Former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett was never totally satisfied with the sound of the band's output during his time with the group in the Seventies. "Those songs were recorded very, very quickly between gigs," he says. "It was really just a brush with the studio, rather than a full portrait."
Back in 1996, Hackett went into the studio and recut nine Genesis songs for the project Watcher of the Skies: Genesis Revisited. This year he tackled 21 more for his new double disc Genesis Revisited II, which is available now. Unlike the original Genesis Revisited, this time Hackett stuck extremely close to the original arrangements of the songs. A wide variety of guest singers were brought in, including John Wetton (King Crimson, Asia), Steve Wilson (Porcupine Tree), Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth) and even Phil Collins' son Simon Collins.
Hackett is taking the album on a world tour over the next year. We spoke with him about the new album, why the Peter Gabriel-era lineup has never reformed for a tour and what band relations are like these days.
Can you start off by telling me why you decided to go back and re-record these songs?
First off, I thought they were great songs and I absolutely loved them. I didn't, however, think that the execution of them was up to the power of the ideas that conceived them in the first place. I also wanted to enlarge the original recordings, so in some cases I brought in an orchestra. I also wanted to bring in a generation of singers that grew up on this stuff and see what they could do with it. Every day fans email and ask questions like, "What kind of fuzz box did you use on the original?" This is my answer to them. It's not about the kit. It's about who's driving it.
I know you were never happy about how low the guitar was mixed on lots of those albums.
It's true. It was a struggle to get the guitar heard at a decent level in those days. It was a very competitive band, and sometimes, you know, the drums could have been louder. We recorded in the days before people were focused on the idea of compression, which is what this is. I wanted to to give it everything that I wanted to do in the first place.
There were lots of missing guitar parts. I wanted to do three-part harmony at the end of "The Musical Box." That was something that originally influenced Brian May. Then you've got the tapping solo on Nursery Cryme, which influenced Eddie Van Halen. It's seminal material.
I also had the desire to bring these songs on tour. Whether the album is more important than the tour depends on your perspective.
On your last Genesis Revisited collection you reinterpreted a lot of the material. This time around you stuck pretty closely to the originals.
I wanted to go for authenticity. There's no point messing with people's childhoods. I really wanted to be able to engage with those fans that loved it at one time and engage with new ones without trying to please, perhaps, a jazz audience.
A song like "Supper's Ready" is seen as this holy thing by so many fans. I guess it didn't make much sense to mess with that.
Right. I didn't change that one too much. We changed the key to facilitate the singers, so we had to drop it a tone for the majority of the song. But that was something we did in 1976 when Phil Collins took over on vocals. It's right at the top of what Peter Gabriel was capable of hitting. Back in 1972, that was pretty damn high.
On that particular song we decided to use a bunch of different vocals, including Phil's son Simon. Classic Rock magazine recently named it their favorite progressive rock song of all-time. Many of the vocalists I spoke to felt that Peter was a tough act to follow, never mind Phil Collins, who is also a hard act to follow. So I felt this would throw the heat off any one particular singer, so we sorted it out between singers.
What's the tour going to be like in support of this? All Genesis songs?
All Genesis songs. We're kicking it off here in England and the tickets are going like wildfire. I'm playing substantially larger venues than I've been doing for some time. I'm thinking at this point in time that America will be on the agenda for next year. I want to do a production, and costs are increased in the States in terms of transport and all that, but I hope to get there next year.
It was 30 years ago this month that you last played with Genesis at the Womad reunion concert. What are your memories of that day?
I was in South America, and when I heard about the reunion concert with Peter Gabriel I got on a plane immediately and joined them just in time for the two encores. There was a lot of talent on that stage, and it was very emotional. It absolutely poured from beginning to end. The audience was drenched, but it was a wonderful memory.
They didn't film it, which is a huge bummer.
No. In their wisdom, they didn't film it. These are the kind of corporate decisions that hold a band back. Sometimes a band tries to agree to something and you end up just canceling. One says black when the other says blue. That's why there's been no reformation of Genesis from that period since that night. That's the reason I'm doing it, and I'm taking a lead out of Mr. Sinatra's playbook. I'm doing it my way this time.
The five of you sat down in 2004 to talk about a project. What was discussed at that meeting?
We discussed the possibility of performing The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway live, and also the possibility of doing it as a musical. The idea of doing the musical was rejected by the band. I'm not going to name names, but one person employed the power of veto, and you need everyone's say when a musical is co-written. It's part of the way the law is set up. I think that Pete lost interest right then and there, so the idea of coming together and doing that was kind of killed stone dead at at that point.
Peter hasn't sung a Genesis song at his solo shows in over 30 years, and the band has completely broken up. You're the only guy out there keeping that music alive.
There are 50 different tribute band throughout the world doing this material, and by next week there will probably be 100. So the music refuses to die. I certainly feel a sense of pride, but also some sense of responsibility towards it. I'm still very much in love with those songs. I think they deserve to be presented in a way that they perhaps have not been before.
They are great songs. They are eccentric as they come. They're weird and wonderful. They take people places. They are examples of a musical continuum, a journey. I don't just mean "Supper's Ready," but the whole second side of Wind and Wuthering. I've covered practically that whole thing. These two albums are both in excess of 73 minutes each. That's creating all sorts of ramifications, but it's wonderful for the fans.
Do you hold out any hope that one day the Peter Gabriel lineup will reform for a tour?
I would say it's possible, but highly improbable. I've always been open to it. I'm not the guy who says no.
It's interesting that these songs are so much popular now than they were when they came out
It's got the Citizen Kane effect, in a way. That wasn't considered a classic movie when it first appeared, but over time it's hailed as a standard. That's where the similarities end, but Genesis was a slow burn. It took a long time to get people used to the idea. We had no idea that this material would last as long and be held in such a deep affection by both fans and musicians.
The last time that Peter Gabriel sang a single Genesis song in public was when he joined you at one of your solo shows in 1983.
That was in Milford, England at a charity show for a children's hospital. Mike [Rutherford] and Peter joined for the encores. We didn't rehearse anything. I said to Pete beforehand, "Would you like to do a Genesis song as an encore?" He said, "No, no, no. I don't think that's a good idea." So we did the Four Tops' "Reach Out (I'll Be There).'" Then, of course, the crowd wanted more. Peter turns to me and the rest of my band and says, "Should we do 'I Know What I Like?'" We hadn't rehearsed it, but we winged it. The band clearly didn't know it, but the audience did, so it was a sing-along.
He always talks about doing "Carpet Crawlers," and even said he thought about doing "Supper's Ready" in 2002, but it's crazy to think since that night he's totally abandoned all those songs.
Well, either it was a great way to go out, or we did such a terrible version he never wanted to do it again. It's funny. He has distanced himself from those songs. We did re-record a version of "Carpet Crawlers" in the studio in 1999, though.
You saw Mike and Tony [Banks] at the Prog Rock awards a few weeks ago. How was that? Are they supportive of this project?
We didn't talk about what I'm doing. I mean, Genesis is a very competive band. The conversations we have are the following: I get to compliment Tony on what he's doing, and Mike on what he's doing. That's the way it goes. And the rest of it is in ellipses as far as I'm concerned, but I realized there's a certain amount of stiff-upper-lip, British style, and a tremendous amount of competition. I'm much looser than that. If I like something that someone's done, I'll tell them.
So you praise their work and they don't praise what you're doing?
Yeah, it's a different vibe. I don't remember any compliments being passed at all. Hell, when Mike did Smallcreep's Day before he had Mike and the Mechanics, I called up him and said it sounded like a great album. I remember Chester Thompson loving it, too. I think some people feel more comfortable with passing compliments than others. They did say, years ago, how much they enjoyed Spectral Mornings and Please Don't Touch and Voyage of the Acolyte. Those were various things that could have been used for Genesis at the time, but since then nobody wants to be quoted . . . you know what I mean.
I imagine that Phil's retirement and his injuries would make any sort of reunion tour difficult, too.
Yeah, I don't know about that. I spoke to Phil at a recent awards ceremony. I don't think he was feeling very well, and he left before the end. But it's always warm when I see him. When we see each other we talk. But there's always the great unspoken, the elephant in the room. So it's weird. It's competitive. It's Genesis.