By James Wood
You could call Steve Hackett’s new album, Wolflight, a rock record, but it’s so much more than that.
Besides its healthy doses of rock, R&B and jazz, the album, which will be released April 7, reveals the Influence of 19th-century composers and features some unusual instrumentation, not to mention a healthy dose of Hackett’s inspired guitar work.
“Love Story to a Vampire” uses tension to describe an unresolved domestic drama, while “The Wheel’s Turning” finds Hackett recalling nostalgic childhood memories.
Musicians on Wolflight include Hackett’s longtime collaborators Roger King (keyboards), Gary O’Toole (drums) and Nick Beggs (bass), along with Yes bassist (and Squackett bandmate) Chris Squire on “Love Song to a Vampire” and drummer Hugo Dagenhardt on “Dust and Dreams.”
I recently spoke with Hackett about Wolflight and Genesis, as well as his plans to celebrate the 40th anniversary of his first solo album, Voyage of the Acolyte.
GUITAR AFICIONADO: It’s been nearly four years since your last solo album, Beyond the Shrouded Horizon. Why such a long wait?
For the past few years, I've been actively involved in bringing back to the viewing public the Genesis dream that was. It's taken up so much of my time that I had to put new stuff on hold for quite a while. The effect of that allowed me to concentrate my mind on what it was I’d like to do outside the confines of Genesis. I think that helped create a more broad based album than before.
What can you tell me about Wolflight?
Although the influence of world music is very strong, it’s essentially a rock album. Having said that, there are many guest appearances of things that go well beyond just the guitar, bass and drums. There's a fair amount of orchestra; instruments such as the tar [from Azerbaijan], in this case played by Malik Mansurov, who kicks off the title track.
We've also got some duduk played by Rob Townsend, who normally plays sax with me as well as whistles and flutes. Along with Malik, we've twinned the tar with a digeridoo, which is played by Sara Kovacs. All of this is in addition to electric and acoustic guitars. I really wanted to mix things up and felt the genres that normally don't get mentioned would be rich seas to plunder. There are even moments where there are hints of flamenco and French chanson as well as rock, pop, blues and jazz.
Why the title, "Wolflight"?
It's really an idea from Homer. In The Odyssey, he talks about Odysseus waking up in the Wolflight, the hour before the dawn when it's still dark but the light is just starting to change. It's a time when wolves like to hunt. I had spent some time with wolves and their friendship and kinship with earlier man became a totem for this album.
I'd like to ask you a little about your writing process. What inspires you?
A lot of this album was done on paper, much of it written in the early morning hours. It’s a time when I've still got one foot in the land of dreams. I find that to be a very creative time. That's part of the process. I'm also a fan of other genres of music. So that means I'll be listening to things like Tchaikovsky and Grieg. You can hear those influences on this album as well.
Let’s discuss a few selections from Wolflight, starting with “Love Story to a Vampire."
I had the idea for the lyric but no music. It was originally going to be a blues song, but I knew I had to think of it in another way. At the time, I was listening to a lot of music. Everything from the Bellamy Brothers to Grieg to the Carpenters. At the end of the day, it's a song that tells a story, almost like a ballet with ghostly voices fading in the distance at the end. I was also thinking of vampires as being a great metaphor for abusive relationships.
“The Wheel’s Turning”
I'm proud of that one. The whole thing was a hugely nostalgic trip down memory lane. I thought about the time when I worked at Fun Fair in a place called Battersea in London. I used to live opposite the Battersea Power Station, which was made famous internationally by Pink Floyd with the flying pig on the front of their album, Animals. That was the view from my bedroom window when I was a child. I wanted to get across the idea of how great it was. How frightening it was to go to the Fun Fair and then how great it became when I eventually got to work there as a kid.
What are you current tour plans?
We've got some European shows coming in September as well as some American dates in November. In addition to Wolflilght, we're going to be celebrating the 40th anniversary of my first solo record, Voyage of the Acolyte. We’ve also had a lot of people asking about adding some Genesis songs into the sets as well. It will be a mixture of everything and billed as the total experience!
Speaking of “Voyage of the Acolyte, what made you decide to separate from Genesis and make a solo album?
When I first did Acolyte, the band's future was looking extremely iffy. You have to remember Peter Gabriel was leaving and no one really knew if the band was going to survive the loss of its lead singer. A number of us had already been working on our own projects at the time. For me, it was the beginning of starting to fend for myself. Of course, I did have the help of Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford on that album. But I enjoyed the process very much and liked working without relying on the "composition by committee" aspect. I found it much easier to get my ideas through without having to do any political tap dance.
Do you think that experience played a role in your desire to eventually leave the band a few years later?
Oh yes. At the time, I felt like my role in the band was becoming marginalized and if I really wanted to maintain my self-respect, the only way forward was to stretch out on my own.
Form more about Hackett, visit hackettsongs.com.
Photo: Tina KorhonenJames Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.