The Night Siren, the new album by rock legend and former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett, is a modern guitar album with a heavy message. In Hackett's own words, it's a wake-up call to the world.
Everything about the album is a reaction to the right-wing ideas dominating the political landscape, including Hackett's decision to use musicians from around the world.
"It's a whole United Nations of 20 people who are on [the album]," Hackett says. "The message is basically peace. If musicans can work together peacefully, I don't see why the rest of the world can't do it."
I recently spoke with Hackett about The Night Siren, his gear, John Wetton and more.
The first thing I’d like to do is get your thoughts on the recent passing of your friend, John Wetton.
John was a man who was as sweet as his music. He was a wonderful guy and I’m sure in spirit he’s still around. Just about every night on this tour I’ve dedicated something to him. He was the warmest, most incredible guy and is sorely missed by so many people.
Let’s talk about The Night Siren. What inspired it?
I made friends with many interesting people from all over the world that I wanted to work with. Some of the album was recorded in Hungary, some in Sardinia and some of it in the U.K. There was also some data I had collected over time I felt would assimilate well into what we were doing. But The Night Siren was not a rushed album. Everything was given its due time—as well as the Surround mix—in order to give Roger King [keyboards/programming] the maximum amount of time.
Why the title, The Night Siren?
Anyone who’s a thinking soul is worried about the state of the world at the moment. Multicultural diversity and diplomacy is terribly important and the only real hope we have. With the rise of right-wing politics and the idea of going back to nationalism and kicking people out, the more we begin exploring the possibility of a conflagration the size of the second world war, or worse.
Let’s discuss a few tracks from the new album, beginning with “In the Skeleton Gallery.”
I was talking to my wife Jo about what we had gone through in childhood, and she would tell me about night terrors that would frighten her as a child. I also recalled my own childhood and a time when I was in an altered state of consciousness, with visions that seemed absolutely real. The song is about things in the closet and things that go bump in the night. A mixture of childhood dreams. Not just terrifying ones but also the aspirations and marvelous ones about spaceships that kept me going as a child.
“Behind the Smoke.”
I had the idea for the music, but Jo came up with the opening line. I remember she said, “Behind the smoke is black,” and I said, “You’re talking about refugees, aren’t you?” and she said “Yes.” As we talked about the state of play and the compassion that accompanies the response from politicians all over the world, we compared it to the time of now versus the time of then. In the late 1800s, my family and hers were escaping religious persecution in Poland. They eventually made it through Europe and to the U.K. and were let in. Without that, we wouldn’t be here today.
“Fifty Miles from the North Pole.”
When we were touring in Iceland, we played a show in Akureyi, which is 50 miles from the Arctic Circle. I remember we flew in, did the show and left the next day, and it was all in darkness. We saw a fair amount of Iceland while we were there. It’s a beautiful landscape that’s very foreboding and dramatic. The track is a little bit like a mini-film for the ear in that it’s done in a James Bond/spy movie style. It’s music that tells a story, like so many tracks on the album do.
What’s your guitar setup like when you perform live?
When I play live, I usually use a Fernandes guitar with a sustainer pickup in the Les Paul shape. The Burney model. At the moment, I’m using one that once belonged to the late, great Gary Moore. On one level, it’s sad because Gary was a such a hugely talented musician, singer and writer who is no longer with us. But I’m happy to have a guitar that functions so great. I used it on the last track on the album, “The Gift."
Is there a message you’d like people to take away from listening to The Night Siren?
It’s a wake-up call. There are two tracks on the album; the opening one, “Behind the Smoke,” which is about refugees desperately trying to survive and the feeling of angst that accompanies it. When we play it live, it comes across like an army on the march. An army literally marching for their lives rather than to attack.
I bring back one of the same themes on the guitar on a song toward the end of the album called “West to East.” This time, we play it slower and more orchestral in order to create a world theme with it. There is a peace message behind “West to East.” It’s the one where we have an Israeli [Kobi Farhi] and a Palestinian [Mira Awad] working and singing together, and sounding wonderful.
The Night Siren will be released March 24. For more information, visit hackettsongs.com.
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.