Guitarist Steve Hackett allowed TEJ to come and visit for a sort of catch up session back in April to see what he has been busy with since we last spoke to him.
We started by listening to some previews from Steve’s new album, and we began discussing what we had just heard, along with a short preview of the Live DVD we had seen a few clips from.
Steve: It is as if when you’ve got a song with 250 tracks on it already, in order to get a decent monitor mix of it you’re going to have to accept that you won’t get all the detail on that monitor mix at the end of the night, you aren’t going to get that. So you have to go away with it in kit form, a bit like a piece of Meccano. There’s going to be a bit there and there’s going to be a bit there. You’ll have one bit and another bit there. Eventually it will all make a nice crane or a truck or something.
TEJ: Yes, you have an idea from the picture on the box. How it is meant to look.
Steve: Yes. Maybe Lego might be more familiar to some, the more modern generation. The idea of a mix in kit form, when I play it to someone I have to explain that they have to imagine that this section isn’t at the beginning and this section isn’t going to stop here and it isn’t going to go to silence, or this dancing girl and winds will appear here. So, it takes quite a bit of imagination, and it is being worked on a bit like the video you watched a work in progress.
TEJ: That’s the thing; it is very hard to express the ideas of the mind into any medium anyway. When you put a song together it doesn’t come all at once. I think if it does come all at once it is a bit of a cop out, it may be a guitar phrase or they may see chords or something totally different. They may even see an idea going round allegedly similar to how Paul McCartney went around singing ‘Scrambled Eggs’ at a piano until the idea came to him that “Yesterday” (a rather famous Beatles song) was the right word to fit the music “Scrambled Eggs” …. So coming back to song writers they don’t get the whole arranged piece it comes in pieces so it has to be developed and put together.
Steve: What I’ve discovered, and you’ve mentioned the Beatles, it is interesting in one of the books I dip into now and again which was written by Hunter Davies, Lennon has been quoted as saying, ‘You get these ideas that are all separate and eventually you have to join them all up.’ It seems to me that bits of inspiration come in small chunks and to my mind it is like having a 1000 piece jigsaw, where piece 192 might eventually go with piece 405 because they’ll relate to each other because those two phrases are quite jazzy.
Steve: Perhaps it might sound a little bit more like Borodin meets Hank Marvin. It is the phrases that follow. So I find these days that if I do a guitar solo, it is lovely if I get it in one go. Yeah, I could do a robust professional solo. But then I think what you’re going to do is ditch the idea of professionalism, get into the studio and realise even if you’re recording at home, to forget about the idea of doing it all in one. You won’t get any points for that. No one will know if you did it one. I used to think that was the right way to go and prided myself that I could get it in one take. After all, isn’t that what Eric Clapton did? The engineers had barely got up the Mics, they’d have to be quick because he was only going to do it in one take. It doesn’t work like that for me – the jigsaw is what it is all about. So I’ll come back to something over the course of days. I won’t be precious about it; I’ll play things to people and they will go “I really liked that but that could go on a bit longer” and I’ll think maybe it could go on a bit longer. But sometimes I had reasons to not extend it on the day when it was recorded. Now I think a really great guitar solo will only be a lasting consequence if it is written and you’ve got it all planned. That might take me a day, a couple or hours. It might take me three separate attempts keeping some phrases and adding to others and if I’m honest I might record a note at a time if that is what it takes to get a little more upper harmonic into that sound, or make that one sound a little more like a voice or else a bit more like a cross between a cello with lead boots. So people would be wrong to imagine that going at anything is like the Immaculate Conception. If you think of the Beatles stuff that didn’t make it onto the record is an eye opener.
TEJ: The releases of the Anthology in the early 90s. The drums on…
Steve: … On Fool on the Hill, the floaty version that has got that Andean Mountainous idea, I bet nobody actually thought of that. It is in the mind of the fan, as I was and am. They are the people that really own the music. It is not the musicians who do it, it is in the mind of the receiver. Most of the time musicians will be thinking about their lunch, or something else. Yeah, but the Immaculate Conception is for the fan. They’ll receive it all at once as the act of love. If you fall in love with a piece of work, you have not had responsibility of doing it. So I could be a fan of someone else. I could listen to a piece of work by Joni Mitchell and think perfect album, how did she do that? I didn’t have to agonise over it and I didn’t have to smoke my way through 5000 cigarettes to get to that voice. So I really think maybe fans, listeners, want to get closer to the product but actually they are far closer to it than the perpetrators of the deed.
TEJ: Then obviously the images and inspiration to write a particular song will not necessarily be the shared image of the recipients when they listen to it. There are songs that I’ve heard from not only your back catalogue but also other artists the imagery they’ve tried to portray in their mindscape is often different to what I’m experiencing with a particular song. So, maybe it is the fan that receives most from the music.
Steve: I think so because when I was a child I’d listen to music and be rolling around the floor in ecstasy to the sound of Mario Lanza’s voice for instance. I had no concept that the very thing which thrilled me was a piece of a music that he was so at odds with. The film director who said he thought this guy’s singing was too emotional ended up sacking the guy whose music created the project in the first place and got in someone else who was slimmer. What I’m saying is the difference between the industry and it. See nobody really knows what Hendrix really felt like inside. You think here is the guy who is the most natural gun slinger, guitar-slinger, the man who looks most right with a guitar, looks most at home with it. You don’t know. That’s his act. And it seems unbeatable in terms of sheer drive and machismo and the ability to be at one with it.
TEJ: Yes, if you look at his performance at Woodstock you know the fact behind it literally so early in the morning he’s on and he has been up the night before. His band wasn’t his ordinary band, and yet he is there…
Steve: And yet he rides all of that storm.
TEJ: And yet he breaks the spell of humanity because it is no longer humanly possible to do what he is doing.
Steve: Somewhere between Richie Havens, who was the first on. The reason he was first was because he had a mate who had a helicopter. And he tells the story that as far as the eye could see there were people. He couldn’t see the end of the human horizon. He said he couldn’t go on as he just had an acoustic guitar. But he understood “You’re gonna have to go on” cos there is no one else here. So I’m lucky enough to have worked with Havens and I’m lucky enough to have seen Hendrix once or twice. Really though he was made for the camera. Most of us look like we’re busy doing our stomp boxes, but he is such a natural even if he was playing a couple of phrases and pointing at the audience. Physically…
TEJ: It goes beyond the humanly possible
Steve: It does!
TEJ: It almost becomes something totally different. Because this is the guy who was pulling up phrase after phrase that many years later people would still not know how to do it. And he’s doing all that and poking his tongue out at somebody as if what he is doing is not hard enough.
TEJ: You go to look at other people and they are studying their guitar and their hands and fingers and it is like an obsession, but you’d look at Hendrix his playing was effortless. It is so strange as its poles apart.
Steve: In a way you can’t separate the man from the music and the performance from what you are hearing. It is all the more exciting seeing the man do it. And to listen to Hendrix, as a piece of plastic comes nowhere near the thrill of seeing him conjure with the paucity of things he had. Certainly he had volume, Marshalls, a whammy bar and a strat, and when he is playing through feedback he is playing through the eye of the storm and riding it. He is all of those things and at the same time there is a sense that he is inside himself but he is also outside himself. But there is a whole kind of world going on there; it is more than the performance, it seems that someone else is pulling invisible strings as he’s dancing, so the rest of us who will never be as good have got the world of sound at our disposal. So for me it is not really about what the hell the left hand or the right hand is doing. It is about the sound. Partly what the guitar is doing, the drums are doing.
We take a break and during which Steve plays part of the song “Loch Lomond”. A Scottish influenced song that surprised us.
TEJ: The bagpipes were a surprise there?
Steve: … That’s what guitars can do and what all instruments can do. I have no idea if real bagpipes can play in that key or not, I know they have B Flat. With bagpipes you have to be pretty careful when using them as I think they can play in B Flat and I think they can play in A flat. There’s a song at that point I think is in F Sharp pretty much in unrelated keys. I know we facilitated that with whatever we had around…
TEJ: It is a very interesting aural soundscape though.
TEJ: The orchestra kind of thing, I think you managed to capture that sort of orchestra sound without having an orchestra. Something that I think is lacking truly in music lately. I’ve started listening to classic FM whilst in bed because of the sort of way it is very soothing but with crescendos and building, I think the song captured that well.
Steve: There’s only orchestral instruments in some part, although that’s underpinning it. There is another intro that I can’t play yet because it is just a blues guitar riff with about 3 notes in it that sustains. But then we put chords with it that sound orchestral, I’m not sure if that is around.
(Steve proceeds to try and find this particular piece of music)
TEJ: How did the inspiration come together for Loch Lomond?
Steve: It is a lot of different things at different times its not one thing you see. I have a mix of that from the 17th with that front piece on, sadly I cannot find it to play it to you just yet.
TEJ: A lot of your music allows the listener to paint their own picture and allows the listener to come to their own conclusion, which is quite a nice way to give back to the listener.
Steve: It’s not all quite an orchestra, but it has that proportion from the word go, but I can’t play you the front of it as it seems to have disappeared. (Maybe that’s it? Nope that isn’t it. It seems to have gone for a walk. What a shame). But yes, the front is what I’m particularly proud of because it starts off as one thing and then it becomes something else and you think, “Rock n Roll” and then you think, “It isn’t”.
TEJ: You do have a very interesting way of leading the listener on in songs and then changing the direction and pace so quickly.
Steve: It is funny because with this one, people that I was working with on it were all pulling in different directions. Some people were saying that ‘Oh it is too long’ and then you’re saying it changes too quickly or that you wouldn’t want it to change any more quickly than that. It’s funny how that works. I’m tending to extend things these days going back to long form and let things breathe.
Steve: Now I don’t set out to write something an hour long without any breaks and I know there is a drive towards that. The idea of long form pop, long form rock in the wake of post Supper’s Ready, post Lamb Lies Down [On Broad Way], post Yes’ Tales from Topographic Oceans, post all of that and I think maybe that there is a school of thought that says, and why should it all be long? But I suspect people might start out with that idea in mind to start of with. But I don’t, I’m just extending this as a piece of string, add a little to this, you could take longer on that or build up on that. I know that what will happen that the close team I’m working with will say “Steve it’s all very long you know. Its ten minutes already.” Well yeah, by 3 it might be even more. It might be 11 minutes or might come out 12 or 13. I have to say, does that matter?
TEJ: The impression I get is that most songs are either a message like a shared vision or just a message, and with a song if your really lucky you can get it all down and condense it into the size of a postcard and other times there is no way of compressing the message down that small and sometimes it has to be in the size of the Bayeux Tapestry. But with some songs they have to be longer than a postcard for good reason otherwise you lose some of the message or the detail and I think that is a very valid thing. You did a song like “Why” on “Wild Orchids”
Steve: A miniature…
TEJ: Yes its a postcard as its very small but it has a certain feel to it and style to it…
Steve: Exactly, a chewed postcard and end of the pier scrap…
TEJ: At the other end of things you’ve got something like a tapestry such as “Down Street”. That is something I imagine as a musician you can control a lot more the more you progress into your craft or field.
Steve: That one of course has a sort of colloquialism that may not necessarily communicate to non-English speaking people. The thing about instrumental music that includes vocals, I feel that it’s likely to be able to reach more people in one sense, unless the media is doing its thing and you’re being enjoyed on all the screens across the world. There is a different kind of gateway for people who are doing it for perhaps a different reason. They are doing it because they have to, for the power of music alone speaking for itself. I’m thinking of certain people who maybe have had huge success internationally with stuff that couldn’t be contained or stopped. I’m not saying that it can’t co-exist, what is going in another dimension can translate in a way where everyone receives it at the same time. I’d rather that I got it right for the people who understand what I have to say, rather than to design something that is…
TEJ: Quick and accessible…
Steve: It is a different kind of instant thing.
TEJ: Sometimes I think it is a compromise thing for the artist.
Steve: Yeah, I enjoy certain guitarists but I think I know when they are really being themselves.
TEJ: The impression I get is like giving someone an easel and some brushes and a canvas, but because the situation is being forced upon them and the need or desire to make something quick and accessible are only given a two or three colours to work with. Whereas other people in a rather fortunate position such as yourself are given every colour and all the shades in between and it is up to your skill and judgement how you use the full range of colours and shades compared to those who are limited.
TEJ: A good example is comparing the live performance of Sierra Quemada from 2003 to the version performed live in 2010
Steve: Sierra Quemada
TEJ: Yes you’ve added much more to it and it is like you’ve been given more brushes and colours along the way. Adding the bird like effects and sounds to the soundscape of the song. So with your band at the present time and the time you have had you are able to add so much more to the song.
Steve: I also made that twin lead guitar thing as well with Amanda [Lehmann] for the two of us.
TEJ: It also works so well. It’s more brushes, but painting the same picture but all at the same time just with more detail. It is fantastic that it has developed that way. It is great you have that ability to keep reinventing the same song yet painting it and adding bits to it. Not like adding a moustache to the Mona Lisa but adding more depth to the background or maybe improving the overall outlook of the appearance.
Steve: Thank god I have a rehearsal for our next electric gig as we will have a new crew for that. Here’s me thinking that’s actually a very simple song, with a repeated sequence, but to remember where the theme stuff comes in and where it moves away from. I always have to refer to a piece of paper first of all to remember it because my memory is extremely fallible. You do a run of gigs and it gets home, but you do a run of rehearsals it can get honed.
TEJ: Surely you can’t be a critic of your own memory, for a man who has lived more than a lifetime of experiences of many others in a short space of time, to complain he is forgetting about things now it quite ironic.
Steve: No, it has always been the case. I’m just being more honest these days.
TEJ: It is the human element isn’t it?
Steve: I think that for years, people go on and they try to keep up an image. I’d really rather admit to everyone that it is a constituent of parts.
Steve: Loch Lomond is not one idea, it’s a number of different ideas that all came on different days and when they’re put together I think they speak to each other because there is a sense of what the song is for me. The beginning is like a phrase that would have been the American south front porch city-fied and then you hear that happen twice with feedback and sustain and whammy bar.
TEJ: Similar to Man in a Black Coat in feel
Steve: Yeah there is something that I have done a little snippet of what I did on Youtube here in the living room “Steve describes the noise”, then its joined by European strings and there’s something that I have done that’s kind of a lament and you’re into song proper because that’s only part of the picture and the song is comprised of two different energies really. You’ve got a rock band and then you’ve got an acoustic song. One takes over from the other, then you get a sense of the two combined. You get rock and folk and then at the end after it goes into the rant (I refer to it as a rant the Blues scale stuff playing out), then you’ve got the join into the resolution in the end into those slow phrases echoing the vocal rising phrases and they’re more akin to eastern stuff but not necessarily Eastern in terms of Indian or Arabic and all that. You’ve got that but it’s the Eastern Europeans that colour it most of all.
TEJ: Is that a kind of Djabe influence there?
Steve: Partly, but then I am thinking of Borodin. If you hear some of the stuff that Borodin did such as “The Steppes of Central Asia” where he’s got two simple ideas, you’ve got an eastern sounding idea and you have got a romantic theme. Almost like male and female, they are two separate pieces of music and then you hear them played together and you think that shouldn’t work but it’s the most gorgeous flowering of things. It’s like between the two of them they beget something else…
TEJ: They mate?
Steve: Yeah, and you get this glorious thing of these two separate strands, so in a way I had that in the back of my mind with this, so the guitar at the end is really replacing an orchestra. Those phrases could have been played by an orchestra so I am thinking Mussorgsky orchestrated by Ravel and I have to contain those urges working in a rock context because if I explore all of that, then I’ll be doing an album that’s two separate energies.
Steve: Rock music is of the earth; it pounds and is urgent and it’s all of those blood, lust urges. But then you have got the world of classical music and in the main sort of pre Stravinsky you’ve got music that floats by comparison and its heavenly and spiritual. Very rarely in classical music do the two combine in a satisfactory way but it happens now and again and that’s what I’m really on about – the moment where those two separate dimensions speak to each other.
TEJ: It’s almost as those are meant to be like Fate
Steve: Yeah, I think you’re probably right
TEJ: I think sometimes when Rock and Classical music are discussed in the same sentence people think of Rock bands going Symphonic. People can get confused
Steve: It can be very frumpy when an orchestra is being required to play like a rock band.
TEJ: It must be a skill to be able to understand the limitations of both but then to play on those to make music combined from both, as in an almost brand new genre, whilst still retaining some of the heritage of the progressive genre (as in Prog Rock).
Steve: I think now what we call progressive stuff didn’t have that agenda at the time. They were thinking of demographic when those things happened for the first time closer to an era when the Shadows were doing “Wonderful Land” with a band and an orchestra. When you listen to it now everything seemed to be potential themes for cowboy movies in a way – a sense of Bonanza in another guise. I’m not saying it’s bad but from the very first note it conjured America.
TEJ: I wonder if that was the intention?
Steve: Yeah, this last one I have been working on is not really a sense of place at all or time. It’s outside of all of that, trying to be in two places at once as the lyric attempts to describe.
TEJ: There are often times when you’re at a location but are wanting to be somewhere else for whatever reason and maybe that song will cover that?
TEJ: Yes being somewhere through circumstance but wanting to be somewhere else
Steve: Yes I think there’s a lot to be said there. I can get lost in the world of a song and I do. I’m probably getting slower at producing things because it’s like trying to construct a car and not being happy enough for it just to have four wheels and motor along in an efficient fashion.
TEJ: You put your name to a song or album which defines what you’re going to do with it because of what you wish to be associated with it in terms of how it’s going to look, how it’s going to sound, whether the song takes this journey or that journey or how much information you’re going to give the person who buys the album. As to whether you stick a preface on before the lyrics or whether you print the lyrics or include all the lyrics is all down to what you intend as an image or purpose, you always seem to leave the listeners room to make their own imagery from your music.
Steve: There is an ambiguity to it and that’s part of the design, because it’s not tied down to one thing, I think the moment you start trashing one form for another. I remember years ago I would never sort of touch anything that had a County tinge to it but recently with Prairie Angel that is a song that is still taking shape has a banjo and harmonica, a ukulele courtesy of Nick Beggs and all the elements of everything but the spoons and washboard.
Steve: maybe it will have that eventually but that’s because it’s borrowing from other lives.
Steve: proceeds to play Prairie Angel to us.
TEJ: Prairie Angel sounds fantastic it defiantly paints the picture of the American Pioneers.
Steve: Yeah. There were quite a bunch of songs and I got the rights back a while ago.
TEJ: Its good now that you are in a position where you can explore those initial ideas. The songs you have played to us seem longer this time
Steve: Yeah the songs tend to be longer I think on this outing.
TEJ: Maybe that’s what it needs?
Steve: Yeah well it’s gone that way again for me this time. This next one is another Blues for instance.
We then take another break during which Steve plays Catwalk Eyes. Just after listening to Catwalk eyes and reflecting upon all three songs (Loch Lomond and Prairie Angel being the other two)…
Steve: There’s an out of tune thing with itself, but then it is also a whammy bar with a Wah Wah pedal.
TEJ: They both have a ‘folky’ country thing. Is that a theme for the new album?
Steve: Yeah funny that I hadn’t really thought about whether it was a ‘folky’ themed thing. It isn’t all like that.
TEJ: Well you have two extremely contrasting images already. You have a song called Loch Lomond, which has quite a few elements in it including a traditional Scottish element with the bagpipe feel and marching band. You then go to Prairie Angel and it has another unique feel but it is the American pioneer’s. Are these two songs about some kind of discovery?
Steve: I think every song is a voyage of discovery, as you don’t know where they’re going to lead.
TEJ: What about an underlying theme? To write a soundscape that captures the American Pioneers is almost like a soundtrack to a voyage of discovery with the elements that are in it. With “Loch Lomond” is it the same thing? Is it a soundtrack to a discovery or is that a different theme or story?
Steve: I keep coming back to the idea that we used to use of a word about long songs for reference you know as epics. But then you didn’t use that after a while as it seemed as if you’d be accused of excess but I find I have to come back to my roots with this stuff there is no doubt that a lot of the stuff I loved there was a sense of odyssey about it at one time. I liked that very much bands that had journeying songs so I come back to that time and time again. It doesn’t matter what the vehicle is; it doesn’t matter in what space and time it is going; it doesn’t have to even be contemporary. Listening to music, particularly instrumental music can be a transcending experience.
Steve: The nearest I’m going to come to an outer body experience is by doing a song that takes me out of myself and forces me to act out of character. (I’m trying to answer your question in a roundabout sort of way..) The songs were not designed all in one go to be part of a set, some of them were done 3 years ago. The first two were more recent, that one [Catwalk Eyes] was three years back. It was before I did Still Waters in fact and Still Waters was kind of based on that, which was kind of based on the Muddy Waters vibe. You know, the very paired down story telling approach. So the last thing I look at is, you know, women on Catwalks with that very challenging thing. I came up with the idea of Catwalk eyes for the blues thing because I felt that ok, it is the catwalk but it’s that sort of challenging look they’ve got the whole time. It is that sort of daring you to bring them down a peg.
TEJ: Without sounding too twee, is it sort of like the Devil Woman theme in the Cliff Richard song?
Steve: Yeah it is sort of that kind of thing. I was trying to get the guitar to sound… there is one of the notes on it where when you hear cats at it and there is that shriek that the female cat will give, it took me about an hour to get one note that sounded like that. It was a combination of bottleneck and whammy bar so that it screamed and gets that sort of (Cat purring sound effect) with it as well.
I couldn’t get the bloody thing, it kept eluding me. I tried so many ways to do and in the end I think I just hit the bottleneck against the guitar on the bridge pickup and hit the whammy bar at the same time. The difficulty being to isolate one note to get it sound vocal enough, but that was the challenge.
TEJ: Is there a particular name for that song?
Steve: Yeah, “Catwalk eyes”. But it might get reduced to just “Catwalk”.
TEJ: It is very different to the other two. But they could all work if encompassed onto the same album. A lot of your albums are quite eclectic and are very different from song to song.
Steve: Yeah, hmmm, I mean I realise with all Blues you have to be in the mood for it. It is not going to challenge the aesthetic sense of anybody. From the very first note you know where it is going, it holds the line in that sense. A primordial urge that needs to satisfied that’s it, it’s as basic as music gets.
TEJ: Some songs need that to make them more easily accessible. It doesn’t necessarily detract from the message or the sound.
Steve: It’s about a guitar in a way.
TEJ: Yes, and the guitar playing is quite experimental on it, even though it has some of your trademark sounds, they are employed and utilised differently in relation to the song. It could almost be someone else.
Steve: That’s right. It hasn’t got the same amount of heart in it that Loch Lomond has got or Prairie Angel, but then the guitar is being played in a different way.
TEJ: It is all about how it is used though.
Steve: It is has a constructive piece of abuse that I came up with. That’s the nice thing about music. World War Three could be going on but nobody is harmed, it is all symbolic. I don’t believe that just because a guitarist might occasionally be a machine gunner that’s going to produce a lunatic. I think it is going to make more musicians at the end of the day. It’s a safety valve.
Due to the fact I was aware that we were about to over run with our allotted time and that both Steve and Jo had plans for the evening I changed tack and topic by covering other areas and subjects as follows.
TEJ: WE’RE going to go through some other topics quickly. Obviously your work on the new album is coming along quite nicely. Are there any projects on hold due to the concentrated efforts on the new album.
Steve: Once I’ve done the new album, which I imagine I’ll have finished probably in a couple of weeks. Although a surround sound mix would be desirable I have yet to invest in the system.
TEJ: They are nice but luxurious things
Steve: It may way be that we do that at a later point because I want to also do the DVD. I want to work on the DVD and to mix it, so there’s two projects straight off.
TEJ: There has been a mention recently that you might be considering to put your older albums from your Charisma Records years into surround sound?
Steve: It looks as if Emi seem keen on the idea the idea was suggested to me by Steven Wilson. We have got to see what EMI have got in the vaults because I don’t know if they have got what they’re suppose to have in the vaults at this point in time.
TEJ: Whether the Multi tracks are where there meant to be
Steve: Yeah in those days Charisma had the stuff so it would have been handed from Charisma to Virgin to Emi so if anything has got lost I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised. All I know is that I have not got the multi track material to that early stuff. Fingers crossed that the stuff will be around and if they [EMI] remain keen to do it there is every chance that it will happen at some point soon.
TEJ: Is this something you intend to do at Map studios
Steve: There are a few bridges to cross before we get there so I don’t want to make promises because I might find that all of the source material is
TEJ: Beyond repair?
Steve: Beyond repair or missing or mislabelled so we’ll see. At this point I’m also self managing with Roger, Jo and Brian, so I’ll get on to it when I’ve finished the album.
TEJ: It’s almost a commune then
Steve: That’s a very good way of looking at it, it is communal in that sense but it means that I have got access to all the information and all the people, the chances are that anything anyone writes to me I will get to see it.
TEJ: This empowers you to make a more informed choice
Steve: It is more empowering, I prefer it this way to over reliance on management. It is extremely important to make your own decisions. I don’t kid myself that I am the world’s best negotiator but at least I have now learned to check out the price of Eggs and figure out what’s an industry standard so I think I can make a very average businessman.
TEJ: Even if you’re not the world greatest negotiator you’re still quite clever in being able to surround yourself with a new team of people that are all working towards the same goals, much the same has having a band and chopping and changing it. You still need the skills to be smart enough to get the right people to be a part of a band or team.
Steve: I can do a lot of deferring but it’s my choice if I defer something to someone else.
TEJ: I have noticed that some of your old guitars and flight cases amongst other stuff is being sold on Ebay at present.
Steve: Yeah I have a lot of stuff that I cannot afford to be sentimental about but it’s just a case of running a tight ship
TEJ: A more leaner ship, rather than storing things you rarely use these days
TEJ: Well you write music differently these days, hence why your Linn drums were for sale.
Steve: It’s of its time [Linn Drum]. I know people who are interested in them and they have a certain character. I had a Mellotron once which had been renamed the Novatron at a certain point in time, but essentially was a Mellotron and it was sitting around in storage for a while. It went from me to someone else and then eventually to Paul Weller but it was not the sort of thing I was going to use again. I mean I love the sound but I prefer to use a version of those sounds with more reliable technology.
TEJ: Well yeah and the ease of carrying around the newer technology
Steve: Now the old ones still draw a crowd the last one I saw a fully functioning MK2 was at the inauguration of a synthesizer museum and the thing that drew the biggest crowd was the Mellotron. People were standing around it as it went through its paces or the pre recorded riffs. Just the pre recorded stuff had a certain
Steve: Yeah and when you see one of those things you think “Ah that’s the bit from The Beatles with Bungalow Bill” or if anyone’s got the flutes up Strawberry Fields immediately it’s always going to be that, or there is a really fast bit of Nylon guitar that’s on the White Album. Maybe that’s the bit I am thinking of and that’s the Mellotron. So yes, there is rather a lot of it and it’s time to shed that particular skin and get rid of some of the excess.
TEJ: Looking to the future with touring, have you made any future plans regarding touring later in the year?
Steve: Well I’m always in the hands of others when it comes to this stuff I’ve got an agent here I’ve got an agent in the states and there is a lot of waiting time and a lot of phone calls that go backwards and forwards and eventually it will be clearer but I am making good use of the time to record as many projects as I can so it’s not down time. I seem to need longer to produce albums these days over the days of doing Voyage of the Acolyte which was done in a month, and that was night time sessions. But then I was so paranoid at the time about not completing the project I had the whole thing planned out and mapped out and much more organised than the ideas I go in with now. These days I tend to write in the studio at least in part as I go along.
TEJ: I suspect that’s down to the luxury of having your own studio
Steve: If I didn’t I would have to be much more organised and I would have to plan ahead, but the process of discovery of going Ah here’s a sound that will do so let’s write something for it… now that is something you really need to be able to do in situ. So you’re either in a rehearsal room situation or your doing it at home. Unless your recording at home and I have done a fair amount of that, it’s simpler to go let’s just try that overdub, let the drums run for a bit and let’s see how this works with the jamming. Years ago when I would fall in love with the sound of a particular fuzz box I’d think here we go its Ode to a Fuzz box really isn’t it? Let’s just try and write something for this instrument because this sound didn’t exist before. When I got hold of the Duo Fuzz at the beginning of working with Genesis, the Shaftsbury Duo Fuzz that did two different sounds was really kind of upper harmonic sounding and the other one sounded like tissue paper with a really tissy sound. These days the extraordinary thing is working with Apple Logic. I sometimes plug straight in to Roger’s kit and he has got an array of virtual Fuzz boxes on the screen which is maybe no surprise to anyone else but it’s a great surprise to me every time we do it. One of them sounds really good and I’m thinking oh my god, what we used to have to do with outboard stuff! Of course live I am still using the units but if I am recording one of the most important things I’ve got is my Sans Amp [GT2].
TEJ: Yeah the Sans Amp is a desirable thing
Steve: Sans Amp yeah I think it costs around £150, and is a tiny little thing the size of a packet of panatela’s [Cigars]. Then the other piece of important kit for me is called an Iron Boost pedal. It’s a Pete Cornish one off and he built it for me. I’m sure he’s built it for other people now. I had asked him for a treble booster but this thing seems to scrunch up the sound wonderfully. So we plug into this thing the combination and it gives a real fatness to the sound. Then in my old days I used to have my Marshall’s which I still use live but in the studio we’ve got a sound and ambience. Then Roger will sometimes amp that sound again, stick it through a virtual amp of some description. There are a number of choices which give it a certain ambience as if it’s being recorded in a room with a mic at some distance. One day he changed the sound on me and I said oh that sounds different what have you done and he said I’ve moved the Mic.
Steve: It’s in the box, so the box is mightier than the building these days. So anyone can do it providing they have got the time and the technical know-how.
Sadly with that our time was up, many thanks to both Steve and Jo for being wonderful hosts as always and for giving up their time on a glorious sunny Saturday afternoon.