I’ve worked with Rick Wakeman, I’ve worked with Steve Howe and Chris Squire. Pete Banks, who was the original guitarist for Yes, I was on his first solo effort along with Jan Ackerman. There are a number of possibilities and people have been asking me about stuff. I always have to say, “I have these commitments at this point in time. Maybe in the future it will be possible.”
Turning back to your recent activities, your live shows have placed emphasis on your original body of work as a member of Genesis, however you have recognized later incarnations of the band. Specifically, you previously collaborated with former Genesis lead vocalist Ray Wilson on a cover of “Carpet Crawlers,” which appeared on the ‘Genesis Revisited II: Selection’ album in 2013. What’s the story behind that one?
We did a double album which was ‘Genesis Revisited II,’ because it was the second volume of me revisiting Genesis material. One of the tunes that’s a favorite to fans is “Carpet Crawlers.” Now, Inside Out wanted to do a single version of the album that had some differences. Ray has been great showing up and doing some guest spots with us doing various numbers. I thought it was a great idea to do that with him. He does a lovely version of that, it’s great for his voice. It just really suits him. It was a very authentic version, I think, and heartfelt.
Ray’s a lovely guy with a great voice. One of the many pals that’s helped me out on the ‘Genesis Revisited’ thing. You see, many of these guys on the ‘Genesis Revisited’ album said, “Oh, Gabriel and Collins, they’re a hard act to follow.” And I said, “Well, if each person just does one track, there’s safety in numbers there.” You’ve got many different vocal performances from Conrad Keely to Simon Collins, Phil’s son.
I’ve got Michael Åkerfeldt, Nik Kershaw, I mean, tremendous amounts of really gifted singers. Many of these guys are coming into their own for the first time, so I think it becomes rather easy when you’ve got an album with maybe 30 to 40 different people on it because they did such a wonderful job.
It was received riotously by fans. It also made it easy to tour the thing; people got the idea that it was going to be authentic. It was going to be different voices, and some shows we have had heavily guested. On the two DVDs that we did live there was John Wetton, there was Jakko Jakszyk, who’s currently singing with King Crimson. We had Amanda Lehmann… we’ve had masses of people who’ve done walk-ons. We had Steve Rothery walk on and do guitar stuff when we did ‘Live at Hammersmith.’
Yeah, just terrific to have people to call on who have voices of that caliber. Neal Morse doing a wonderful job on “Return of the Giant Hogweed,” it’s been terrific. It’s been a pleasure repaying those favors that they’ve done to me on albums of theirs, and sometimes live shows, as well.
Turning back just a bit, what are your thoughts on the one studio album which Ray Wilson appeared on with Genesis, 1997’s ‘Calling All Stations’?
I thought his voice was beautiful on it, and I thought the title track really showed his voice to really good effect. So I thought that he made a very interesting singer for Genesis. I know that he has great love for the Genesis material, and the fact that he was working with me helped to perhaps vindicate his decision to join Genesis in the first place. I wanted people to realize that yes, he was an accepted part of the team. Not just the team that is or was, but also the team that was a little bit earlier than that. I wanted people to know that he certainly had my sanction in that way. He’s a very lovely guy, very gifted as a songwriter and as a singer. He’s great to work with. Hope to do more stuff in the future.
Considering your willingness to recognize all the incarnations of Genesis, one would assume you’d be the first onboard if the band decided to reunite – considering Collins and Gabriel were both interested in working together?
Yup, yes! I think I’ve nailed my colors to the mast in terms of that. I wouldn’t be out doing the early material quite so extensively if I weren’t interested in that, so the world is well aware that I’m up for that. Should they ever decide to reconvene with me, yes, I would imagine that there could be a tremendous reaction to that. I certainly hope that happens. Meanwhile, obviously the stuff I’ve done live with the Genesis material is the nearest thing to that. Beethoven plays Beethoven, so to speak.
That’ll certainly sit well amongst fans of the band, the fact that you’re interested in a reunion but aren’t just refraining from any other activity. You’re still making albums and touring.
Absolutely. As I say, it’s nice to have a foot in the past with an eye on the future and an arm in the present. It’s nice to work in a tremendous amount of new styles and with a whole bunch of other people, as well. I’ve loved working with people as variously as Dave Kerzner. We did a very interesting album. Steve Rothery and I just did an album which is selling very well, and he’s getting great praise.
I also worked with an Icelandic band who’re terrific called Todmobile, who have been working with Jon Anderson. They’re also on a special edition of the ‘Wolflight’ album on a track called “Midnight Sun,” and it’s just terrific collaborations with them, writing with them, playing live with them with a 70 piece orchestra and choir.
As for your solo career, would you like to continue on a similar path as ‘Wolflight’ throughout your future releases?
Well, I would like to think that sometimes… I love the idea that an album can be full of surprise ambushes. In other words, you can genre hop from one moment to the next. I want music to be free of the shackles. I think it’s important of the fightback of audio for people to ditch the formula, forget about playing the game and just do what you feel. Try to work with as many various influences and people as possible. I think that multicultural diversity is the answer to the world’s problems. It’s not just in music, but also in politics. Let’s hope we can get the whole world together working instead of fighting each other.