Better with Age: Former Genesis Guitarist Steve Hackett Reflects on His Incredibly Busy Year 

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Looking back on the year he’s had, former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett concedes that “it’s been interesting.” Touring has taken him to 20 countries this year and there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight. Looking ahead to 2015, he’s already got shows booked in Iceland, Brazil and Chile.

When Hackett released Genesis Revisited II in 2012, it was a chance to delve into the legendary catalog of his former group, expanding on what he had begun with an earlier volume. But as he explains, he had different goals this time around.

“The first time that I started re-recording Genesis stuff, I felt the need at that time when I was reinterpreting the material, to change it,” he explains. “I did new arrangements for things and I wasn’t looking for the level of authenticity that I’m doing it at, at the moment. I want people to get the idea that if they come along to the show and hear one of these tunes, it’s not going to be unrecognizable.”

With Genesis Revisited, Hackett and his ensemble of players have managed to successfully recreate the beloved sound and atmosphere of the Genesis songs in the way fans would expect to hear them.

“It’s not as if they’re going to get a jazz version of something that they knew and loved,” he says. “I think they’ll be sufficiently unprejudiced if they come to a show having listened to this album, to accept the fact that certain textures are going to change and the way I play guitar on this stuff, it’s like the originals, but I like to think that it’s with more control. Like the opening phrases for instance, on ‘The Chamber of 32 Doors,’ I always wanted to be able to sustain the guitar like that and control it and vibrato it. I couldn’t do it in the early days.”

Listening to the Genesis albums, it’s clear that they pushed the technology that they had to work with back then as far as it would go. The passage of time has made a lot of things easier.

“My ideas were way ahead of my ability to be able to execute it,” he admits. “I think technology, both the inner technique as a player and the outer techniques in terms of the way equipment functions, I wouldn’t really have been able to to pull this off, I don’t think. Now in the old days, of course, I was using amplifiers and recording in the traditional way. But this is really an advertisement for working with a computer and working with amp plugins [in the virtual world]. I’ve gotten pretty close to those original sounds except that I’m not deafening anybody to do it. I’m recording guitar at levels where you can comfortably hold a conversation over the top, so that you’re not fooling yourself with volume. You’re just hearing the pure sounds that come out of the speakers.”

Time also has brought a greater understanding of the Genesis material, both to Hackett and as he shares, the audiences who have been coming out to the shows.

“One of the tracks that we do is from 1971 and the track is called ‘The Fountain of Salmacis,’” he says. “It’s from the Nursery Cryme album and it’s actually a very, very difficult number to pull off live, because it’s got very wide dynamics — it keeps changing. It’s one of those songs that the timing is held together by either arpeggios from the keyboard or the guitar and it means that the whole band has got to stop and listen to be able to pick up on that timing, but luckily we’ve got monitoring down. It goes over extremely well with the audiences. They finally seem to understand that song, whereas when it was first around in its early incarnation, audiences couldn’t really understand why we were doing that.”

The current run of U.S. dates bringing Hackett to the Hard Rock Rocksino for his first Cleveland area date in years is his third round of shows here in the States. Early next year, he’ll turn his focus to a new solo album that’s set for release in March.

“It’s basically a rock album,” he says of the album. “But on the other hand, there are lots of orchestral salvos that come along, ambushing the rock band. There’s also campfire stuff, folk music and quite a lot of Eastern influence on it as well.”

Hackett goes so far as to call it “the best album I’ve done so far,” which is a bold statement that he’s happy to stand behind.

“You know, really at my age, people shouldn’t be getting better, should they? They should be winding down. But I seem to be getting better. I seem to be getting more adept at not just playing the guitar, but writing songs that people want to hear as well and I’ve finally done an album where I’ve done most of the vocals myself. I’ve finally found a style that works for me. It’s a very powerful album. I can’t sing its praises enough -- I think it’s exactly what everyone’s looking for right now.”

This year brought about an unexpected reunion of sorts when Hackett got back together with his former Genesis bandmates, participating in interviews for a new documentary on the group’s history. While he wasn’t happy with the final product, calling it “a biased account of Genesis history,” he found the accompanying box set, R-Kive, which features both Genesis songs as well as selections from the solo work of the individual members to be a more balanced account. While it’s perhaps not a set for the diehards who already own the material, it’s a good primer for those who might be new to the world of Genesis.

“I think that it’s not an album that addresses the converted,” Hackett says. “I think it’s something that is a kind of a summation of the work and what the band has done both collectively and individually. There’s a lot of different kinds of music on it, obviously. There’s the early progressive stuff, but then there’s also the more stripped-down hits. My own contribution to it was something from 1975, a mere 40 years ago, on ‘Ace of Wands,’ the first solo thing I did that had both Phil and Mike on it. But then there’s also something from 2009, a track called ‘Nomads,’ which has a flamenco flavor to it. That’s an area that none of the rest of the band would really touch. There’s not too many other flamenco guitarists in Genesis, so I was able to do that, which is great fun.”

Steve Hackett: Genesis Revisited, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 3, Hard Rock Live, 10777 Northfield Rd.,330-908-7625. Tickets: $37.50-$75, hrrocksinonorthfieldpark.com.


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