Steve Hackett Discusses “The Night Siren” (Part Two)

Continued from Part One

BILL KOPP: One of the things I’ve found sort of curiously interesting about him is that his career trajectory is a little bit like Phil Collins: he was the drummer in a band, then the singer left and he ended up being the lead singer … and then he left.

STEVE HACKETT: Yes. Well sometimes it works like that. I think we were lucky with Genesis to have two fine singers. I wasn’t doing vocals at that time … I was a slow starter, but I do quite a bit of that myself these days.

Speaking of which … as much as I like your vocals on your previous albums, there seems to be kind of a leap forward in the vocal texture and everything on this one.

Yes, I think I’m looking at vocals in the same way that I look at guitars, so I interact with it and insist on certain effects on the voice and I don’t leave it to chance. When you sing a vocal it’s like, where do you want it to come from? Do you want [the vocal] to be right in front of you? Do you want it to be at a distance? And at what distance? So I think the more confident that you get, you can get a better product out of it. If you treat it just like an instrument.

It becomes more specific with time. You think, “I’m looking for that character; I’m looking for something where I can sing it low and hard with a lot of reverb on it, and then sing the melody up the octave.” That’s a vocal style that I started off with many years ago, and I didn’t really follow it through. And I realize that I took exactly the same approach on “Behind The Smoke,” and in a way that’s the vocal style that I think really moves me. I love the idea of it starting out as one thing and perhaps acoustically, and then it becomes something else and builds and builds.

There is a sweeping, dramatic feel to a lot of the tracks on The Night Siren, even more than on some of your previous work. And I’d argue that you’re very, very effective at establishing, shall we say, sort of an emotional backdrop, even before the lyrics come in. So I’m curious: as you’re writing and arranging, is it a conscious goal of yours to create music that serves as sort of a sympathetic or complementary basis for the lyrics?

I’ll tell you what: when I think of the people that I’ve been influenced by, I’ve noticed that there’s something in the way that they use the instruments. And I’m thinking of two acts in particular: the Beatles and Jimmy Webb, particularly Webb’s work with Art Garfunkel on the album Watermark. It’s as if everything has been discussed, everything has been thought about and there’s nothing in there by chance. When those arrangements work like that, you’ll find that it’s hugely influential for certain people.

I know that with Genesis, we all did an interview where we’re talking to Melody Maker at the time and saying that our favorite single was “MacArthur Park.” It was four out of five that said that; we had no idea that each of the others had felt the same way! Jimmy Webb was a template for that, also the Beatles [were]. I think there are some things about that and the work with George Martin where – sometimes – the orchestral dress was as important as the tune.

I had the pleasure of seeing you in Atlanta on the tour last year. The way that you split the concert into two parts was very effective; the audience absolutely loved it. Are you going to take a similar approach on this tour?

Yes. The idea of Genesis Revisited as an ongoing brand is something that I feel is hugely emotional for me. To do that – to re-present those songs that we all fought hard for back in the day – it’s great. But at the same time, I don’t want to be pensioned off into that “Oh, yes: this is what he once did, and this is his most famous thing,” being comfortably retired and keeping the museum doors open for glorious exhibits.

That’s a great thing to do, but on the other hand there is vital music. And the responses to the new stuff that I’ve done have been very, very good, both at concerts and also with record sales. So I can’t complain of that, but I think that Genesis always did open the door for me in a sense.

The concert – one set of your solo music and another of Genesis classics – is a bit like seeing two different shows.

You’re absolutely right, and it is like two separate shows, or two separate films in a way. A film for the ear. But that’s how it feels: that music is very visual, and the Genesis stuff is held in such high esteem by an otherwise disenfranchised following of early Genesis, which included Peter Gabriel as well as Phil Collins as singers. I think it was a very interesting line-up from 1971, when we had both Phil and Pete in the same band at the same time, and of course Pete was the original vocalist.

You stay quite busy; you’ve been releasing an album a year since 2011 or so.

I’ve tried to keep that up, yes. And we’re doing a lot of touring. More and more territories are opening up to us – me and my band – and we’re going to new places we haven’t been before, such as New Zealand, Australia and Hong Kong. South America as well. So it’s a very, very interesting time. We’re doing the East Coast tour first of all, and then we come back and we do the U.K., we do Europe. We just keep motoring throughout the year.

Is there any chance that you’ll do an additional North American leg after the run of dates that conclude in May?

That may happen later this year. I’m hoping that we’ll come back and, having concentrated more on the East Coast, we may be able to concentrate on the more inner Mid-West and West Coast. But that’s all in an ideal world. Deals have to be done, brokered and all of that, and it’s whatever [management and booking] come up with.

You’re taking part in the Cruise to the Edge again this year. How many of those have you done now?

I’ve done two of them and so this will be the third. I didn’t do the last one but looking forward to that but I’ll be sad to be doing that without the late great Chris Squire, of course.

What do you like best about the floating festivals?

That’s very interesting. It’s a very good way of putting it, “floating festival.” Well, quite apart from people cracking jokes … the first time we ever did it saying, “Well, we’re all in the same boat, ha, ha, ha.” But it’s more than that; these things are huge. They are like floating palaces or floating towns, and everyone goes off. And it’s a microcosm, isn’t it? For a while, and it’s a life on the ocean waves. You either like being on boats or you don’t, and it so happens I do. You get to visit places, you get to meet people, you hang out with the whole crowd, and people loosen up. Bands start to join each other and sit in with each other, and it’s a little bit of jamming that goes on. And that’s very nice.