“It’s a genuine fusion of our separate ideas,” says former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett about his creative relationship with Yes bassist Chris Squire. “There seemed to be a natural harmony there. We listened to each other, which is refreshing. Musicians aren’t always good listeners. You often get gifted control freaks running bands, but they don’t always make the greatest listeners.”
These two progressive rock veterans came together to do sessions on each other’s projects, and almost before they knew it, they’d formed a duo called Squackett and finished an entire album. Produced by keyboardist Roger King, A Life Within a Day offers a seamless merging of the finer elements heard in Yes, ’70s-era Genesis, and Hackett’s solo work. Eschewing an epic self-indulgent note fest, A Life Within a Day focuses on tight songs, stellar vocal harmonies, signature musicianship, and a few stylistic surprises.
Recently, PG met with Hackett and Squire to find out how this project came together and explore the creative process that produced A Life Within a Day.
The new record sounds great.
Hackett: Thank you.
Squire: I don’t know if it was luck or judgment that got us making this album, but it certainly turned out to be really satisfying.
How did you guys first meet?
Hackett: I met Chris when I was doing a show with Steve Howe. We were doing GTR and playing a show in Los Angeles. We had a good conversation after it. We seemed to hit it off straight away and I complimented him on lots of the stuff that Yes had done. He told me how much he liked A Trick of the Tail with Genesis.
We seemed to have an immediate rapport. He asked me if I’d play on his Christmas album. That turned into him appearing on a couple of solo things of mine, and then eventually this combined project.
Squire: After the Christmas album was released, I went to Steve’s studio and played some stuff for him thinking it was going to be for projects of his own. As that process went on he gave me a CD of ideas he had. It progressed to the fact that we were working together on stuff that didn’t have any designation at that time. It just evolved organically, and we suddenly realized that we were sort of involved in making an album together. It was a very comfortable way of going in with no pressure. It was a very comfortable situation for both of us.
Were there any songs that the two of you created from scratch?
Hackett: “Tall Ships.” Chris was trying out a bass in my studio in Twickenham and straight away he started playing what became the thing that anchors the whole of that track. I said, “Do you think you can repeat that? If you can, I think we can turn that into a song.” He said, “Yeah I think I can repeat that.” So he played exactly the same thing. Most musicians when you say to them, “You just played something great, can you play that again?” They say, “I was just messing around. I can’t remember that.” That’s 99.999% of what goes on in the studios and the moment is lost. But he said, “Yeah. I can remember that.” And that’s the first thing we put down.
The title track goes to so many places and has stylistic elements from both your careers.
Squire: It does and definitely gets the record going at the beginning.
Hackett: A lot of British bands have an aspect of all sorts of stuff. There’s an aspect of an Eastern influence, there’s an aspect of progressive stuff, and modern bands. There’s the syncopation that originally came from the States, but the Eastern Europeans had that with Béla Bartók and their folk music. It’s a fast trip around the world of music with that composition. I think it’s the most developed track.
Once you realized you were working on a project for the both of you, did you attempt to mold it into some sort of specific vision?
Squire: Not really. We were just working on the individual songs. Then of course we said, “If this were an album, which song would go best before the other one,” etc. The whole thing evolved very organically. The last thing that we did was the first track, “A Life Within a Day.” We pretty much wrote it from the ground up together. It ended up being the first track on the album and indeed the title of the album as well.
Instead of an epic prog fest, it’s very much a vocal record. How did you divide up the vocal duties?
Hackett: We enjoy working together as singers. Chris and I share this love of harmonies and bands that use harmonies well. I think we made up this third singer between us.
Squire: We discovered that if one of us sang in unison along with the first vocal, it made a really good noise. It had a sound with the combination of what our voices produced.
Hackett: It comes from our backgrounds of listening to everything from The Everly Brothers, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and The Mamas & the Papas—harmony bands.
Squire: We each brought in some of the melodies and I’d do harmonies on his stuff, and he’d do harmonies on my stuff. Eventually we were writing melodies together. On some tracks, he sang the vocal and on some tracks I did.
Who brought in “Divided Self?”
Squire: That was Steve’s. It’s a cool track.
It’s very different from what most people would expect from either of you.
Squire: It’s got a ’60s Byrds feeling about it and a bit of The Police in there as well.
I’m hearing XTC.
Squire: Very much. I’m very familiar with their work. That’s very much part of their arsenal as well.
Hackett: It’s mainly a harmony-based tune. Then there’s a chorus where we’re both singing on it and doubling every part that we did individually, so there are quite a lot of singers on it by the time we finished tracking up.
I was thinking of something that had a ’60s feel, but the track becomes progressively more retro as it continues. You have a guitar solo that sounds more like the 1950s with a clean tone. Then it ends up with a nod to the kind of music you might hear before the main feature in a cinema of the 1940s with the Wurlitzer coming up through the floor. There’s a little bit of English humor there with The Beatles and the vaudevillian approach. It’s a nod to an earlier era. It also gives it another dimension that we’re not taking ourselves too seriously.