May 19 2015 – One of T-Mak World’s guest contributors is Tyrone Buccione – a guitarist/vocalist for Canadian power trio TimeGiant. Buccione is a big fan of classic progressive rock and when offered the opportunity to interview rock legend Steve Hackett he jumped at the chance to speak to one of his musical idols.
With his first release since 2011, former ‘Genesis’ guitarist Steve Hackett presents Wolflight; a ten song progressive-rock concept album which hails as one of the artists’ personal favourites. And yes, that’s a real picture of him hanging out with a pack of real wolves on the cover. I had a chance to speak with Steve about the new album, his upcoming tour, how he managed to not get eaten by wolves, and listen to the musical philosophy of one of my favourite guitar rock heroes.
T-Mak World: Wolflight has very interesting musical styles and lyrical themes throughout. Can you talk about the inspirations for, and main concepts of the album?
SH: Basically Wolflight is the hour before the dawn. When my wife Jo and I were writing the lyrics for it we were trying to describe the life of early people, particularly in the title track. The wolf is a symbol of [early people’s] connection to nature but it was also part of their inner journey as well; both their shamanic rites and the way they saw the wolf as a friend, but also the fact that it was able to survive on so very little. The wolf was a very attractive symbol for them.
T-Mak World: I heard you did some, shall we say, field work before writing the album.
SH: For part of our research we did meet up with a pack of wolves. We befriended them and what I found was that once I had been accepted by them, they began to show some anxiety. When I would play with one for the wolf cubs, the older wolves were anxious that all of their cubs were played with equally. The wolves were interested in this idea of democracy in a sense. I had a very interesting time with them and on another level I thought, “why should Kevin Costner have all the fun?” They felt very free.
Lyrically I was interested with the idea of the freedom of the early nomadic tribes who ended up taking on the Chinese, the people for whom the great wall was built to keep out. So that title track was really about them and their ability to be able to deal with oppression. Again with the ideas of oppression and freedom, the song Black Thunder is about slave rebellion in the old south before the civil war. I tried to do that in a blues style, if there was such a thing as progressive blues. Corycian Fire is about the Korikion Antron and the place in Delphi where divination first took place. It was the centre of the pagan world and my wife wrote the lyrics to that. It sings in ancient Greek so we tried to bring in Greek themes.
T-Mak World: Can you tell me about the various different musical instruments and styles used in Wolflight?
SH: Wolflight starts with the Azerbaijan guitar and didgeridoo. I find that working with instruments I’m not familiar with broadens the cinematic scope. So its “rock band’ plus orchestral players. Then it’s also got a foot in opera too doesn’t it? Folk music etc. Many different genres. Like a relay race where the baton gets handed over from one runner to another, I keep interrupting the action in any particular song, adding another genre or collection of players to change it. There are string players from India and Turkey. I also played amplified harmonica on the track Wheels Turning. I am a big Paul Butterfield fan and would like to use [harmonica] more so in the future.
T-Mak World: I had a chance to interview your friend Annie Haslam from ‘Renaissance’ and I spoke to her about their collaborations with Ian Anderson (‘Jethro Tull’) and John Wetton (‘King Crimson’). I see you have worked on some Wolflight songs with producer Roger King, your wife Jo Lehmann and even bassist Chris Squire (‘Yes.’) How often do you collaborate with other musicians?
SH: I do it a tremendous amount of the time and enjoy it a lot. In the past few years I played on 20 different albums by 20 different artists, as well as doing my own stuff. In the early days when I was first working with ‘Genesis,’ I didn’t have the same level of confidence that I got later on. Once I had started acquiring the skills and interest in other areas, like Spanish music, flamenco, classical etc, there were different types of things I realized I could really take a chance and jump off the deep end with. You can collaborate with anybody if you’re prepared to take the chance. You have to be brave enough to take the first step. For playing live, usually a bit of rehearsal on the day-of works wonders, especially if there are some changes you should stay out of the way on.
T-Mak World: Your upcoming tour, “Acolyte to Wolflight” begins in September and contains material drawn from your solo albums and some songs from ‘Genesis’’ catalouge. Have you already put together a set list?
SH: We tried to. Promoters and agents want me to do what I’ve been doing the past three years, which is an entire ‘Genesis’ set. Meanwhile Wolflight has become a hit over here in Europe and has been in the charts (debuting at #31 in the UK album chart.) So I’m in a position of, on one level, agents and promoters wanting the Genesis stuff but on another level I’m wanting to honour this new thing which has been a hit with audiences. One side of the business isn’t necessarily caught up with the latest events, which is the album being a hit. It’s been the best received album I think I’ve ever done, frankly. I’ve never had reviews like it. Very difficult choices to make in terms of, “how much do you honor the past (‘Genesis’ material), how far back do you go,” and at the same time I want to honour the new album with its listening audience. Sometime I’m hoping to do a show of Wolflight in its entirety. What’s advertised for the upcoming tour is perhaps 40% ‘Genesis’. A difficult songs choice considering it’s also the 40th anniversary of my first solo album Voyage of the Acolyte in 1975. So I’m looking forward to doing some of that as well. But I’m scratching my head with this new set list. It promises to be very exciting because it is an extraordinary band and I’m thrilled to be working with them all once again.
T-Mak World: So far I only see tour dates for the UK and Europe. Will “Wolflight to Acolyte” be coming to North America?
SH: It certainly will be, chances are we’ll be everywhere. But we are also trying not to repeatedly visit the same territories from our tour last year. We don’t want to give people too much of a good thing as they say. *laughs
T-Mak World: T-Mak World has a lot of readers who are musicians. Do you have any advice for young bands out there starting a career in music?
SH: There is one qualification for it and that is to love it. I don’t think that could be taught, but loving it means that you can ride through all the disappointments that are inevitable if you choose a career in music. You can’t just go from strength to strength to strength, it starts off with lows, naturally, and hopefully it builds to something. But if you’ve got a genuine love of music, that can really sustain you through the disappointments; the so-called failures. Because I do think that music holds its own currency, I think it repays you. And the joy of being able to do something today that you couldn’t do yesterday, even though it might feel like a tentative step, thrills me. For example, I think from my own experience being able to play 3 chords in [the key of] C and then to be able to accomplish that in several other keys was an absolute joy for me. And it meant that I was able to play some Beatles stuff, some Stones stuff – and I absolutely loved that! Whether you go the self-taught route, which I did, or whether you take lessons to read, I think both approaches are equally valid as long as there is a love for it.
T-Mak World: Lovely singing on the album, your voice has come a long way!
SH: Thank you. Wolflight is the first time I’ve ever really had good reviews for my singing, and it matters a lot to me on this one. It’s funny because in the past I’ve been trying to sound like a rock singer, whereas this one I was borrowing from country and French music and the crooners and using lots of harmonies. There’s not too much screaming on it. Most of it is pretty gentle singing to be honest. Its another way of doing it isn’t it?
T-Mak World: It translates very well.
SH: Singing and paying a lot of attention to vibrato… it’s a lifelong quest to become Caruso in the end. I think each singer can become a number of different people, from the whisper to the scream and shout, and in between there’s something there called singing. If you’re exploring the possibility of harmonies, you can explore your full range up to and including falsetto, and I suspect that anyone can make a very good sound with their own voice. I had this same conversation with Peter Gabriel, long after I worked with him in ‘Genesis,’ and he said, “I believe singing is possible. If I can sing, then anyone can.”
T-Mak World: Thanks very much for the interview Steve. You helped inspire me and many others to learn from your playing and start their own bands. North America is looking forward to seeing “Wolflight to Acolyte.”
SH: Good luck with your band and we will be there to play for you soon. All the best.
With a world-wide tour plan in the works, you can expect to see Steve Hackett’s “Wolflight to Acolyte” in a town near you beginning in the UK, September 2015. Keep an eye out for more dates on his website HERE.
Steve Hackett’s Wolflight is now available on iTunes HERE and the title track’s music video can be seen below: