Michael and I set off to interview Steve on a warm September afternoon, we arrived early in Twickenham so Michael and I checked out the local area and having found a car parking space we checked out a local pub, an hour later and we set off for our interview.
STEVE – SH
Mark and Michael – TEJ
We have just listened to Chamber of 32 Doors from Genesis Revisited 2
TEJ: Steve could you tell us about how you reworked that song?
SH: I felt some sense of responsibility to this music which to some degree I realise that there are lots of live versions of this stuff from tribute bands abound and some of them are very good. But what tends to happen is that some of them follow the original faithfully to the letter and they will find out what fuzz box was used on this and that and of course that’s a case of the limitations of what we worked with at the time such as the Mellotron wonderful though it is and available keyboards and available technology produced one kind of result.
SH: But I have had a long time to think about this and I think essentially a lot of what Genesis did was orchestral in nature. I felt as though I pushed them in a way. Of course, some forty odd years later having worked with a number of orchestras, I felt that much of the Lamb was potentially filmic and if that was being done today maybe part of a modern soundtrack, I’d be thinking; Wow! Why not give it the works? Why not have an orchestra? But I’ve had the benefit of working with some great orchestras in my time but equally I find it wonderful when you track up a few players and mix it with a sample and put it all together and it can sound just wonderful.
TEJ: As organic almost as a normal orchestra?
SH: Well, it is really in the same way that Enya is a wonderful one woman choir. I think a one man orchestra is entirely possible. If you happen to be a violinist why wouldn’t you spend a lot of your life tracking up a hundred of you without the need for distortion; not in the digital domain, I wanted a glorious version of that tune. [Chamber of 32 Doors]
I was being interviewed by Nicky Horne on Planet Rock probably about a year ago I walked in and he was playing that very track, a Chamber of 32 Doors and it was very compressed in the way in which Radio signals are so it meant that the dynamics were really squeezed up and he said to me I think this sounds really wonderful.
“Well funny you should say, that it does sound wonderful and it sounds especially wonderful really compressed, which gives it a kind of power, you know when we originally did this stuff we would sometimes hear what we did on American FM (Radio) as we were driving through and it would make certain tracks sound really, really powerful.
SH: I think at the time Mike (Rutherford) often aspired to want to do guitars that sounded like The Who but our stuff never really sounded quite like that but by the time it had been processed through American FM with their compressors it gave it a certain power. So, I wanted to capture the power of that without getting into an unnecessary distortion because a lot of the Lamb was recorded very hot and I realise that for some people it might be gospel – but the loneliness of the long distance guitarist is one were (clicks fingers) I could have done that guitar better, what a shame I hadn’t learned how to do perfect finger vibrato, bends and all that at the time and I used to accept any old reverb.
So these days guitars sustain forever, I can get loud I don’t have to kill anyone with volume.
TEJ: Well the advantage is on tape or digital you can record the same phrase repeatedly, isn’t it really?
SH: The opening phrases just took me forever when I recorded it originally with the band back in ’74 and it took me forever to rerecord it now, I still made the same stumbles and everything. Before the track started with this orchestral vibe I thought it might be nice if there was some acoustic guitar to set it up and I used a flat six minor shape. I have discovered a tuning for Nylon guitar which as far as I know I am the only person using it.
SH: But for those of you that are interested it means that your low E string goes down a tone to a D you’re A string fifth string goes down a tone to a G and your B string goes down a semi tone and then straight away nothing is familiar but it makes certain shapes that you’ll use for minor sixes it’ll have a certain effect in a way it sort of ‘Jazzifys’ them. I cannot think of a better word but they are very evocative because I was working with chords I didn’t recognise but I thought this is lovely, this is beautiful, and having worked that out I’m giving you the long winded explanation here having worked that out I wanted to be able to change key and I struggled greatly to be able to change key convincingly to be able to set up with a convincing sympathetic chord before that thing kicked in so I thought about that quite a lot. It’s not just for the sake of playing some fast guitar at the beginning.
TEJ: Just glimpsing the album sleeve, it is a very aquatic scene. How does it relate to the album then?
SH: The sleeve to the album is a mock up of St Mark’s square in Venice (Italy) with a tidal wave going over it and I think it’s a beautiful picture that Maurizio & Angela Vicedomini, a husband and wife team came up with. So I wanted to have something which was watery and the Orchestra floods in a way I am imagining people looking at that album sleeve and hearing that music and tying it all in.
TEJ: The first track (A Chamber of 32 Doors)…
SH: …having said all that there are two CD’s on this both of them are in excess of 73 minutes each so it’s a double album!
TEJ: That’s stretching the format somewhat!
SH: It is stretching the format and probably the longest album anybody’s ever done. It’s Wagnerian proportions in rock terms and we were very hard pushed to get it finished in time in order to bring it out in October but Roger (King) worked all hours under the Sun I was working flat out we had different teams working on this at the same time a bit like a second camera unit going off so we had two drummers Gary O’toole and Jeremy Stacey who was on the Squackett project so whilst one was being recorded it might even have been three teams at any one point.
Most of the singers worked at their home and sent us the parts, which we then worked on.
TEJ: Who was singing on A Chamber of 32 Doors?
SH: That’s Nad Sylvan, who is Swedish and he has sung with Agents of Mercy and he also did an album called ‘Unifaun’ which is not actually Genesis songs but stuff done in the spirit of Genesis. It was a duo. I have the album.
TEJ: Nad has brought a dimension to the vocal treatment of the song where in the original Peter has some kind of effect on his voice, Nad’s vocals seem very natural on this version of A Chamber of 32 Doors.
SH: Nad has got a voice that is made for the Genesis stuff, his voice is a kind of cross between Pete and Phil. When I first had a conversation with him having heard a little of what he did, he said ‘Really I am a kind of musical chameleon…’ because he sounds like different people on different tracks and he has a very big sounding voice he is one of several singers who are on this there’s Mikael Akerfeldt who’s from Opeth, he’s also worked with Steven Wilson. Steven Wilson is on the album in a vocal capacity and on guitar. There are other guitarists, Nik Kershaw…
TEJ: Nik Kershaw is a surprise because he has also worked with Tony (Banks).
SH: Yeah, there is that link and the Genesis guys like his stuff. Tony and I particularly liked Nik’s early stuff because he uses chords and that’s what Genesis did we had a style that subsequently became named ‘Lead Chords’. In other words chords are giving you the melody. You know the ones I am talking about where you have that chord information, guitar or keyboard ,but chords were all important.
SH: The rest of the vocalists… well Nad does three tracks, Mikael is on ‘Suppers Ready’, well we have a number of different singers on Suppers Ready. Simon Collins, Phil’s son, is on some of Suppers Ready.
TEJ: That’s quite a surprise!
SH: I do a little bit on Suppers Ready myself. Conrad Keely who is very popular in the states (USA) right now is also on Suppers Ready as well as Francis Dunnery so we have four or five singers on Suppers Ready. Francis Dunnery is just involved in a vocal capacity on the album and although he is a great guitarist, he happened to be working with Dave Kerzner who has worked with Nad and he works with Simon producing Simon’s stuff. He said, “Oh, by the way, I am working with Francis and some of the stuff that we had ear marked for Phil’s son, Simon…’ he (Dave) said ‘would you like to hear what Francis could do with this.’ We said yes, we have nothing to lose and he sent a killer version of ‘Dancing with the Moonlit Knight’.
Steve puts on this killer version of Dancing with the Moonlit Knight I along with Michael am blown away by the faithful elements as well as the new interpretations on what is to some one of the Genesis holy grail of songs.
Steve also put on Fly On a Windshield/Broadway Melody that in the case of Broadway Melody was very menacing in terms of Gary O’toole vocal arrangement.
TEJ: Just trying to recover from hearing that
SH: A bit of a mind fuck isn’t it?
TEJ: Yeah thank you for bringing that to the table I was a bit hesitant to be as bold. It has shook me. That version of the song is a cerebral juggle and yes it’s a mind fuck!
SH: I still used Mellotron with it, so essentially the same instruments. Mellotron organ not RMI but Mellotron and Hammond sounds a bass pedal. We are not using vintage gear to create those sounds we are using modern stuff that has its roots
TEJ: So is it a Genesis album in the 21st Century?
SH: Well that’s a very good way of putting it I think. Usually to get a certain guitar sound I will sometimes use fixed Wah (Pedal) but there is Wah going on I am using it on certain notes and phrases on that, as does Roine Stolt. Funny enough on ‘Return of the Giant Hogweed’ sung by Neil Morse, I let him (Roine) do the guitar solo on that.
TEJ: Dancing with the Moonlit Knight was gorgeous as well!
SH: I am pleased with that version I must admit.
TEJ: I felt it had one hand in the past and one hand towards the future but so tasteful.
SH: I tried to be respectful to the arrangements but I am not being a slave to vintage gear, at the moment.
TEJ: I think that road although nostalgic is not so practical any more to be honest with you. Alfred Hitchcock made the same film twice, in the thirties and again in the fifties pretty much shot for shot, angle for angle.
SH: What was the movie?
TEJ: I actually cannot remember. [We struggled at this point it was The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1934 and again in 1956].
SH: It wasn’t Strangers on a Train, was it?
Well I don’t know what his motivation was but Hitchcock movies tended to have stunning visuals. ‘Strangers on a Train’ has stunning stuff on it. But for those stunning milestones there will be the rest where he will be thinking ah I could’ve done that better what about that matte shot and what about this and that back screen projection stuff and could I have done that better now?
SH: There is also the musical connection with Hitchcock, you know with the score to Psycho influencing the Beatles with film influencing music. I think music influences film. Speaking of the two informing each other, Miklós Rózsa score for Ben Hur influenced ‘Fly on a Windshield’ with Phil’s very singular drum you know that’s Ramming speed that’s what we had in mind on some of that but I had reverb in mind as well the big chord change which happens in Ravel’s ‘Bolero’ where it goes up a tone to the tonic. So you’ve got that with ‘Fly on a Windshield’.
TEJ: Oh, that’s quite interesting. I don’t think I knew that [about Fly on a Windshield. ] But the motivation Hitchcock probably had is the same you had for this then?
SH: Yeah I guess it’s the same motivation. Why would anyone want to do what they’ve done seemingly perfectly, but it’s not perfect to me because I know what was out of time and what was out of tune. Even though I can do tapping and do it very fast I didn’t do it in time in those days it was a bit of a new technique and a lot of the times in those days I was over dubbing with headphones on. We also were recording these things very quickly. I was the worst offender for timing. The ideas were good but the execution is not quite what I would be capable of now.
TEJ: If you look back through the widely available gig lists of early Genesis you’re like the Beatles. None of you seem to have a break – you were just working yourselves to the bone and then taking two or three weeks off to do the album and the moment it’s done you’re straight back out on tour.
SH: It was a relentless schedule in those days.
TEJ: In the early days you are going to feel pressured for time and you have to work with what you have got. If your guitar is the guitar you have taken on tour that might have been dropped by the roadie by accident then the guitar is going to sound a bit odd in the studio, you will be tired in the studio having had no rest from the tour the ideas aren’t necessarily going to flow.
SH: We were (tired)! We were exhausted, we were young, we used to go over to Belgium and play gigs having had no sleep. We would just go on the midnight ferry, there was no sense of luxury. We just did what we needed to do to make it work. We toured the Lamb for nine months practically straight.
I remember seeing David Bowie’s band at Victoria station and we were chatting to them you. Mick Ronson and the band would have been around our age, maybe a little older. The thing that struck me about them was their faces were green, but you know you go on the road for 9 months to a year straight and you’ll come back with a green face too. It’s what people did they worked flat out. You get sick you don’t have time recover you just keep going. Obviously it’s not the same for the generation before us who had wars to put up with, if you came back at all it’s a plus, we did whatever it wasn’t heroic it was what all bands were doing at the time you figured you had a short space of time to make it and if you didn’t work hard there would be another band working harder than you. I think the eighties (1980’s) changed that with the video era!
(Apologies all around for the digression now back to the new album)
SH: Back to the motivation for wanting to do this. I’ve had people for years now asking me what Fuzz box I used in 1972 or do I remember exactly what the equipment was. I remember, mainly, pretty much everything. Yet, I thought rather than give everyone that information I thought that I would rather do a whole show based on this stuff. Next year I am dedicated to being out on the road doing my favourite Genesis pieces, songs that I loved in their day and songs that I still love now.
SH: I have noticed that some of the guys in the band and this isn’t a criticism they distance themselves from the early era and they tend to speak with more reverence for the stuff that was perhaps more singles orientated and was crafted in an era were precision was a given. As soon as you start working with click tracks and compressors and what have you, in your own studio certainly the precision improves but I like to think that the quality of the ideas we all shared was mighty. I’m still fond of it, I still love it, so I feel some sense of responsibility to bring it before the public again. That’s how I perceive it. I don’t want it to be neglected.
TEJ: Is that almost like being a guardian or caretaker of your own history?
SH: Well it’s a bit like wearing your curators cap in a museum of your own making but I don’t feel that any of those exhibits in that museum have lost any of their glory but are in need of a dusting off .I feel that certain things done at that time I realise are held in great esteem and reverence and my reverence and love of it is for he kernel of the idea each time, I did love the Mellotron and everything that it could do. For the first few months when I was in the band I wasn’t really happy working with the guys, not because of them but because we had all these stories and all these mythologies we were trying to put across and I realised that we had to be our own time machine in the sonic sense and we had to be able to cover what orchestras could do.
TEJ: Well a Mellotron is an orchestra in a box technically.
SH: An orchestra but a Frankenstein monster of disembodied parts. It could still make a beautiful noise – when it came together. Which is a contradiction as it was a kind of cold warmth that accompanied it and a string sound that are almost like an alien version of what violins and brass could do almost like a cartoon caricature version.
TEJ: On your previous Genesis Revisited in the mid nineties you jokingly refer to the Mellotron during “I Know What I Like” by having someone play a bit that detunes itself.
SH: It was a bit of an in-joke for Mellotron players.
TEJ: Yeah it sort of referenced their fragility whilst bringing up the Frankenstein version of Strings but you couldn’t use a real Mellotron on stage without the concern of it breaking down or as in that song detuning. You have recorded these new versions of the Genesis songs so you could perform them live.
SH: Yes that is the idea!
TEJ: Could you describe Genesis Revisited 2 as a sort of Love album (The Beatles album released in 2006 which included slices and mashes of other songs into each other)?
SH: I really liked the ‘Love’ album. I thought it was a brave idea to juxtapose a rhythm section from one tune to a melody from another. I have stayed more authentic to the arrangements or the spirit of the arrangements with this. I haven’t changed chords, but where there have been moments that were jams, which were refined into recordings like ‘Fly on a Windshield.’ Basically most of the time I was improvising guitar phrases and most of those guitar phrases, about 90% of them, are something that had a middle eastern flavour but also something that followed the harmonic line of the keyboard more closely.
TEJ: Yes you have kept the songs faithful in places but also there some pleasant surprises in there which we are not going to spoil by revealing them here, although with ‘Fly on a Windshield’ for example wasn’t the working title Pharaohs?
SH: Well when I say Middle Eastern I could be talking about an Egyptian influence with some of those phrases. I wanted to preserve the spirit of the thing that drew us into it in the first place and every now and again I will mention Ravel with the Moorish Spanish influence of Bolero part that part Miklós Rózsa with the Ben Hur score so there is quite a lot of Classical or Orchestral aspects but as it happens I think the Mellotron and the slight coldness of that is still a good way to go on that I don’t know if it would be improved by having the softness of an Orchestra I think it has a certain intensity with that close up slightly distorted thing with the three women in a bedroom who were recorded in 1953 (string/violin sample) the original string sounds by those three ladies.
TEJ: Whilst you remain faithful to the piece in places there were some surprising twists and turns which I will not say much more on as I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise, It could have gone in a more eastern direction as you have a rather eastern European/middle eastern theme in some of your recent solo works.
SH: Well I could’ve done that and made it longer but I thought lets keep it concise eventually I had to accept the fact that there was so much material to be addressed on this as I have taken on board many peoples suggestion as to what they regard were there favourite tracks and if it paralleled mine I did it at one point one of the guys from EMI (Records) Jason Day if your going to do this I think you should do stuff were the guitar work is absolutely crucial to it and I though oh! I was just going to do my favourite songs and the guitar parts were just a part of it but I wasn’t trying to make a guitar hero album I wanted to do something that was full of great music
TEJ: Like a tapestry?
SH: Yeah a tapestry is a good way of looking at it, so guitar is crucial but aren’t the drums or the vocals, aren’t the keyboards, aren’t all the parts crucial to it.
TEJ: And Genesis was very much that…
SH: I joined a band that was a songwriter’s collective and the idea was if you wrote a guitar part you were a writer. That was the spirit of the band that I joined. I think that ethos changed when it became a four piece. I did write a guitar part that was in the middle of ‘Ripples’ but by then the band was functioning in a different way as a different team, but I am still proud of the melody that I wrote in a way. That was another ‘Firth Of Fifth’ in a sense not in the same level of intensity but in terms of the way which the guitar line ran through it and provided a sort of cohesive bridge between the smaller chorus’s at first and then the more formal sounding chorus’s that followed the sort of consecutive thirds that were Tchaikovsky-esque keyboard treatment of the final chorus’s I felt that it created a bridge.
We have a break for some tea!