The legendary Genesis guitar player Steve Hackett visited Serbia where he shot a video for a track off of his 25th solo album titled “The Night Sirens”. We sat down with the artist to talk about the new tracks, the current migrant crisis and other interesting topics.
You have a new album coming out. It certainly follows an interesting and rather current topic. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
Steve Hackett: It’s called “The Night Sirens”. There are two tracks on the album, specifically about piece or about war. The album is made with musicians and singers from all around the world. I have an Israeli and a Palestinian working together, musicians from Iceland, Hungary, Azerbaijan, from the United Kingdom and the United States. So it’s the closest thing I’ve seen to the United Nations on a record. And many instruments might be unfamiliar to the listeners of the rock music like the charango, tar or didgeridoo plus more regular instruments like the sitar, violins, violas, and the regular rock instruments like the guitar, harmonica, and singing.
And it’s an album that ignores borders and provides a constructive alternative to right wing politics, exclusionists. There are no prejudices on this record, we are welcoming people from everywhere on it. It all happened to be brilliant. And I’ve had a great time making the record, sometimes face to face with people, sometimes days and nights working with file-sharing backwards and forwards. And it was a great way of working.
It’s coming out March 24th and I’m already doing shows with some of the songs from that, plus solo stuff and doing two sets per night. We do a set of solo things and a set of Genesis things, specifically celebrating the last album we did in 1976 called “Wind & Wuthering”, and it’s a big part of the show. The show goes two and a half hours of stuff, and we just did the first gig last night, in fact. And we’re traveling all around the world playing it and I hope to come here to play. And apart from that I’m very proud of what I’m hearing about Serbia being at the forefront of accepting refugees which is marvelous because not only is there one song about refugees, but my own family on my mother’s side were refugees from Poland, escaping pogroms and grave violence. And my wife Jo (Lehmann) who writes all the stuff with me, her family on her father’s side were escaping from Poland as well. We have that in common, you could say synchronicity with our ancestors.
So you mentioned all those instruments, do you think that the new album will appeal to more than just rock listeners and your previous fans as it incorporates different styles, different genes and all those cultural signatures?
Steve: Yeah, I think it’s designed this way and the response has been very, very good already before it sold a single copy. So it goes to show that it’s probably going to be the biggest hit I ever had. I can’t say for certain, but the message is piece and it shows that multicultural diversity is possible in song, which has wider implications socially, politically, economically, idealistically.
You mentioned some of the guests, and our readers will likely be familiar with Kobi Farhi and Troy Donockley. How did collaborations come to fruition, did you hear their music before you asked them to join and why did you chose to work with them?
Steve: Yes, I’ve heard Kobi’s music, and believe it was he who put us in touch with Mīrā ‘Awaḍ, who is a very fine Palestinian signer. Of course they have the connection with Orphaned Land and also the Arab people in the Theater of Jaffa which specializes in healing the rift between the two sides.
And when it comes to Gulli Briem, who is drumming on two tracks, he is from Iceland and he was working with the band Djabe. He’s previously been involved with the band Mezzoforte, makes his own albums which the Hungarian record company Grammy have been releasing. I heard him playing with Djabe when we were doing shows together and I heard one of his albums which I thought sounded absolutely wonderful and was a profound influence on the new album that I’m doing. So he gets to play on it and be an influence on it.
It’s a wonderful combination of very magical, alchemical stuff. All the things that I love: strings that bend, and not just the guitars but the orchestra and the use of different choirs, voices, a children’s choir. There’s a sharp contrast of these things. And there’s certainly surprises on the album. Sometimes it’s the instruments that I’m familiar with, sometimes it’s the instruments I’ve never played before or worked with; the charango from Peru, the keynar from Peru, the tar from Azerbaijan, the duduk from Armenia, of course trumpets, regular acoustic and electric guitars, sitar, data collected from around the world. File sharing, or sometimes working face to face. Great surprises in the post and wonderful to work with such a dedicated, versatile team.
That was actually one of the questions I wanted to ask. I ask a lot of musicians about the recording process, and most of them admit to recording their albums the modern way, by uploading and sharing material online, sometimes never seeing other band members. Do you prefer to record this way or the traditional studio sessions?
Steve: I think for writing it is best face to face. For recording it’s not necessary to have someone looking over your shoulder when you’re trying to learn a song and give it your best. It’s a bit like if someone said to an artist: ‘Here you are, I would like you to paint me the mountains.’ So give me time to see what I think this painting requires, and I’ll give you the best mountains I can. But I don’t need you to make suggestions while I’m doing it. At the end of the day, if you want me to put in more mountains I will, but only use what you want.
And that’s always the thing that’s implicit with file sharing. If you like it you use it. It’s just data. You use it. Do what you like with it. If you like how I’m playing use it. I do lots of playing with other people this way. Normally, I do something and send it to them. That’s the way it works. If you want guitar or even harmonica. There have been some interesting stuff with harmonica that are going to be on the album. Doing harmonica but playing it in a kind of Indian and Arabic style, and you may not even recognize the sound of the instrument.
Many of the musicians appearing on the album were inspired by your music. Are there any current and young musicians, bands or artists that you draw inspiration from nowadays?
Steve: Yes, I like the work of Joe Bonamassa very much, I like the idea that maybe one day we may do something together because he’s a terrific guitarist. Of course, guitarists don’t really need each other, but sometimes they bring something different to the pot. Like for instance when I worked with Anthony Phillips, who was my predecessor in Genesis. I know that he’s probably the best twelve-string player in the world. So I played the electric guitar while he played the twelve string guitar, because that’s his specialty.
You mentioned in a previous interview that the concept is based on the current events but also on your ancestors in the 19th century. How does it make you feel to think that even in the 21st century people are forced to flee their homes for whatever reasons like war?
Steve: Well war is never the answer. We need to reinvent the concept of fellowship and compassion so it makes economic sense for everyone. I figure it’s like the following: in London where I grew up most of the time if you bought food outside it was fish and chips. It was the 1950’s, not a great variety. Over time, we got everything: Caribbean, Jamaican, we have Indian restaurants, Chinese restaurants, Lebanese, and so on. Italian, French, it’s the United Nations of Cuisine. It seems to me that it made London a more vibrant, economically successful place.
If we allow people to arrive and develop all of their gifts will be ours to share in every field: science, music, cuisine… Once the world realizes that we need each other in order to succeed, or else this earth could be a huge failed experiment. We’re at the doorstep of 1930’s thinking at the moment and you’ve been on the front line of it here, you’ve experienced the bombs and at the same time you’re allowing people in. You could’ve turned them away and said we’re going right wing. Our brothers and sisters are everywhere, if only we took the time to look for our extended family just round the corner, over the hill or behind the fence.
I was involved with a project called Rock against Repatriation, I started it to try and help Vietnamese people. We managed to get lawyers to help with the screening process to dispel the notion of economic migrants. I think it’s a pejorative term, insulting to people. I hope the world comes to its senses, but at the moment we’re going over the cliff like Lemmings. I think we need responsible statesmen and we must hold leaders to account, they must not be above the judiciary. We must not allow another Hitler.
Yeah, I’ve been following the news lately about what’s going on in America, and it seems rather ironic that a country founded around the idea of people making a new life is now doing what it is. But on the other hand it’s the uproar against this policy and the new laws is fascinating. Yesterday I read that Starbucks CEO pledged to hire 10000 refugees over the course of this year.
Steve: Fantastic, it’s the best news I’ve heard in a long time.
Google, Uber, all of them are pledging financial support. So at the same time we are seeing people close and people open and raise their voice to fight this.
Steve: Well maybe there won’t be a civil war in America, but there may be an economic one. We’ll see what benefits America eventually. And of course although America is a large country, it’s not the entire world. It’s a microcosm. Don’t forget that other countries are gaining nuclear capabilities, so America can’t act alone arrogantly and assume they are the greatest.
Although the name is pretty self-explanatory, what can the fans expect from the upcoming Genesis Revisited with Hackett Classics tour? Any surprises in store? How much of the new material are you going to present?
Steve: I’ll be doing tree songs from the new album. I’m also celebrating the 40th anniversary of “Wind & Wuthering”, which is an album I believed in very strongly, I thought it was a great album. So I’m doing mostly songs from that album, I’m doing the good stuff.
Did you consider playing the album in its entirety?
Steve: I thought about that, but I always decided to cherry pick and not play entire albums, but play just the best of Genesis. I don’t want to do what I consider to be the weaker tracks, I want to do the tracks I know were deeply felt in people’s hearts. So I’m interested in the quality of the work, not the quantity of it.
How do you see the rock scene nowadays? Do you think all the latest trends like streaming, downloading and the fact that music is instantly accessible to anyone have benefited the scene or took away from its magic?
Steve: Well I think it’s up to the individual. I’m hearing new music all the time. I had a gig with a band called Dare yesterday, and I thought they were marvelous. Really great I thought they sounded, and I wasn’t familiar with them. But I played a show with them yesterday and I want to get their albums. There are bands like Muse or Elbow and very interesting things, Joe Bonamassa for me as a blues guitarist is doing extraordinarily good stuff. Those are the new people, although they are not that new. I’m open to new stuff. In every genre there’s good stuff.
That’s all the time we had. Do you have any messages for our readers and your fans in Serbia?
Steve: Whatever you do, love it with a passion!