Steve Hackett Discusses Beyond the Shrouded Horizon – September 10th 2011

Photo Credit Kevin Lunham

We at The Evil Jam arranged an interview with an album preview with Steve and his wife Jo at their home. On Saturday 10th September Michael and I went along and we had some wonderful refreshments and a catch up conversation as friends would do so normally.

Steve proceeded to play bits of the Steve Hackett and Chris Squire project which has yet to be released but has been given by others the affectionate title of Squackett, and I reminded him again that there is a very ELO sounding track on the collection of songs that he played to us from that project.

Next Steve played Michael and I a finished copy of the new album “Beyond The Shrouded Horizon”. This was the Special Edition version which included the bonus disc. After another cup of tea we began the interview. We had to be mindful of our allotted time on this occasion due to Steve and Jo having another social engagement that they were due to attend.

Just to recap though, Michael and I had the luck to have heard these songs as work in progress on two prior occasions in January and April of this year hence some of them being rather familiar to us almost like a good friend whilst others where pleasant surprises.

TEJ: (Michael and Mark)

SH: (Steve)

Interview begins

TEJ: Can you talk to us about Loch Lomond? Having heard it earlier in places it’s similar to The Beatles “A Day In The Life” but that is a small part. There are Bagpipes within it and the song generally conveys the listener through different moods. What was inspiration for composing Loch Lomond?

SH:It’s a number of things really. There’s a Blues influence with the opening guitar notes but once the strings join in, it shifts place geographically to something that sounds like the Louisiana swamps. Even though the style is Blues, once the strings join it there’s a European influence. It keeps going backwards and forwards with the imagery. There is contradiction in just about every line, such as a Humming Bird in Snow – all those things that do not really exist. That is part of what drives it. Also once that opening is established it functions like a Decoy. Then the song proper starts when the heavy riff kicks in and the sound that drives that is part guitar, part Bass pedal and part strings. It’s a composite sound that’s triggered to drive it. The drums are real; the guitar is being played down the Octave. It’s an Octave lower than it can do in reality. That part was recorded in this room (Steve’s home). For me when the main riff kicks in it’s as if it’s a journey on an Ocean Liner and you hear the engine throbbing.

(Photo Courtesy of Jo Hackett)

TEJ: Its got great momentum.

SH: Yeah its got that. I think that drives it with great momentum and size so it has a kind of majesty to it, but at the same time it’s quite stripped back. There is very little obvious keyboard work on it. The keyboards are tracking the guitar with strings so it gives it a kind of Orchestral sound, almost Brassy really, but there’s a deliberate lack of middle in the whole thing. Most sizeable sounds that came from 70’s Rock tended to be driven with large keyboards in the middle with large swathes of chords. This isn’t like that. You have large drums and a big bass sound with a guitar that comes and goes, which means there is all this space so the canvas isn’t filled. It’s as if there are dots of colour on the bottom and on the sides and here and there having established some guitar work that sounds kind of rocky. There’s a kind of bestial nature to it. I wanted it to growl but to sound like it was more elemental than most guitarists would produce. Then we are into another picture which is more of a little interlude which Roger (King) came up with sounds like industrially influenced music. There is that keyboard workshop for a while until it gets into the song with lyrics where it’s treated as folk song, acoustic guitar and vocals harmonies. So after the song establishes itself in almost a Celtic folk like manner, Bagpipes arrive. Now the Bagpipes are not really actual Bagpipes. It’s mainly Saxes (Saxophone) that are played with the reed turned around the other way.

TEJ: Oh right

SH:and single line Bagpipe samples, but the phrases are all tailor-made so it’s a combination of that. As you probably know Bagpipes don’t function in very many keys. B flat I think is one of the keys which isn’t a user friendly key for most rock…

SH:then you get a recapitulation of riff and building some themes that represent themselves, so by the time the song finishes we have got a false ending with a frozen reverb which is faded down to almost nothing. It’s then held so you get an almost continuous note that is made up of everything that is playing at that point which creates a chord. Out of that comes nylon guitar bubbling upwards with a Spanish influence. Then you get the engine of the first track. Here you’ve got a driving throbbing sound plus drums and then we are in with a recapitulation of what was a vocal theme, but this time done on guitar. When I started playing this I was unaware that I had the Wah Wah (pedal) accidentally switched into the line so it was sounding more bassy than usual. Also, although I was playing low down the neck it was giving me an upper harmonic with the sound, a sound that was both low and high at the same time. I was wondering why the guitar was sounding so good at that point and I thought let’s just keep playing. At that moment with that aspect of the happy accident of the tone as well as the usual aspects of reverb added along with repeat echo, I felt I had really arrived. At moments like this I feel that this is the reason I am here on earth, to play with my feet firmly planted in the ground but my head in the clouds. It’s the feeling that’s what I am all about and what this album is all about. Those first three notes said it… So I was off on a whole journey of guitar driven ecstasy on the track that is now banded as The Phoenix Flown. In a way that is very much a flight but it’s a flight inwards. We talk about journeying songs a lot songs that are journeys or odysseys’ or travelogues but if the guitar had ever given me wings that it is at that moment, and so the very bit that you referred to that came up in your dream (this references a conversation earlier in the day) there is a sense of it being strong and it wells up from the subconscious. It comes from some other place. Some of the phrases were influenced by Borodin. I am thinking of Russian and European composers who were known as romantics in there day but although they were Europeans they were looking towards the East. So they were looking for something exotic and they wanted a change of scale. They were working the Harmonic minor which means its on the border line of what’s dissonant and what’s harmonic. That’s precisely what makes it interesting because you’ve got choices about what notes you might use within the scale. You can wonder in and out of it as I do freely. I’m very glad that I have got little musical theory because if I did I might have talked myself out of a lot of what goes on there, although its an unchanging Bass note I think that’s were the music finds its focus. I can’t recommend that little piece highly enough.

SH:I think that no music is really original. You just get an inheritance from a hundred other pieces that hit me as strongly as other people, but that was my moment to do my thing and something magic happened. Whatever you do in music you can set up the same conditions, plug in all the same guitars and write all the same songs and then suddenly something will happen. It’s a kind of Alchemy that is more than the sum of the input. I think musicians are always looking for that moment so that’s where it happened on that particular track and I am very happy not to understand it but to be lead. Yes I played the notes but I felt there was a lot going on in the world of the invisible whether that means other dimensions or things that were going in terms of the inner journey, depending on your point of reference or philosophy or your idea of all of that mystical stuff. All I can say is it felt like a moment of arrival of being completely airborne and I named it afterwards…

TEJ: The Phoenix Flown


TEJ: Having heard The Phoenix Flown and that you feel there is another way of looking at it, maybe it was a form of very deep Meditation that happened whilst you were fully conscious.

SH:Yeah I think so, although, I am influenced by other players and other music, although I don’t think anyone sounds quite like that. Yes there have been other people who have achieved that guitar tone and people who have worked with Eastern phrases. But something happened and I would think it’s worth checking out the album for that moment alone. I spent a lot of time learning to sing and I think I sing more strongly and certainly more in tune than I used to. But somehow you know the albums voice happens around that moment. I know you mentioned the Beatles’ “A Day In The Life” maybe it’s because it seems to expand at that moment. There is something very expansive about “A Day In The Life” which alludes to space as much as anything else so its probably got something to do with perspectives.

TEJ: Coming back from the Atmospheric heights of those two songs to the next song Wanderlust how did you being to write it, having had such a power experience with the previous two songs?

SH:Well I wanted to use “Till These Eyes” as the next track but Wanderlust was purpose built as a bridge passage, an interlude between the two, as much to clam you down. With the great trajectory of that first one and all the emotions welling up to the surface, I wanted to be able to have something which switched from E Major to C to up with phrases that reflected that.

TEJ: Right

SH:Its kind of A Minor but its how to get from one to the other phrases that had echoed what had just been and set it up for the next track whilst at the same time stripping it right back to nothing. I am finding these days that the use of Nylon guitar can often be almost a bit like a pallet cleanser between courses or a pallet cleanser if you’re talking about Art of course and the canvas. It seems there’s no point in following something huge with something equally big.

TEJ: Yes otherwise you would over burden the listener, there has to be a natural sort of Seesaw effect.

SH:Yeah that’s it and it went to total contrast to something played on the Nylon guitar, very lightly with a lot of reverb so that the music folds on itself as I move from one chord to another. Each chord folds on the other. I have been trying to do that sort of Nylon guitar sound for a very long time and this is the best example of that kind of sound even thought it’s a very short piece designed to get you from A to B so it’s A plus or 1A to get you to track number 2 a way station.

TEJ: Yeah a bit like being in the middle part of a Tunnel. You know you’re not at either end, but in order to get to either end you need to go on this journey

SH:Yeah and then “Till These Eyes” is really a romantic song. It’s deliberately very English. Roy Harper gave Harry Pearce a guitar and I used it on that track.

TEJ: Good god!

Steve Smiles at the TEJ camera back in April 2011

SH:A beautiful sounding guitar and we had real strings. Roger (King) came up with a string arrangement, which I think is fabulous. It’s a song that I wrote originally thinking about Dorian Grey, the idea of someone who had lived and was world weary almost like a Flying Dutchman approach, weary yet right at the end the chorus changes from “Till These Eyes Have Seen Enough” almost like a death wish it becomes “Till These Eyes Have Seen Love”. So it’s a sort of reaffirmation of falling in love. The pay-off is in the final line.

TEJ: The next track is Prairie Angel can you tell us about what sounds like a Jaw Harp?

SH: It’s a keyboard patch that Roger found which we twinned with harmonica to create a country sound along with a banjo guitar and ukulele.

SH:Having read Jack Kerouac of the scenes in “On The Road” there is a situation where their car breaks down somewhere, I can’t remember but it may have been the Midwest. The car is in the ditch and the farmer helps get it out. Meanwhile his daughter is seen nearby watching this. The two protagonists in the story talk about how they both thought she was the most beautiful girl they had ever seen. Now I took the story on a kind of pioneering approach On The Road because I think it’s in the spirit of the early pioneers. My idea was as though someone had encountered an Indian (American Native) girl who’d had the same effect and that they’d come together through a sort of combination of cultures. So it’s an imaginary love story really where a kind of western Prairie Angel becomes a Place Called Freedom. They’re really the same song but I banded them separately so that people can access either the song or the rockier end of it.

TEJ: In Between the Sunset and the Coconuts Palms there is a sound that seems to be a Theremin. Is this something that someone is playing or more tricks from the box?

SH: It’s a violin solo twinned with synthesiser.

TEJ: Can you tell us about Between the Sunset and the Coconuts Palms

SH:The title is taken from a very funny Peter Sellers sketch! It’s this idea of pioneering refugees which comes up with people escaping one situation into another. Part of it is dream inspired whilst the other is what was going on in my life where Jo and I forever seemed to be running until we found the moment that everything lead up to including our marriage recently. So in a way the song is a symbol of that but the imaginary journey takes you to somewhere. Once the characters having gone through their journey, there is a little bit with a banjo and the sort of whoop and a yell and a sort of Sea shanty, an atmospheric little bit that sort of pastiche. This cuts straight into Waking to life. I recently heard someone describe the term Raga Rock and I would say there’s an aspect of Raga Rock about this with the Indian (continent) influence. Not just that but other influences from the East too and Amanda (Lehmann) singing it sounds almost Madonna-like in places. We’ve used an effect on the voice to make it impact against itself so you get rhythms’ created by the vocal as it ascends. The words describe a Mountain face and it is as though there are crags and rocks in the ascending vocals.

TEJ: Steve what was the inspiration for Two Faces Of Cairo

SH:Well it was a trip to Egypt where I was there with the Sphinx and I was thinking that this is the most exotic place to look at mans art work. If this isn’t a gateway to the past I don’t know what is and I was so inspired that I just kept writing things in my note book the whole time. It seemed as though the Sphinx was singing. The idea of the title is the enigma of the past as personified by the face of the Sphinx, but as there are two sides to the Sphinx, there is also another side to Cairo were there are people who live in the Tombs in a less salubrious part and a less visited. Here there are no street lights and I could see these shadowy forms moving around in a street that looked like a boulevard as if they were ghosts. This is a place that was off the tourist map. As we drove past I could see there was desperate poverty. So those were the Two Faces of Cairo that I was thinking of.

TEJ: The next track has a different theme, Looking For Fantasy

SH:It reflects many of the girls that I knew during the era of Flower Power who were all looking for something and who weren’t averse to taking drugs. In a sense they were people who were never going to find it in this world. It’s an affectionate look…

TEJ: Is it anything like Everyday?

SH:It’s a little bit like Everyday but its not condemnatory. It moves on from situation to situation. She is actually a composite of a number of characters and  the dreams that they were chasing, so its lyrically intensive. It’s a melody written by Jimi Hendrix in a dream that I had I have lifted the melody completely from the dream where he was giving a free concert. He was singing a song which in spirit was about the fact that he was so sad to have led the way as a pied piper for so many to fall off the edge of a cliff. It was as if he was speaking directly from spirit. It found its focus in this track although it sounds nothing like him.

TEJ: That was deep! Can you talk to us about Summers Breath

SH:It is again one of those interludes. It’s Nylon guitar and here’s another little almost secluded beach enclave beyond several islands that we’ve just passed by…

TEJ: Almost secluded?

SH:Yeah that’s right. It’s got that aspect of Siesta about it – a very sleepy lagoon and children playing in the background. The sound of the surf is generated electronically. It’s not real but it might as well be and that sets itself up as a cleanser before the next track which kicks in

TEJ: Which is Catwalk

SH:That comes blasting in by complete contrast and is the trio that I was talking about

TEJ: Simon Phillips, Chris Squire and yourself. Was Catwalk done in one take?

SH:No it wasn’t

TEJ: it sounded to me like a jam session?

SH:Yeah it is, it was designed to be as if it was one take. The drums were recorded in California

TEJ: Sort of one of those songs where the parts were flown in?

SH:Yeah the guitar was flown in from Mars, the Bass was done in Twickenham. It might have been interesting if we’d had everyone in the same room at the same time. In a way it’s a refined jam where a band gets together and gets a chance to respond to itself. When you’re working like this and somebody plays something and you respond to it. The guitar work was recorded so Simon (Phillips) worked to a guitar and vocals that were in place. I think the bass was done after the drums. So yeah, we sort of responded to each other.

SH:It’s an out and out rocker influences Muddy Waters and every heavy metal guitarist you have heard in your life. It uses as many guitar tricks as I can muster in the book that keep coming at you. I tried to make the guitar sound like Cats wailing and howling in the night. I think the instruments are kind of clawing at each other really


SH:There’s not too much romance in it. There is more brute force than subtlety in the track. I still love it for its urgency.

TEJ: Can you tell us about the epic Turn This Island Earth

SH:It’s a little bit to do with the movie which I loved the movie when I was a kid. This Island Earth I think of all the Sci Fi movies appealed to my sense of romanticism as a child with the idea of the dying planet that someone valiantly tries to save.

TEJ: That’s a rather classic theme for a Sci Fi story though isn’t it?


TEJ: It’s not a nasty one as there is little in the way of nasty mutating monster aliens in it

SH:Well there is at one point. Just as you think as the noble Alien as depicted by Exeter is going to escape I think one of the Monitors manages to attack him looking insect-like. I remember being very emotionally struck with it. But this piece also takes us on a Space Mountain ride. It is heavily detailed with 300 plus tracks, a virtual ride around the universe…

TEJ: Can you tell us about the few seconds of Green sleeves in “Turn This Island Earth”?

SH: The song runs the gamut of human emotion and experience from joy to sorrow and from sleep to adventure. It’s both personal and universal, a journey through both inner and outer space.

TEJ: Earlier when we had a listen and a chat you mentioned a De tuned double bass

SH:Yes that’s right. At the beginning Dick Driver’s bass is tracked up. I worked with Dick in Quiet World before Genesis in 1970 my first band

TEJ: As well as Dick Driver, you and I also talked about certain effects that were employed during the song such as Tremolo Harmonics, the choir and some processing on the vocals. At the time I likened it to a similar effect used on a 20 second part of Brand New (from To Watch The Storms)

SH:It’s a vocal effect that’s deliberately coming and going the whole time so that its not a literal vocal but a symbolic vocal. It becomes a guitar before you know it and the guitar is going through that same process. In a sense I think there is an aspect of G force about it as if it’s being pulled subliminally. It’s a ride… There’s the separate journey on the other CD. The special edition is basically 99% a collection of guitar solo’s, but there are other things

TEJ: Yeah the second disc seems to be rather bountiful with bonus tracks including the French titled Pieds En L’Air

SH:Yeah that’s from the Capriol Suite by Peter Warlock, “Feet in the Air”. It’s something which is in Waltz time which is very beautiful and I didn’t write it. We recorded it with our little Orchestra of Dick Driver on Bass, Richard Stewart on Cello, Christine Townsend playing Violin and Viola. We tracked them up lots of times to a click track as our conductor.

TEJ: Another track on the bonus disc appears to be a Four Winds suite which is banded into the main axis points of a compass, North, South, East, West.

SH:Yeah again they’re all instrumentals but they have very different atmospheres. It’s difficult to name instrumentals. I think it’s an attempt to give all of those separate tracks a cohesion in a way.

TEJ: You seem to have a knack of giving careful and considered names and titles to songs


TEJ: If you compare the song titles and names given to a lot of the songs by Brand X a Jazz Rock Fusion band from the 70’s they seem to have given rather throwaway and humorous titles to their songs

SH:That’s been a Jazz thing for quite some time, the idea of Jazz having deliberately disingenuous titles perhaps, but occasionally in Jazz there will be a very poetic title. I figure that with an instrumental you don’t have any lyrics yet, so the title is your lyric. If you figure out either what it is that you were trying to say in the first place or the thing you were trying to describe, having had a title first of all would mean those are all the lyrics that you need.

SH:With ‘Feet in the Air’ I didn’t come up with that title which is from the Capriol Suite by Peter Warlock who wrote this sort of Elizabethan escapist kind of stuff. Things that were written with the kind of music you would think should accompany a Medieval story from Hollywood in the 1940’s or 50’s. Yet in the middle of that kind of music which was influenced by Lute music originally there’s this beautiful Waltz which is both serene and lovely. I have discovered that it divides people. They either love it and float with it or they find it funereal, which is why it’s on the second CD (bonus disc).

TEJ: It sounds like its rather polarising

SH:It polarises people yeah! It’s a lovely piece of music. But its not rock music it’s the furthest outpost from rock you could possibly get.

TEJ: Is it similar to Metamorphous in style?

SH:Yeah I think so, but the notes are someone else’s. Sometimes you are moved to do someone else’s song

TEJ: It is always a good thing if you can put your own spin on something rather than presenting a Carbon copy

SH:Yeah that’s right. With a Classical piece you can make it subtly different, but for some people its all in the details isn’t it?

TEJ: There was a nice reverb on it. It sounded like it was recorded in the expanse of somewhere like The Royal Albert Hall when you played it to us

SH:It mutes on the strings which makes them deliberately duller softer. Basically I wish guitars could make that noise.

TEJ: It is amazing what you have achieved with just a quartet of people

SH:Yes when they are all tracked up!

TEJ: Moving along can we talk about the song She Said Maybe?

SH:It was mainly written by Roger with a little bit of the guitar trying to sound pretty much like a Harmonica in an early part of it. It’s a different guitar tone with an Electric guitar synth and all played by Roger and myself. I still don’t know how he quite did those drums though. I think he worked with loops and then he informed those loops. It’s an altered performance. It’s not one for the purists who have to have their music live.

TEJ: Can you tell us about using Gary’s voice on the track Enter the Night?

SH: I sing on that and him and Amanda. It’s an adapted version of a thing called Riding the Colossus

TEJ: Really?

SH: So it’s a vocal version of that

TEJ: Is it a literal version or have there been any minor or major changes?

SH: There is a subtle change. In some places there are vocals instead of guitars but there is a guitar presence on it with an emphasis towards vocals.

TEJ: talking about some of the remaining tracks on the Special Edition version there is Eruption, Tommy and Reconditioned Nightmare

SH: I did some tracks for the Japanese over time the Japanese always wanted to have a couple of bonus extra tracks. The rights have reverted and so the ones that I thought were really good I have used on this. Eruption is a Focus track from Moving Waves (album). To my mind the most moving melody from Moving Waves was a slow electric guitar piece, so I did a version with Roger. Reconditioned Nightmare is Air Conditioned Nightmare replayed again with just Roger and myself. Sometimes I would play that to people and they would say it’s a Santana track. If it is then they must have borrowed it from somebody else. I haven’t heard the (Santana) song they are on about!

TEJ: We can hear similarities in what could be described as the Santana sound.

SH:It has a lovely melody hasn’t it? The Focus melody is one we used to love with Genesis. Phil and I loved this

TEJ: It is nice and comforting

SH:There is something classic about the melody. I didn’t write it

TEJ: You have obviously enjoyed it enough to recreate it in your own image

SH:Well you could imagine Carlos Santana doing that.

TEJ: Yes you could see Santana doing it, it has a lot of the elements of the Santana sound

SH:It’s a lovely melody

TEJ: It’s great that it will be on the bonus disc of the special edition for those that wish to buy it. Having heard that piece and others today I know I would go out and buy the special edition version as I have done with your previous albums.

Beyond The Horizon Album Cover

SH: The Special Edition I think I had a conversation with Jo about this and she said to me that with special editions people sometimes do tracks that turn out to be bogus tracks because it’s the same track but without the vocal or something like that! Rather than have the karaoke edition I thought it would be nice if every track that was on the second disc was really good and special in some way so that’s been the approach with those extra nine tracks.

TEJ: Its own mini album

SH:Yeah it is and it makes the album up to in total almost 90 minutes if you got the Special Edition. That’s the length people used to refer to a Double album. but it’s actually still a single album with a bonus disc, the tall cappuccino version.

TEJ: Just to navigate away from the new album, can you update anyone reading this about the collaboration between yourself and EMI with regards to restoring your old catalogue into surround sound?

SH:Well there is a move afoot to do Please Don’t Touch and Spectral Mornings, the albums either side of that Voyage of the Acolyte and Defector, in 5.1. So far no one has found the multi tracks for Voyage or Defector. I have to say in my defence that at the time when I was working with Charisma (Records) they insisted on having the masters themselves and now things have got lost. so far they haven’t appeared but I still hope that these things will get discovered

TEJ: sometimes these things are mislabelled or thrown out

SH:Or they either went on a skip

TEJ: That would be terrible

SH:But that has happened to some best selling albums by other artists! None the less we have found Please Don’t Touch and Spectral Mornings which I will do at some point.

TEJ: You have a lot going on what with the new album and the project with Chris Squire as well as your Shepherds Bush DVD. Can you tell us how the mixing for the DVD is coming along?

SH:The latest information regarding the DVD if anyone remembers the set list from Shepherds Bush, we are as far as having mixed up to and including Golden Age Of Steam. The next track we will mix is Watcher of the Skies on Monday (13th September)

TEJ: Sounds good. Are you looking to put any bonus material on that release?

SH:To be honest it’s probably just going to be the concert in 5.1 surround sound. Its not going to be lots and lots after that.

TEJ: We look forward to reviewing it and interviewing you about it in the future.

Sadly our time was up, we must thank both Steve and Jo for giving us there time and outstanding hospitality on a rather interesting Saturday in September.

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