My interview with Steve Hackett, March 2000

It recently came to my attention that I’ve never published this interview, which was for a short feature that ran in Guitar Player Magazine in the July, 2000 issue.

Steve Hackett is a guitarist best known for his work with the band Genesis from 1971 through 1977. Since then he has mostly worked solo, alternating from electrified progressive rock to projects based around acoustic classical guitar. He has remained popular and successful throughout Western Europe since leaving Genesis.

At the time Guitar Player Magazine assigned me to conduct this interview, Hackett had not performed in the United States in many years. The occasion for the interview was that he had secured distribution to sell his  back-catalog of solo albums in the United States. The result, seen a few years after the interview, is that Hackett was able to do some successful limited touring in the United States. In 2010 Genesis, with Hackett, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Interview with Steve Hackett
Friday, 24 March 2000
by Wheat Williams
Phone interview from Twickenham, England
Copyright © March, 2000  by Wheat Williams
All Rights Reserved

Wheat: Do I understand that Guitar Noir, Many Sides to the Night and Tokyo Tapes are just being released in America for the first time?

Steve: I think some of them are being released for the first time and some are being re-released. I think in Guitar Noir’s case it’s re-released. As far as I remember correctly that was out on Viceroy for awhile. I may be completely wrong there. I find that, as ever, the distances between countries mean that it’s a far more complex equation. The idea of simultaneous worldwide release is no longer a reality, and really hasn’t been the case for about the past fifteen years or so. It’s just the way it goes.

Wheat: Is there any chance that Sketches of Satie and Darktown are going to be released in America?

Steve: I think it’s inevitable that they will be. But they always seem to have to wait their time until the deals are done. And as we don’t have a man on the spot to do that for our company, it’s always a kind of long distance fishing expedition.

Wheat: Maybe you ought to talk to Robert Fripp.

Steve: So many of us are in this position. Robert and I used to communicate at one time.

Wheat: When he had his own record label?

Steve: No, no, no, many years before that, before he worked with Peter Gabriel in fact, we used to talk quite regularly in the mid-70s.

Wheat: He’s regarded as one of the more successful people in terms of starting a record label where the artists own their own masters and doing their own marketing and all that.

Steve: Well, that’s what we’re doing in this country. We seem to have got the situation sorted out in England and in most of Europe. America always seems to be more difficult for us.

I was just reading an e-mail today from somebody who was saying they couldn’t find products by the various other artists, and he included people like Alan Parsons Project and many others. And I thought, ah, there are many more people in this position than I’d imagined. There were many names that I consider to be well-known in that list. This is just part of what happens to music from musicians of a certain age or a certain era. It’s just the way it goes.

Wheat: Let’s get right on to talking about Sketches of Satie.

Steve: Sure.

Wheat: I noticed that tracks 10 through 15 are for two guitars, and no flute. Is your brother John playing guitar or is this a double-track thing that you did?

Steve: That’s a double-track from me. John is specifically playing flute.

Wheat: Does John have his own career as a working musician?

Steve: Yeah, John has a couple of things on the go. There’s an outfit called Symbiosis that he does albums with, and which is basically mainly improvised stuff, atmospheric stuff. And then he’s worked with the English Flute Quartet. He has fingers in a number of pies in the classical world, but this is the first time he’s been a featured artist on a record.

Wheat: Satie originally wrote all these pieces for solo piano?

Steve: Yeah, that’s right.

Wheat: And the two of you worked out the transcriptions?

Steve: Well, it was a team. There was my brother and a woman named Sally Goodworth who did the tempo mapping. In other words she played piano versions of the songs on a MIDI piano so that we had the score both written out and recorded.

Wheat: And she played them in your transpositions, or you did that with the MIDI data afterwards?

Steve: It’s a complicated process. We did versions with flute and piano first of all which were just rough to audio then we did versions on piano with MIDI so we had references. Then we replaced the flute on the flute and piano versions. Only then did I play guitar to that. It sounds like a really arse-about way of playing it, but there are several reasons for that.

Wheat: Please tell me.

Steve: Okay, number 1, the Satie music doesn’t actually fit on the guitar. You have to keep retuning. The lowest note that’s played is actually not just an E below the lowest E on a regular guitar, but E-flat, a semitone below that. To get notes which were outside the range on the high end, I’d use harmonics. So to my mind it wasn’t possible to play arrangements that do it justice just sitting down with the two of us.

I’m trying to think how to describe the technical process. I spent a long time doing the guitar parts and the flute parts were done actually relatively quickly. But the guitar work took quite some time. Because the harmonies are very complex and plus I wanted to make sure it was recorded very, very cleanly. I think it’s a totally squeak free album.

Wheat: Can you play these live?

Steve: We can do some of them. We were rehearsing this up recently. But in the main, John’s not really up for touring. He’s got other commitments. It’s basically an album I don’t think you’re really going to be seeing us doing that live. We might do the occasional radio performance or the odd TV thing but we’re not really touring it around halls.

Wheat: Do you think that your transcriptions and your arrangements of Satie are something that other classical guitarists are going to want to get ahold of and perform?

Steve: To be honest, I think you would need a guitar quartet to be able to do, or certainly a trio, to cover the bases that I did. I don’t think it’s possible even with two guitarists. It would be too cumbersome. I don’t suggest it.

Wheat: So on some of these pieces, when I hear one guitar, I’m actually hearing multi-tracking of different tunings?

Steve: Yeah. I basically did it line by line you understand. So I didn’t keep track of of how many guitars there were at any one point. There might be as much as four at one point; there may be as little as one. This may well upset the purists; however, the ends justify the means, always, for me.

Wheat: So what classical guitar composers and performers have influenced you?

Steve: Well, if I could upset the apple cart a little bit here, I think the best music for classical guitar was never actually written for the guitar. I think it’s the transcriptions of Bach that Segovia did. That’s still the best guitar music, as far as I’m concerned.

Wheat: And it’s never been surpassed?

Steve: Never been surpassed, really. You know, the additional harmonies that Segovia added himself, things that were often solo violin or cello, have yet to be surpassed.

Wheat: Did you study classical guitar early on, before your career started?

Steve: No. I’ve never had any formal training other than the fact that for the past few years now I have been working with a guitarist named Theodore Cheng. He’s been doing transcriptions of my pieces. And we sit down and we give each other guitar lessons. I’ve passed on what I can do to him, and he passes on what he can do to me, and it’s very nice. It means that nobody is Herr Professor. Nobody is the Meister Glockenspieler, if you know what I mean. And neither of us has to lord it over each other. We just appreciate each others styles and techniques.

Wheat: Are the transcriptions going to be published?

Steve: Yes they are. And so far we are doing some on the Internet. I think they’re actually up and running.

Wheat: You’re just making those freely available?

Steve: No, as ever, one’s running a business. And have to recoup their costs. Quite a lot of my life has been spent working on these classically inspired ditties, so I’m pleased that they hit the airwaves.

Wheat: Is some of A Midsummer Night’s Dream included in that?

Steve: Yes it is, yeah.

Wheat: I have not had a chance to listen in depth to all these records, but I just love the playing on Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s very evocative and totally original.

Steve: Oh, thank you very much. You know I read some notes about Rachmaninoff. Many of his detractors said that he was too Romantic and that it wasn’t original, and he said, I don’t try to be original, I just try to play the music that I hear in my head and that’s been inspired by lots of people, including Tchaikovsky, etc. And I think that’s very honest.

That’s the way I approach music. If it comes out as original, fine, but I’d rather have something that was evocative. I think that’s a good word. In other words, it makes you think about something else. And you’re not quite sure what that thing is. Whether it’s magic, or if it comes from some deep spiritual source, we don’t really know, but it has a question mark. Why does it stop me in my tracks?

Wheat: Was A Midsummer Night’s Dream a successful album for you?

Steve: Yes, it’s been very successful. EMI in England signed me up for that one and they did a great job promoting it, and I was thrilled. It was a top-ten classical guitar album here for about two months. It was a total vindication of all the ideas that once got me in a lot of trouble, a lot of hot water.

Wheat: For instance?

Steve: It got me booted off my original record label, Charisma.

Wheat: For being too classical?

Steve: Yeah, for being too esoteric, airy-fairy, you name it.

Wheat: Have you heard Rick Wakeman’s Return to the Center of the Earth by any chance?

Steve: I did many years ago.

Wheat: No, the new one that just came out last year?

Steve: Oh, really? No I haven’t heard that.

Wheat: It’s Return to the Center of the Earth.

Steve: Really? A reworked version? No I haven’t heard that.

Wheat: It’s a pretty sad story actually. He collapsed and was in hospital from pneumonia as he was finishing the album. He could not do any touring or promotion of the record and it kind of just sank like a stone. It was a major international label, a huge symphony orchestra, and it’s beautiful stuff, but this is about a year ago. Patrick Stewart is the narrator. Wakeman took sick and there was no promotion, there were no live gigs, it was very sad. And I thought it was great music. But anyway, that’s ancient history already.

Steve: Yeah, well, let’s hope he recovers. We spent some time together over the years, Rick and myself. He had a TV show here called “Gas Tank.”

Wheat: Yeah, well, we don’t get to see that over here.

Steve: Well, it was a while ago, a long time ago now. It must have been early 80s. I did a guest spot on there, and we ended up playing together.

Wheat: Let’s talk about Darktown. Are there some contemporary artists that influenced your experimenting with sampling and looping and lots of digital editing in the music?

Steve: Many of them. It’s difficult to say a specifically. You’d be surprised at the things that I listen to and like. Like the Beastie Boys, there’s a band called Garbage that I like very much. I liked their first album very much. “Stupid Girl” I thought was a great single. Great guitar hook. One little guitar note that’s just such a fantastic sound. So I do listen to contemporary stuff.

Wheat: And on this record, your engineers, Roger King and Ben Fenner really came to the fore.

Steve: Oh, sure, and Jerry Peal. Yes, I think that the album was a massive engineering feat.

Wheat: Tell me about it. What was the recording method?

Steve: Well, instead of having a traditional band, in the sense of you have musicians lined up…take Garbage–three different producers are involved with that. All the guys in the band are producers. And I find that very interesting. So the band, for me, was three different engineer-producers who worked with me, and they’re all immensely talented people. I can’t sing their praises enough. There are other people playing on my album, but so much has been done from the producer-engineers’ archives.

When somebody who’s an engineer-player-programmer turns up, he’s usually got a suitcase full of their own sounds and samples. For instance, two days ago I was working with Roger on some rock stuff here at home. And I said to him, I got a lyric in a song that talks about the harbor lights calling me. It’s a jokey kind of tune. I said, “have you got the sound of a harbor, something like that?” And he did. Lo and behold, he had a CD of the sounds of a ship’s bell and a kind of foghorn, I think it was a lighthouse sound.. And it’s just wonderful. In stereo, those two sounds are on the track. And I’m amazed, you know, the things I’ll suggest to Roger or Ben or Jerry, that obviates the need for me to go on location with a microphone myself. I love personalized sounds as well, don’t get me wrong. I don’t do everything by myself, but I don’t think that covers half of it. But I have no prejudice. At the end of the day, whether it’s specimens or whether it’s to unique specifications, it really doesn’t matter. If it does the job, then that’s fine.

I do think there’s a tremendous difference between sampled strings and real strings.

Wheat: Of course.

Steve: As there is between a guitarist and a sampled guitarist. Even that I’ve used from time to time if I thought it was interesting. Again, one hopes to have no prejudice.

Wheat: Tell me about the actual recording process. Was this recorded to digital tape, was it recorded to ProTools?

Steve: Okay. The Satie album is all ProTools.

Darktown was put together in tandem with many other releases over a ten-year period. So that meant that it started out on a Studer 24-track analog machine. It went round the houses. ADAT recordings have been included. ProTools recordings have been included. So there were many different formats that we used. Lots of different levels of transfer that had gone on. But at the end of the day, I don’ believe that’s to the detriment of any of it.

Wheat: I was not aware that you spent ten years recording this album.

Steve: Yeah, Darktown was ten years in the making. It’s gonna be a little complicated to explain this. I really wish I could give you the short answer. Mainly because of the politics surrounding it. There were many other projects that were easier to get off the ground whilst I was recording Darktown. Many other things.

There was, if I remember correctly, Guitar Noir, the Blues With a Feeling album, all of the other ones that you’ve received, were done after the start of Darktown, which was material that I always had that I was always putting to one side. There always seemed to be something else that was more pressing.

I was in love with lots of the tracks that were on Darktown, and I was playing it in my car for ages and ages and thinking, “Will this material ever see the light of day?” Also, during that period we started our own record label. It takes awhile to set those little things up! You know, we built our own studio, our record label Camino Records.

Wheat: Is the studio in your home?

Steve: Most of the studio is in my home, and we are building another one near where we have our office.

Wheat: And where is Twickenham? I’m not very good with British geography.

Steve: Okay, on the map from London, Richmond is side-by-side with Twickenham, which is the other side of the Thames. Richmond would be perhaps the better-known internationally, but Twickenham is kinda the home of rugby.

A lot of French nobles escaped during the French Revolution to Twickenham, which was a more sought-after address in the 1700s I believe. And lots of things were built in the 1790s, lots of Twickenham was built at that point. There’s a more picturesque part which might correspond with another area called Hampstead, which is now a London suburb. I totally recommend it. Richmond is fantastic, and has a wonderful park with deer that roam free. Walk up to them and feed them if they’ll let you. And Richmond has the river which is it’s a very beautiful town. Lots of musicians live in Richmond and Twickenham.

Wheat: And how long have you lived there?

Steve: Since the early 80s.

Wheat: What guitars are you playing these days?

Steve: Well, electric guitars, still the favorite, really, would be the Les Paul original that I have, from 1957.

Wheat: Is that the gold top?

Steve: Yeah, gold top. And I don’t care what Spinal Tap say, it’s still my favorite. And I’ve got another electric, I’ve got a Fernandes Japanese guitar which has a Sustainer pickup.

Wheat: Is that patterned after a Les Paul?

Steve: It’s a Les Paul shape, it’s black. It looks like a Les Paul Custom from a distance. I’m staring at it right now, in fact. It’s called a Burney.

Wheat: Is it an off-the-shelf model, or is it something that they built for you?

Steve: It’s one that they built for me. They built this one with a Floyd Rose tremolo and a Sustainer pickup. I have to say, it’s a wonderful guitar.

Wheat: Do you use a Roland MIDI pickup?

Steve: No, I haven’t got a Roland MIDI pickup on that one. I’ve got a Gibson Les Paul with a Roland MIDI pickup, and they look, from a distance, practically identical.

Wheat: Is that from your GTR days?

Steve: I think it is from the GTR days.

Wheat: I’m laughing because just about three months ago I saw its counterpart, belonging to that other guy named Steve from GTR. I went to see Yes and interviewed Steve Howe and he had his. His is cherry red, I believe. You have its counterpart.

Steve: I’ve got the black version. The cherry red versions look very nice, I must say.

Wheat: How do you record guitars? Is it a bunch of digital effects and straight to the desk? Do you mike amplifiers?

Steve: I try to employ all techniques so that we don’t get too stuck with one kind of sound or one kind of approach. I use a mixture of amps and a mixture of DI effects.

Wheat: What are your favorite amps?

Steve: Well, what I tend to use for recording these days is a Peavey Classic 50 which I originally bought as a harmonica amp. And just found out that it happened to sound great with guitar. It also sounded great with bass. I’ve recorded John Wetton’s bass through it and before now, and that sounds fabulous. It’s really a copy of the Fender Bassman that the harmonica players used to like using. So ironically, there you are. There’s this amplifier that was built for bass players in the 50s that harmonica players liked to play through at one time. Tweed-covered, and the levels of distortion were just right for harmonica. The Peavey Classic 50 has got many of the features of the Fender Bassman, but a more controllable level of distortion.

Wheat: What are the speakers on that amp?

Steve: They’re 2 x 12s. But in my time I’ve used, with some satisfaction, HiWatts and Marshall. In my new studio I think I’m going to try some Marshall gear again. With the size studio that I have at home, there isn’t enough room to mike up a Marshall stack. But I don’t feel it’s limited my sound. I’m pleased with what I’ve got. I do move away from the home studio at times, especially to go and record orchestras and what have you, but yeah, I’m interested….

[Break while the tape is turned over.]

I’ve also got a Groove Tube amp that I like to use. I’ve used it sometime recording DI in the studio and I’ve used it live as well. That’s a great sound, I must say. And I use a SansAmp as well, but I use it as a preamp in my amps.

Wheat: Was Genesis Revisited: Watcher of the Skies recorded in your home studio?

Steve: Yeah, partly recorded at home, but the drums were recorded in other studios, as was the orchestra.

Wheat: Was that pretty much an ADAT project?

Steve: That was an ADAT project. Yeah. In fact I’m very glad to have moved on to ProTools since, because it was really too big a project for ADATs.

Wheat: Do you do some of the ProTools recording and editing yourself or do the engineers come in at that point?

Steve: No, I that’s basically an engineering function. I prefer not to be involved. I’m a great fan of technology, but some people have called me a technophobe because I don’t particularly like punching the buttons. I like to listen. I must say, and I like to have a dialog with at least one other person. I find it ideal. A musical conversation between two people is great. I think three people, you’ve already got an argument.

Wheat: That’s a great quote, Steve.

Steve: Form a group at your peril.

Wheat: Do you think you’re ever going to function as part of a group again? It’s been 15 years I guess since GTR.

Steve: I think that is unlikely in this lifetime. However, recently I’ve been hired to play guitar for one or two people. And I may be part of their band for the project.

There’s something going on at the moment. I’m playing with some people that worked with the following bands: the Cocteau Twins, Spiritualized, Echo and the Bunnymen, Portishead, and Massive Attack.

Wheat: That’s marvelous.

Steve: Yeah. It’s a totally different crowd, much younger, but they seem to be giving me greater freedom to do pretty much what I want on top of their stuff.

Wheat: Does the band have a name?

Steve: Don’t have a name yet, no. They have a record deal. But it’s quite interesting, isn’t it? Suddenly, after all these years.

Wheat: I’m sure you were an inspiration to them for long before they called you up on the phone. They’ve got all the Genesis stuff in their heads.

Steve: Yeah. I think they’re as unprejudiced as younger players can be.

It’s Liz Fraser and her husband Damien. who are putting together the band. It’s a much younger scene.

Wheat: It sounds very exciting.

Steve: I played on two tracks on what’s become an album. I hope it materializes, now, you know, because hey, who knows what could happen? They could the band could break up, their record company should go bust, they might divorce. I should be wary of talking about things in the future too much! The people that are involved with those bands are aware of what I’ve done. It’s great. I must feel like Ronnie Scott felt when Phil Collins called him up to play sax on Face Value. Yeah, I’m pleased. And the nice thing is so far they have given what I’ve done a prominent place in the mix. It’s not just a case of wanting the name so that it fits the corporate image. They hired me cause they like what I do. So and that’s a refreshing change, believe me.

Wheat: I’d like to ask you a couple of questions about the Tokyo Tapes. Was this really just a one-shot show?

Steve: We did four gigs in Japan. By the third gig it was just turning into a really great band. But hey, you know, it would have been nice if we had taken that everywhere, but everyone had their own life to lead.

Wheat: Has that one sold well?

Steve: Yes, it has, yeah. It’s been one of our best sellers for Camino.

Wheat: What kind of sales figures are we talking about on Camino?

Steve: You’d have to ask my manager Billy about that.

Wheat: You don’t concern yourself with that part of it?

Steve: Well, I do and I don’t. But I’d rather not be misquoted. Suffice it to say we’re in business after several years here now. I’m not going to say it’s easy, because it isn’t. I mean I think decisions are made very carefully. But because we make in-house albums, I think the money is very well spent.

Wheat: You get a good return on your investment?

Steve: We get a good return on the investment.

What tends to happen is I may re-record a track as much as two or three times if I think that’s necessary. But that’s somewhat easier theses days due to ProTools. You keep the things that you want and you lose the things that you don’t. You know the concept of the demo record versus the master has become much more blurred in the past twenty years, really. And it’s much more flexible.

Wheat: I want to ask you this only because it’s in the first sentence in the bio that they sent me. They refer to you as the inventor of tapping. I know what they’re referring to, “Return of the Giant Hogweed,” aren’t they?

Steve: Also, “The Musical Box,” there’s a tapping solo. That was in ‘71. And there’s also a tapping solo, on Selling England By the Pound, the first track, “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight.”

Wheat: [remembers and hums the lick]

Steve: Yeah, that one [hums along].

Wheat: Where did that come from? Did you just pick that up out of the air? Was there some other artist that was doing that?

Steve: No, no, no, no. It was my idea. I was just very frustrated one day that I couldn’t do the things that J. S. Bach could do on the keyboard. I suddenly realized that with the fuzz box that I had at the time that I didn’t need to pick every note. You could hammer on and off with one hand and use the nail, which I was using, the flat of the nail. I still do, which is a technique which no one else uses. As far as I’m aware of, everyone else uses the fingertip for it. But I use the flat of the nail to hammer on and pull off.

Wheat: Do you think that you directly inspired people like Eddie Van Halen and Stanley Jordan?

Steve: Well, I would have to say that those people’s recordings appeared later than mine. So it may have been parallel development or they may have listened to what I’d done.

Wheat: We’re hoping that Darktown and Sketches of Satie will be available on this side of the pond.

Wheat: Are you doing much live performing these days?

Steve: No, not really. But I’m gonna be doing some dates in Italy in the summer. I’m putting together a band at the moment, and then I’m possibly going to do some gigs with Elizabeth and Damien if all goes well.

Wheat: When was the last time you played the States?

Steve: Oh, a long time ago now, isn’t it. Was it ‘92, ,93, ‘94? Can’t quite remember but it’s awhile ago now.

Wheat: Have you got any hopes for coming back over here?

Steve: I’d like to tour there from a position of strength rather than having to do every thing that’s on offer. It’s gotta be economically viable. I hate saying that kind of stuff, but you know I’m sure. I miss it all. I miss the clubs, I miss the theaters, I miss the stadiums in the States. And I miss the American audience, which has been wonderful to me.

Wheat: You know this just occurred to me. I saw them two years ago in a rare visit outside of Montreal, but have you ever heard of a group called The Musical Box?

Steve: Yeah, I’ve heard about them and I’ve heard that they create faithfully the era of 1973.

[Discussion of The Musical Box]

Steve: The presentation became very important to us as a band. That’s another reason why I find touring these days an immense drawback. Normally I want to take a presentation. I don’t really just want to stand there with a single light bulb and do it. But, yeah, if it’s up to me, I’ll deliver Disneyland on stage. There’s an aspect of that, Disneyland with music, I think is the real aim, isn’t it? It’s music to transport people and take them to different places.

Wheat: You had the opportunity to do that in the 70s with Genesis.

Steve: Many of those shows benefited from that. I think that the era of ‘73 was one whereby, I mean I wouldn’t say we necessarily peaked, musically, at that point, but we came pretty close to it. I mean I liked so much of what we were doing then, and the presentation, and what have you.

Wheat: The stuff of yours with Genesis though that really grabbed me and affected me the most was Trick of the Tale and Wind and Wuthering.

Steve: Well, I think we were getting more professional. We were playing to larger audiences, we had bigger budgets, and.

Wheat: But I just loved the writing, the pieces.

Steve: I thought you meant the live shows.

Wheat: I’m not old enough to have seen you live at that point, unfortunately.

Steve: Right, fair enough.

There was a lot of interesting stuff that was written after that period in time. I’m just remembering a time when it seemed to me that the live presentation and what we were doing on album seemed to be very much in sync. When we started to get our own light show and when we started to move into that area of controlling the environment and paying special attention to special effects, sticking out for it, and I think sticking out for what we believed in individually. I think it was a good time.

Wheat: Did you undertake some of that theatrical presentation and lighting in the Tokyo Tapes shows?

Steve: Yes, some of it did. We did have a presentation in Tokyo. We had lights, and they were very good indeed. And you know some of the lighting effects were absolutely wonderful and I would love to be able to wrap them up and take them home and present them in the future. It always seems as if it’s that kind of thing that’s kind of snatched away from you. Everyone has this in life to some degree. Something is hinted at and then it’s snatched away. But yeah, that was some wonderful effects.

Wheat: Where are Ian McDonald and John Wetton these days? Do they still live in England?

Steve: Ian lives in New York. Ian’s a very interesting character.

Wheat: Does he work as a session musician?

Steve: Oh, yeah. And he produces other people. He produced a really wonderful harp album, for instance. I mean concert harp, a guy who plays jazz concert harp, a guy called ???? Ian was the producer and Ian’s done an album of his own, which is called Drivers Eyes, on Camino again.

Wheat: Did you enjoy working with John Wetton?

Steve: Yes, I did. I’ve worked with John on record and live. You know, John’s immensely talented, has a wonderful voice, and is a great bass player.

Wheat: It was really fascinating listening to Watcher of the Skies, with all the great players you pulled together to do that. Was that recorded over a long period.?

Steve: There’s a video in fact of us playing in Tokyo as well, doing that set.

Wheat: And is Camino selling the video?

Steve: Yeah. You might be interested in that.

Wheat: Oh, I’d be extremely interested.

Steve: I think that’s available in more than one format as well.

[Long digression]

Wheat: Did you enjoy playing the Crimson tunes in Tokyo Tapes?

Steve: Yes we did, yeah!

Wheat: I know that Fripp was a big inspiration for you in the early days.

Steve: Well, and Ian as well, you know? I think it was the whole of that band at that time and I think what was interesting was the fact that there were players there who were a little bit older than me, which makes all the difference at that time, who were playing material that you would’ve considered to have been–I’m trying to find the right words–material that really shouldn’t have belonged side-by-side. And yet you’ve got those things side-by-side.

Wheat: Well, the essence of progressive rock and psychedelic rock is putting together a lot of unlikely elements.

Steve: Unlikely elements. I think that’s the word, isn’t it? And yet making it cohesive and making one seem stronger because of its juxtaposition with the other. And that’s motivated me for years and years. The Beatles started doing that stuff, but I mean it went back further than that. It went back to the Goons, it went back to Peter Sellers, it went back to the Temperance Seven, it went back to comedy records that I heard in the early 50s, and I’ve really been inspired by all of the same things. Yeah, you name it. I’d have to mention a thousand people. I’d have to go back to Danny Kaye and Django Rhinehart to Segovia. It’s just, where do you stop? You have to doff your cap to all of them.

Wheat: You’re one of the architects of progressive rock and that had a big influence on popular music at one time, and it still resonates, I feel. If people like Portishead and Cocteau Twins are calling you up and saying come play for us.

Steve: Sure. It’s interesting, isn’t it. It has to have a larger resonance than you could ever realize. And it also quashes the myth that some things are fashionable an other things aren’t. Because it means to the currently fashionable, those things are still fashionable. I know what I’m trying to say, but I’m getting my knickers in a twist here.

Wheat: No, I understand exactly what you are saying.

[Closing digressions and pleasantries]

Copyright March, 2000 by Wheat Williams
All Rights Reserved

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