TEJ: How did you both meet?
JH: Well, we live very close to each other.
MD: We were both going to our local infant school to pick up our daughters, and in the middle of the afternoon at 3 o’clock guys wonder what each other’s jobs are. I just said a friendly hello and I asked have you got no work today and he said (John) I work for myself I’m a flute player, and then we just started talking about music. A couple of weeks later it was my birthday around winter time and I was cheeky enough to ask John if he would come and put some flute down in my home studio for me. And everything sprung up from there. That recording session turned out to be the track The 39 Steps on Red Planet Rhythm which we are really pleased with.
TEJ: So that was the first track that you recorded together?
MD: Yes, and it was for my 39th Birthday.
JH: It just sort of grew from there really. We did that track and a few more and it just seemed to build up and I found it very very easy to work with Moodi, We seemed to get on really well and to be on the same wave length, and the track kind of built up and I said to you (Moodi) I think there is an album here and we could put it together as a CD.
MD: Yeah, John said, and my friends who have listened to the sketches they all started saying “Wow! I could listen to a full album of that”, John kept saying it. It kind of felt really good to go for it. And before we knew it we had nearly a dozen tracks.
JH: I think I enjoyed it particularly because it is very different to stuff I had done in the past, I realised that from the flute side of things that it was all completely improvised. There’s nothing that’s actually written down, nothing is pre planned, it was all just me playing along either us at the same time together with Moodi playing some guitar or mixing my flute live and me playing to a sampled beat.
I have done some improvisation in the past with Symbiosis and Clive Williamson on a number of albums music for relaxation and for radio programmes and I got into the improvising in that way, With Moodi it was different, the style of the music, because of Moodi’s background in dance music and experimental music, without putting words in his mouth “Noise” music…
JH: …and Rock, so there was quite a different style and approach and it clicked really.
MD: I have been recording my own stuff for a couple of years and I have some solo stuff out as well, I look at all of the different jobs I have done and the different interests and it’s honing into this one thing instead making music, music production it’s a full time thing for me, I’ve set up a little events company and a Record Label and I have done my own solo recording amongst other projects one of which is a little improv (improvisation ) Trio and we actually make lots of noise in my cellar, We have sound proofed the cellar and turned it into a proper music room. It’s a big honour to have somebody (looks at John) who can actually play an instrument (laughs).
TEJ: Are there any plans to perform Red Planet Rhythm Live?
JH: Well, we have been kicking around the idea we haven’t really come to any firm decisions. We both have quite a lot on at the moment. I am about to do a tour of Japan and I have got my rock album as well that I have been working on for some time which is coming along, so there is a lot of things to think about in terms of if we are going to try and reproduce the album live because of the way it’s a mixture of sampled sounds and live playing or unless we do something else.
TEJ: So you haven’t ruled out a performance then?
MD: I think you’ll have a job hearing that performed live, to be honest. It was studio made album.
TEJ: Kraftwerk manages to perform their work live.
MD: Kraftwerk stand in a line behind laptops wearing luminous suits – can you see it? Can you see John and I standing there in luminous suits?
JH: Don’t you think I’d looking fetching in a luminous suit? (laughs)
TEJ: Well in this day and age there is more machines as in samplers and drum machines on stage than live playing. Wouldn’t that make it easier?
MD: To be straight with you, I think it’s inevitable that John and I will do something live.
TEJ: It would be nice to hear it.
MD: Be there
TEJ: I have seen many musicians play songs that you wouldn’t have thought possible live
MD: There was a time when you wouldn’t have questioned if it was live or not because that was the only time you’d hear it.
MD: I see music as a process. We only met just over a year ago. To have an album out in that space of time from only just meeting in the street, an album that is gaining quite a lot of attention relatively speaking.
JH: it’s quite an achievement actually.
MD: It was recorded in a home studio; we would love to perform live.
TEJ: Although it was recorded in a home studio, it has a very professional feel to it almost as though it was recorded in a commercial studio.
MD: Well, equipment and software is so easy to come by now in this technological age. You don’t need to go and pay £30, £40 an hour or whatever to hire a studio. You don’t need to do that anymore.
JH: I think that’s a tribute to Moodi’s skill he took care of the production side of it and I just leave stuff with him. It was great I never had to explain the flute needs more reverb, it needs more of repeat or it needs to be backed off in terms of the volume and the mix because he understood that from the outset and it’s really important.
I think he does have a really good contemporary ear.
Moodi and John share a joke with us (Photo Credit Mark Kenyon – Editor)
MD: And a good sound card and a good pair of speakers and a good microphone.
JH: And a good kettle for all of the cups of tea we consumed.
TEJ: What inspired the album artwork, who came up with the idea?
JH: It’s Moodi’s department.
MD: Its just one of those organic processes, I had done a little bit of art college and had always been a bit visually artistic. Whether I am skilled or not is open to discussion, but graphics I love playing with. I just feel as though, if you’re open to influences, that an idea can come before you actually conceptualise it, you can put something down and play with an idea and then suddenly you have got something of ultra significance.
MD: To get a picture of Mars all ties in with Red Planet Rhythm which goes back to a track I recorded with my sister. We were drinking red wine one evening and we named the track Red Rhythm and then John suggested Red Planet Rhythm. Then we had a friend come and take photographs and we were talking about bricks and the planet and it started to tie in.
MD: What is the music of the earth? Which is the red planet? I look around me and there’s red house bricks everywhere where we live. This is the real red planet. There’s something very deep for you to think about.
JH: We were talking about Mars and it stuck in my mind. We talked about Mars being in outer space and Moodi said actually we’re in outer space, and I always thought with this album and the music that it was all of the sounds of the earth drifting out into outer space. You’ve got these noises, urban noises, sounds of traffic you’ve got a lion roaring you’ve got this guitarist wailing away and drums thrashing around and speech and its all of this Noise/Sound/Music drifting out to outer space.
MD: There is so much emphasis on outer space at the moment. Is there life on Mars? Is there life on Earth? I ask the question – I’d like to think we were producing something for people to contemplate.
JH: One moment in particular is when I was playing the album on a Walkman and I was sitting outside my house and I heard this siren and I heard some bird song and I though “Oh, I don’t remember that being on the album”, and I just put the headphones off for a minute and I realised it wasn’t a sound on the album. It was the sound of something going on outside and I realised then what Moodi had been getting at all the time, making all sound very acceptable and to try and make music all embracing.
MD: I had a part time job in a new age shop in Glastonbury going back a few years ago in the office, and they were taking delivery of these giant gongs, proper Chinese gongs, 3 or 4 feet in diameter and the salesman was trying to sell them to the shop owner and he was demonstrating them on the shop floor and they were all talking about it and tapping it and looking at it.
I was about six feet away from this giant gong and the salesman of these gongs looked at me and he just started hitting them with these beaters giving off a massive shimmering noise and I couldn’t believe the experience and the sound made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and my whole body started vibrating and he and I communicated something and the other two guys were talking about prices, and as the sound died down he said that sound will be half way to China by now and that moment for me was an incredible moment the power of sound, like John’s quote “Where does sound end and music begin, where does the noise end and music begin?”
JH: Well John Cage did a piece that was silence. The one where the pianist goes on stage and sits at the piano and doesn’t actually play anything for four & a half minutes, but the piece of music is the sound of the audience reacting to that.
TEJ: What equipment did you use on the album? There are obviously keyboards and samplers on there.
MD: We used Cubase and Acid Pro a really basic studio mic, an Antoria guitar… The Antoria is a Les Paul copy. They’re owned by Ibanez and it’s quite a nice guitar, there are various effect pedals…
JH: You used that digital delay pedal. That was interesting for me because it was Moodi’s suggestion to put the flute through this digital delay pedal and so what you get is this building up of layers of sound of the flute.
Where it goes from Red Planet Rhythm to Free at Last there is a bit where it starts with me doing these patterns on the flute and what happens is they carry on and carry on.
It’s almost like a piece of classical music by Ravel called Daphnis and Chloe where there is a whole section of flutes doing these rippling scale passages up and down. It’s amazing how it gave that kind of effect; I’d never achieved that before with the flute and to me that was very exciting. We used that sound of me playing with Moodi literally twiddling the knobs (Live Mixing), changing it so the notes are swooping up and down while I’m playing and that was live, it wasn’t added on afterwards.
MD: Experimentation is very important. Record it, that’s my advice. Forget about format and guidelines and restrictions, record whatever you’re doing and experiment. That’s why I am so much into improv…
JH: Moodi promotes a lot of concerts these days here in Sheffield.
MD: I had a year of putting experimental gigs on of all different types. Noise artists, basically feedbackist’s and Dronist’s, Jazz improv and I’m giving it a rest. It takes up a lot of time and I need to focus more on my own music. I am going to turn the Freenoise website into more of a magazine. Sooner or later John is going to be corrupted enough to experiment on stage (laughs).
TEJ: What genre does the album fit into?
JH: It was funny. When we were putting the album up on iTunes you have to put the music into a category and we thought is it Rock? Is it New Age? Is it electronic?
As it happens at the click of a button we put it in the new age section but I think it actually crosses over quite a few boundaries
and I am quite proud of the fact that you can’t just pigeon hole it and its not just another electronic album or another flute album of French composers or whatever. I am really proud of this album. It goes over these different boundaries with elements of dance music, rock music and you get passages which are like modern French flute music.
TEJ: Listening to the album its everything and the kitchen sink.
JH: We forgot to put that on there (laughs).
MD: That’s the title for the next album.
JH: Yeah, Kitchen Sink Rock.
TEJ: The album seems to be full of ideas and styles of people like Erik Sartie or Kraftwerk and even Jean-Michel Jarre. It feels like a combination of so many different people and influences and yet it’s from the minds of two people.
JH: Hopefully it creates something that’s original shall we say. There’s no such thing as spontaneous generation in music. What we do grows out of other things.
TEJ: Yes there are musicians who have recycled there own music to a great effect, and it’s good and healthy.
JH: Its been nice because some of the emails I have had from people who I have sent the album to have said “Oh this wasn’t what I was expecting at all”. They were expecting a follow up to Checking out of London or maybe Velvet Afternoon or a Classical thing and I think it really did take people by surprise but then they said they liked it (laughs).
TEJ: To be honest with you I was expecting a follow up to Checking out of London.
JH: There will be one; this is a completely different project.
TEJ: This collaboration with Moodi marks a change in your career. How do you feel about that?
JH: I think its nice not to be too predictable.
MD: So he’s like incorporated challenge in the music.
TEJ: Will there be a follow up to the album?
JH: Yes you will see one.
TEJ: it is interesting that there are no lyrics on the album…
JH: It is an instrumental album.
MD: John hasn’t heard me sing yet. I do sing in my improv trio it’s a process. Its not going to happen over night I’m not going to say “Hey John lets write some lyrics I’ll sing and you play it”. But if its anything to do with me its not going to happen in a formulaic sense.
JH: One of the things I like about working with Moodi is that he isn’t a trained musician. It’s not like he went to Music College.
MD: I find music too overwhelming to be a discipline. I’ve trained in playing the tabla, the guitar and I get to a certain stage and it gets too overwhelming. I have a guitar, a drum kit, samplers, a clarinet, home made percussion. For me it’s sounds – sound is the key.
JH: I find that very exciting working with Moodi, Clive Williamson and Nick Clabburn. It’s because they’re not totally trained musicians, they don’t always do the expected next chord or progression.
MD: Intuition is as important as formal training. Ask any trained musician. Am I right?
MD: Intuitive music is important.
TEJ: It does seem there are artists out there who have become lazy within music and their use of lyrics. How do you keep your work original?
JH: Well that’s another area – lyrics. I work very closely with Nick Clabburn. I like working with the lyrics that he has written. It’s like working with Moodi. Working with someone with a different personality, a very different personality, I respond in a different way, completely different. If it was just me left to my own devices, I might just write endless love songs (laughs).
TEJ: Moving along, considering we are in Sheffield with its industrial heritage, I thought one of the songs from Red Planet Rhythm called “Life is a Ridiculous Solo” sounded like a production line…
MD: It’s actually an old heavy steam train.
JH: It is a train isn’t it?
MD: A beautiful old mechanical heavy train. Ask any steam enthusiast, it’s rhythmic. Do you know about Sheffield musical heritage from the 70’s,? Electronic music from the 70’s and 80’s?
TEJ: Sadly no.
MD: I’m talking about Cabaret Voltaire and the Human League. Its all stepped back to the industry and the electronic repetition and there’s a brilliant DVD out called Made in Sheffield about the music scene and what occurred in the 80’s. Why Sheffield became world famous. A lot of them could hear the steel forges and Thump Thump Thump of the forges as they lay in bed at night.
TEJ:I have tried reviewing SteveHackett’s album Wild Orchids and I found that I wasn’t able to write what I wanted to write about the album.
JH: Well Steve’s album is quite a mixture of different styles with the heavy rock stuff and then you have got some lovely orchestral stuff. It’s a very happy marriage and it’s very difficult to achieve that, him and Roger King.
TEJ: He has covered EGO and ID…
JH: Well of course he was an important part of Checking Out of London, those fantastic guitar solos. I was very pleased with the version he did and I was very flattered.
TEJ: How did the rehearsals and tour go for the John Hackett Rock band?
JH: well it was amazing to be on stage with the band. It was the dream of a life time. It was great to be in the driving seat. I get bored quite easily with music, whatever kind of music, and for me it was really great to mix the sound up a bit. It was great to be able to play Checking Out of London and then to mix it with Ace of Wands and Voyage of the Acolyte and then also with material from Nick Magnus and Tony Patterson. To be able to give that mixture of material I hope was very varied.
TEJ: I was at both performances in Sheffield and London and I came away each night wanting more.
TEJ: I would have been happy to have seen the tour a few more venues.
JH: It really was just a toe in the water to see what the reaction was and how it all came together with the band. Until you actually get out there and you’re doing it you don’t know what it’s going to be like.
TEJ: The response you received from those performances, has it inspired you to go out there and to do it in the future?
JH: In principle yes, but there are a number of considerations. Firstly this up coming tour with the Steve Hackett Acoustic Trio in Japan and the follow up to Checking Out of London. It is almost completely written, just a couple of more songs left, but that’s going to take up quite a lot of time next year.
TEJ: Is that in collaboration with Nick Clabburn?
JH: It is yes.
TEJ: Is there a title for the new album yet?
JH: No, not yet.
TEJ: Is it going to be similar to Checking Out of London?
JH: It’s going to be similar and different (laughs). It’s very song based, the style is going to be slightly less progressive, but I would hesitate to pin it down by saying its exactly this or exactly that. So we will have to see how it works out. I think it will be slightly less of a progressive rock style, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there won’t be a Mellotron on it!
TEJ: Have you been working with the same people again on this?
JH: Yes, a lot of it I record myself. I did quite a bit of Checking out of London and putting the album together. I will do as much as I can myself.
TEJ: Do you think Moodi will be involved on this project?
JH: I think it’s quite possible. We haven’t really discussed this, but I like a lot of the stuff that Moodi does, the sounds and different textures. I think it would be good if he were willing…
MD: I’ll bring my guitar (laughs).
JH: I’m thinking more in sound textures to be honest.
MD: I really like Checking Out of London. I was brought up on rock music and I’ve got a critical ear. What I like about John’s work and his flute work is that it’s really harmonious and well produced and its really well balanced and as he (John) was saying earlier, Steve’s solo at the gigs was the highlight. I’ve never seen a guitar played like that before.
JH: Well that was fantastic when Steve came on and he joined us for the Tower Struck Down and Ego & ID. The was pretty wild when he came on with us. I like that when he really lets go and he improvises and gets all of these amazing sounds out of the guitar.
TEJ: It was nice to see Nick Magnus on stage with you…
JH: Yeah, I haven’t been on stage with Nick for goodness knows how many years and it was fantastic working live with his stage personality, which came over really well – along with the other guys from Regenesis, and of course Neil Marshall who, by sheer coincidence, teaches drums at Charterhouse. I thought Tony brought a lot with his stage experience and his voice having that rock edge to it.
TEJ: I wish we had the chance to hear more from the rock band…
JH: Well there is a chance. We did record some of the rehearsals. We had a weekend before the gigs and Clive Williamson and Dave Robinson came over. They set the mics up and they left their machines running all weekend. It’s on tapes, recorded onto ADAT, and I have those in the can. They require mixing. It’s quite a big job, there are a lot of takes to listen to but there is a record of the band.
TEJ: Sort of like a Rehearsal Archive?
TEJ: You have just returned from the Northern European leg of the Acoustic Trio tour – any memories from it?
JH: It was a terrific tour it went really well. It was great and mostly full, certainly in Germany. We went into the former East Germany. In Reichenbach a guy turned up with some Genesis albums he had bought before the wall came down and the albums cost him over a week’s wage at the time. Steve gladly signed them for him.
JH: We went to Berlin. Roger is always taking the mickey out of me because I am not good with technology, anything with buttons or computer software – I’m not very knowledgeable. I was having trouble getting into my hotel room with those credit card style keys and I glanced up the corridor and I had a little smile to myself because Roger King was having trouble getting into his hotel room also. I couldn’t figure out how to do it and we were in the same boat. In the end we got a guy from the hotel desk to come and show us (laughs).
TEJ: How did you get to the first gig in Norway?
JH: We flew. In the run up to the flight there were, of course, worries as to whether you were permitted to take musical instruments on board due to the recent security issues. I always travel with my flute and I wanted to take it on the plane. You hear these horror stories of cellos having to be put into the hold and coming out the other side looking like a jigsaw puzzle. Fortunately a few days before we flew, they relaxed those restrictions.
TEJ: I recall the 2005 Acoustic trio tour. How do you feel the North European 2006 tour went?
JH: I feel as though we played the best we have ever played as a trio and we have worked together for a few years as a unit. I think we used more improvisation. Steve was very keen to stress that, so when we were rehearsing we did some extended improvised passages. I think I’m loosening up in that aspect and certainly I think we all felt that it was the best that we had performed as a trio. There is always a feeling before you go on stage – there’s Steve with just a nylon guitar and Roger and me with my flute and you think “my goodness, where are the drums and bass?” It’s true there are times when you feel you have to work a bit harder in that respect. But I think the rewards are tremendous, both musically and the audiences reaction, when it is just the three of you like that you have to dig deep to make it work.
TEJ: I really liked the performance of Hands of the Priestess, and I found the live performance was longer than the studio version.
JH: Hands of the Priestess is a classic. It’s got to be one of the best flute pieces ever written. It’s a gorgeous piece, I always enjoy playing that.
TEJ: The Acoustic Trio played in a cave in Cornwall in 2005. Were there any surprising venues on the 2006 acoustic trio tour?
JH: I think we are doing our round of venues having done the cave. In Luxembourg we played a place that until 30 years before had been a prison. Later on in the tour we played the Karstadt Café which is a department store by day. We went up in this lift past rows of suitcases and jumpers and there were these grey haired old ladies sipping their coffee at five o’clock and then by evening they’re all out, and then these Steve Hackett fans come in and it turns into a nightclub. So I think we have done our round of venues.
TEJ: I remember the cave in Cornwall because it was so cold.
JH: It looked beautiful though didn’t it?
TEJ: Yeah it was very nice especially the outside.
JH: The acoustics were very good in there, certainly for the flute.
TEJ: Yeah the whole gig was fully of clarity.
TEJ: The gigs in Japan are next on the horizon. Have you and Steve played Japan before?
JH: Yeah we played in a club called A Tribute to the Love Generation and the gigs went really well.
TEJ: Have you and Moodi worked together since you recorded the album?
JH: Yeah, just this morning Moodi and I were working on a book I wrote a few years ago with Nick Magnus doing some playing which is a scales book, mostly aimed at children to get them to practise their scales. We will be putting it up on the www.hacktrax.co.ukwebsite so that you can just download it and get the sheet music and the audio files straight off the internet.
TEJ: The internet has enabled people to cut out the hassle of finding a publisher and trying to gain their interest in publishing work that might be a niche market.
JH: Well, yeah it cuts out a lot of the hassles that you have got. It’s really exciting to be able to do that.
TEJ: Technology such as the Internet has given people the freedom to release books or songs.
JH: Yeah that’s why I set up Hacktrax as an outlet for my own creativity and with people like Moodi coming in it’s brilliant. Camino have been really helpful and I am really grateful to the people who buy the albums and who support us.
For more information please check out John’s official website hacktrax.co.uk
Thanks to John and Moodi for giving there time on a cold Sheffield lunchtime.
(Interview held in Sheffield on the 2nd November 2006 Interview conducted by Mark Kenyon.)