MWE3 Feature Story
conducted by Eric Paulos
for mwe3.com  



MWE3.COM PRESENTS


An Interview With Progressive Rock Guitar Hero
STEVE HACKETT


 

 

Continued From Home Page


THE NIGHT SIREN
mwe3.com presents an interview with
STEVE HACKETT
interview written and produced by
Eric Paulos for mwe3.com


On March 24, 2017, Steve Hackett unleashed the latest of his album masterpieces, and this one is a stunner! After hearing Wolflight in 2015, I thought I heard the best album Steve released since To Watch The Storms or possibly the best album that Steve has recorded, but this album is actually better! The Night Siren is an album built around a concept of embracing diverse cultures, sounding the bell of hope in tolerance, in both the social and instrumental sense. Steve took a year to assemble the tracks for this album, sending and receiving music files from people all over the world and often traveling the world for inspiration. This material is fresh, bold, bombastic at times, and extremely tender at other times. Steve's formula melds medieval, classical, exotic instrumentation and musical programming, with an amazing display of guitar chops within a variety of various styles. Whether this album is classified as progressive rock, cinematic heavy metal, alternative, or ambient soundscapes with beautiful vocals, the material is laid down here in a memorable format. The material can move from barely a whisper to an all-out sonic assault in seconds, and after my first listen, I was left with the feeling that I had traveled the world. An album with a very cohesive theme and much more powerful when heard entirely in one sitting, The Night Siren is like taking that feeling from Led Zeppelin's “Kashmir”, but here you have an entire album that brings pieces of the entire world into a rock and roll CD.
On March 21st, 2017, Music Web Express 3000 spoke with Steve Hackett, who was kind enough to take time during a short break of his world tour to chat with us. Steve is a rare and remarkable individual who works endlessly and tirelessly to advance his ever-evolving musical imprint, and never before has that point become more self-evident than in this highly ambitious release, The Night Siren. Aside from Steve's vast musical vocabulary and restless mind for developing new musical ideas and textures, Steve is at once an amiable, musical conversationalist. We have had the pleasure of interviewing Steve Hackett several times in the past, and at all times, we were amazed at the ease and personal hospitality that Steve demonstrates in answering our many questions. In this sitdown, Steve takes us for a walk through his philosophy behind the creation of his latest album, marking his 25th solo release, and revealing the methods behind the production of The Night Siren and some further background on many of his other remarkable past projects. The album invokes a broad spectrum of musical influences that incorporates a multitude of cultural styles, and including real and virtual bowed instruments that achieves a concept that Steve describes as "infinite bass." Steve's statement, which is bluntly political along with the promotion of multicultural diversity, is written as a plea for the world to love one another instead of fighting one another. Steve’s political views may come across as direct and possibly challenging for some of Steve’s fans that have alternative political views, but in the sense that everyone would love to see a world that advanced beyond its fears and violence on both sides, the album makes a bold and fine statement. Steve discusses how he brought in players from around the world to add Middle Eastern, Arab, Israeli, Celtic, Peruvian, Tibetan, Turkish and European flavors to the selections.


The Night Siren Interview

Music Web Express 3000 caught up with Steve Hackett on March 22, 2017!

MWE3:
I’m very honored to talk to you and I want to congratulate you on this stunning album, The Night Siren. The first time I listened to it, I spent an hour with the album and I felt like I took around the entire world!

SH: Well that’s pretty much how this fits together. There were several journeys around the world to pull it off really… extraordinarily of course, but the journey goes beyond that. These days I’m starting to think that it’s about the journey of mankind.

MWE3: Yes, absolutely!

SH: It’s part of that. I’m concerned about that as many people are. I’m just trying to make a difference, in a way, with the idea of peace and cooperation, getting Israel working with Palestine, and trying to get the idea across that we’re all related and extended family, and get rid of the idea of suspicion, infidels, foreigners and Sassenachs, and all the prejudices. Take away all of that and being musical migrants and travel and make friends everywhere and try and turn people on to the idea of fellowship, friendship, multicultural diversity, call it what you will, but just say hi to your neighbor from time to time.

MWE3: You know, it’s wonderful what you’re doing and musically there are so many original and unique concepts. There’s a lot to go over, but The Night Siren struck me as being a response to the troubled times, possibly since the early 21st century. What things disturb you most about living in 2017 and what do you make of the shift to the right after the Brexit vote to leave the EU and what do you think precipitated that?

SH: Yeah, frankly horrified, because when it came to the vote, I tweeted at the time “Instead of leaving Europe, I feel we should lead Europe, in the interest of world peace and economic prosperity.” I think that was my take on it. I know I’m not the only musician to feel that way, Brian Eno put it very articulately recently with something that was published in The Guardian, and I believe that’s online to be read, with its corrections strong enough. (Article https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/jan/27/brian-eno-donald-trump-is-a-complete-disaster) First of all, Richard Branson said on the day that the news came in that we were about to pull away, he said “Well that’s 3,000 jobs I’ll have to lay off myself straight away.” So that was it and I thought there would be a response and people would not go passively to the slaughter quite so readily.

MWE3: That’s a shame.

SH: Let’s think of this... maybe I’ve used too many long words like 'multicultural diversity…'

MWE3: (Laughter)

SH: I think pro-choice when it comes to dining out, for instance. What’s the most successful food in the world? Probably pizza, you know, but the English didn’t invent it nor the Americans. It was the Italians, wasn’t it? No, it maybe it was the Berg Men, or the Etruscans! So you’ve got to look a little further afield, wouldn’t you, for some of this stuff, but imagine a world without pizza! It’s strange, isn’t it, walls are going up everywhere, and I think it might be a British term, “Scapegoat,” but it means basically finding someone to blame. “All those guys, they were there, let’s blame them!” I remember Mel Brooks, when I was in New York for the first time. Ed Goodgold, who was the American manager for Genesis at the time, made us sit down and listen to Mel Brooks’ 2000 Year Old Man.

MWE3: (Laughter)

SH: They asked the 2000 year old man, “What was the first national anthem?,” and he said “God Bless All Those In Cave 13 And To Hell With All The Rest!”

MWE3: (Laughter) So that’s where you got that!

SH: Yeah, I know that I coined that at this certain time, because you can say more in jest than you can by beating people over the head!

MWE3: Sure, and you can say more with music, because music is the universal language.

SH: Yeah, exactly, music is the universal language and we get a chance to be ambassadors of peace! We get a chance to show our wares.

MWE3: Steve, does this go entirely back to Brexit? Because over here, we had November 8th. Do you think that your concerns go back further in time?

SH: Yes, I think my concerns go back further in time, and I think that the rise of the right has happened practically by stealth. I think that the people have seen that the freedoms that were hard won like the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s... it’s very easy for things to get to the point where, I remember seeing T.V. and seeing students get shot for peaceful protest in America at Kent State, Berkeley and all that stuff going on. I just saw in London over the summer, Victoria and Albert Museum had a wonderful '60s retrospective, where first you had the music with the leading lights of the time, and then you went into another room and it dealt with the civil rights issues, the rights of African-Americans and women’s rights, the idea of equality and peace, the monk who sets himself on fire, and you’d watch a film of it, about the life and death of the man, and you realize that he wasn’t freaked out... This was a peaceful protest where he turned himself into a human sacrifice because he didn’t want to part of this world. Whatever you make of it, I realize that all those hard won freedoms can be lost overnight. And I’m quite sure that if Hitler were standing for election today, I’ve no doubt that he would be elected in so many countries because that’s what’s going on.

So I think it’s the job of media, artists of all descriptions, and anyone who can see that we’re just going on the fast track to hell at the moment. I’m so much a fan of the judiciary, the last bastion that can prevent narcissism from running riot into politics. We’ve all got to be on our mettle here and anyone who’s got any feelings whatsoever, we need to have a voice and we’ve got to be effective. I’ve watched a tremendous amount of T.V. recently and there’s never been a time like it in my lifetime. And the things that are going on here, we’re witnessing the breakup of Europe, so yeah, we’re all going back to the cave and the trenches. That’s what’s happening, everyone’s being classified as economic migrants, infidels, any kind of insult that can be hurled is being thrown around at the moment. They’re herding them up in Hungary, and what happens once you start arresting that many people, then you find that you’ve got no place to put them and then you get the final solution like “Oh yeah, well it worked all right for Hitler” because he managed to dispense with so many millions, or you get a situation like Stalin and eventually you do away with so many people that your wife kills herself. That’s reality. I don’t know if there will be enough time to outgrow our politics, there ought to be, but unless you’re listening to everyone, you’re not really getting the full picture, so yes, I’m deeply troubled by the agendas of those who really haven’t thought it through.

MWE3: Very well put Steve.

SH: Well I’m trying in the face of not having been terribly articulate in this area and I feel at this time that the record has its voice at least with two songs, one which addresses the refugee situation and the fact that I came from a refugee family myself.

MWE3: You’re from Hungary?

SH: Not from Hungary, from Poland. We’re talking just over a hundred years ago, on my mother’s side, Polish refugees allowed into England, and same for my wife’s family. Her father’s family were Polish-Jewish refugees, who fled from religious persecution. I was saying to American audiences when I was touring there that without all of that, and those people being let into England, I wouldn’t be here to play for you now. We will see what happens but we live in deeply troubling times.

MWE3: I’ll say we do! So you’re on a three week break, so you’re in the eye of the hurricane, actually able to sit for fifteen minutes before your yearlong tours! How is the new tour going?

SH: Well it went very, very well in America with the Caribbean Cruise To The Edge Tour. That was wonderful with great responses to both new and old material, and celebrating Wind And Wuthering’s fortieth anniversary.

MWE3: Yes!

SH: We culminated in a show in Buffalo with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra which was an unforgettable moment and totally sublime as far as I was concerned. I was thrilled to do that and I’d like to more of it in the future. I love working with orchestras, and would like to incorporate it into some new album material.

MWE3: Speaking of orchestras, in your past two albums, Wolflight, and to more of a degree in The Night Siren, these albums have deep orchestral roots and what occurred to me from listening to your catalog is did you learn a lot from your A Midsummer Night’s Dream album?

SH: I think I did. I was lucky to work with a great orchestra then with the Royal Philharmonic. It’s difficult to describe recording that album but I was trying to write something that was program music, music that tells a story, and I wondered if I could come up with even that amount of music for the orchestra, and although it follows my classical guitar influences, nonetheless, it’s a bit like I liked most of all when I stop and the orchestra takes it, because then you get to hear the ideas and what can be done when a great team plays it, so it’s a lovely combination. I’ve heard it many times before by people who have written wonderful things for that combination or music that’s arranged for that combination of nylon Spanish classical guitar, whatever you call it, and orchestra, and it’s a very warm, romantic, heavenly sound. You can do a lot with that.

MWE3: Was it Bay Of Kings where you first played mainly acoustic guitar? In the introduction to one of the tunes on your Night Siren album, on the “Anything But Love” track, you kind of lay out a parfait of really nice nylon string technique. You’ve got flamenco with the nice rasgueados, tremolandos, right-hand arpeggios, and correct me if I am wrong, a touch of the same tension /release dynamics I’ve heard in some of Julian Bream’s playing. Are you a fan of Julian Bream’s playing?

SH: Yeah, and funny enough, the first recording I ever heard of Concierto D’Aranjuez was his.

MWE3: Ah, Rodrigo!

SH: Yeah, Rodrigo, and the first thing I heard, was when a friend played me the Adagio movement, the most famous movement, and I just got caught, I fell in love with that. I saw Julian Bream on T.V. playing an unaccompanied version at one point, and I was marveling at the sounds that could be garnered from six strings and there’s a moment in it for me that conjured a thousand fountains and I thought “This is it, thousand fountains rising! Unbelievably beautiful!” So nylon is an extraordinary thing, and of course you can use it percussively, so on “Anything But Love,” it’s really the percussive side of it, the flamenco side of it that I was trying to explore.

MWE3: Yeah, it was great listening to these pull-offs and all of this great stuff, it was combination of techniques.

SH: You know, the funny thing is that I don’t have any theory as regards this. I’ve heard the expression spoken of before, “rasgueados” is it?

MWE3: Yeah, that’s where you flip out your fingers and that’s the percussive sound, not slapping, but kicking out your fingers across the strings.

SH: I didn’t know that word, and someone said it to me the other day, and I’m just doing it all instinctively and talking to Gypsy players about this stuff. How do you spell it again?

MWE3: (Laughter) To tell you the truth, I had to listen to a pronunciation of it before I could say it. I thought “I’ve got to learn what to call that,” so I looked it up.

SH: Yeah, exactly. It’s a very good word and it’s a very good technique and it’s what drives the rhythms and they’re quite difficult to pull off, aren’t they? Consistently?

MWE3: As much as I love the classical guitar guys, the flamenco guys are the craziest!

SH: They are the greatest guitar rhythm players in the world. That’s my take on it. The flamenco players… that is acoustic guitar at its most exciting!

MWE3: Sure, that’s wonderful and I really value the amount of dedication and commitment that you devote to nylon string playing within your total musical performance. I mean it’s great and I really appreciate how much that you really brought it to the forefront and kept it exciting.

SH: I started incorporating it into Genesis stuff in 1973 with Selling England By The Pound a little bit towards the end. Then I think that once I got over that thing about hiring the guitar and acquiring one, I remember I was doing Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and Peter Gabriel walked in as I was practicing and he said “That music with the nylon guitar always reminds me of beautiful ladies” (laughter), so that’s it. (laughter).

MWE3: (Laughter) That’s so funny! Well, I’ve got to tell you and going from the sublime to something else, something that I rarely hear celebrated about you is your harmonica skills! I was just listening to your blues album last night Blues With A Feeling last night…

SH: Oh yeah! Right! Thank you! It is a passion. That is for many years, what I did before guitar. It was harmonica.

MWE3: If guitar ever fell out of favor and you needed a job, I haven’t heard anybody play harp like you since maybe Jack Bruce and I think that you take it beyond!

SH: Well I’ll tell you, I was a huge Paul Butterfield fan and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. There were several great albums.

MWE3: "Blues With A Feeling", "Born In Chicago" those were great tunes!

SH: Oh yeah! Those were tunes that I got from him, and then of course that’s Little Walter’s work and so many people. I think that Little Walter was the first of the amplified harmonica players coming to prominence and developing that sound in 1954 or ’55.

MWE3: Yeah, sort of the highly distorted harmonica sound.

SH: Yeah, that’s right, I believe on the sleeve notes on one of the retrospectives it said “He was tired of being drowned out by the guitar players so he mic’d it up and amped it up and a whole new instrument was born!” A great, great sound. It’s all about getting the sound right. It is a very versatile instrument in terms of tune, whether it’s acoustic or electric and I got to spend some time with the late, great Larry Adler. And I saw him sit down in the same room and he’s playing "Rhapsody In Blue" with left hand picking out the notes on the piano and the right hand playing the top line on the harmonica. You can’t fault that, it’s so beautiful. He was a great player, and he was showing me how to get octaves. I was learning something every day. He didn’t like blues harp, himself, he said that he avoided blues harp because he didn’t want to play an instrument with missing notes. And I thought that there was not point to talk the master into Less is More or The Joys of What You Can Do With Vibrato with all of that.

MWE3: You’ve taken the best of these teachers, but it’s something that I almost never hear associated with your playing and it sort of jumped out at me!

SH: Yeah, I’m a little bit of a closet bluesman, really.

MWE3: Yeah, I get that, and you’re a little bit of a fan of Eric Clapton I would say.

SH: Oh absolutely, and with "Anything But Love", you get that sort of thing, but a couple of the solos on the album I think allow it go into feedback and wail and just not try to do anything that’s driven with endless displays of technique but just to hang on to a note and let it fly. I’m thinking the era of Eric from around Fresh Cream.

MWE3: Oh yeah, that sort of compression meets humbucker meets Marshall, and hit the amp hard…it’s a beautiful sound!

SH: Yeah, I sometimes use a Gibson Les Paul to do that, other times I use a Fernandez.

MWE3: Yes! I was about to ask you that. Were you using your sustainer setup?

SH: Yes, I was and do you know who Gary Moore is?

MWE3: Of course, Still Got The Blues, Thin Lizzy!

SH: I just got two guitars of his, and one of them I played on the last trick, "The Gift", and that’s his guitar. I bought that, and figured that it had been in the hands of a great guitar player and I was playing that live on the American tour.

MWE3: Outstanding!

SH: There are people I speak to over there who don’t know who Gary Moore is.

MWE3: You’ve got to be kidding me!

SH: Well, no, yeah, it’s true.

MWE3: One of the things that I wanted to check out is that it seems that you brought this new genre of using bowed acoustic basses or cellos instead of seven-string guitars to do the chugs and heavy rhythm bottom and it brings kind of an orchestral flavor to an otherwise heavy metal feel.

SH: A kind of cinematic metal sound and I think where possible I try to use the real thing, but we use a combination. I’ve got a great bass playing friend whose name is Dick Driver. We were in a band called Quiet World a year before Genesis in 1970, and he went on to work with orchestras, he’s a great player, and I said to him “You know, the thing about orchestral basses, particularly when there are several playing at once, it gives you the impression of infinite bass”, whereas when you’re looking for the sharp turn of the kind of sounds that evinced by the late, great Chris Squire, who I got to work with a number of times, where you’ve got bottom and top, you’ve got that sharp definition of that bell-like clang that’s somewhere between big band and a piano. That lovely sound is one type of bass, but then bass does a lot of things.

You’ve got Jaco Pastorius sounding like a lead instrument with an almost brass-like quality, but then the idea of orchestral basses that seem to stretch into infinity because it’s not really about the edge, but just the fact that you’ve got these big, huge instruments that float off into space like the Queen Mary, and then you’ve got the percussive side of that being explored by Stravinsky and Bernard Hermann with Psycho and all of that stuff, so we can take those things, those sounds and then distort them up more fully with a bunch of guitars. I love that combination of guitar-sounding, slightly bowed and slightly brassy and strings having that brassy quality too, and fusing them into a small battalion coming at you! I love that.

MWE3: Me too, and the gift that the traditional progressive rock brought with the fusion of rock and classical music is something that I think is very elevated, and attributed in your work. I wish that there were more of this.

SH: I think that more people would do it in time because someone is going to demonstrate that it is possible. I know I’m not the first, but the combination of what different strings can do together, that doesn’t have to be bourgeois, and it doesn’t have to be delinquent... there’s someplace in the middle, a kind of fusion.

MWE3: Yes, there’s also some work that you do with backwards guitar on several of the tunes.

SH: Yeah, there are some backwards moments, I’m glad you like those. I come back to those quite a lot. I was hearing some Harvey Mandel and hearing some very good backwards stuff, which makes me think “This is interesting, let’s hear it again and not be dismissive of that.”

MWE3: I was wondering because when I listen to "Are You Experienced" by Jimi, which is probably the most in-your-face since George Harrison did it on "Tomorrow Never Knows", and "I’m Only Sleeping".

SH: Beautiful guitar work.

MWE3: You have several examples on The Night Siren.

SH: Yes, "Fifty Miles From The North Pole" has got it and also "Skeleton Gallery" that has backwards guitar.

MWE3: Do you actually need to take time in advance to think “Okay, I want this part to play at the beginning, so I’ll do this part at the end of my solo,” and then play it backwards or do you just improvise and find the best line? Because it almost sounds like it was constructed.

SH: Yeah, we do a lot of editing, not in all cases, sometimes the spontaneous gesture is enough, and then you get that serendipity. In other words, it just happens to fit, other times we manipulate it a little bit more and sometimes a lot more, but the simpler the idea, the more flexible you can make it.

MWE3: There’s so much work that you’ve dedicated to this album. You’ve taken all of these different, cultural influences, like the tar and that beautiful Celtic instrument, what is it called?

SH: Oh yeah, the Uilleann pipes, that’s Troy Donockley, who currently plays with a band called Nightwish, who are very famous, particularly in the Scandinavian area. He’s a phenomenal player who plays that stuff at the end, and we kind of re-orchestrated it or, rather Roger King did with me cheering him on from the wings, so that’s where that track finds its focus I think, with the elegiac playing that he does.

MWE3: Yes, "Fifty Miles From The North Pole" was really stunning in the way that the tune was written. You had mentioned that there was a faded-in trumpet solo from one of your singers that you recorded with, is that right?

SH: Something like that. A guy called Ferenc Kovács, who works with a band called Djabe, and he played both trumpet and violin. He plays violin in the Gypsy style, and I’ve worked with him with that in the past. He was recording something with himself and his daughter playing didgeridoo, quite a long solo, and I originally recorded that at the time of the Wolflight sessions but we couldn’t find a moment or a picture to assimilate that to, we couldn’t find a frame for it really so it was a loose piece of the jigsaw to be completed. So I thought when we were working on this idea of the "Fifty Miles", having visited Iceland and having been somewhere and never saw it in daylight and covered in snow, and where we came and went and it was still the same. Nonetheless, I thought the bleakness of the landscape, the mountains and all of that, this trumpet player blew it very, very lightly with a mute on the thing, and it almost sounds like a baby gurgling, and it’s very uncharacteristic of what I think of when I think of trumpet players. I know that John Nugent, who organizes the Rochester Jazz Festival is a phenomenal sax player says that Ferenc is the king of Hungary! He plays in this style which is extraordinary, and then he opens up and blows harder, you realize it’s trumpet. But it’s precisely the opening moment where the instrument is used at its least bombastic, that makes you think “he’s reinvented his instrument” like Jaco Pastorius reinvented bass for us all. It’s where someone points in a direction and you don’t recognize the source from something that you think of that’s going to be played in a traditional style and it’s been reinvented in front of your eyes. We’re also talking about harmonica players that have done the same thing. Of course, people never recognize harmonica when it’s treated in that way unless they have cognizance.

MWE3: Those special kind of people.

SH: People that blow you away.

MWE3: Did you co-write "West To East" with Jo?

SH: Yes, it’s very much a collaborative effort. I’ve added words and lyrics to "Behind The Smoke". The tune is very much initially driven by her and then inputted by me, and some of the stuff I used was from a Shamanic experience that she had. She took two Shamanic workshops.

MWE3: Awesome!

SH: What’s on the chorus of "West To East" was actually stuff that when she came out of these two workshops that I participated in. She came up with this amazingly eloquent stuff, and I latterly said to her “I think we should use this. This addressed the very issue that you want to talk about,” world peace, and there being enough for everyone and the idea of greed versus need, and the idea of getting people working together from all over the globe, Israel and Palestine, and casting a very wide net to get as many diverse cultures represented inasmuch as a few, handful of people could to at the center of it. But there are twenty people on the album from all over the world, Malik Mansurov once again, from Azerbaijan, playing the tar. In some ways, I collected data to be used later. It’s a bit like having a lovely piece of a jigsaw puzzle, but you haven’t got the whole puzzle yet. The tar performance was from those Hungarian sessions recorded a couple of years ago in Budapest, ostensibly for the Wolflight album, but I just didn’t have time to assimilate that into the whole.

MWE3: There’s only so much that you can put on one CD.

SH: Yeah, it was difficult. You couldn’t get it all on one CD, it’s getting Wagnerian, the Ring Cycle goes rock!

MWE3: You’ve got Kobi and Mira that also sing on that track.

SH: That’s right, Kobi, quite right.

MWE3: Were you conscious at all of a touch of a Pink Floyd feel in the tune?

SH: I think that some of it came out that way. There’s one point where I left the repeat echoes in on the verse. I thought it sounded too Pink Floyd, then I took them out and I thought it sounded too stark and I thought I’d leave it in even if people go with Pink Floyd, because it just seems to work. Because of the idea of the distance between the earth and the ground so it needed to have that, and it needed to echo up to the clouds.

MWE3: You know, another way that you bring emotions into the music is that you will have a clean guitar part with compression and chorus, and this to me imparts the illusion of sunlight, toward the end, because it’s kind of like the way that the sound reflects the way off the triangle wave is like the way that sunlight reflects off the ripples of water.

SH: Yeah, it’s interesting, I know that when I worked on "Horizons", the very first recording on Foxtrot with Genesis, there were some people that said “This sounds like sun and water,” you know like a boat ride, and the sun comes out and all that. A number of people said that, and I got the idea that from what you’re saying. It does have that six-string acoustic quality, it does have that quality to it, although I tracked it on this album and I had a couple of them going, but specifically a six-string and specifically with some effects on it. Usually I had the reverb off, or I’d record a signal with the pitch shift, or another effect, the Leslie cabinet that I used with Genesis.

MWE3: "Cuckoo, Cucoon", although I think one of the last times we talked, you said that your tape Echoplex unit was warbling and going out on you, and this was what created the effect.

SH: Yeah, I used that as well. I think perhaps there was some grease on the wheel that drove the tape, and it did a kind of Beatles effect. It created a kind of ADT (automatic double tracking) thing.

MWE3: Speaking of "Horizons", we had talked once and you mentioned that the Bach Cello Suite was your inspiration for the main theme, but in that middle section, was that William Byrd that influenced you?

SH: Well, I will tell you what did influence me as regards William Byrd... I remember hearing the piece "The Earl of Salisbury", and as a kid I heard it and dismissed it, because I heard it on cable and thought it was insubstantial, then I heard a John Renbourn rendition of it on guitar, and I thought it was absolutely beautiful. Terry Cox is playing glockenspiel and what a magic combination that is! Then I went out and bought myself a glockenspiel and it eventually got used on Voyage Of The Acolyte, of course. "Horizons" was deliberately short, about the same length as the William Byrd piece. I don’t think it owes anything musically to William Byrd, but the length of it is that short little length, a little Tudor-inspired piece. It’s around that time, isn’t it? Year 1500 meeting 1685, birth of Bach, so within that 100 year framework, perhaps.

MWE3: Speaking of "Shadow Of The Hierophant", I think I watched a video of a concert where Roger King sits on the floor and starts pressing the Moog Taurus bass pedals, and it gets louder and more menacing.

SH: It gets very menacing. Actually Roger starts it off with a sort of glockenspiel, chime sample thing, and then it’s Nick Beggs (bass) who sits on the floor and plays the bass pedal part. He prefers to play it sitting down which is understandable because it’s a very busy part and yeah, he really goes in it! It’s a really theatrical moment and we’ve turned it into a drum solo so that the drums play as polyrhythmically and contrarily as possible against it. There’s an invisible click track to keep us all in time, and it can be quite difficult to maintain and hold the line whilst these various things are going on, the assault chorus that’s going on. It goes from a whisper to a roar, of course, or a tinkle to a flood. It’s a huge crescendo and it seems to probably be the favorite piece of audiences, if not the favorite piece, then one of them. It just seems to really get everyone going, particularly if you’ve never heard it before in your life, it can’t get any bigger, it can’t get any louder… and then it does. And it repeats and repeats and repeats, but it’s a compelling chord sequence I like to think.

 

mwe3.com presents:
a track-by-track analysis of The Night Siren


"Behind The Smoke"
This is a tune by Steve & Jo Hackett and Roger King, which draws its main inspiration from the messages and experience of several Shamanic workshops that Jo attended. The tune opens with Steve's haunting voice teasing vocal lines against the chord outlines of an Arabian oud, all rising up on an infinite terrascape that seems to at once exude echoing words of the ages that traverse turbulent social times. Steve's vocal here reminded a bit of Ozzie Osbourne's vocal in "War Pigs". Tympanis and chugging acoustic cellos ingeniously and defiantly take their places in the exact spots where one might otherwise expect to hear chugging seven-string guitars blasting out a middle-Eastern flavored phrygian chord theme, establishing a "cinematic" metal experience, not a heavy metal experience. Partly tormented and partly resigned seems the mood, as the main theme's thunder yields to a transitional piano segment to land upon a new mantra, played by on an Iranian tar. The tune churns from a statement that is not unlike a primal screen set against vast mountainscapes, and whipped into a frenzy with vocals and lines of brilliant electric guitar playing, including some very tasty arpeggio lines that have a distant sound, and eventually reaches the ending in the form of a low sustained orchestral note that seems to play on into infinity.

"Martian Sea"
A tune reminiscent of '60s psychedelia, perhaps inspired by the Beatles, or perhaps reminiscent of Keith Relf's vocals in the Yardbirds’ "What Do You Want", and faithfully supplied with sitar, and plenty of flashy riffs and chords that seem to bend toward the heavens. Steve's gentle, yet other worldly vocal choruses produces a track that morphs from a whimsical, almost "pop" sound into a vast and mysterious caldron of otherworldly ones, with a chorus about isolation "Martian Sea, no empathy". Another love gone wrong song! Steve provides a blistering main guitar solo and effects that combine percussive, hammering double stops and adds some wild touches with the whammy pedal. The latter part of the tune brings a building up of thundering drum rhythm, courtesy of Nick D'Virgillio, augmented with a huge sounding cinematic drone, and a symphony of world instruments hosting interplay of sitar Steve’s picturesque backwards guitar lines, with an Arabian oud, flutes, and everyone happily laying down their sonic lot in an all out free for all! A very fun tune!

"50 Miles From The North Pole"
Colors from the Celtic. A tune by Steve & Jo originally recorded at the time of the Wolflight sessions, the tune is based on a trip to Iceland and the extreme weather environment there and six month day/night cycles. The intro, flavored by the sound of the digeridoo, gives way to a a hip, urban-type groove, helped along by a memorable riff from of a certain cold-war era British spy whom we all know. There are highly-treated vocals that give the chilling effect of a cold wind blowing, and breaks that add to the album's overall charm and seem to suspend time and reality, peppered with ghostly vocals and aggressive hits of searing lead guitar, a ferocious backwards guitar solo, that segues into a slow building crescendo where Ferene Kovács imparts a very mildly blown trumpet that sounds for a moment almost like a baby crying, then the tune resumes with heavy layers of echoed vocals and cinematic orchestration.

"El Niño"
A highly charged and dramatic instrumental, this tune may say more by not including lyrics than if it had included them. The symbolism in the title selection may or may not reflect the overall message and theme of the album, but the thunderous instrumentation of this driving and tumultuous tune certainly implies that message. When we reviewed the record, the surround version of the album was not yet released, but a 5.1 surround system is rumored to convey the feeling of being right in the eye of a huge storm. The tune is short and forceful, with some great guitar work and thoughtful chord changes that lend homage to the legend that the reason Brits play such interesting music is because they are all taught classical music appreciation from very early ages.

"Other Side Of The Wall"
A beautifully pastoral composition inspired by Steve & Jo's visit to a garden in Wimbledon. Their encounter of a stately old, brick wall in a garden led Steve and Jo to imagine a love story that perhaps, as Steve paraphrases, took place in another century about a forbidden love. The tune is primarily played on nylon string classical guitar and twelve string guitar, slightly reminiscent of "Horizons" or "Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man" from Genesis' Foxtrot. Vocals are nicely covered by Steve. The song ends with a symphony of vocal layers to suspend the brick wall's story in time.

"Anything But Love"
Another story of love gone wrong. Steve's introduction on the tune is a stunning display of nylon-string flamenco guitar pyrotechnics, as we are treated to a full minute of wonderful flamenco playing, peppered with percussive guitar rhythms, rasgueados, arpeggios and pulloffs before the other instruments come in. The tune commences, the Flamenco gives way to electric guitar and Steve crowns the ending of the tune with one of the best solos on the album, played in an early Clapton-esque vein from the Fresh Cream era of the '60s, with wailing lines that sustain forever!

"Inca Terra"
A breathtaking intro played by a charango (high pitched stringed instrument) ushers a mood piece that was inspired from visits to Peru, with lyrics written by Jo Hackett. Steve describes this as a "United Nations of tunes". Drums were recorded on the Sardinia island off Italy, with a Hungarian band, an Icelandic drummer, and Gulli Bream played percussion bongos and the cajone box, and there was sample data from drum recordings. The kaynar (flute with fast vibrato) with acoustic 12 string and layered vocals builds yet another fantastical landscape - I can't help the feeling that Steve channels a bit of "Los Endos" in the latter part of this tune. The break is where the drums and unusual percussion sounds deliver the feeling of being somewhere in the Andes on this Peruvian inspired track.

"In Another Life"
Written with Jo Hackett, "In Another Life" is one of the tunes that starts off acoustically, and was written in the tradition of a Scottish Folk song and sung as a ghost of a soldier during a troubled time, who loses his family and fights to the finish, knowing he is going to die, Roger King's orchestration really shines here in the prologue of this tune and provides a beautiful background, assisted by Amanda Lehman on vocals and Troy Donockley, who performs the melodic lines on uilleann pipe.

"In The Skeleton Gallery"
Titled by Jo, written by Steve. Slow smoking tune, not unlike the "Darktown" melody. This tune hits the ground running like a modern day "Kashmir", with a neo-70s Turkish, Arabic, psychedelic touch. The romantic and scary parts about being a child and imagining you had a spaceship into the world of dreams. The "Behind The Smoke" guitar solo reprises here with orchestration. Steve unleashes the next section that goes completely over the top with a cello chords that plays rhythm section that morphs into the sounds of marching in the streets and admonishment to wake up, followed by a ferocious guitar solo, and capped by Rob Townsend's short but epic soprano saxophone solo.

"West To East"
This is one of the two final tunes and a "cooling off" tune that was inspired by Jo Hackett from a Shaman experience. The obvious message from this tune is peace among nations. As Steve relates, the The Arab-Hebrew Theatre of Jaffa that performs plays about bringing separates sides together, was also an inspiration for this tune, that really marks the end of the album's message. This tune's verses move along in a part folk-tune, part protest song mode, that yield to full kumbaya choruses, in the highly spiritual sense, graced with a touch of high choral choir sounds in the background and a rhythm guitar whose sound evokes images of sunlight reflecting from different spots on gentle waves. Steve's electric guitar treatments are sublime, especially the climbing chord arpeggios.

"The Gift"
A surprising addition of a boldly gorgeous short track written by Leslie Bennett and Benedict Fenner, beautifully textured as a theme that moves along a repeating harmonic minor progression. Steve's guitar is reminiscent to me here of Jeff Beck's "The Final Peace", but the treatment is Steve's signature approach to melody and perhaps on this short piece can some of Steve's most expressive electric guitar work be found. This track is the final epilog that closes the album. Well done, Steve!









 
 
 
 
 

 


 

 

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