Steve Hackett recently released Live Rails, featuring his new touring band performing songs from throughout his solo career along with a few staples from the Genesis catalog. In this email interview, he offers a few insights into the album and other topics. Hackett also provided streaming audio for "Fire on the Moon" and "Los Endos."
You’ve released a number of live albums previously. What motivated you to capture and release these particular performances, and in what ways do they differ from those on the other live recordings?
I felt that my current band has capabilities beyond those available in the past. For a start there are a number of fine singers plus we cover combined guitar work and Chapman Stick with Amanda and Nick. The Genesis songs work well with Gary singing. The harmony vocals are really important to me. Live Rails is from a combination of stand-out live performances.
The band features a second guitarist and vocalist, Amanda Lehmann, who also contributed to your last studio album. Why did you choose her for those roles, and what specifically does she bring to interpreting your material, guitar-wise, in a live setting?
It's great to have a girl singer breaking into this boys' club at long last, plus she's also a hell of an electric guitarist... An unusual feature in a female performer. We can explore interesting harmonies both vocally and instrumentally. It's great to have the addition of two stunning blonds in the band as well! [For more information on the band visit Hackett Live.]
How did you select the material for the album, and was it fun merging bits of various pieces together into medleys, such as on “Los Endos”?
I always select live material emotionally. For instance, if I perform a song from the early seventies it still has to have that emotional resonance I felt when it was new. "Los Endos" is a rearrangement that cuts to the chase. I'm particularly thrilled that the new pieces have been accepted by audiences in a similar way to the old classics.
You list your primary gear on the Guitars & Equipment page on your Web site. Do you consider anything essential when translating the sounds you achieve in the studio to live performance?
There are certain favorite toys. Do you renounce Satan and all his stomp boxes? Not in this case! The Sans Amp, Pete Cornish, and Iron Boos Pedal are essential.
On the Guitars & Equipment page you also mention that you use “a Zoom 9050 unit for some of the more extreme effects.” Provide a few examples.
The material on Live Rails doesn't feature as much zoom stuff. The DigiTech Whammy Pedal has largely superseded it. From past tracks, "Mechanical Bride" from To Watch the Storms album used the zoom extensively.
You’ve made extensive use of the Fernandes Sustainer over the years. Describe the ways in which you have had to modify your playing to adapt to both the possibilities and the limitations inherent in the device.
Some guitarists mute naturally by resting their hand on the bridge between phrases. You have to do this if you're using the Sustainer pick-up, especially in high harmonic mode. It can run away with you, but it's the nearest thing to playing through the whirlwind of feedback so familiar to Hendrix fans, with the benefit of achieving the same effect at low volume.
The Floyd Rose appears to be your vibrato of choice. Why?
I find it the most durable of all the systems I've tried.
You were one of the first rock guitarists to employ tapping. Did you ever imagine at the time that it would become such a huge part of late 20th Century rock guitar playing?
I am the inventor of that technique, which allows you to play extraordinarily fast whilst on one string. I first used it extensively on Genesis' Nusery Cryme in 1971. I demonstrated the technique. Van Halen gave it its generic title. It enabled the guitar to be played like a keyboard.
Do you pay attention to any of the modern “progressive rock” bands, and if so, what do you make of them?
I've got plenty of time for Muse, Porcupine Tree, Magenta, and Elbow amongst others, plus I really enjoy Joe Bonamassa's work, although I realize he is currently described as a blues player. I like to keep an ear out for new talent.
Is there anything important regarding the new album that I’ve neglected to ask you about?
I'm really proud of Live Rails. I feel it's my best live album to date. It covers so many styles and eras, yet remains true to the spirit of my approach to music. I believe in both collision and cohesiveness.
Steve Hackett: Two Tracks From Live Rails by Guitar Player Magazine