The Many Faces of Genesis Part 1

The creative core and instrumental dexterity of the original Genesis had much to do with guitarist Steve Hackett, who replaced original guitarist Anthony Phillips in 1970. Hackett, a renown composer and one of rock's most inventive artists, made an immediate impact, lending his distinctive guitar work to the band during its most fruitful period. He has since enjoyed an amazingly prolific and acclaimed solo career, which includes the new, enhanced double-disc live set The Tokyo Tapes, which features John Wetton, Ian McDonald, Chester Thompson, and Julian Colbeck. Hackett has also recently released the album There Are Many Sides to the Night, an 18-song solo project composed of nylon-string acoustic guitar tracks. The two releases, along with an extensive reissue campaign, showcase Hackett's eclecticism and versatility. "Working in different styles is essential to me," says Hackett, "because the language of music is very rich in vocabulary and I can't resist all the variations available. At this point, I feel like there's no longer any style I can't interact with." The Tokyo Tapes involve a pretty impressive line-up.

Hackett: It's a typically progressive outing in terms of trying to represent the backgrounds of all the perpetrators, hence the sonic references to Wetton, Genesis, King Crimson, and my own material. Had there been a longer prep time I would've liked to have done some Zappa or some Weather Report with [drummer] Chester [Thompson]. But we only had ten days to get together in rehearsals to produce a double album. There wasn't time to cover everyone's family tree. How did that superstar line-up come together?

Hackett: At that time I felt there was a pool of musicians I've worked with who I felt needed to work together, if they hadn't already. Since forming, it has become not so much a band, but a bunch of guys who regularly work together in the same way you might find jazz combos playing on each other's turf. For five minutes it was my band, but when we reconvene it might be under someone else's terms. It's a rotating thing. What are your goals as an artist?

Hackett: At the end of the day, I'm not trying to please too many people. I'm trying to do something that works for me. The major difference between myself and all the other players and other people trying to be stars is that there's a price to pay in the heavy editorial you get on behalf of a corporation. I'm just trying to produce the records I like. I'm not playing the showbiz game. I still work as much as ever. I'm just not interested in the kind of games played around A&R boardrooms, writing-by-committee, and the corporate approach to music. That simply doesn't produce lasting product. What are your feelings about your work with Genesis?

Hackett: Frankly, I try to distance myself from Genesis as much as possible. Occasionally, I go back and get involved in a small way, usually in an archival nature. But there's a danger in being seen as the curator of a museum of your own making. Let me show you to this exhibit, sir." It's not an area I feel terribly comfortable with. I have faced up to the ghosts of the past somewhat by involving myself in a re-recording of something we did over 22 years ago now. That probably sounds like someone leaving the Glen Miller Band back in 43 to many of your readers. What was it like to re-record "The Carpet Crawlers" with Genesis for the band's Hits album?

Hackett: I'd love to be able to say we all got together at someone's house and did it face-to-face in the living room, but we all worked on it separately then it was produced by Trevor Horn separately. I guess it has curiosity value. It's an old curio. It always was a strange track, with a strange lyric. It's as offbeat as any of the Genesis tracks you came across from the old days. As for the new guitar work, Trevor chose lines I hadn't played on the original. People expecting the usual guitar lines will realize Trevor left them off and some will probably accuse me of a traitorous thing. But I didn't produce it, so there's a selection of performances as part of the final production, and all those extra notes are there. They weren't my choice. Also, guitarists will find that the counterpoint playing on the chorus is non-existent, not underplayed, just non-existent. Did you record "The Carpet Crawlers" separately because you didn't want to be together?

Hackett: No. We're still pretty good friends. We still see each other a decent amount.

It's strange, but in choosing classical pieces to play on guitar, I don't usually go for the people who composed exclusively for guitar. I feel that the best music for nylon guitar are the pieces written for the violin or the cello that have been interpreted for the guitar.

Bach was a top-of-the-range composer. He has provided us with the finest so-called "guitar music" you'll find. There's a subtle difference in his compositions that make them perfectly adaptable to guitar. There's Bach, and then there's all the others. His music is the nearest thing to a living miracle, I think. It's got that rare combination of complexity plus cohesion which eventually reads "simplicity," strangely enough. There's a cohesive line running through the most dazzling of technical performances.

When someone plays fast you're usually aware that they're simply trying to be a clever dick, frankly. Bach would give any bass player a run for his money, never mind what he'd be doing with his right hand.

"The Chacon" would be the most famous Bach piece for guitar, originally written for violin. The Andre Segovia version, which is the best, is only available on archaic albums, but it's the definitive version. Other people play it brilliantly, but you don't weep with it like you do when you hear Segovia. What keeps you going as a musician?

Hackett: The whole deal is that I'm still mad about music. It's still the thing that makes me miss appointments and the thing that makes me get my schedules wrong. I'll be 50 next year and I'd still rather have a Les Paul strapped on. Most of my contemporaries can't handle the weight of one on their backs and the cricks in their neck, but I love it! What is it about the Les Paul?

Hackett: I love the shape and feel of it. I do use other guitars, including a Bernie Fernandez model, custom with tremolo and a built-in sustainer pick-up. I'm interested in the note that goes on forever; it's a little like having a built-in e-bow. You're still very involved in classical guitar, which you express on There Are Many Sides to the Night.

Hackett: Yes, I'm very active in it. On four albums now I've featured nylon guitar exclusively and there's another one in the works with an orchestra. I use a Yairi guitar; it's of Japanese origin. I began learning the technique in 1973, and it's something I continue to study until this very day. It's funny. As soon as I hear someone doing something I can't do, I apply myself. Classical guitar is a lifelong study. You have to be very dedicated to it. In order to get the full dynamic range, you have to be very strong and very delicate alternatively. That's the hardest aspect of the nylon. Sometimes you wish you had more strength or more gentleness, but somewhere in between comes this great variety of tones. It's the guitar player's equivalent of the piano, just as versatile, only in a smaller scale. Do you enjoy performing classical guitar live?

Hackett: Classical guitar is not always about technique. The guitarist always thinks about technique, but it's only a part of the story. It allows you to pull things off, but it can also slow you up tremendously if you're always thinking about it. I've made up my mind lately to not play fast. I'll leave that to others. When someone starts playing fast they get stuck in a rut and the element of surprise seems to have gone. I've seen fast guitar work at its best live. But I haven't heard much of it recently. Was there a turning point for you as a guitarist?

Hackett: 1969, I think. The blues bands in my country were swept away by a new order that came in, swept away by the progressive band movement. There were a lot of good moments -- a lot of dross, too. It wasn't so much the new genre, but the new spirit of the genre. That old Genesis had an indefinable magic -- an alchemy that turned you around.

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