Steve Hackett revisits past and explores future on current tour

TINA KORHONEN

Steve Hackett performs at the Victoria Theater at NJPAC in Newark, Feb. 17.

“Genesis Revisited and Classic Hackett” is the rather broad theme of Steve Hackett‘s current tour, which comes to NJPAC in Newark on Feb. 17. On it, the legendary guitarist will perform songs from his years in Genesis (1971-1977), with a focus on the Wind & Wuthering album. The “Classic Hackett” means there will also be songs from his long solo career, and he will also preview a few tracks from his upcoming album The Night Siren, which blends together a lot of different sounds from various world music traditions, and which he sees, lyrically and musically, as a “wake-up call … in this era of strife and division” (it’s due out on March 24).

Joining him on the tour are keyboardist Roger King, drummer Gary O’Toole, saxophonist and flutist Rob Townsend, bassist Nick Beggs and singer Nad Sylvan.

I talked to Hackett, 67, by phone, recently.

Q: I know you have an album coming out in March. Will you be playing some of it at the show?

A: Yeah, there will be stuff from the new album. There will be a bunch of solo things. And then we usually take a break, and come back with Genesis stuff. We’ll be celebrating the 40th anniversary of Wind & Wuthering, the last album I did with the band. It’s a little bit like two shows in one, in a way. We become a different band, halfway through.

Q: Since that was your last album (with Genesis), do you have mixed feelings about it?

A: I’m very proud of the album, so I wouldn’t say I had any problems with it. I just felt the need to work as a solo artist. I had an album (Voyage of the Acolyte) that did well, on its own merits, and it made it more difficult to be a band member. I was accused of not giving everything to the band. And I thought, “Well, actually that’s not true. I’m giving everything to the band that I possibly can.” But it’s got to be a two-way street.

Of course, everyone had very successful solo careers. But we had to lose two band member to prove that it was possible keep the band on the rails and have separate careers. Solo albums were considered to be divisive. But actually I think it’s the most healing thing that any band can do.

Q: Every so often, you hear about a possible Genesis reunion. Would that ever happen? Could that ever happen?

A: Well, it’s been a long time coming, hasn’t it? I appreciate that people’s hearts … they would love to see that happen. But all the indications have shown me that I don’t think there’s sufficient interest, within the ranks of the band, to allow that to happen. Meanwhile, I try to honor the music we did. I think my band does a very faithful, authentic rendition of that stuff. I’m still proud of it, and I love playing it live.

I don’t have a problem with that. I don’t feel as though I’m compromising at all to do Genesis material.

Q: When you do the Wind &  Wuthering stuff live, do you do all the vocals?

A: No. Live, with the Genesis stuff, the Swedish-American singer Nad Sylvan does the stuff that Peter Gabriel did. And the stuff that Phil Collins did, Gary (O’Toole), on drums, does that. And occasionally we do harmonies.

I sing my own stuff, but it’s a different kind of voice. My voice is pitched differently. So in the main, I’m happy, when I do Genesis stuff live, to just be the guitarist, as I once was.

The cover of Steve Hackett’s upcoming album, “The Night Siren.”

Q: The new album seems to have a political theme, with lots of musicians from lots of different countries on it. Is this a statement you’ve wanted to make for a while, or is it a reaction to recent world events?

A: I think it is a reaction to recent world events. Politics has failed the world, at this point in time. The politics of extremism isn’t healing the rifts between people, but I think the polyphony of music can bridge the gap. I have musicians from all over the world on the album. We have Israeli working with Palestinian, we have people from Iceland, from Hungary, from the States, from England, from Azerbaijan. So in a sense, it’s a world music album.

Q: After it comes out, will you do shows that will focus more on the album, maybe with some of those musicians?

A: Well, if promoters will allow me to do that. But ever since I’ve been doing “Genesis Revisited,” I’m contractually obliged to do a certain amount of Genesis work, whether I have a hit album or not. Promoters say, “Can we have Genesis in the title?” I could pass it off and say, “Here’s another Genesis album. It’s called The Night Siren.” One could bend the rules. But I normal reserve the title “Revisited” for all the things I do with Genesis.

Yes, it would be nice to do that. I do a ton of solo things as well, and a ton of Genesis things. I think I will be doing more of it in the future, this particular album. But we’ll be doing three songs from the new album (at NJPAC).

Q: Genesis got in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a few years back, now, and Yes is going in this year. Do you feel that kind of recognition for progressive-rock in general is overdue?

A: Well, I think progressive music is music without rules. To some people, progressive music is impenetrable time signatures, and Hammond organs and mellotrons. But I don’t see it that way. I think Miles Davis belongs to progressive as much as … I’m trying to think of a contemporary composer. But I think every style of music is worth looking at, and saying, “I wonder if I can borrow something from this. Can I work with these musicians — people who might improvise in a different style.”

I just have to keep a very open mind, and I love working with people from all over the place, no matter what their particular skill is. It’s wonderful to work with (drummer) Nick D’Virgilio, who was working in the States, sending his stuff over from Miami. And it was equally wonderful working in Sardinia with an Icelandic drummer called Gulli Breim, who happens to make brilliant albums in his own right. So these guys are very gifted, and they’re very good singers, and writers. It’s just great to have so many different, very talented people on The Night Siren.

If there is a theme with the album, it’s unity. It’s where the album really pitches its tent. I’m trying to embrace as many musical styles as possible, and still keep it in the rock framework. Unity is where I’m headed with this. 

Q: Well, we could certainly all use that message right now, in The States.

A: Yeah, absolutely. A lot of people are worried. And we’ve got to come together. We’ve got to be better than our leaders, I think.

Hackett performs at the Victoria Theater at NJPAC, Feb. 17 at 8 p.m.; visit njpac.org.

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