Article by Jason Setnyk | Photo by Tina Korhonen
London, England – Legendary guitarist Steve Hackett was a member of Genesis from 1971 to 1977, working alongside Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford, and Phil Collins. His talented guitar work can be heard on several classic Genesis albums, including “Nursery Cryme” (1971), “Selling England by the Pound” (1973), and “Wind And Wuthering (1977)”.
Also, over 46 years, Steve Hackett has released 27 solo albums, including “Surrender of Silence,” which comes out September 10th via Century Media Records. Furthermore, many of his solo albums have charted high in the United Kingdom.
Steve’s previous album “Under A Mediterranean Sky” and his new album “Surrender Of Silence” were recorded during the COVID-19 Global Pandemic while much of the world was under lockdown.
“Surrender of Silence,” like his previous album, involved guest musicians and singers from around the world contributing. However, his last album was acoustic and gentle, while “Surrender of Silence” is full-on electric and heavy.
“I think they are polar opposites. The lockdown scenario meant I had a lot more time on my hands without the distraction of live shows. First, I wanted to do an acoustic album earlier in the year, something that was romantic and escapist with a European feeling to it,” Steve Hackett explained.
“The second album was more like world music in a sense because I was working with friends from all over the world. Not just the core band and touring band that I have been working with now for a while, but people from Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, and instruments from all over the place,” Hackett continued.
Many musicians contributed to the new album: Roger King, Rob Townsend, Jonas Reingold, Nad Sylvan, Craig Blundell, Phil Ehart, Nick D’Virgilio, Amanda Lehmann, Durga McBroom, Lorelei McBroom, Christine Townsend, Malik Mansurov, and Sodirkhon Ubaidulloev.
“Just in terms of drummers, we had some British, some American. It was rather lovely working with people such as Nick D’Virgilio (Spock’s Beard and Genesis), and in England, of course, Craig Blundell. My Swedish friends, it’s wonderful to work with Nad Sylvan on vocals on one of the tracks. There’s been this Swedish connection; for example, Jonas Reingold playing wonderful bass. He’s the bass player on most of the tracks on the album,” Hackett divulged.
Of course, with musicians from all over the world contributing, along with pandemic lockdowns, it was not feasible for everyone to record in the studio together. File sharing over the internet has turned music-making into a global village.
“We were using file sharing. We didn’t have so many people all in one room. For example, the McBroom Sisters, Lorelei lives in New York, while Durga lives in Rome, so they were sending in their performances to share on a track called “Wingbeats,” which is an African-inspired track. My wife Jo and I visited Ethiopia, and we fell in love with the place. We decided to do something that had an African feel to it, something with African voices and African-sounding drums. Some of it is authentic, some of it is a United Nations approach. You file share, and you join up countries. Also, we have a Russian-inspired track,” Hackett added.
Musically, the song “Natalia” has an orchestra and opera tone. While lyrically, the song tells the story of a Russian woman suffering under various regimes.
“It was my wife Jo that said why don’t we do a Russian-themed song. She came up with some lyrics for taking the same name, “Natalia,” over a thousand years. The idea is each time, as a result of a repressive regime, the Russian tragedy would play itself out once again. Our imaginary character starts out falling foul of the church and is executed. The next time is the St. Petersburg Massacre (Bloody Sunday), where she is shot outside the famous palace gates by the Bolsheviks. It’s someone with the same name, a Russian every woman. Finally, up to the present day, when somebody poisons her in an (Alexei) Navalny-like manner,” Hackett confirmed.
“You’re quite right about the classical influence, the orchestral influence, and the operatic influence with it. It was small forces, but it tracked up a lot. So, we have some real strings; we have the other stuff, the programmed stuff, and the real stuff running side by side. In a way, I saw it as the flagship track for everywhere I wanted to go with a cinematic-sounding album. It’s heavy without being too guitar-oriented. Until later, the guitar makes an appearance after 2 to 3 minutes in the song,” Hackett answered.
The song “Natalia” makes some intriguing social commentary, and so does the song “Fox’s Tango.” For example, the music video shows a stark contrast between wealth and poverty.
“I was in New York, and I befriended a guy who was literally living on the street. I couldn’t quite forget him, this particular guy, he was struggling to walk, and I gave him some cash. I thought in a way, it was the haves and have-nots, the inequality of life,” Hackett recalled.
“The song “Fox’s Tango” is a very full-on rock track; it’s very heavy and very slow. But there is also the idea in terms of social comment, the way the world is heading with the haves and have nots. The idea is that one day we will end up with one half the world in a refugee prison camp and the other half of the world having the keys. I see this polarized thing, totally at the mercy of compassion fatigue,” Hackett commented.
“A lot of civil liberties, things that were fought for in the 1960s. The idea of embracing people from other cultures is falling apart, and there are right-wing governments everywhere. Brexit, which I was firmly against, is now producing food shortages problems in England. As people wake up to the reality of what that means, the supply chains have been broken. The workforce has been decimated, and workers have been sent home. People have been locked up, and here we are in this so-called progressive world. It ain’t anymore; it’s headed towards a police state. I’m sorry, I’m sounding like I’m on a soapbox here. I wanted to make an entertaining album; at the same time, I wanted to make those comments as well,” Hackett went on.
Another song from the new album called Scorched Earth, which showcases post-apocalyptic scenery, is inspired by real-life events.
“There is a real crisis going on. At the time that I wrote that song, Australia was literally going up in smoke. Now, of course, it’s fire, flood, and famine. You can’t avoid it. You can either write songs that are odes and lovely, or you can get right in there. Yes, the song does have an ecological message. The idea is that in a very short span of time, unless the world progresses on addressing greenhouse gases, over-farming, and over-fishing, unless we are more responsible with certain things, the resources that we have are indeed running out. We cannot sustain life in the same way we have up to now. Some people are still in denial about this, while to this very day, we as we are watching it on our screens. What’s going on? New York, Philadelphia, subways are submerged from floods. Then, on the other side, there are the fires in California and Arizona. People are dying. Yes, there is social comment in there. That particular track seems to be a favourite of a lot of people. In fact, we just did a video for it, which is not officially released yet. There are four videos that are either out or about to be released. There is a video for Natalia, Wingbeats, Fox’s Tango, and Scorched Earth,” Hackett confirmed.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. The album concludes on a positive note with a message of hope.
“The final song is called “Esperanza,” which has nylon guitar. It’s rather more sweet and rather more hopeful. “Esperanza” is the Spanish word for hope – right at the end of the album. It’s a bit of a heavy album, heavy sounding, and in terms of lyrics too. Sheet metal orchestra meets doom rock is where so much of this album is headed,” Hackett explained.
THE EARLY YEARS AND GENESIS
Steve Hackett has an impressive collection of guitars from Gibson Les Paul to a Fender Stratocaster. However, his first guitar was a gift from his father purchased in Canada.
“My first guitar? My father brought back a guitar from Canada. It was a Kay guitar with a very big “F” hole. It wasn’t until I was 12, I could literally get my arms around the thing. That was my first guitar, very much a country player’s guitar,” Hackett reminisced.
Nowadays, Steve Hackett still loves the sound of a Les Paul; however, he plays a different guitar live.
“I love the sound of the Les Paul; I never really grown out of that. It sounds absolutely wonderful. However, when playing live, I tend to use a Fernandes much of the time because it has the sustainer facility to it. I have a tremolo arm on that guitar and also the sustainer pickup, which means the notes go on into feedback in a very controllable way,” Hackett elaborated.
In 1971, Steve Hackett joined Genesis, and in 1975 he released his first solo album “Voyage of the Acolyte.” Eventually, both Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett would leave Genesis to enjoy solo careers.
“I was the first in Genesis to do a solo album. I released that, and luckily, it had some measure of success. I was already thinking about going solo anyway. When Peter Gabriel left, the band’s future was very uncertain because he was very much the star of the band. Luckily, we had Phil Collins in the ranks, who reluctantly stepped forward because he happened to have a great voice and presence. He had another kind of style, but of course, Phil Collins became a huge star,” Hackett replied.
“I toyed with the idea of having a parallel solo career, but that really wasn’t an option. I fell foul of group politics; jealousy kicked in once the solo album went silver. I guess that was the first mistake I made. It was alright making an album, but a successful album? Nobody expected the new boy to have success like that. Of course, it meant that the future of Genesis was assured because if a solo member could have success, it paved the way to future success with the entire band,” Hackett responded.
In 1977, Steve Hackett left Genesis to pursue a solo music career full-time.
“Nonetheless, I felt the beauty of having a solo career. For the first time, you are the captain of your own ship, and no longer asking permission to get your song recorded, to have people play it, etcetera. When you make a solo record, the implication is, whoever you work with is there to serve the interest of this chap, i.e., me, the writer. I enjoyed that process very much. Like the guy from the Remington Company says, I liked it so much, I bought the company. That was it for me. Yes, I stuck around for a couple of other albums. I think there was an uneasy truce. It wasn’t always easy to express myself fully, even though I loved Genesis music. I’m still playing it live, and I adore it. Many things we wrote together, I feel, are very strong.
In addition to playing his own original songs, Steve Hackett plays songs from his time in the band Genesis. During the upcoming tour, Hackett will play the whole Genesis album “Seconds Out” in its entirety.
“With my upcoming shows, I’m going to be doing the whole of “Seconds Out” as well as stuff from the new solo album “Surrender of Silence”. I try to do both. I keep the museum doors open for the old exhibits, but at the same time, I exhibit the new songs too. Luckily, in recent years, I’ve charted in a way I could only dream about fifteen years ago. I’ve been steadily up and up. Either the solo career is a guilty pleasure, or playing Genesis is a guilty pleasure. I suspect there may be separate audiences for each,” Hackett said.
The band Genesis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010, and Steve Hackett shares his recollections from that night.
“I thought it was an interesting evening. It started out very stiff at first, with everyone in penguin suits. What’s rock and roll doing wearing vests and ties and all that? As the evening wore on, people started to loosen up after a few drinks. Some amazing acts were being inducted. The Abba guys were being inducted that same night as Genesis. Also, there was the band Phish doing Genesis stuff. It was a very interesting evening. There were some great performances including Jimmy Cliff and Eric Burdon. There was an interesting and extraordinary bunch of people there. There were some interesting speeches from producers and writers – sometimes honouring people who had passed on. It’s wonderful they celebrated Paul Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield after they passed,” Hackett pointed out.
“Also, my pals in Yes who I was trying to talk people into inducting them. In a way, Genesis was the first progressive group to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I felt that Yes deserved that as well. As I suggested that to journalists, the other guys in Genesis looked astounded at me, like what’s he doing? I was working with Chris Squire at the time, and he desperately wanted to come along that night, and I couldn’t get him in. It’s a high-ticket price. They inducted the band Yes after his passing, ironically of course,” Hackett shared.
Steve Hackett has had an impressive career, from his time in Genesis to a successful solo career to being inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In July 2020, Hackett released an autobiography titled “A Genesis in My Bed.”
“The reaction was outstanding. Other people said they enjoyed it. I tried not to make it boring. I didn’t want it to be full of “when I met Mick Jagger, and when I met Paul McCartney.” What I wanted to do was make my early life interesting to people to answer how I ended up playing guitar for this guy or that guy. What’s so special about all that? There’s more to it. The autobiographies that I’ve enjoyed are about people’s work I may not be interested in, but they might write a wonderful book. It wasn’t ghostwritten, I did write it, and I re-wrote it several times – trying to make it interesting. There is no such thing as writing, only re-writing they say,” Steve Hackett concluded.
“Surrender of Silence” comes out September 10th via Century Media Records. It will be available to stream, and physical copies, including limited edition vinyl, will be available for purchase.