Chris Squire + Steve Hackett = ‘Squackett’

It’s not like either artist needed the work. Bassist Chris Squire, who co-founded Yes with Jon Anderson in 1968, is the only member of the band to appear in all of its many incarnations. With the band touring extensively this year, you could say Squire’s 2012 plate was full even before the Squackett recording sessions began.

Steve Hackett is busy with upcoming dates as well. A member of Genesis from 1970 until ’77, the guitarist played in the band when Peter Gabriel was its frontman as well as the group’s first two albums with Phil Collins handling lead vocals. Hackett, along with other Genesis members, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.

Now Squire and Hackett have collaborated as “Squackett” on the album A Life Within A Day, scheduled to be released June 5 on Esoteric Antenna. With each artist talking with Pollstar separately, Squire and Hackett described the making of the album, progressive rock in general and plans for taking their collaborative work on the road.

Steve Hackett and Chris Squire

How did the collaboration come about?

Squire: It started in 2006 when I was making an album called Chris Squire’s Swiss Choir, which was a Christmas album. It was a bunch of Christmas carols I liked when I was a kid and I wanted to do them, only with a prog-rock kind of … guitar, bass, drums, keyboards kind of a vibe to it. So I got together with (former Syn member) Gerard Johnson who is the keyboard player on that album. We brought the ideas together and then my friend Jeremy Stacey played drums on it for me and then we put the choir on. I didn’t have a guitar player really firmed up for the project. I talked with a couple of people like Brian May and Jeff Beck. They said, “Give us a call.” Of course, when I called they were involved with other things and couldn’t do it.

Then Jeremy said to me, “Have you tried Steve Hackett?” I didn’t really know what he was doing and hadn’t really heard much about him for the last 20 years. To my surprise I realized he had quite a flourishing recording career since he left Genesis, doing all various kinds of classical, folksy … all kinds of different guitar albums. Quite a repertoire.

So I called him and asked if he’d be interested in playing on my Swiss Choir album and he said, “Yeah, I’ll give it some time. I’ll give it a go.” I sent him a couple of tracks and he did such a great job. I said, “Oh, please, Steve, could you finish the rest of the album for me? This is really working well.” He said, “Yeah, I can do that.” And that was the beginning of our relationship.

Hackett: He had the choir largely all sorted on that … They had re-harmonized those Christmas carols and some of those were quite complicated. So we broke down those harmonies, Roger King and I, and I thought what would suit that album would be to play [the] Rickenbacker in a bell-like manner. I wanted it to sound not a million miles away from the guitar work of Jim [Roger] McGuinn with the Byrds. That was a big influence on Mike Rutherford and myself when we were working in Genesis, so we used some of that approach. I didn’t quite change anything, but at times Chris wanted solos from me. Of course, there’s free rein when you do a solo when it’s lead work. I even did some arpeggiated lead work with distortion that sounded quite brass-like at the end of the day … just to see what that might sound like.

I had fun doing that. We worked flat-out for about two weeks on it. We needed the job done quickly and there was a lot of ground to cover. So I gave it my all because it was Chris Squire, after all. I was a huge fan and still am.

Regarding the name, combining Squire and Hackett for Squackett. Were other names tossed around?

Squire: Not really. The only way that name really came about was because during the course of doing the project, we would often spent all day in the studio and then go somewhere to have dinner in London in the evening. My wife got fed up with [the question] “Who’s the reservation in the name of?” And she used to say “Squackett.” That’s really where the name came from. And it kind of stuck.

Who else is playing on the album?

Squire: A very, very good drummer, Jeremy Stacey, who plays with quite a few people. He spent a few years playing with Sheryl Crow. He’s also played with Tom Jones, and at the moment he’s playing with Noel Gallagher from Oasis and his solo project. He’s a very in-demand drummer. I’ve known him for a few years.

Were either of you ever concerned that Squackett might interfere with other projects, and that songs written for the project might work better as solo compositions or Yes songs?

Hackett: There’s always that. I’ve done lots of solo albums. When you do a combined thing, you can’t afford to be so precious about it, even if you care about every note. You got to take onboard the other guy’s point of view. I was happy to sit back and enjoy the songwriting process with a couple of partners. We were able to bring something to the table that each of us might not have come up with had we gone entirely the solo route.

I had some legal complications, shall we say, in my life going on for a few years. So we were stockpiling a whole bunch of things. I thought, “If Chris likes this song, I’m going to put it to one side and use it for the project with him. If he likes it, there must be a reason he likes it.”

Squire: Here’s the thing. I think ever since I did Fish Out Of Water in 1975, I’ve been trying to write a second solo album. Writing is something you really have to put your mind to. It’s really a lot of work. I enjoy it when it gets off the ground, but writing isn’t the easiest thing in the world. So every time I get a few new tracks under my belt, which I think is going to be for my new solo album, then something else always comes along, or a Yes album comes along, and the tracks end up going there. Or in the case of Squackett, three tracks I thought were going to be for my solo album are on here.

Wasn’t there a project called “Cinema’ that ended up as a Yes album?

Squire: That was in the early ‘80s when Yes was on a hiatus. After the ’70s when we had been working extremely hard, we got into the ’80s, we took some time out. Then I got to go with Trevor Rabin, and that project was going to be named “Cinema.” That, of course, re-evolved into the 90215 album under the Yes banner. By that time we re-associated ourselves with Jon Anderson who came back in. The record company said, “Now that Jon’s back, you may as well call it ‘Yes’ and not ‘Cinema.’”

What can fans expect from A Life Within A Day that might be different than anything either of you have done?

Squire: It’s been such a happy accident that Steve and I hooked up. Not only do we share a very similar musical viewpoint, but when we started singing together, we realized our voices sounded very good, very compatible and made a good noise. That was a real bonus. I didn’t even know Steve sang when we first got together. When I realized he did and was actually really good, things kept going along really well after that.

Hackett: I think that when you do a combined project, you tailor the thing to each other’s tastes and capabilities. Chris is a phenomenal bass player, but he’s also a great singer and songwriter. So I had a great time working with him where we just egged each other on and carried each other. We didn’t stand in each other’s way. We selected the best of what we thought each other was capable of. And we managed to work face-to-face writing. Some things were brought in that were separate, originally, but stuff that was intended to be solo stuff or even Yes stuff or Hackett stuff, was kind of rewritten to make sense for this combined thing, Chris and myself and one other main writer on it, Roger King, who engineered and is the producer. It’s that studio construction that he put together. A very interesting time. I loved working face-to-face with him. It was very relaxed. We did a lot of it in my living room at home.

What are your favorite songs from the album?

Squire: I love the whole album. I think, as a whole, it works really well. Every song compliments the next song. I think we got the order right. I think it’s a really inspiring album to listen to. I’m very proud of it.

Hackett: I’m very fond of the opening track. The 5.1 mix, which is not out yet, sounds spectacular. “Tall Ships” on 5.1 is a spectacular sonic journey. I’m basically very proud of all of it for the way it sounds. It took a long time to put together amidst other projects that were going on. We took our time. It was an organic process, an extension of friendship. Chris and I spent a lot of time together socially, seeing other bands, other artists, painting the town, enjoying all of that. I didn’t know how many shows Chris goes to see. We turned up at so many events, together … We went to see Joe Bonnamassa, we talked to him and watched him do a Yes track. We saw so many people.

One of the things that really stands out on the album is the rhythm section and the big drum sound.

Squire: Yeah. Jeremy is such a great drummer and his playing on the album is phenomenal. That’s definitely a bonus. You just don’t get Chris Squire and Steve Hackett, you get Jeremy Stacey. And Roger King, as well, who is responsible for all of the keyboards and arrangements of keyboards, etc.

Will the two of you take Squackett and A Life Within A Day on the road?

Hackett: I certainly hope so. I’m looking forward to the time when we’re able, in the midst of our busy schedules, to be able to do this stuff live.

Squire: I believe the fall is the time we’re focusing on, but it’s most likely going to start off in Europe, I think. We’re looking at offers right now but nothing is confirmed. We’re looking at doing some work in England and we’re getting inquiries about Germany as well. So we’re more likely to put our toes in the water and test it out over there. The U.S., we’ll have to fit that in sometime next near. We’ll see how it goes.

Speaking as progressive rock pioneers, were there ever moments when the genre was a little too clever for its own good?

Squire: Speaking from Yes’ career, it’s very hard to determine. We did a somewhat obscure album when we made Tales From Topographic Oceans. It definitely had some jaggedness about it and some bits that didn’t connect as well as, maybe, some of our earlier stuff – Close to The Edge, Fragile and The Yes Album – which were a little more accessible for more people. But at the same time, because we took that chance, it sort of enabled Yes to carry on with a long-term career. I think people saw the value in the fact that we had been daring in a way and weren’t very safe.

In the long run, by the time we got into the ’80s, we had sort of went a little simpler and rocky, which is also taking a risk. We could have threatened our fanbase a bit by going that way, but that paid off as well. I’m all for not doing the obvious when it comes to music.

Hackett: I think a common mistake for people who love progressive music and want to write things in that style, there has to be some kind of statement. In other words, the very broken rhythms of progressive music, only really work when there’s something good harmonically going on. Otherwise it’s just start, stop, like a car crashing gears all the time. I don’t think that makes good music. Punctuation on its own doesn’t quite do enough for me.

If I was to quote a particular piece of music of Genesis at its most complicated, there’s a very difficult rhythm that accompanied one of our best-named tracks from way back, from 1972 and Foxtrot, “Watcher Of The Skies.” It’s a very complex, syncopated rhythm that I tried to do with an orchestra at one point. They simply couldn’t play it. All these trained players just couldn’t do it. They couldn’t count it. That only really works because you have two chords accompanying it and a crescendo going on at the same time. You’ve got the complexity but you’ve got the simplicity.

If you listen to Tchaikovsky, some of the moments that sound like sword fights, and if you took away the orchestra and just had what percussion is doing, you’d have a lot of work where progressive falls down. It needs to rest to make it work. The element of surprise, alone, is not enough. There has to be this other dimension, I think, of familiar intent. Just a personal thought; a piece of music, if it’s engaging in some way, it can be simple. It doesn’t have to be long, it doesn’t have to be complex, it can just be in 4/4. There are many ways to capture an audience’s attention.

Time signatures are only part of it. Eastern Europeans were doing this way back. Tchaikovsky was doing time signatures, he was doing 5/4 by the time he was doing his final stuff. And the term “progressive” has been around since the early 1900s. I would say progressive music, at this time, it’s going through a total reappraisal. I think the best of it has some other dimension to it.

Will there be a second Squackett album?

Hackett: I hope there will be that, too. That there will be absolute Squackett-mania out there and people will go nuts for it and they’ll tear off our clothes.

Steve Hackett & Chris Squire

Although Squackett doesn’t have any upcoming tour dates, separately, Squire and Hackett do have upcoming shows.

Squire’s concert calendar is filled with Yes shows beginning next month when the band launches its North American tour in Rama, Ontario, at the Casino Rama Entertainment Centre July 10. Other Yes engagements include Atlantic City at Tropicana Casino July 13; Westbury, N.Y., at the NYCB Theatre At Westbury July 14; Englewood, N.J., at the Bergen Performing Arts Center July 15 and Lewiston, N.Y., at Artpark July 17.

Hackett’s upcoming shows include a couple of gigs in Germany with the Popakadamie Baden-Württemberg Orchestra – Salem at the Palace Theatre June 6 and Saale – Halle at Galgenbergschlucht. Upcoming dates for the Steve Hackett Electric Band include the England’s Isle Of Wight Festival June 24; Loreley, Germany, at the Night Of The Prog Festival July 8 and back in England at Abbey Fest in Bury St. Edmunds July 22. Hackett’s Acoustic Trio is booked to appear in East Sussex, England, at Trading Boundaries Sept. 30.

For more information about Squackett and A Life Within A Day, please click here for the official website.