Following the success of 2017’s The Night Siren” (charted at 22 in Germany, 28 in the UK), legendary former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett releases his new studio album, At The Edge Of Light today. Eclectic in style, Hackett’s new LP incorporates eighteen international renowned musicians, which gives it a world and varied sound.
Steve spoke with The Fountain about the new album, the impact Brexit may have on musicians and the tour to follow.
TF: New album out on 25th January, which is anthemic to say the least, it’s your 25th record to date, out on the 25th, is this intentional or purely coincidence?
I think this is purely coincidence. I had a great time making this album with loads of people from all over the world. And as for anthemic, I hope so, with out being too didactic, but yeah, I had a great time doing it and it’s great to work with pals from all over the world.
TF: Somewhat cinematic and orchestral in parts, Beasts In Our Time for example your music is far removed from the music you used to create for your Genesis Revisited tours. How did you find your sound as a solo artist, having clearly side-stepped from that more mainstream sound of Genesis?
Well, I think Genesis was at one time a bunch of young guys none of whom really knew what a verse and a chorus was, we used to argue endlessly about that sort of thing. I think my sound was probably built from the sound of others, one is always standing on the shoulders of giants, and when I was growing up, it was a great time for guitarists, I was living in London, right in the centre when I first met Genesis. I hadn’t left home at that point, I was due to leave home that year and that indeed happened. But just in terms of sound I think Genesis wanted a guitarist that could play acoustic guitar as well as electric, and I played twelve string as well as electric so I think that’s what cinched the deal with them. As for my sound it’s a mixture, I did as much listening to Segovia as I did Jimi Hendrix. I guess I had very good teachers although they did not know it at the time.
TF: Soulful sound of Underground Railroad, with a bluesy guitar, it was my personal standout track and one which highlights how eclectic this album is. What influenced you to make it as genre-defying and varied as it is?
Well I had seen a story about Harriet Tubman when I was in Wilmington, Delaware. She had been an escaped slave and had been involved with something called the Underground Railroad, helping other slaves to escape. She wasn’t caught, she was a successful escapee her self. A couple of years after that I picked up a book called Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, which was recommended by Barack Obama and it was a fascinating read. I thought there is probably a song here and I had done some train songs in the past but this was a fictional account of an escaping slave girl, who gets recaptured at various different points and then manages to get away again. I probably shouldn’t give away the entire story but they take the idea of an Underground Railroad and make it literally about an underground train, which to my knowledge, never actually happened. But it creates an interesting device during the story and then I thought if we turn it into a pure Americana circa around the time of the civil war which was just prior to that, then what I need to do is to have some authentic voices on that so I called up my friends, the MacBroom sisters, two soul sisters that worked with Pink Floyd and I mentioned that I wanted to create a kind of gospel feel from this, so if you are able to improvise the lines and throw in lots of ad libs I would be very happy with that. They were perfect for the part. There were other things that I felt would make it more authentically Americana, a big silver thing you can practically see your face in, which makes a very metallic sound, which is a cross between a banjo and harmonica which I had grown up playing. And all the other blues influences, which is in there. There is a bit of country, a bit of gospel and a bit of blues and it tells a story.
TF: Evidently with a rich musical heritage, working with so many performers you have a tendency on your albums to transiently move from genre to genre, which keeps your records interesting and varied. Is there one that you prefer to play over the rest, or is it the variety that appeals to you?
I think it is the variety to be honest. When people talk about progressive music they could be talking about anything. It could mean that it is a longer tune than usual, it could mean that it’s blues music, it could be jazz, pop, rock, Indian, ragga-influenced stuff and the record does have all of that plus lots of orchestral interjections. I think I have been trying to make a fully orchestrated rock album for a very long time, so this is it. It might be the last in the line of this type of thing or it could be the first, it all depends I just know it’s a hard one for me to top next time. I just know that something special happened on it and it’s largely due to the influence of the players, the players and the singers, not just me.
TF: With eighteen musicians included in the recording of this album there is a vast array of different talent, how was the process to be working with so many diverse artists?
Well most of them were face to face apart from the drummers, who sent in their performances. They all phoned in their stuff as I presently don’t have a studio that is large enough to have all the drums in. I thought we could record everyone else at home, but I don’t want to upset the neighbours with drummers coming in. So Nick D’Virgilio sent his stuff in from the States, as did Simon Phillips, and there are more, there are four of five that do drums on the album, plus the engineers that do virtual drums as well, and lots of processing, so the distinction between the sample and the performance is extremely blurred on this. Nothing is sacred until it’s out there really so we kicked the football backwards and forwards and criticised mercilessly until we get something that sounds hopefully glorious.
TF: It appears that your decision to make the world music prominent within the album was somewhat political, with the far right being a regular concern, you must have some words for what has happening recently?
It seems that I have two fights on my hand, one is being anti-Brexit because I know the downside if it goes ahead, especially with no deal. There will be a financial collapse in this country like we have never seen before. It seems obvious to me and most international musicians that want to have the right to live and work in 27 different countries and that’s a very big plus. I have not heard any politicians from any party say that this is a very big plus, the fact that we have free movement, it means we have the right to live and work where you like, so this impacts directly on musicians. I am supposed to be doing a tour a month after Brexit happens and no-one can tell me whether I need a visa or need to pay withholding tax or whether there is any guarantee of any of those shows that I’ve booked in Europe, whether any one of them will actually happen or not. In fact will we actually be able to get outside our borders? Don’t get me going on this one, I think there is a tremendous amount of freedom that we are potentially going to give up but I hope Theresa May comes to her senses and does what all the other political parties are saying including many of her own people, which is that you’ve gotta revoke at least temporarily Article 50 and No Deal should not happen. It’s madness. It’s not just a separation, it’s jumping off a cliff. We cannot go into this Lemming like and every business in the country from your local sweetshop to ICI is saying this is a disaster. I think we ought to bring the best in people in. If people like this album it’s because I have an Indian sitar player, an Icelandic drummer, a guy from Azerbaijan that plays guitar, and if you like all these things then that’s great.
TF: And you are heading out on tour on April to do another Genesis Revisited, focusing on Selling England by the Pound, will you be promoting At The Edge of Light with live performances?
Yes I will, it’s actually three albums I will be doing, Selling England in it’s entirety as it was a much loved album and it was written at a time when John Lennon said Genesis was a band that he was listening to so I am fond of it for that memory. And then I will do most of Spectral Mornings which is from the first touring band that I had in 1979 and then all these years later, At The Edge Of Light, which is turning into a personal favourite of mine so we will be introducing stuff from that. It’s quite a tall order to do all of that and keeping a band focussed to do it, but I am sure that the band that I have got will be able to do it. We have been in rehearsals this week and it just shows what an incredible team I happen to be working with at the moment. There are a couple of Swedish guys in the band, including Jonas Reingold playing bass. We have Marco Minnemann, who is German and living in the US and we have Craig Blundell from Steven Wilson’s band who is going to join us for the rest of the tour on drums so looking forward to all of that.
At The Edge Of Light is out today, and Steve will be performing at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh on 25th November, 2019.