Steve Hackett provocatively refers to his new album Out of
the Tunnel’s Mouth [Wolfworks] as a “series of ambushes.”
It’s an apt description given the wildly diverse territory the
album crisscrosses and connects within each song. Throughout
the disc, listeners encounter Hackett combining genres
including rock, pop, flamenco, jazz, and fusion, as well as Turkish,
Indian, and Andalusian music.
Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth is one of
Hackett’s most ambitious albums in a
long, storied career. He was a key member
of Genesis during its classic progrock
era from 1970 to 1977, and since
1975, the British guitarist and singer-songwriter
has released 30 albums
showcasing a broad range of interests
and talents. He’s particularly proud of
his four highly-acclaimed classical
albums that find him exploring the work
of composers such as Bach, Vivaldi, and
Satie, as well as his own compositions,
in solo and orchestral settings.
The new album features a collaboration
Genesis fans have long dreamt of:
Anthony Phillips, the group’s co-founder,
key songwriter, and guitarist until his
departure in 1970, appears on two of the
new album’s tracks.
“Steve initially played me some
demos, including one with some pretty
fine, speedy 12-string guitar and I
thought, ‘What do you need me for?,’”
says Phillips. “But he pleaded with me
to come down.
“First he and his engineer and keyboardist
Roger King, put on the lovely,
gently-rolling, country-ish chorus for
‘Emerald and Ash.’ By a fortunate quirk
of fate, the Guild F212 12-string I brought
with me was tuned down a whole tone.
What would have been quite tricky in the
song’s key of Bb was suddenly much easier
using a C major fingering, with all of
those ringing open strings. The sequence
was relatively straightforward and my
part pretty much just flowed out. I also
contributed to the main vocal refrain of
‘Sleepers,’ which has a haunting, delicate,
shimmering mysteriousness about it, as
well as a beautiful melancholic theme. It
worked rather well combined with Steve’s
many other guitar parts. I spent a lovely,
lucky day in the studio contributing to a
very fine album.”
Describe what it was like to collaborate with
Anthony Phillips on the new disc.
I long wondered what it would have
been like if Ant and I had worked in
Genesis together. So, one day he showed
up at a session thinking it was a
rehearsal. Cunningly, I had an engineer
here. I said to Ant, “Why don’t you put
down some ideas? I’ll get out of the
room until you have something you’re
happy playing. The last thing you need
is another guitarist looking over your
shoulder telling you what to do or slapping
your wrists. I’ll get the hell out of
your way and let you do what you do
best.” His contributions were absolutely
gorgeous and I was thrilled. I hope to
do more with him. I felt he really
brought the material to life.
What drew you to incorporating such dramatic
twists and turns on the new album?
I love using unexpected contrasts.
The challenge is not making them too abrupt as you lead people to places they
don’t anticipate going. I love mixing genres
and having something aggressive
followed by something unashamedly romantic.
Having no formula is the way I work
best. It’s always a big shot in the dark. Out
of the Tunnel’s Mouth was my third attempt
at making a rock album in recent times.
There are two others that are unreleased
due to contractual difficulties. So, this was
my attempt to make a rock album free of
the shackles of other people’s requirements.
I think that made for a more personal album
at the end of the day. I felt I should really
indulge myself and make it exactly what I
wanted it to be.
What guitars did you use?
I used my two custom-made Fernandes
Les Paul-style electrics—a 2002 goldtop and
a black 2005 model—both of which have the
standard mahogany and maple construction,
Floyd Rose tremolos, and the Fernandes Sustainer
System, which I love. Years ago, I
figured out if you took away percussion and
decay from the instrument, you’d be left with
something closer to the violin. I was interested
in the tone of the guitar without it
being compromised by the elements that
typically characterize it. There’s also a little
bit of steel-string work on the album performed
on a black Yairi I was given in 1996.
In addition, I use a 2005 Yairi acoustic with
a deep cutaway and shallow body, because
it has a bit more snap, particularly for the
flamenco-inspired material. I also played a
Jerry Jones electric sitar guitar on “Last Train
What’s your typical signal chain these days?
I usually run my electric guitars through
some combination of a Vox V847 wah, a Digitech
Whammy pedal, a Tech 21 SansAmp
GT2 preamp, a Korg KVP-002 volume pedal,
and a Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler. From there,
we prefer to record via my Marshall 1987X
head and Marshall 1960A cabinet with a couple
of mics—but given the circumstances,
we had to do without the Marshalls, and
instead used Logic plug-ins for amp and
I find the amp-modeling universe very
interesting. I did things like record a clean
guitar for “Still Waters,” but then added distortion
after the event. And at times we tried
to emulate the Marshall amps and Eventide
compressors. I’m not driven by equipment,
though. I have a symbiotic relationship with
Roger. I’m myopic, so I can’t see what’s happening
on the screen. He’s the one who
brings up various things on the screen and
I use my ears to decide what to use and reject.
I’m purely driven by sound.
You use the Whammy a lot. What do you like
I love sticking the guitar through a fixed
wah on full bass and then using the Whammy
to take get an octave up and then the octave
above that. It creates a lovely flute-like sound.
Also, I used to use a Shaftesbury Duo Fuzz
with a two-way switch on the early Genesis
stuff to create really high harmonics. I can
get the same thing from the Whammy
because it functions as a mobile harmonizer and lets you climb and jump octaves. Recently,
I started using the ring modulator settings
too, which are a lot of fun when playing blues.
I use it live more than I used it on the album.
You can do really great, wacky things with
overtones and notes that are quite humorous—
like Donald Duck sounds.
Though you use plenty of gear, you prefer not
to rely on it as a starting point.
Your tone really depends on how you’re
physically playing the instrument—and
you can do a lot with just your fingers. I think
if you’re trying to do the same thing as
everyone else, you have to play in certain,
established ways. But if you’re looking at
the corners of the instrument that haven’t
been fully exploited yet, the key to the future
has to be in the margins. So try hitting the
guitar with something it shouldn’t be hit
with instead of using your nails, fingers, or
a bottleneck. Hit it with a mic boom or a
tremolo arm. Or don’t actually hit it at all.
Stroke the strings and caress the instrument