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Steve Hackett – The Virtuoso’s Journey Continues

We reunite with Steve Hackett, a longtime friend and progressive rock icon, as he prepares for his local return.

Steve Hackett may be a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and a former member of Genesis, but he has also been a perpetual student of the guitar, exploring the instrument in a multitude of musical genres including progressive rock, blues, jazz fusion, world, and classical. Since joining Genesis in 1971, he has been a major influence on some of the most famous guitarists of all time, including Steve Vai, John Petrucci of Dream Theater, and, yes, Eddie Van Halen. With a distinguished career that has lasted more than five decades, he shows no sign of slowing down. In addition to continuing his world tour, he has started to work on multiple projects. While most his age are enjoying their respective retirements, sitting back, and smelling the roses, Hackett is as busy as ever.

Ironically, Seconds Out was Hackett’s last recording with Genesis. He departed for a full-time solo career during the mixing sessions for the classic live album, which featured Phil Collins as vocalist. It’s still an album and time Hackett holds close to him, as he is currently on his Genesis Revisited: Seconds Out Tour. He will soon be making a trio of area appearances with it: December 6 at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey, followed by a stop on December 8 at the Kenswick Theatre in Glenside, Pennsylvania, and on December 10 at the Theater for the Performing Arts in Patchogue, Long Island.

What’s left to talk about? You have always been an open book. You’ve even authored an excellent autobiography, A Genesis in My Bed. Why, unlike so many of your ilk, have you been so revealing?

I think it’s because I’ve been so damn busy, particularly in recent years. I have been especially busy since the COVID pandemic ended, which I’m sure everyone is bored hearing about. I’ve been catching up for more than a year.

You’ve always done well while touring the Northeast, but at this point in your storied career, why are you still so driven?

I had a number of years when I wasn’t able to work. I didn’t have a management situation that supported me. I was involved with people who were grinding me to a stop. What I am doing now is making up for lost time, so I’ve been working on as many different projects as possible, playing as many gigs as possible, and recording as much as possible. Yesterday I came back from Italy where we did six shows in Italy and it was amazing. The response was just wonderful. At some point I’m going to go back.

Your recent tours revisited classic Genesis recordings as well as your most popular solo material. Are you now considering recording new music?

I’ve been doing so many shows that I haven’t had time to record, but I have had time to write. I have books full of stuff to do when I get back. Early next year I’m going to come up with a new album, which will mark this change in direction for me. My perspective of what guitars are capable of and what I’m capable of on the guitar has shifted over time, and every now and again you have some kind of epiphany and you realize just what an incredibly exciting instrument you’ve spent your whole life trying to figure out. I’m working on a story for another new album. I’m designing it as if it is an invisible movie or a film for the ear.

Congratulations on recently receiving the Sena Performers European Guitar Award.

What was incredible was guitarists sent in congratulatory videos, especially guys from the States. Steve Lukather [Toto] and Steve Vai were among them. Brian May of Queen also sent a film in. It was overwhelming emotionally when that level of respect and love goes right round you.

It was also emotional to hook up with Jan Akkerman [Focus] because we were gigging on the same circuit 50 years ago and we were playing the same places with our respective bands.

You show no signs of slowing down.

As you grow older, certain things in the body start to slow down. You get these warning signs, but luckily my hands are still functioning at peak. Still, I know the clock is ticking. It is for all of us. So, if you’ve got a dream, go out there and live it. Don’t mess around – go for it. What you put off today is likely to come back and haunt you tomorrow. If you want to write that novel, make that film, make that album, marry that girl, buy that horse, whatever it is that’s been eating away at you, go do it now. Sometimes we get so beholden to people and things, but we are living in the free world.

It was a guy I met many years ago, a churchman, and he said this funny thing about life. He said, “It feels like by the time we’re finally getting it right, it’s nearly time to shuffle off this mortal coil.” I think it was this idea of, “Go for it now. Try and be gentle with yourself and with others, but each of us has our destiny and we just have to go for it.”

Has revisiting Genesis classics on tour stimulated your creative juices?

Genesis’ music showed me what was possible while working with a team. It also demonstrated what wasn’t possible within a group dynamic. Genesis may have been the greatest band in the world at the time, but there were times when people would stand in each other’s light and not do various things. Great bands are often comprised of competitive individuals. You have to be aware of that and not get saddled with the prejudice of others who may not be into a particular genre you’re into. A composition by committee, of course, can be a wonderful thing, but that has its limitations.

You’ve returned to states to complete your Genesis Revisited: Seconds Out Tour.

We’re coming back for a couple of weeks and it’ll be wonderful.

Ironically, it was while Seconds Out was being mixed that you decided to leave Genesis.

I’m now 72, I was 27 then – you can reverse those numbers. The 27-year-old me was determined to record more solo records. Had I been given the option to do so, I would have remained in the band. I believe Peter [Gabriel] would have remained, as well. I think that would have strengthened us and given us more options, but Genesis started to hemorrhage members. After Peter and I left, everyone started doing solo albums: the very thing they wouldn’t allow Pete or myself to do.

And therein lies the irony.

Of course. But at the end of the day I wouldn’t change that for the world – the wonderful experiences I had working with other people of incredible ability and commitment to not just the music but also to humanity. I have had the chance to work with Richie Havens! So many of my pals were once personal heroes and now they’re contemporaries. It is sad that so many have crossed over into the unknown, but it’s been wonderful to have known them and to have worked with them.

You have been acknowledged as a major influence on guitarists, but were you upset when Eddie Van Halen was recognized for innovating two-handed fretboard tapping when you had been doing it since the early seventies?

In recent years I’ve been showered with accolades. Eddie Van Halen actually complimented me on coming up with that technique. I think guitarists are keen to point out their influences. While I may cite Andrés Segovia and Jimi Hendrix, I’ve been influenced by hundreds of great players.

I may have been an early [purveyor] of the tapping technique, but it’s a bit like designing a horse. It’s quite another matter of who decides to race it, what they do with it, and the glossary of terms that gets expounded with that.

You are also known for embracing other genres on your solo records.

It’s important to move on, which is why other genres interest me. Classical interests me, jazz interests me, world music interests me, blues interests me, and country interests me. There have been some wonderful voices that worked in country: Alison Krauss, Roy Orbison, and KD Lang. Those are talents that transcend country and becomes something else. If it’s done honestly, and with energy and commitment, I’ll buy into it anytime.

How did you feel when the final Genesis lineup officially retired?

What I’ve been doing since the nineties, in one form or another, is playing the material live and being free with it, but I honor the work. Beethoven still gets played even though there’s no Beethoven. We can’t talk to him and he’s not going to show up on anything from Come Dancing to The X Factor – although I’m sure he was a wonderful dancer. But you know what we’re going to do: we’re going to honor the work because it’s worth preserving.

There are great cover bands keeping Genesis’s music alive. You, however, are a songwriter, an architect of the original music. You are the last member of Genesis keeping the music alive.

I was mad keen on either forming or joining a band that worked with the mellotron. That was going to open up absolutely everything as far as I was concerned. It meant Genesis were gonna be a band that could sound like an orchestra. A year later we got a monophonic tiny synthesizer. That enabled a transformative effect to honor and expand that idea of classical influences.

Despite your long journey, there is still creative road left to travel.

It’s just starting. If any of the other members of genesis feel the need to revisit any of that, I absolutely welcome that. However, it’s unlikely we will all be working together again and riding off into sunset because we have different ideas of what Genesis is… but I will bring my ideas forward, of course.