Monday, December 1, 2014

The Little Red Men: The Next Front Line



For the past six months, I have been following a band that possesses musical originality in performance and composition on a level which I have not experienced for a long time ... and certainly never before from a group of high school-age musicians. These Long Island based teens are creating musical magic right now, and anyone who wonders where the next "front line" will emerge needs look no further than The Little Red Men.

Earlier this year, I was invited by my friend Rick Eberle to attend an event in Great Neck that featured live performances from a variety of young Long Island-based artists. It was a last-minute invitation, and it had already been a long day, so I was somewhat on the fence about making the trip westward. I decided to do a bit of research on the performers to help make my decision. Clicking on the various links to the artist/band web pages, I was unimpressed until I got to The Little Red Men … and then the pendulum swung. Listening to the opening chord progression of “Off Guard”, my eyes widened in wonder as I marveled to the musical ingenuity my ears were absorbing. In fact, the first thirty seconds of that track was the impetus that got me in the car headed to Great Neck to see what this band could do live. The four-piece band delivered a set that left no doubt as to the potential inherent in this group of musicians.

I attended several additional shows from that point, from Smithtown to Montauk, and became more convinced that this was indeed a band to be reckoned with. After a change in drummers, the current lineup is comprised of Brandon Gurba (vocals, rhythm guitar), Nicholas Granelle (lead guitar), Andrew Golub (bass guitar) and Jordan Godfrey (drums). Each of these individuals is a first-rate musician, and the songwriting team of Gurba and Granelle produces material that is miles above the mindless pap of   radio fodder that is currently infesting the airwaves. Songs like “Off Guard”, “Jessie”, “6”, “Psycho”, “Jibberish” and “Blueberry Jam” demonstrate a level of songwriting ability and musical prowess that is, to these ears, unmatched by their peers. The Little Red Men are my favorite new band, hands down.

The Little Red Men have been lighting fires all across Long Island, playing venues such as the venerable Stephen Talkhouse, Revolution Musical Hall, Amityville Music Hall, the Vibe Lounge, Swallow East, Mulcahy’s of Wantagh, and a slew of events such as the 2014 Li Roxx Festival in Long Beach, the Sayville Summer Festival, the Cedar Beach Blues Festival, the Smithtown Day Festival, the Merrick Fall Festival, St. James Day 2014, and the Deepwells Fall Festival. They also managed to land a gig at the legendary Bitter End in NYC. For these high school students, staying on top of their studies is a priority but an increasing challenge as their reputation continues to build.

Live in Montauk - July 2014

I recently spent a Saturday evening interviewing the band, also checking out some new studio recordings, and was treated to a live performance of songs both old and new, all in the privacy and comfort of the band’s home studio/rehearsal space. The newly-recorded version of “Off Guard” with its fusion of radio-friendly alternative rock with progressive swing, funk, and jazz stunned me with its professional mixing, arrangement, and performances, both instrumental and vocal. Live, the band has soared to new creative heights at an altitude that most groups can only dream of, let alone achieve. The musical maturity exhibited by The Little Red Men exists side by side with a four-cornered friendship that each member is fiercely proud of and committed to. Sitting around the Granelle’s dining room table, we got down to business, discussing the recent past, the present, and what the band hopes will be an exciting future.

Roy Abrams: This new configuration has existed since May and there’s been a whirlwind of activity since then. Are you surprised at the relative speed at which this seems to have occurred?

Nick Granelle: We thought that we were going to be further behind (after deciding to part ways with our original drummer) but then we got Jordan, and it turned out that we got a lot better than we used to be. We were a little worried, because Jordan has different influences than our original drummer, but it’s a lot better because he’s more cooperative.

RA: How did the songwriting partnership evolve?

Brandon Gurba: I met Nick for the first time in 5th grade when I moved to St. James. We were in the same class together. In 7th grade, Nick and I performed separately in our school talent show. This is where I saw him play guitar for the first time. He was playing in a band called No Admission. I performed a medley of "Here Comes the Sun" by The Beatles, and "Stand By Me" by Ben E. King. We both really wanted to play together, so he invited me into the band. Once I joined the group, the name was changed to Fully Charged. Nick and I played with Fully Charged for about two years. Then, we decided it was time to move on to bigger and better things. We wanted to perform and write songs of our own, so we started The Little Red Men in August of 2013. Nick and I have been playing together for four years. We both started attempting to write songs when we were about 12 years old. I'd say we finally got the hang of it about a year ago, when the band started up.
RA: Jordan, who are some of your influences?

Jordan Godfrey: Buddy Rich, Max Roach, people like that … Dave Weckl, a lot of people.

RA: You had a sizable amount of songs back in July, when I saw you perform at the Swallow East in Montauk. Is there any new material?

NG: Yeah! We’re done with all the first album songs, and we’re going to record all those; now we’re working on the second album.

RA: How many songs do you plan to include on the first album?

NG: About nine.

RA:  Andrew—as a bass player, when you’re very used to playing with a drummer for a period of time and that situation changes, there’s always a period of adjustment. What was that process like for you and Jordan? How did you find that link?

Andrew Golub: I’d actually played with Jordan before he was even in the band. I felt this weird musical connection to him, and thought, wow, this kid is good!

BG: He’s real easy to play with—

AG: It was easier to jump into and have him match what I was doing, and vice versa.

RA: To Brandon and Nick … talk to me about what’s been going on since July.

BG: We’ve had the addition of a couple of songs, we have “I Won’t Be Far” which is a new one that we’ve added to the set and it’s going to be on the first album.

NG: Jordan has been coming up with things that I wouldn’t usually think of. I have a vision about the song, just basic drum beats, and he’ll add something and—

RA: —it takes on a whole new direction ….

BG: Four heads are better than one …

RA: How did your Stephen Talkhouse gig go? A lot of illustrious people have performed on that stage.

AG: It was awesome!

Brandon Gurba - Vocals, rhythm guitar

Nick Granelle - Lead guitar
RA: What are some other special gigs that you’ve done since we last spoke?

BG: The Bitter End in NYC. That was a really great experience, seeing what it’s like to play in such a cultured town and in such a historic place. It has a great vibe, and it was our best show that we played (up to that point).

RA: What was the response like?

NG: It was really loud in there, too. It was fun! We also played at Mulcahy’s in Wantagh.

BG: We played at the Amityville Music Hall and that was really cool. We’re always jumping around from place to place with the shows, so we never really got a feeling for a Long Island music scene, I hadn’t really, up to that moment, seen anything, but when I got there, I recognized so many people from these other bands. I realized that there is a scene, and we want to be a part of it.

RA: How would you define the Long Island original music scene as you’ve come to discover it?

BG: Most of it is hardcore music, hardcore metal, hardcore, a lot harder than stuff that we play. But I feel like stuff that we’re working on for the second album, you can tell that we’re from Long Island. We are influenced by local bands that we’ve played with or have seen, so it feels like we’re really developing and starting to get a good feeling of ourselves.

RA: You made an interesting statement that I’ve never heard anybody say before: “You can tell that we’re from Long Island.” What exactly does that mean?

BG: Well, not necessarily with our first album and the older songs, but into the direction that we’re going with some of our songs, you can kind of tell with the subject matter, musical things that kind of relates to something …. Long Island is famous for a certain sound, and I feel that’s somewhat influenced us as a band. We’re influenced by artists around us, and proud to be from Long Island.

RA: What sound are we talking about?

NG: Alternative rock, like it’s kind of a new kind of wave of rock.

BG: It’s a mixture of a bunch of different things; indie/alternative music. Long Island is famous for producing artists like that, and I feel like all these artists have influenced us just the same as “big” artists like Foo Fighters.

RA: What other Long Island bands would you be happy to share the stage with?

NG: The Montauk Project; we played with them at the Talkhouse and at Mulcahy’s. They have a really cool sound. (There’s also) the Innoculated Canaries. My cousin is in a band called Oogee Wawa and he plays more like reggae stuff, and he’s touring all over the country.

BG: There’s also a band that I recently saw at Amityville Music Hall, I think they’re called Tallest Trees in the Universe, and I feel like they’re really good.

AG: There’s a band that’s getting pretty big lately, Bayside, and I’d be happy to share the stage with them.

RA: Bayside has been around for years; I knew their original drummer, John Holohana great guy.

BG: There’s an older band that started in the early 2000s called Brand New that I’m heavily influenced by and they’re from Long Island. I look up to them because they’re from the same area; the same with bands like Taking Back Sunday.

RA: Is there an artist or band that all four of you share as a common denominator as an influence?

NG: The Foo Fighters, I guess.

JG: Black Sabbath … [general murmurs of agreement]

BG: Some more than others! [Laughter] We just like a lot of different bands.

RA: What’s your rehearsal schedule like, what with school and all?

NG: Every weekend, and we try as much as we can to get weekdays to record.

RA: You have a home studio all set up here, right? What program are you using?

NG: Logic. We’re just recording drums now.

BG: For the kick drum we’re using a Shure SM-52 Beta.

NG: We have Shure SM-57s and SM-58s.

RA: Who’s responsible for doing most of the tracking?

BG: Nick knows how to work the program, but we all have a say (in the mixing process).

RA: So Nick does the actual engineering, but the production is shared by all four of you?

BG: Yeah.

RA: What are your official release plans?

AG: We’re releasing a three-song EP first, and that’s going to hopefully tide people over until we get the album finished.

RA: Which three songs?

AG: “Psycho,” “Off Guard,” and “Jibberish.” We’re aiming to have the album out before next summer.

RA: How do you juggle the responsibilities of being students with everything that’s going on musically?

BG: It’s very hard. It’s pretty much just like coming home from school, doing your homework, and coming over here to record or go to a show, or write. We always find time to work on the band.

AG: If you care about something enough, you’ll make it work.
Andrew Golub - Bass guitar

Jordan Godfrey - Drums
RA: When are you looking to release the EP?

AG: Hopefully by the new year, like really soon next year, like January, hopefully!

RA: Any shows coming up?

BG: We’re playing at Adelphi University on December 5th.

AG: We’re playing an acoustic show at Barnes and Noble at the Smith Haven Mall on December 3rd from 6:00 to 6:45 PM. And then we have a cool show at Revolution Music Hall on January 4th. There’s a great sound system there, there are going to be a lot of great bands there, and it’ll be a great show.

BG: Our main goal is to write timeless music and keep going!

NG: Our goal is pretty much to get signed to a major record label.

RA: Why?

AG: They have the resources that we don’t necessarily have for ourselves to put us places where we wouldn’t normally be able to go. We’re looking for a record label that has all the qualities that we can’t get for ourselves; all the things on the managerial end that can put us forward to a place that we’re looking to go but can’t necessarily get there without their help.

RA: Personally, I think you should research that thoroughly, because that’s a huge step, and I think you guys are too good to put your eggs in one basket and rely on an environment and a situation where they aren’t necessarily looking out for you and your interests first.

BG: The Arctic Monkeys, which is one of the biggest bands in the world right now, is signed to Domino Records (an independent label);. They chose to do that for the creative control. A lot of bands choose to do that, and if they want to branch off to go to a bigger record label, then that’s a choice.

RA: You’ve recently released one of your songs on iTunes, right?

BG: We released our first single, “Jessie”, on iTunes on September 4th. We’ve gotten a pretty good response from it. It’s something to get our feet wet; that’s how we’re looking at it.

RA: The first time I saw you guys play, you included Neil Young’s “Down by the River” in your set. What made you choose that song?

NG: It’s something that we could jam and do whatever we want with. It’s a classic song.

BG: I did, because I love Neil Young.

RA: Jordan, what’s your take of the band, as the newest member?

JG: It’s great, it’s really good.

RA: What’s your recording process like? Are you tracking one instrument at a time or are you doing basic tracks?

NG: W do everything separately because we don’t have enough mics to do it live, the right way. It just works better because if we record two guys at a time and one guy messes up, it’s annoying for the other guy. It’s just better, and it sounds better. It’s more focused.

BG: We’re specifically focusing on one track at a time.

AG: It’s easier to mix; there’s less bleed.

NG: For guitar micing, we’re trying to use as many good mics as we can, as opposed to one.

RA: So the songwriting is basically the domain of you and Brandon, but going back to what you said earlier, regardless of whoever brings the song in, by the time you’re ready to record, each member has put his own stamp on it?

NG: Pretty much, yeah.

BG: There’s a lot of stuff that Jordan brings to the table, because there’s a lot of stuff that we wouldn’t necessarily think of, and he’s a great drummer! It’s great that he’s in the band.

RA: You guys are obviously very close friends. What degree of importance do you attach to that in terms of your ability to make the music that you make?

NG: We have to be. We just naturally are. We’re always together. (With regard to our future), one guy makes a decision, and it affects all of our futures, so—

RA: Everyone kind of watches out for the other. Interesting!

BG: It’s really like family. We function as a family, except that we don’t love each other! [Laughter] We’re each other’s best friends and it’s great to be playing with who we’re playing with!

RA: What is your opinion of songs that are on the radio today?

BG: It just seems so manufactured to me.

RA: If you listen just from a musical standpoint, a lot of what is defined as “hits” these days sounds the same.

NG: I’m surprised there are no copyright issues, because it’s all pretty much the same. We’re in the car and we’re all singing different songs to the one that’s on the radio. And the producing is also really similar.

RA: Who do you admire as record producers?

BG: I really like Rick Rubin, who worked with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, worked with an upcoming artist named Jake Bugg. I really admire George Martin just because he was the producer of the Beatles, because they were so innovative. I really admire Brian Wilson not only as a genius composer, but also as the innovative producer of the Beach Boys. Pet Sounds is one of my favorite albums of all time. I love Jeff Lynne's work too, especially on A New World Record. I also find Butch Vig's work fantastic on Nirvana's Nevermind and Wasting Light by the Foo Fighters.

NG: Jack Douglas, who worked with Aerosmith.

RA: Given the relative youth of your band, I would imagine that you’ve had to deal with what can best be called “ageism”—how do you deal with it?

[At this point, Doug Granelle, father of Nick, chimes in. Doug is without peer as a tireless supporter of his son’s band, acting as manager, chauffer, booking agent, cheerleader, and surrogate father to the three other members of the band. His enthusiasm is infectious, his devotion complete, and I have the utmost respect for him for all that he does. Doug points to four areas that, for him, make up the heart and soul of The Little Red Men: “The confidence, the control, the timing, and the energy.”]

Doug Granelle: If they’re playing in a bar for the first time, they see that they’re kids, and they don’t want them to play right away.  The respect level is down. At one venue, when they jumped up and played, you had to see, almost every single person in that bar was bopping. (The venue manager) didn’t want to look at them or talk to them. He was like, “All right, let them play” and after they played, he was like, “Wow. These guys are good.” Everybody in the bar just kept coming over to them; it was a complete turnaround in respect after they played.

AG: It’s a common theme. It’s kind of annoying that every time we go to a venue, it doesn’t matter what it is, even the other bands are going “It’s just some kids.”

BG: And there are so many venues in the city that we can’t do because we’re not 21.

AG: Yeah, we hear, “We love your music! Come play! Are you over 21?” It’s so commonly accepted that no one sees it as a problem, except … it is!

RA: What’s on the agenda for pursuing radio airplay?

AG: We have a connection at the Sachem High School radio station that’s actually pretty popular on Long Island and they should be airing our EP when it’s released.

RA:  I think that for you guys, it’s only a matter of exposure. The music is already there, which is a great thing.

AG: We also realized how heavily the music industry stresses your image.

NG: We’re trying to realize that.

AG: We’re working on it.

RA: How so?

NG: Looking at other bands and how our genre kind of ….

BG: We’re more so looking at ourselves …

RA: You say “our genre”—what would you define “our genre” as?

NG: Alternative rock, indie rock …

AG: The problem is that there are so many different extremes of alternative music that you can’t just …

BG: When we have to write what genre we are, for now we just pretty much write “rock” and if we have to go deeper we write “alternative”—but we’re still trying to figure ourselves out.

RA: When I first heard “Off Guard” it really took me off guard, because there are so many different influences in there, up to and including that whole swing thing …

AG: That was me. I’m a big jazz guy. I love jazz, big bands …

RA: Really! Who do you listen to?

AG: Coltrane.

RA: Do you?!

AG: Yeah. I’m a sax player as well, so I love all that; big bands, swing.

JG: We played at a record store in Montauk, and somebody told me I played exactly like the drummer for The Who. I don’t know them that well, but I started to research it when I got home that night, and I don’t see it, but if other people see it, then OK! [Author’s note: He does!]

AG: Multiple people have compared us to The Doors …

BG: Are you serious?

AG: Yeah.

BG: That’s awesome!

RA: I can’t compare you guys to anybody, and I love that, because you don't get to say that that often about any band.

BG: That’s a really big goal, because when you say like, a band like The Beatles, there’s not really anyone like them. We want to have our own sound, we want to be original and bring something new.

NG: We just don’t want people to say, oh, they rip off these guys.

BG: We’re really big on—

AG: —Originality.

RA: My ears are telling me is that you have a lot of influences, but such is the nature of each of you as a musician and as a creative soul, and the chemistry you’ve developed results in something that is really unique. Nobody else sounds like you.

BG: Once we release our EP and the first album, we were thinking of doing a small tour, because we’re getting people from different states, saying we should come there to play—all these different places.

AG: We’re trying to create a buzz about ourselves to get a spot on a local Warped Tour date. Because the Warped Tour—that’s our audience right there, those are the people who would say, “Yeah, you guys are cool, I’ll buy your album.” Those are the real people in this industry that care about the music. Kevin Lyman, the guy who runs the Warped Tour, he’s a down to earth guy; he’s in it for the music.

BG: A lot of huge bands got their start on the Warped Tour: Foo Fighters, Green Day, Paramore.

Kudos to these four young musicians! I fully expect great things from them and cast my vote for The Little Red Men as Best New Artist/Band of the Year.

—Roy Abrams
    Long Island, NY

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Steve Hackett: This Is What Genius Sounds Like

Genesis has reentered the realm of current events with two recent releases:  a career-spanning CD retrospective that also gives equal time to the solo career of its individual members, along with a filmed documentary that explores the band’s journey from inception through dissolution. It is the latter of these events that has made further headlines as guitarist Steve Hackett publically stated that he felt that the solo careers of Genesis’s individual members were not fairly apportioned, and that he would not offer the DVD of the documentary for sale on his website when it is released in January 2015.

Fans of Genesis (before and after Peter Gabriel) know all too well the sonic wizardry that guitarist Steve Hackett brought to the mix. A brilliant painter with sound, Hackett’s palette ranged from the subtlest pastel imagery of his acoustic/classical guitar playing to the otherworldly frequencies of his electric guitar. Hackett’s musical offerings to Genesis, from his induction into the band in 1970 through his departure in 1977, were highly influential upon the group’s sound, and his is the pen behind the group’s first hit single, an event which paved the way for all the successes to follow.

Hackett is the sole member of Genesis who has kept the music’s flag aloft. Currently on the road for his Genesis Extended 2014-2015 World Tour, Hackett and band visit Long Island on November 15th at The Space at Westbury, a gem of a live music venue.

Having been turned onto Genesis by my friend Steven LeClair in college and subsequently discovering the solo careers of the band members with the passage of time, I have tremendous respect for Steve Hackett as a musician, composer, arranger, and producer. The opportunity to spend some time talking with Steve on a recent Sunday phone call to the U.K. resulted in what you are about to read: The full transcript of a conversation with a creative genius.  

Steve Hackett’s candid and revealing insight into Genesis—a band that many people feel ranks among the greatest the world has ever known—was delivered in a voice devoid of malice; rather, his tone conveyed a mature wisdom that lent considerable weight to his words. Our discussion covered a variety of areas, including his solo career, his innovative use of double-tapping on guitar, his collaborations with Yes members Steve Howe and Chris Squire, past albums and performances, his current world tour, and a new album that he has just completed.

For his candor, friendliness, and most importantly, time, I thank Steve Hackett for spending part of his time with me.

Read on and enjoy!


Roy Abrams: This is the third time that Genesis Revisited is on the road since the first tour in 1996. What is your perspective on the musical power of Genesis with the passage of time?

Steve Hackett: The way I see it, I imagined I’d just do one tour of this because there’s a stiff amount of competition out there with all the tribute bands doing this stuff, and my tour manager was saying to me, “If you’re going to do this stuff again, the stuff you wrote with the band back in the ‘70s, you’ve got to be better than the tribute bands.” I thought, well, how do I approach that? Obviously, you’ve got to be thorough about it, so I rerecorded the material in order to teach it to myself again, and everyone else. So everyone who took part learnt it via recording it. And when it came to the live show, it took me about three months of solid work to manage to relearn a Genesis set, because it’s complicated music. I realize I was a different person when I was involved with that at the time. It’s not that it’s technically more difficult than all the things I’ve done separately, but in terms of a memory test, it’s all over the fret board, it’s all over the keyboard. So there is logic to it; when you’ve got five guys all throwing in ideas, as we were originally within Genesis.

SH: Oh yeah, that’s right—I remember doing that one.

RA: It’s about a 40-minute long concert, opening with “Please Don’t Touch” and ending with “Angel of Mons” … I watched it twice through last night and just kept saying to myself, “This is what genius sounds like.”

SH: Well, I’m glad you liked it that much! At the time, I was still pretty young at that point, I was still in my 20s, and I remember we did the show and the band were pretty nervous because they (the production crew) were telling us that we were playing too loud and there were lines on the camera and all this kind of stuff, so we were trying to figure out what it was that was going to spook the cameras! It was the technology in those days. And we found out that just the sound of a cymbal being struck acoustically created these sort of waves on the camera so I just agreed to turn down and then we did exactly what we liked for the show. In other words, we got out of in the time-honored way, but it did kind of spook everybody and so we were bristling, really. But it’s got some young fire, doesn’t it; it’s got some young energy!

RA: You mentioned fire … To me your music has always been an amalgam of the four basic elements: fire, air, water, earth, each with its own inherent power. Fans of your music will attest to the powerful listening experience which results. What insights you can share into your perception of the power of music?

SH: Oh my goodness me! The power of music is extraordinary; it certainly has the power to heal! We know that from the studies of Dr. Oliver Sacks, talking about people with (various brain issues). And he mentioned the example of a woman who could only move (in her normal state she’d be ‘frozen’), she could only move when she heard moving music; she was moved emotionally in order to move physically. So there is an instance of the power of music. Isn’t that extraordinary? And, on a more basic level, it’s guys whistling in a bathroom to perform. It’s all sorts of things; the very air that I breathe is the oxygen that I have to have around me; it keeps me going, it keeps me motoring. Visconti (the Italian film director) talked about having a cold of the flu, then working on the set, directing, saying “suddenly, I’ve no longer got a sore throat; suddenly I’m engaged with the process and things start happening and I forget about how I’m feeling—something else takes over.” At least, that’s the spirit of what he was saying. If you go onstage and you’ve got the flu [laughs]. I’ve done it many times, because that’s the way it is. By the end of the show, I can guarantee you’ll be feeling a lot better for having gotten through it, for a start! So music is a very good and powerful medicine.

RA: I see that some of your current band mates have been with you for quite a while; others are relatively new.

SH: The guy who’s on vocals, Nad Sylvan, who’s Swedish-American—he got on board with us a couple of years back, when we did the Revisited II album. He sang three tracks on it. We chose him as lead vocalist because he’s got a very flamboyant thing about him. He just is flamboyant. You see him walking down the street; he just doesn’t look like anybody else. An extraordinary-looking guy and happens to have this really soulful voice—he almost sounds like a black singer singing this Genesis stuff and Gabriel and Collins both had very soulful voices themselves, you know, so he fits into that category. His voice seems to be pitched in a similar kind of area. It’s a funny thing because his speaking voice isn’t particularly deep or anything but when he starts singing his throat seems to open up and it’s a whole different deal. It’s been great working with him. Of course, I work with the guys who have been favorites for a while. In the bass department, I had Lee Pomeroy last year. But it’s been Nick Beggs this year; I’ve been working with him again, he was working in my band a couple of years back. He’s been floating between myself, Steven Wilson, John Paul Jones, and he still keeps up his pop connections as well. So yeah, that changes from time to time; these guys are much in demand. He’s always busy, so is Lee Pomeroy, working with Take That, who are hugely successful in Europe, so I can’t always guarantee that I’ll have the same bass player each time, but I love working with good bassists. On record, in recent years, I managed to work with Chris Squire quite a bit; we’ve done one or two things together. I’ve just made a new album, funnily enough, that has Chris on it as well, so I’m really thrilled about that! I’ve been spoiled with choice in recent years; I’ve had some of the world’s greatest bass players with me and it’s wonderful when the music is driven by that extraordinary engine pinning it like a lead instrument. I like bass players who play it like a lead instrument; they don’t just play supporting parts, they lay into it like their life depends on it.

RA: What was the collaborative process between you and Chris Squire like? How did that evolve?

SH: Very, very good! He approached me years ago, he was making a Christmas album and I thought, ‘Oh, wow! Here’s a chance to work with Chris Squire!’ … you know, no slouch! I enjoyed working with him! He helped me on some solo stuff, first of all, after I’d done this Christmas album for him. And then, we found we liked working together. It was very natural—it was as if we’d been working together for years and years and years. With our respective histories of both Yes and Genesis, there was common ground. He loves classical music, he loves choirs, loves strings, big arrangements, pipe organ, all of that—and so much of that was common to Genesis, or the spirit of it, that I think when I left Genesis I started working with orchestras from time to time and working with classical music, so we were on the same page with all of this. I discovered the way Yes liked to write songs; what happens is that somebody has an idea and then someone else has another idea (but we’re talking about the same piece of music) so the same, main section of music expands to incorporate the idea of the next guy, and the next guy, and the next guy, so the same (piece) of music just gets longer and longer and longer, so that people can improvise and try all their ideas out. They don’t edit each other, unlike Genesis. Genesis was a huge editorial school of “They don’t like this, and you can’t do that.” There were lots of ifs, ands and buts—

RA: —Wow …

“Genesis was a huge editorial school of ‘They don’t like this, and you can’t do that.’ There were lots of ifs, ands and buts.”


SH: —Whereas Yes was much more a case of “OK, yeah, we’ve done that, we can do this with it.” They worked on a number of bars, and got them right, and then they edit another bunch of bars on together, and it seemed to work like that. It was a unique way of working, and I thought, “Well, we can have a cross between the two. There’s no idea that I brought forward to the plot that Chris has rejected, and there’s no idea that he’s brought forward that I rejected either. We just worked together in the most natural way imaginable—most of the time, in my living room, because I have a studio and at the time, there were some problems about using it for one reason or another, I couldn’t access it, so we just did this album called Squackett in the living room. It was great fun, people came and went, babies were born, friends wandered in and out (I say babies were born—not literally in the living room, but newborns were brought along to listen to things), food and wine flowed and was just an extension of living and being friends. It was very much the organic, natural way of doing things, and it was great fun.

RA: How did the connection with Steve Howe materialize?

SH: Well, that was much earlier, that was mid-80s. Steve Howe and I got in touch via Brian Lane, who was originally Yes’s manager, and then managed Asia. Steve left Asia, he wasn’t doing anything at the time and was looking for something, and the idea came up of putting two guitarists together and we were looking at the previous models of English bands that have managed to combine the potentially explosive egos of having two guitarists together: Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, Keith Richards and Brian Jones, and we figured, if they managed to do it for a while, perhaps we could do the same. Of course, it had its detractors and critics who would say, ‘Well, if you have two guitarists, is it perhaps one guitarist too many?’ And of course, who would argue with that? Does any band need two lead guitarists? Often, no.  At times, of course, you have to take a passive role in order to allow the other guy space to express himself. The most important thing for me, having come out of the Genesis school, was the writing. I thought, we need to be able to write material that people can understand and I hope we get enough space on it to be able to stretch out as players. Of course, we were signed to Clive Davis’s label, Arista, at the time, and he was having huge commercial success, as he does. He had Whitney Houston riding high for the first time, but they didn’t really have a rock band signed to the label, so it was tremendous to get all of that fire and energy and commitment from a label that were making it practically a science; provided you did things a certain way, provided you delivered the goods, they were going to do their part, and it was a science of having a hit. It was almost guaranteed! I thought, this can’t be true, this is like Hollywood. They’re telling us this is going to be a hit before anyone has seen or heard anything, and I thought I cannot afford to be this smug, and I wondered if this is really going to happen but sure enough, it turned into a hit! They were true to their word and they did whatever they could to make it happen. It was interesting for me because I thought, if Steve Hackett worked with Genesis and he was lucky to have hits with them, maybe that was just a fluke … but doing it a second time with another band, much like my pal Ian MacDonald—he invented King Crimson and then he went on to form Foreigner, and obviously it was no coincidence because on one hand he created the blueprint for all progressive bands to follow and the next he’s writing mainstream rock and pop; that can’t be coincidence.

RA: In another interview, you referred to Genesis as “a very competitive band, very gifted— but with those gifts, there’s a certain price.”  Did that statement relate to your earlier comment about the editorial nature of the band in the realm of songwriting?


“I would watch gems being thrown into the pot with other people, and then we would end up not recording that stuff, and it used to drive me up the wall, I used to think that there was an agenda at work here … (Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford) stood in Pete’s way, they stood in my way. At the end of the day, for Pete and I, our allegiance was to music, and not to what many people might think of as the world’s best band. You could justify that, certainly. Tons of talent, but not enough heart.”


SH: Well, I think that you couldn’t always get cooperation from Genesis. I think that there was a tremendous amount of power play going on, which eventually led to the loss of Anthony Phillips, Peter Gabriel, and then eventually Phil Collins. It’s because whatever it is, whatever drives people to make great music, and spurs people to excellence, there can be a down side of all that; that’s what I was trying to say, although that remark was quoted out of context. The side of it is that sometimes you have to work with very difficult people and just because you’ve come up with a great idea, or someone else has, it doesn’t mean to say it’s going to get done. I would watch gems being thrown into the pot with other people, and then we would end up not recording that stuff, and it used to drive me up the wall, I used to think that there was an agenda at work here. At the end of the day, when we had a meal, many years after the event, maybe three or four years back, I remember Tony Banks … 20 of us sitting around, people who had been involved with the band over the years, and he raised his glass and said, “Oh well, we managed to sack the lot of you.”  So that was the agenda all along! And, I think, well, yeah, but if you did that, then what about a guy like Peter Gabriel, who managed to come up with stuff that was not just influential musically but was a humanitarian and managed to move mountains, managed to get behind WOMAD to bring the rest of the world into the picture, and now we think of the mainstream encompassing bands from all over the globe. So, I think, my God, what a terrible loss. I tried, at the time, to convince Pete to stay with the band, but he knew that his best ideas were going to get blocked, and he was not allowed to have a parallel solo career. Tony and Mike would not (tolerate) that, and they wouldn’t (tolerate) it with me either. One of the things that is not in the documentary that we both said to camera is the reasons why we left, quite apart from what Mike Rutherford says later on, “we always encouraged solo careers”, well, that’s not true! They stood in Pete’s way, they stood in my way. At the end of the day, for Pete and I, our allegiance was to music, and not to what many people might think of as the world’s best band. You could justify that, certainly. Tons of talent, but not enough heart.

RA: That’s a lot of insight right there!

SH: Well, I’m being honest! I’m not trying to cover. I think up until recently, I was always trying to cover, I didn’t want to sound like I’m ratting on the regiment, but I think that people are old enough now to realize that there is a truth. People want to know why there is no band these days, why is it the band can’t do anything? Why is it I’m out there doing a separate show of Genesis music myself? I’ll answer that rhetorical question (by saying) it’s the music that’s the star of the show and, to a certain extent, as all the tribute bands have shown, the cast members have to be flexible. Sometimes it’s going to be with a different singer, different guitarist, but the music is the thing that’s stood the test of time, so no one can own that.

RA: What about the influences of certain writers upon you? I know you’re a fan of C.S. Lewis, as evidenced by your composition “Narnia.”… are there any other works by any other authors that have also played a part in tweaking your muse, so to speak?

SH: Oh, yeah, tons! I’m probably going to forget them all when I try and think of them at this point. Usually when I discover an author, I try and read everything he’s written, much like listening to a favorite band.  With Lewis, it wasn’t just the Narnia stories. Back in ’77 I started recording “Narnia” as the first track on the first effort when I left Genesis. The thing that I was drawn to with him was the creation of worlds; here’s a guy who invented worlds, whether it’s science fiction or something historical, magical, mythical. There were a ton of writers who have done that kind of thing … (like) Phillip Pullman with his Dark Materials trilogy, “The Amber Spyglass”, “The Subtle Knife” … what’s the name of the other one? I think they knocked it into one movie; tons of other people. D.H. Lawrence, love that! Milan Kundera, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” … all these guys, their stuff gets made into movies because it’s so wonderfully well-written, so a film like Women in Love, which I think is the definite D.H. Lawrence movie with Oliver Reed—just a stellar cast of actors, and I think it was Kim Russell’s greatest movie; I absolutely adored it, it was so beautifully done. But yeah, you’re talking about writers—someone like Lawrence, because he painted, tended to use words on the page that were full of color. And I did a version of “The Virgin and the Gypsy”, now I had only knew it as a movie and had only seen a couple of trailers for it. I deliberately didn’t read the book although I knew what the story was all about. I didn’t read the book until I’d done the song. That might sound strange, (but) I was really pleased to see that he’d used certain worlds that I’d used in the song, and they were words where, as a painter, he would choose a flower like a marigold, for instance. You’ve got the color implicit in the name, and I used that as well. I was writing from a Victorian book of flowers; I was trying to construct a lyric made up entirely from flower names.

RA: There always seemed to be a very tight link between Genesis and Italy.

SH: Yes. Yep.

RA: What sparked that?

SH: Well, I think the early songs of Genesis often used early resurgent love of Greek myths, substituting for direct experience. You  have to remember that Genesis was a band that went to a single-sex school and were starved of contact with girls/women completely. And that kind of education tends to breed guys who are capable of leading a charge into Crimea without flinching, but it doesn’t necessarily make you a great conversationalist! What happened was a ton of things taken from Greek myth, and of course all the Greek stuff—I’m talking about “Fountain of Salmacis”, Father Tiresias and Narcissus and various references to various characters. When you think about it, the Greeks obviously were a huge influence on the Romans, and Rome still influences the rest of the world as we know it, not just in terms of religion, but philosophy and a wonderful host of colorful stories with archetypes informing everything including psychiatry; so it’s a heady mix, and I think the Italians recognized straight away that we were subscribing to their combined history, so songs with derring-do, things that perhaps had less of a mating ritual involved, but were little stories, little operettas, as progressive music is. You know, progressive music and programmed music, the classical music term ‘programmed music’ … music that tells a story; it’s the same thing. Progressive music, if you define it as something longer than the regular pop or rock song, that’s fair enough, but most of the time you get the feeling that you’re watching a kind of film for the ear, and different themes are going to pass, and the music progresses and uses themes perhaps, and things come back, and so it borrows from classical music, but it also expands to involve aspects of jazz, and if you’re lucky, you might get a good solo in there from time to time! It’s that amalgam of all the stuff … and your original question was why did the Italians go for that? Well, I think it’s this connection to their background. You know, they preserve their past, they live with it. It is a living museum; they don’t knock down their old buildings, the Coliseum is still there, you can go visit. I think this orientation toward these old heroic characters and ideals was part of early Genesis. Like I said before, I think the reason why (is that) the guys were forced to delve into books, where perhaps a high school on your side of the pond, there’s not that separation, there’s not that emphasis on single-sex (schools). “Better separate them or they’ll be breeding!” [laughs]

RA: When did you first discover the technique of double-tapping, and when did you first begin to employ that in your playing?


SH: It was before I had done the first Genesis album, the first album in 1971, Nursery Cryme. I practicing one day at home and there was a difficult line, and I thought, this could be simpler if I try to do it on one string, and hammer on and hammer off with all the fingers of both hands. I thought, if I could do this … at first it seemed very difficult, because I couldn’t coordinate playing it in time—and then I started to practice it and use it with live solos with the band, so on a couple of tracks on Nursery Cryme, there’s some tapping, and on some of the subsequent albums, of course, Foxtrot and Selling England By the Pound, so it was a technique of being able to play furiously fast but with only one string … obviously the rest of the world has copped on in a big way since then; it’s part of the language of heavy metal and shredders—anyone who wants to play a solo in that way, it’s immediately impressive. It’s not always the most musical way of going about things, but to come up with a ton of “note salvos” if you know what I mean, it’s a good way of gunning the guitar, if you like—as many bullets as possible! But not killing anyone in the process, so all’s fair in war and guitars!


RA: How did you come up with the song selection for the current tour? I know that there are some that are holdovers from the prior tour, and I understand that you’ve added some, changed some—

SH: There are some floaters in there, or what we call “revolving door songs” … sometimes there’s a song in the set, and sometimes it’s out the door. We’ve got some that I can’t remember exactly the set we were doing last time. We’re about to do a British tour, and it’ll be the first time I’ve been onstage for over 40 years doing certain songs like “Squonk” from A Trick of the Tail, and “The Knife” from Trespass and “Lillywhite Lilith” from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, and then sometimes we do a couple of other songs from The Lamb; sometimes we do “The Lamia”, sometimes we do “The Carpet Crawlers” and sometimes we do one called “Shadow of the Hierophant” and I do that when Amanda Lehmann’s around who sings it, so I think she’s going to sing it on a couple of dates on this tour, but I just saw her today and she’s lost her voice, so I don’t know if she’s going to pull through on that. Sometimes we just do the end of it, because that’s a piece of music that works in itself as a crescendo; it’s a good excuse to make a tremendous amount of noise, from the drummer’s point of view, because he gets to solo through that whilst the rest of play really slowly, so the drummer gets to play really fast while the rest of us play really slow, but it’s a powerful piece of music. In fact, it was Stephen Wilson who said to me, why don’t you reintroduce that? I said what, that whole thing? No one’s going to dig that. And then since I started doing it live again, audiences seem to respond to it. Ideally, it’s with a girl singer, it doesn’t work with a guy’s voice. I tried it; Dik Cadbury came close when he was singing it in falsetto, but it’s really pitched for a girl’s voice.

RA: Of the Genesis albums you were involved with, which one rises to the top for you as a personal favorite?

SH: Well, the one that I enjoyed doing most of all was Selling England by the Pound. That’s the album that I think took a quantum leap forward, not just the playing, but the writing; in other words, it combined both complex and simple stuff. We got a hit single from it, but we hadn’t compromised the album at that point. You’ve got “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight” on it, which I still think is tremendous, and it’s got “Firth of Fifth” which I think is tremendous, and it’s got “I Know What I Like”—a little, short single. I think for all those reasons I felt that the band took a quantum leap forward, both in terms of playing and production and John Lennon liked it, so I can’t argue with that! He said we were one of the bands he was listening to at the time, and that was our new album. He said that on WNEW and that was a time when we were in New York and we couldn’t really get a gig in the rest of the States; on one hand, you’ve got one of The Beatles praising us, and on the other hand, you can’t get a gig. And that’s in the days long before tweeting and texting—no one sneezes these days on one side of the globe without someone else hearing about it on the other, but in those days, boy, news moved slow! The next gig we had, we had to wait two weeks, which of course was a financial disaster for us at the time, but then we were in L.A. doing the Roxy doing three nights, two shows a night, and that was it. We couldn’t get any gigs in the Midwest. That’s how it was—later on, of course, it was wonderful, to do Canada, French Canada and all of that, it was terrific.

RA: It’s amazing; on your website, I’ve looked at your dates, and you really make it a point to visit as many places in the world as you can. I really salute that, because not that many artists really seem to have that kind of focus. I’m sure your fans really appreciate that!


SH: I love gigging! This will be my first British (tour) for a while; we won’t have done a gig for a couple of months, since we did a festival here, so might be a little rusty on that first gig, but once you’ve got that first gig under your belt, it’s a great feeling. It’s a great feeling when you can take the stage by storm, you know, that nervous flutter before you go on, and the audience meets you halfway with their energy and enthusiasm; it’s a great feeling!

RA: My final question for you, Steve: I know that you’ve been working on a new album. Is there any information on when that’s coming out?

SH: I do have a new one, I just finished it, and we’ve mixed it stereo, it’s been mixed in 5.1 (Surround Sound). I let Roger (King) get on with the 5.1 because I knew the process; there were so many balls in the air; it’ll be much better if you let me get on with it, and then come in and criticize and I didn’t have too many things to say about his mix of it. He reads my mind; he knows what I’m going to suggest. It’s got a lot of orchestral moments on it. It’s a rock album, but the big moments—if you can just surround us with those, and if it’s a big chorus, surround us with those, and the rest of it is splitting it up and he’s done a terrific job on the Surround Sound mix, so this will be the first solo Surround Sound mix of a studio album that I’ve ever done of a solo thing. I’ve done Surround Sound (mixes) of live gigs; we did a Surround Sound mix of the Squackett album, but basically the first time … so I know it’s a small elite niche market, but I figured that even if you don’t possess a Surround Sound system yourself, you’ll know a friend who does. All I would say is, it’s worth listening to that on someone else’s system, even if you don’t buy the album, because then you’ll get the feeling of being surrounded, and those musical ambushes I think work very well in Surround—the surprise factor of not just what is going to happen next, but where it’s going to come from. I do love that, I must admit!


RA: Looking forward to seeing you in Westbury next month! I will definitely be there—

SH: Thank you! This is what I live for; it’s playing live!


©2014 by Roy Abrams

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