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Steve Hackett in the it interview


On September 11th we had the opportunity to talk exclusively with Steve Hackett about his new album Wild Orchids and his upcoming projects. The interview took place by phone.


it: Wild Orchids is available in two versions. Which one is the ultimate album for you personally?

Steve: Originally I designed it as a long version first. For various reasons we ended up with what I prefer to think of as a ĄDirectors Cutď. The other one is a sort of truncated version to make it make it more easily saleable in shops. Itís a kind of political tap dance to have two versions but I prefer the long version myself because it has much more instrumental work and it has more orchestral work as well. I think the sequence runs better in the long version. But than again I always prefer the long version of things. Sometimes people might think that what theyíre hearing on a long version is bonus tracks. But I donít see it like that. I canít think what the opposite of bonus is but I donít see them as after-thoughts. I think of them as a integral to the whole thing. Anyway, I think there are some things on these extra tracks that people might find more typical.


it: What is your favourite track on Wild Orchids?

Steve: Well, I always think itís the difference between an album and a single. An album works because it is a piece of long form work, So, I wouldnít say that I had one section that was more favourite than anything else. What usually happens for me is, there are sections whithin each song that I think really work very well and I might have a favourite moment during a song. That would be the same if I would listen to anybody. I was thinking of early Cream for example. I would have favourite moments during certain songs where I think that it worked all very well. I suppose the idea of loving every note of a whole album is what you try for. I tried to love every note and I enjoyed every note on it.


it: Why did Terry Gregory not play bass on the album?

Steve: Well, because I didnít start of using really bass guitar. I ended up using double bass for so many things. I was using an orchastral bass picture for so much of it. Other tings ended up taking the place of bass. But maybe in the future we will work with Terry again. Terry is part of the live band as well. So, it hasnít worked out this time round just because of circumstance.


steve 4it: Have you thought about making two long tracks out of To A Close/She Moves In Memories and Transylvanian Express/A Dark Night In Toytown?

Steve: I think when you put them side by side and have them running concurrently, the only problem there is that then you get a tremendous amount of repeats side by side. So, I donít think there will be enough musical information to allow that. With Transylvanian Express and A Dark Night In Toytown I wanted it to have the effect of an overture at the beginning Ė an overture that brings up themes that later appear in the album.  The idea of A Dark Night In Toytown being at the end was the idea of book ending an album, so that you have a start, you have a finish. And then right at the very end the idea of the acoustic piece. Hopefully it will be relaxing at the end to hear something like that Ė end up with nature again. Well, and To A Close - originally the backing track was entirely orchestral. There were no acoustic guitars. It was all going to be orchestra and voice. But when you had the two happening simultaniously it didnít really work. Because if you have a full orchestra and vocal harmonies, when you out them both together they start to mask each other. Either you canít hear enough of the orchestra or you canít hear enough of the vocals. So I made two songs out if it, because I thought that the orchestration for instance that we did was one of the best. I just loved the sound of the backing track. And I noticed when I played it to people they liked this as well. So it was starting to become a favourite in ist rough form. I re-did the arrangement on the song version and I decided just to have a couple of acoustic guitars for most of it and the occasional moment of cello, violin or flute, so that when you have vocal harmonies thereís nothing really getting in the way of them. It makes the vocal sound bigger. Itís right back to the days of the Everly Brothers when they had very little getting in the way of the vocals. So, itís a little bit of 1950ís thinking where vocals rank supreme in the mix. For a 1950ís mix the guitars will probably seem to be too loud. But nontheless one tries to create a balance. Itís the same thing that happens on Set Your Compass whre you got lots of vocals but very few accompanying instruments. So, itís a style of production that enables maximum vocal exposure.


it: Have you tried this production style before or is it something you started doing on Wild Orchids?

Steve: I think itís fairly new. I seem to remember doing that years ago when we did The Virgin And The Gypsy and also with a song called The Toast I think on Defector, where you have a small arrangement around a song that is largely depentent on harmonies, if not completely. As you know vocal and choral work can stand alone without any support at all. So, I may go further in that direction in the future and try it totally with harmonies. But than it will start sounding more and more classical if I do that I guess. Itís just an approach. The idea of less is more rather than having everything happening on every song all the time. Hopefully Iíve learned over the time that arrangements sometimes work better when thereís less of a competition going on.


it: What is the reason for doing the new version of Ego And Id?

Steve: I liked this song very much when worked on the version with John. He thought about trying it with real drums. So, I said: ĄDo you mind if I had a go this myself and singing myself?ď I tried to make it as heavy as possible basically. It seems as if over here on radio theyíve been playing it because of that. Because it comes out as a very typical heavy rock track it seems to fit in heavy rock stations more than my usual stuff which is more subtle and less easy to categorize. Itís similary with the Dylan song as well. Doing a cover of Man In The Long Black Coat also was a way of stepping outside the confines of what people normally expect from a progressive rocker. Itís something that I think speaks to a wider audience than people who are just concerned with the beauties of hammond organs twinned with mellotrons. I still use those colours on certain tracks like for instance Blue Child Ė and thatís maybe satisfying for people who like those textures Ėbut many of the parts that would normally have been played on keyboards are played with real orchestra, which again takes it slightly further away from progressive.


it: Back to Man In The Long Black Coat Ė why did you record this particular Bob Dylan song?

Steve: I like the lyric very much. It meant that I could take the approach of a country singer on it because the vocal is pitched more low. Also it gave me a change to set up a kind of atmosphere Ė a kind of New Orleans swamps atmosphere. Also I wanted to play the guitar in the style of Peter Green working with John Mayall in the early days. Thatís the style of much of the guitar work. It was a chance to to get out my old Les Paul and playing slightly more bluesy more agressive. Iím allowing myself some more blues influence with this stuff. If you got an album of 70 minutes plus you can allow some blues influence without entirely disappointing people who wnat the more melodic side of my playing. But I find itís nice to have both.


it: Now, about live shows. Why do you tour with the acoustic trio this autumn instead of doing a band tour?

Steve: Well, thatís the 64.000$ question. I hope to be touring next year with an electric band and I hope that audiences will accept the fact that the acoustic guitar is as close to my heart as the electric guitar. Sometimes it is easier to tour with the trio than it is to tour with the band. But there seems to be an emormous amount of interest in this rock album. I seem to be doing more interviews, I seem to getting more press. Maybe it has something to do with the timing of the album. Maybe it has to with the fact that thereís orchestra on it. It might has to do with other factors at the moment. Whilst my contemporaries are re-grouping themseves, I seem to come up with more and more products that are I think more considered. It is not just a shot in the dark. Itís more considered because Iím trying to appeal to people who like a number of things. And I know that has been a continuing trend over the past years. Iím trying to keep everybody happy as much as I can.


it: Have you already considered possible tracks from Wild Orchids for the band tour?

Steve: Well, Iím thinking about it. What we have to do is work out what can be done, how we can do it, how it can be played live, how we get around the orchestra factor, how many samples we use, wahtís live and what isnít. All those factors that comes in to play when youíre trying to create something that is a very eclectic production. If I just go on with the regular five piece band and with all the regular sounds I donít think thatís really gonna work as well as the idea of something that recreates those orchstral textures. I hope weíre able to move beyond the limitations that have been there in the past. But thatís the challange. I will push it further each time.


it: What happened to the plan to re-release Cured and Highly Strung on EMI?

 

Steve: I remastered those albums with some extra tracks. So, it becomes part of the remastering philosophy, where you go back and not only try to dust those things off. We were doing the kind of job on them that we did on the other albums and I think they improved. I got myself involved with the remastering process because otherwise Virgin would have done it anyway. They have the rights to that. So, itís better that itís done with my blessing than they do it and itís not quite right. Even though I donít feel personally that close to Cured as an album itís ... itís there for completists, put it that way.


it: What is going to be the bonus material on these two CDís?

 

Steve: I think thereís some live work. I get mixed up between the two as to which is which. There is a live version of The Air-Conditioned Nightmare from the Reading Festival and I think there is the original version of Timelapse At Milton Keynes. Thereís also a sort of guitar boogie track which we used to do live with the band. I think, thereís the original version of Tales Of The Riverbank and an extended version of Walking Through Walls. With regards to Highly Strung, I think there were lots of things on it that were very strong. Iím thinking of looking at some of that material to maybe do orchestral versions of them one day. But not yet. But with remasters obviously it is, as I say, for completists Ė itís maybe a must for them. On the other hand I quite understand if someone wants to hold their money and be more selective for newer things perhaps. But itís part of the process of trying to put things ever more into focus. And also thereís a japanese edition of Wild Orchids which has a re-recorded version of The Air-Conditioned Nightmare called The Re-Conditioned Nightmare on it as well as another track that was from the long piece on Moving Waves Ė I think itís called Pupilla, Tommy And Pupilla. T he Japanese have that on their version but they have an alternative version Ė there are two tracks that they donít have on their version.


steve 3it: Are there plans to release any archive video material?

Steve: Well, ... Iím trying to remember what the last stuff was ... there is some archive material, I think it is from Montreux. I donít know if that stuff will be released at some point. But as ever, these things have to be negotiated. There might be some video stuff. I know that Billy is on the case with this the whole time. Weíre trying to maximize the catalogue whether itís audio or visual. And itís always nive to see yourself looking twenty or thirty years younger of course. (laughs)

 
it: Are there any plans to release the material youíve done for Outwitting Hitler?

 

Steve: I donít think so, from our end. I suspect that Chris Ward has the rights to that himself if he wants to. It was not a project that we invented. It was a film maker that came to us and it was his project. It was already a book and he made it into a documentary. The music I did for him was basically made up from existing catalogue material. It was early versions of what became Metamorpheus it was quite a bit of Walking Away From Rainbows which he liked a lot. Because the deal was done so late there was no time to do an original soundtrack for it Ė which I wanted to do. Unfortunatelly the deal was signed on Friday and on Monday I gave them the work. We just worked through out the weekend - myself and Ben Fenner.


it: Weíve heard that Tony, Mike and Phil plan to do something together next month and that there was talk within the band about doing The Lamb live at one point. Whatís the situation at the moment?

Steve: I donít have any more information, honestly. I donít know if Genesis is likely to re-convene as a three-piece or a five-piece. I suspect it will probably be either three or five. It will be unlikely that it will be four. I know what the ideal line-up for everyone is and thatís with five of us. Thatís what the fans want to see. Iím on record publicly, saying that I am availabe to do that if thatís what happens. Other than that I donít really have any news. You know what I mean. Iím not in the driving seat, Iím just an innocent bystander, frankly. If it happens - great. If it doesnít happen - it is not the end of the world, because lifeís too short to wait for the second coming the whole time.


questions and transcription by Helmut Janisch



Wild Orchids Tracks:

Standard Version

- A Dark Night In Toytown
- Waters Of The Wild
- Set Your Compass
- Down Street
- A Girl Called Linda
- To A Close
- Ego And Id
- Man In The Long Black Coat
- Wolfwork
- Why
- She Moves In Memories
- The Fundamentals Of Brainwashing
- Howl


Special Edition
- Transylvanian Express - (Hackett / King / GlŁck)
- Waters Of The Wild - (Hackett / King)
- Set Your Compass - (S. Hackett / J. Hackett)
- Down Street - (Hackett / King)
- A Girl Called Linda - (Hackett)
- Blue Child - (Hackett)
- To A Close - (Hackett)
- Ego And Id - (J. Hackett / Clabburn)
- Man In The Long Black Coat - (Dylan)
- Cedars Of Lebanon - (Hackett)
- Wolfwork - (Hackett)
- Why - (Hackett)
- She Moves In Memories - (Hackett)
- The Fundamentals Of Brainwashing - (Hackett)
- Howl - (Hackett)
- A Dark Night In Toytown - (Hackett / King / GlŁck)
- Until The Last Butterfly - (Hackett)


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