Continuing on from his 2004 live acoustic guitar DVD Hungarian Horizons, Hackett has blended guitar and orchestra for his current album Metamorpheus, which weaves a tale of Greek mythology with harp-like fingerstyle nylon-string guitar.
You started off as a harmonica player. What was it that attracted you to the acoustic guitar?
I still do play harmonica and I love the sound of that little instrument because it can really rip, especially with blues when it’s miked up and distorted. I heard electric guitar before I heard acoustic, and I heard Hank Marvin before I heard Segovia. But I always liked the way the guitar seemed to come alive in Segovia’s hands and the way he seemed to make it sigh. I also like his use of tonal colors, which would make any electric guitarist jealous.
I was impressed by the fingerstyle flamenco on the songs “Second Chance” and “Black Light.” Have you had formal fingerstyle or flamenco guitar lessons?
No, I haven’t had formal lessons. That doesn’t mean to say I haven’t had lessons, but it’s just the people I’ve watched haven’t realized they were giving me a lesson at the time! I’ve watched loads of people over the years and sometimes it might be just a bloke in a town square who’s doing something different that I can’t do at the time.
I guess we’re all mongrels with our technique; we pick up one thing from one place and one thing from another. I never really went through lessons and had my wrist slapped. For me, the guitar was a symbol of freedom. It wasn’t something I wanted to be graded in at school.
What’s the difference between playing a show on electric guitar and playing a show on the acoustic?
One power chord held on an electric guitar makes you sound like the god of thunder himself but when you’re playing acoustic guitar you are relying on the technique you’ve amassed. That technique will have a habit of deserting you if you’re slightly nervous. Luckily, some of us are sufficiently good actors to show no chinks in the armor when we’re dying a death! Look for the odd bead of sweat that might be coming out on the performer’s forehead—that’s the telltale [laughs]!
Your current album, Metamorpheus has the theme of Greek mythology. What was it about the tale of Orpheus you wanted to communicate through a mixture of fingerstyle guitar and orchestra?
In some ways it paralleled some of the stuff that was going on in my own life and my own feelings about music. To some extent you could say that Orpheus is conquering his fears and all he’s got to do it with is music. It also brings in the idea of the healing power of music and what music is capable of. I guess the subtext is every musician’s life. That’s what we’re hoping for at the end of the day. We’re all hoping that our music will raise the dead or, if not that, then at least make people feel better.