Steve Hackett
Genesis of a virtuoso

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cc: You have this thing about making your guitar sound almost unrecognisable as a guitar sometimes. Is that just a bit of fun with electronics, or should we be looking for something a bit deeper within that?

SH: It's funny, I've always had a sort of ambivalence with that. Sometimes I've been so successful in disguising the sound of the guitar that you really can't tell it is a guitar. For instance there's a track called Come Away, on To Watch The Storms, and in the middle there's a guitar solo but it's all played on one note with the tremelo arm, and the thing about that is that because it is a continuous tone from the sustainer pickup on the guitar it sounds like a synth but it's not. I tend not to use guitar synthesizers these days. I try to actually synthesize the sound itself and try and do that naturally. But I do spend my whole life wondering about this sort of stuff, mucking around with pedals . . .

cc: So you enjoy the technological aspect of music making . . .

SH: Yeah, but most of the time I'm frustrated that I'm not able to make a better sound than I'm making, and then something will kick in at some point and it will start to come into focus, once you realise it's going somewhere. I'm usually looking for something unrepeatable, to be honest, which makes things doubly difficult to reproduce live, but then I'm looking for something else to take over, something I wasn't expecting and that wasn't in the planning . . .

cc: So you're sort of ambushing yourself . . .

SH: Yes, indeed . . .

cc: But as long as you can capture it and store it at some point - or do you frequently lose things?

SH: We lose things less these days because the memory of the computer is infinitely superior to what you can cram onto a two inch tape machine. You used to have to lose takes, now you can store it all and come back to it down the line.

cc: Digital technology is certainly a great leap forward for music, but old analog equipment - Projekt sequencers and Mellotrons and the like - have a really warm sound and a certain wobbliness about them which is quite delightful.

SH: It is a delightful sound, but in terms of recording, the computer is a great editing tool. We have a live album - Live Archive 03 - and it is all live, but we have edited. In the middle of a song we might go to someone else's sax solo or flute solo. The song might start off in Wapping and end up in . . .

cc: You'll ruin the magic if you tell me that . . .

SH: In a way I've tried to be open about it on the sleeve notes. We didn't go for one gig, we thought, we've just done this European tour, let's just feature the best bits.

cc: I suppose the point is that it is still you and the band and it is still live. It's not something that someone else has overdubbed . . .

SH: Exactly, so it is still truly a live album.

cc: Your music is a complex blend of prog, classical, blues, jazz and so on, sometimes in the same song . . .

SH: I'm still trying to dream up a name for it . . .

cc: I wouldn't dream of trying to classify it! Some people can't connect that diversity. Do you see yourself as a man of mystery and contradictions or do you just have a big record collection?

SH: Um . . . well, I have got a big record collection and I keep thinking, "What have I done with that old Charlie Cooden 78?" The nice thing these days is that I'm able to replace things I once had. The access to the world of music is huge now of course. But I even find myself buying the odd Frank Sinatra record for my mother and quite liking it myself. People do say music is memory and I remember my aunts, when they were alive, bopping away to Sinatra doing Witchcraft, so these things stick with you and it's impossible to separate the sentiment from the song. Sometimes one hears things through other people's ears entirely. The prejudice goes. That's the nice thing.
    At one time when I was growing up I just used to listen to guitars, and someone would say, "That's got a good beat" and I'd say, "Beat? It's got drums on it as well?" But you get older and you start to focus in on all the detail and you realise all the instruments are as important as each other. Each one of them is a voice. I can remember one time thinking why would anyone want to take up the French horn, and then you realise that it's only the French horn that makes that particular sound as it climbs and does that little bit of a fanfare, and does that thrill you!

cc: You seem quite happy to let the various members of the band take the limelight at various points. You're not one of these egotistical guitarists that would say, "Hang on I need to be louder than anybody else." There's a good balance within the band . . .

SH: I'm going to share it out much more so with the band, and I think Gary might even be singing the odd tune on his own. We're going to try it in rehearsal and see what happens. I'm quite happy to have that dependency.

cc: You give both rock and classical guitar performances, and are clearly accomplished at both. Here's the big one: Could you choose between the two, if you had to?

SH: It would be hard to give up one exclusively. But they're actually really all the same thing. Bach and blues. Very similar really. It's a players medium, and Bach was a great improviser. He wasn't black of course.

cc: You cite Bach as the muso's choice . . .

SH: That's because I've conducted a survey over the years, and he gets more votes than anyone else.

cc: Is there anyone who could fill his shoes today? It's a pretty big pair of shoes, admittedly.

SH: It is a very big pair of shoes, and I don't think anyone has come remotely close to competing with his output. Not that it should be a competition; it's all part of the greater enjoyment for mankind. I still love his stuff. Jack Bruce said Bach was his favourite bass player . . . but if Bach had heard Jack he might have said he had the greatest voice!

And that final remark is typical of a man who refuses to let boundaries limit his creativity and appreciation of the music he loves.

:: Tom Alford

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