John Wenlock-Smith Interviews Steve Hackett

Photo by Tina Korhonen, all rights reserved

It is always a pleasure to spend time talking with Steve Hackett, he is such a gracious interviewee and always has interesting things to say and learn from. This interview is about his new album ‘Surrender Of Silence’ and his forthcoming tour celebrating the album ‘Seconds Out’ recorded whilst Steve was still a member of Genesis. This tour will see the album played in its entirety along with selected tracks from both his new album and from his extensive back catalogue of releases.

John Wenlock-Smith: So how are you sir?

Steve Hackett: Oh I’m alright, fine, how are you doing?

JWS: Yes, we’re ok generally, keeping alright with all this lockdown and stuff.

SH: Well it’s been an unusual time, an extraordinary time really. We’re just about to go out on the road with a tour, having not played a show (well, not properly) for about 18 months. Apart from the odd virtual thing over the airwaves, I’ve done a bit of that and I’m doing one tomorrow with the Hungarians, I haven’t done a live gig in front of an audience for a very long time.

JWS: I’ll bet you’re looking forward to that then?

SH: Well I am, yes. Once we get through rehearsals and everyone knows it, those rehearsals start on Monday.

JWS: You have a new album out soon too?

SH: Yes, ‘Surrender of Silence’ is the new album, the second one this year after ‘Under A Mediterranean Sky’, and it’s completely different to any other one, I really enjoyed making it.

JWS: I’ve heard the album and I like it, it’s very different.

SH: Yes, it’s different in places to what I’ve done before, I don’t think I’ve ever done an African themed song before, after our visit to Ethiopia. I’ve never done a Russian themed song either, They are journeys that became songs, having visited these places and, of course, a good deal of the influence comes to bear on some of the album.

One of the tracks, Shanghai to Samarkand, had the idea of trying to cover the whole of the east in a song with the odd instrument like the Vietnamese Dan Tranh (Zither), related to the Japanese Kyoto, and getting players to play in an oriental style. We got Christine Townsend to play her viola solo with those long bending, sighing notes at the end of phrases, I very much enjoyed that.

I enjoy the virtual travel that’s possible with music, although I am missing the real-world travel too, but that’s all about to change as we get out there again, visiting the British isles in the coming months.

JWS: Is it true that you are getting all over the place, you’re even playing in Stoke-On-Trent?

SH: Yes, I’ve got all the dates here, that’s on the 12th of September, I’m looking forward to that one. It’ll be good to play some places we’ve not been to in a while, it will be good to go anywhere and see anybody!  

It’s strange, lots of people have got tickets and we hope they all make the effort to come, but we can’t force people to come, so folks may decide to stay at home and wear a mask and only talk through the letterbox etc.

Obviously, we’ll be very careful, we’re not doing much interaction with the crowds, we are isolating and in a bubble much of the time. There will be no meet and greets this time around, the venues set the rules that we have to follow, but we’ll do what we have to to be able to play the shows and have a party.

JWS: I did notice that you have Phil Ehart of Kansas playing the drums on the track Shanghai to Samarkand.

SH: Yes, that’s right, I haven’t worked with him since ‘Please Don’t Touch’ back in 1977/1978. He’s one of the drummers on the album, we’ve also got Nick D’Virgilio (Big Big Train) and we also have Craig Blundell (Frost* and Steven Wilson). There are several people involved on the album from right across the globe, we have a guy from Azerbaijan, Malik Mansurov, on the Tar and a guy from Tajikistan on Dutar called Ubaidullev Sordirkhon Saydullevich, so right across the world really.  

JWS: You like your international collaborations don’t you?

SH: Yes I do, I like doing that. I like my local band but even that is spread across 4 countries now, Nad Sylvan is in Sweden, Jonas Reingold lives in Austria, Rob Townsend lives in Denmark now and we’ll all convene for ten days of rehearsals before being unleashed on the great British public.

JWS: So where did the album title come from?

SH: I prefer not to explain an album title, however, I would say all music flies in the face of silence. The surrender of silence is somewhat applicable when you make music for a living. Other than that, there are some aspects of social comments made in the lyrics where previously I haven’t been quite so vocal. I’m thinking of Fox’s Tango referring to Fox News.

There’s also social comment on the environment in Scorched Earth. Other things, Natalia is more of a story but there is social comment involved with that and then there are the instrumentals and the fun things, so it’s not all soapbox. As you scout around for subjects, I write all the time and my wife Jo writes certain things for lyrics too, we bat the ball back and forth between us and out of it all comes ‘The Surrender Of Silence.’

JWS: There’s an interesting first track in The ‘Obliterati’?

SH: Yes ,well that’s tapping with a kind of tongue in cheek title for all those familiar with certain books and certain writer. I thought it was a way to lead into Natalia but they are really the same tune in a way. I’ve separated them out so that you have a sort of mini overture or kind of underture at the front of the album and exposed tapping.

The last time I used that in isolation was ‘Voyage of the Acolyte’ back in the early 1970’s when I was exploring that the guitar functioning on its own but I decided to add some orchestral backing to it to bring it in line with what was to come with Natalia, which was more of a nod to Russian composers and orchestrators. The song is about an ordinary Russian woman, it’s almost like South Park in that she dies in every scene, in every verse but it’s a different woman and a different time.

The difficulty is that there is lots of orchestration and not a note of guitar playing until we are well into the track and I thought I’d better claim identity so The Obliterati came up as something to kick off the album.

JWS: It’s a commanding start to the album, I was listening to it this morning and wondering if it was a homage to Eddie Van Halen, who I know was greatly influenced by your tapping in his early days?

SH: Well, it’s a funny thing, I’m sad about his passing and that we never got to meet, it’s great when you hear of a fellow professional you’ve been an influence on or they just listen to you.

Earlier this year I was talking to an American journalist who told me that Pat Metheny had been listening to the ‘Under a Mediterranean Sky’ album and I also think of Pat Metheny as an atmospheric jazz player. Then you realize that in the world of jazz you’ll have people like Bill Evans being interpreted by folk like John Mclaughlin, another guitarist of note of course, he also liked the music of Eric Satie, I did an album of interpretations of Satie with my brother John Hackett in the early 2000’s.

He is brave enough not to fall back on technique, jazz is largely technique based and I greatly admire his ability to seek a bigger picture or canvas for his music to be drawn against. So it was interesting to hear that about Pat Metheny, I must reach out to him and talk with him. Perhaps similarities between musicians are greater than we give credit to.

JWE: I had a conversation with your brother John a few weeks ago about the album he recorded solo during lockdown, ‘The Piper Plays His Tune’, he was a lovely chap.

SH: Yes, John is a very gentle man and doesn’t have a bad bone in his body. We’ve been working together on somethings beyond this album too. John has been playing some scat flute like Roland Kirk, most people think of Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, but scatt flute goes back further than that to the Mid 1960’s and the Beatnik area in the USA. I’m all for revisiting those eras, wandering in and out of different genres, it’s all possible under the progressive banner. John also has an excellent guitar player in Nick Fletcher.

JWS: Yes, I interviewed him too, he is a fascinating guy as well.

SH: I was greatly impressed by him and his album, I wrote a comment on the album which appears on the rear sleeve. I think Nick is one of the great hopes for British guitar, if there’s a chair to fill with the departure of another musician, then there’s a chair for Nick to fill.

People ask me who I listen to and, whilst there’s Andrés Segovia and Jimi Hendrix who get a lot of publicity, there is also Nick Fletcher, a phenomenal guitarist. Something of Bach and Handel and at the same time they’ll be listening to Miles Davis.

JWS: Nothing wrong with a bit of Miles Davis.

SH: Yes, he’s very interesting and very out there but recorded albums that are very different and was not afraid to do those. At the top of his tree, as a band leader, the people he worked with or chose him, there is this central pivot that is Miles Davis. Logic isn’t always the best seam to wander when writing lyrics.

JWS: I’m part of a writing group and we were doing abstract poetry using lines out of other books to create different words and lines with.

SH: Well poetry is very challenging, you must have music in the words. Stand-alone poetry, if you can draw some music from it, that can be very inspiring. Someone said to me some years ago that it’s no good reading Shakespeare unless you have a good grounding in all the myths and a good knowledge of language. Rather that you should read it for its music first and or its sound.

Years ago, when I was doing ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ that’s how I went at it, I know diddly squat about Pyramus and Thisbe but I loved the music of it, you’re allowed to do that in poetry, you can do what you want. Peter Gabriel was very gifted at making up new words, as was John Lennon, some of us take longer to come up with new words.

JWS: Well Steve, my time has gone so I’ll say goodbye for now. Thanks for talking as always, good luck with the album and tour

SH: Thank you and good luck with the poetry too.

‘Surrender Of Silence’ is released on 10th September, 2021.

Pre-order the album here:

SURRENDER OF SILENCE – CD – SIGNED [Pre-Order] | Steve Hackett (hackettsongs.com)

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