STEVE HACKETT: “This Is What Heavy Metal Sounds Like With An Orchestra”

STEVE HACKETT (Live at The Sage, Gateshead, U.K., October 7, 2018)
Photo: Mick Burgess

While Genesis head out on a Farewell Tour, their former guitarist Steve Hackett, is far from thinking about retirement with the release of his 27th studio album, Surrender In Silence. Mick Burgess called him up to chat about his new record and his tour which sees him playing songs from across his solo work as well as a run through the classic Genesis double live album, Seconds Out.

Your new album, Surrender of Silence, has just been released. Are you pleased with the reaction so far?

It’s released to coincide with my tour where I’ll be doing 39 dates up and down the country. I’m very excited about the album and the reaction so far has been really good and positive which is reassuring.

When did you start work on writing the new material?

I had the song “Scorched Earth” already recorded before I actually started working on the new record. I had worked on the Live album and the acoustic instrumental album Under A Mediterranean Sky and I wanted to get back to the Rock stuff. I wanted to do something that was the opposite to the romantic side of Mediterranean and a lot of it was fast and furious, angry and metallic. It’s almost like a sheet metal orchestra. It’s what Heavy Metal would sound like with an orchestra. I’ve seen a few Heavy Metal bands play with an orchestra and it works very well. The sky is the limit really.

This sees you back with a full band and full steam ahead. Does this ability to switch across genres keep you inspired and creative?

Yes, it does. If anything, over time I was driven for subtlety in the Genesis days and beyond but just recently I try to make the playing as exciting and urgent as possible but still with those melodic lines but I want that incendiary feel as well. Those times that you see people on stage and you think, wow, how did they manage to pull that off? I’m always aiming for that where everything you strive for comes off.

While your last album was focussed on the Mediterranean Surrender of Silence? spreads its wings much further. What worldly destinations is this album visiting and what inspired you?

I’ve visited many exotic places particularly in recent years including China, Russia, India and Ethiopia. They were all extraordinary visits in different ways and each place had their own music and I was very influenced by what I heard.

“Natalia” has a hint of Prokofiev’s “Dance Of The Nights” to it. Was this part of the inspiration for this one?

Absolutely yes. It’s consciously referential and deferential too and also to Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky as well. There’s little clues in there too including little references to “The Nutcracker.” We’ve just done a video which is quite extraordinary and it’s not pulling any punches either. It’s essentially romantic and dramatic and pretty heavy too. It’s almost a Folk song narrative meets orchestral dress. I held back on electric guitar but when it comes in it does so in a ghostly kind of way. I think it’s the flagship track on the album if I had to pick one. I realised that if it was going to be the lead track you’d have to wait a good two minutes before you got a hint of electric guitar so we did the Overture style right at the beginning that takes on some of the themes that come up later in the album. I’ve always had this thing when doing an album of having tracks visiting each other. Classical music does that where themes recur and it’s not unknown to happen in Rock music too. I try to paint a picture and I think “Natalia” came out particularly well. It was actually my wife’s idea to do a Russian themed song and I wanted to make the sound cinematic and I like music to be visual within itself and be able to stand in front of you without necessarily having a visual. If the music takes you somewhere then it’s done its job.

Did you utilise world instruments too take create the authentic sounds on the album?

I use Oriental and Middle Eastern instruments such as the daytar and the dutar and tar from Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, so we’ve had people from far and wide on this album and a whole tribe of drummers including Phil Ehart, Nick D’Virgilio and Craig Blundell and then there’s the virtual stuff courtesy of Roger King going tribal.

Where did the idea for “Relaxation Music For Sharks (Feeding Frenzy)” come from? Have you been able to see any in real life or does this come from a documentary you’ve seen?

I’ve done scuba diving and been down in the underwater world. It’s an extraordinary thing when you stand on the ocean floor and look up and it looks like Heaven when the light is playing on the water. No amount of film can do it justice, you just have to be there. Fortunately, I haven’t had any problems with sharks. Of course, as soon as you go down there’s always that risk and I’ve had one or two hairy moments but nothing too bad. I have seen a whale in the wild which was incredible. Seeing it 12 inches long on a TV screen is not quite the same as seeing this huge creature splashing about. It’s quite unbelievable to see.

Songs like “Esperanza” and “Shanghai to Samarkand” are very atmospheric and cinematic in scope. They would make perfect soundtracks to documentaries. Have you ever been approached to right a score for a documentary or film?

At one point I used to get three hundred documentary makers approaching me during a season but so far, I haven’t managed to do anything like Gladiator Part 53 just yet. Maybe I will one day. I always loved the work of Hungarian composer Miklos Roza who wrote the Ben Hur score. That’s an extraordinary score as a piece of classical music and I’d love to do something like that.

How did you go about the writing process with the lockdown in place and travel restricted. Were you able to get together with your band and build up song ideas or was this an album created across Zoom?

We couldn’t all get together. My band is made up of people who live in four different countries and none of us could really move for a substantial time. We did a lot of file sharing and made it something of a test tube baby. It’s the modern way of making records. If you want to have a guest on a record you may as well send a file over to them and let them do their stuff and iron out all the kinks before they send it back. I’ve had wonderful performances from people on the album. I’m thrilled by it and by the performances from the regular band too. There’s a big palette of sounds and they all played their part.

Was it more of a challenge to do this record than Under A Mediterranean Sky bearing in mind the number of musicians involved?

Every album is a challenge. The biggest challenge is myself as my biggest critic is me. I can find fault with so many things but there comes to a point where you have to nail your colours to the mast and say this is it.

How did Phil Ehart from Kansas and Nick D’Virgilio get involved?

I’d worked with Phil Ehart before right back in the 1970s. I was good friends with all of Kansas. They were from the American south and we came from really different backgrounds as I was from South West London but they had great chops and songs and Steve Walsh was a great singer. As far as Nick D’Virgilio, I saw him live with Cirque du Soleil and every one was recommending him so we’ve worked on a few things together now. He’s a great drummer and seemed to like the direction I was taking with the new album. He liked the heavier direction.

With your regular drummer Craig Blundell, this meant that you have 3 drummers on the album. Did each of them bring something different to the music?

I think each of them are different but all are fabulous drummers. Roger King too when he does stuff like “Wingbeats” with the tribal rhythms is a wonderfully constructed performance which sounds like 20 drummers. It’s like a crack regiment. I’ve got the virtuosic stuff from the real drummers and Roger adding his input too. It’s fabulous working with people with that level of talent.

May you do a full-on King Crimson and have 3 drummers playing together at any point?

I’ve worked with two drummers on stage from time to time and have also worked with virtual drummers. When we do the Seconds Out album live we’ll be using one real drummer and Rob Townsend who is our percussionist and he’ll be using pads so it’ll be interesting to see how they trade off each other.

Do you hope to play a few of the songs from this album and indeed your last one, which was also written and recorded during lockdown, when you start touring again?

We’ll do at least two songs from the new album and some old favourites from my solo stuff and we do the whole of Seconds Out by Genesis and the full-length versions of all of those songs. It’s an attempt for me to visit the museum from time to time but also to take people forward to the now. I want to take those old exhibits to another level.

Are you looking forward to getting out and playing live again?

It’s been a long time but I’m really looking forward to playing live in front of people again. It’ll be an extraordinary privilege. We are trying to cover as many places as we possibly can including Scotland and into Wales. It’s the most extensive tour I’ve done in many a year.

You’ll be playing at Newcastle City Hall on 16th October. You must have played there a fair few times over the years?

I’m looking forward to it tremendously. It’ll be great to be back. I’ve played there a few times over the years but it’s always fresh coming back. Every gig is a passion and a privilege. The audience has been great and now I get people from 8 to 80 coming to my shows. Music is magic; it’s energising and healing.

Your UK tour ends in Dundee on 23rd October. Where do you head after that?

We have some European and Scandinavian dates coming up and The States next year. The gig schedule was decimated but they are now getting rearranged so it’s getting busy again.

What are your plans going into 2022?

Other than all of the touring I do hope to squeeze in some recording as well. I’ve got plenty to keep me busy.

Steve Hackett is on tour in the UK now. See for more details

Surrender In Silence is out now on Inside Out.

Interview and Photos by Mick Burgess


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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