JULY 1994

Source: Seconds Magazine

Interview with Jon Anderson

By Steven Blush

Yes are gods of Rock. best known for their bodacious blend of psychedelic snacks and witty classicisms, this rotating crew of straight-faced musos-led by noted high-register crooner JON ANDERSON - have consistently defied fickle market whims and bad industry advice for over a quarter of a century, and have quietly created their own unique musical epicenter of innovation. From their earliest daze of post-Carnaby Street pseudo-psychedelia with Time and a Word, to their Fragile reign as lords of 70s bong-ready Arena Rock, to their early-80s Pop and Hip hop crossover success with the break-beat-blessed "Owner of a Lonely Heart, " to the act's surprisingly scintillating '94 effort, Talk, these forty-something men of steel continue to play from their hearts, devoid of ugly underground pretense or formulaic schlock. In this tired Pop Culture biz fraught with suicidal billionaires and politically-correct bloodsuckers, Yes remains close to the edge. Nineteen albums of musical mind warp later, this renowned super group's reputation precedes them. Hipsters will bitch and moan that Yes ruined Rock while Punx will wax poetic on how overexposure to "Roundabout" made them cut their hair and follow losers like the Clash, but Anderson and crew (currently featuring alums Chris Squire, Tony Kaye and Alan White, along with Afrikaner Trevor Rabin) are sonic stalwarts with millions of middle-class fans worldwide. Grunge dudes, eat your hearts out. Modern times have not been kind to old-school Rock Stars like Yes. Talk concert dates ain't exactly selling like the good ol' days, while corresponding CD sales are easily the band's worst to date. Yes currently record for Phil Carson's Victory Music label, a veritable morgue for Dazed & Confused-era Rock icons. With labelmates like ELP and Triumph going double lead these days don't be surprised if Polygram mercifully pulls the plug on this unsuccessful money pit before you read this interview. Needless to say, Yes deserve a far better fate. Jon Anderson, yours is no disgrace.


SECONDS: Congratulations on the new record.

ANDERSON: It's a special album. A couple months ago I was thinking, "How far does Yes go?" Obviously to me and a lot of other people around the world, this album has really touched a nerve. We're coming from the late 60s, which was the real incredible move into stage and theatre and playing longer than twenty minutes. We wanted to put together an album representative of who we are. We come from a great time. If you look back at that time, there was great musical momentum. We're still there. So a couple of months ago I sat back and thought, "I can't believe we're still doing our music." The guys in the band are so proud of being Yes. They've been rehearsing for two months and they're so sharp. I'm happy to get on stage and sing with a great band- there's not many around that keep pushing the boundaries of music and sound. We're doing quadraphonic sound. The more I hear the album, the more I appreciate Trevor's work on it. It's very modern sounding. it doesn't relate to a fashion, which Yes has never really done. We're still doing what we do best, which is not locking into what's happening this year.

SECONDS: Discuss the early psychedelic years of Yes.

ANDERSON: It was an amazing time because at the time Yes started, Zeppelin started. Deep Purple, ELP, genesis, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report - there was alot of great music going on. In so many ways it was like an incredible explosion of music ideology. Whatever way you turned you would find Zappa, you would find Pink Floyd - you were busy buying people's albums because it was so damn exciting. The only music I buy now is World music, ancient Chinese music, South American Salsa band music. I don't buy modern Rock & Roll because there isn't that explosion anymore in terms of music prowess. at the time, in the late 60s, early 70s, there was a lot of musicianship around. King Crimson were around at that time. It was an amazing period. To watch a band perform great music, you want to do better. you do battle with record companies, you do battle with the business because you're a par t of the avant-garde, your part of the revolution of music. Today, we're still pushing the revolution, we're not letting go. Whoever gets into the music is in for life.

SECONDS: What was Yes initially a reaction to?

ANDERSON: At that point in time, we'd all been in bands for four or five years each. So we'd done everybody's music. We done The Beach Boys, The Beatles, the Stones, the Who. We copied everybody. When we got together we were a fusion of all those things and we were ready to leave to be more adventurous.

SECONDS: One of your earliest show was opening at the Cream farewell concert. How did that event impact on your career?

ANDERSON: It was the first time we played in front of so many people. I tell ya, it was amazing to see, because Cream were the best of the musicians in London at the time. There was another guy on the bill. Rory Gallagher. We just went on stage and probably sounded like a little band because emotionally we were a little band. After that we thought all we've got to do now is go out to the sticks and play clubs, and get some university gigs. That's all you thin k about. You don't think about conquering the world and making major albums. You only think about the next step. That's what we're thinking now, we're thinking about the next step. To be a true professional is to never lie down and think about the past too much but to get on with the future. The record companies are very worried about bands that just want to make good music and not conform to the radio of the day. music is a life thing and not many people are willing to stand up and say that. As a group, we've got to, because it's the only way we can survive. That's why there's been so many splits within the band, because there is a definite professionalism about being a musical band, and a spiritual band - but not a commercial band.

SECONDS: When you first came out you were hailed as a future "supergroup." How hard was that to live up to?

ANDERSON: I didn't believe it. I was just happy to get on the road and make money and survive.

SECONDS: Right before The Yes Album you were almost dropped by Atlantic. Did the pressure inspire you?

ANDERSON: We didn't know. The funniest thing was we were tired of living in London. We were tired of being spoken of as the Next Big Thing and we just went off to living in Dublin for three months. And that's where we made The Yes Album, because we were away from the competitiveness of the business and we were relaxed and musically hungry. Again with this new album, I said to Trevor, "I am not going to write this album living in L.A. Let's go to Hawaii , or an island or Mexico." I was living in San Clemente and he came down there. That's where we wrote and really realized the album.

SECONDS: Steve Howe used to play in the band Tomorrow with Twink. What are your memories of the band?

ANDERSON: My first memory was walking past the stage of the Speakeasy and looking up at the guitarist who was just flying over his guitar. I'd never hear anybody with such technique. I went to the bar and said to a friend, "who's that?" And he said, "that's Steve Howe." The guitar he was playing was a beautiful classic Gibson Barney Kessel-Wes Montgomery-style guitar. I realized this guy just wasn't rockin' - he was flying.

SECONDS: Then Rick Wakeman from the Strawbs joined the band and you did Fragile, with "Roundabout." How did that record change your lives and how did it change popular music?

ANDERSON: As soon as Rick came into the band, the whole band uplifted itself musically. With Rick, Steve, Bill, and Chris this was a fine band. We needed music that really belonged to it. We did four songs, each about eight, nine minutes and then some intermediate pieces of music. We were trying to sell the artist within the band. We were performing as a group plus there were individual spots. It led to a long show. you could have Steve play a couple of songs on his own and Rick on his own and Bill could do a solo. Then you start to think, "How can we put a show together to keep people interested?" That's when you start having better lighting, more theatre - at the time Bowie was doing a lot of theatre. There was alot of bands trying these things out. Because of the music being longer, surely the stage design is going to be better so the audience doesn't get whacked by the length of the music. Look at the stage show now - it's amazing. We're just starting on a tour and realizing we're still right in the throes of our world. Yes is an experience really. It's a law unto itself. It really drives us along and makes the people who come to see the band never regret coming. They always have a great experience watching the band perform.

SECONDS: What was the true nature of Rick's conflict with the band? I read it was because he was a loud beer-drinking carnivore.

ANDERSON: He was early grunge. The problem I think was that we never stopped working. After five years of making albums on the road, I said to the guys, "We really should have a break, " but nobody really wanted to. So we just carried on for another two years and then everybody started getting frustrated with each other. I think everybody was overworked and the albums started to suffer, and the individuals in the band started to turn to other things. That happens in every group.

SECONDS: What was the nature of Yes' relationship to Roger Dean and how important were his images to the total package?

ANDERSON: I was really the one that brought Roger into the project. Steve had showed me his work and I said we've got to bring this guy in and we've got to have stationary by Roger Dean, T-shirts by Roger Dean, everything by Roger dean-and it didn't happen because Roger was very slow getting involved in the business. So we just used him for the album covers. It did take over eventually, and Roger, three or four years later, started getting into the business side of it. I was looking for the architecture of Yes, the look, I was just into the theatre of the band. It's very expressionistic, it's very exciting and it's very everlasting. All the world's a stage and all that crap.

SECONDS: What happened with Patrick Moraz?

ANDERSON: Patrick was very hot for a year and then got sidetracked onto other levels of thinking and for some reason just felt he had an easy gig. It's very hard to get in to Yes and it's very hard to rejoin Yes. Some times we all click with it. Every ten years we do something special and the rest of the time it's confusing and in chaos.

SECONDS: How did the Union tour work, where you had guys on stage who weren't the best of friends?

ANDERSON: Music is more powerful than friendship. I can't imagine everybody in an orchestra being buddies and yet they perform Rachmoninoff's Second, or Sibelius' Seventh with great aplomb. They might hate each other but maybe that's what makes them great players. the band that was on Union or as Chris Squire said, Onion: it wasn't a very good album but it was a great show. I listened to the album the other week and there were some good tracks. But it was truly an amazing live show-and that was the primary reason we did it.

SECONDS: Did you have rivalry with Emerson, Lake & Palmer?

ANDERSON: I don't think so. I was a very big admirer of Keith Emerson and we did tour with them in the 70s. I never really thought about it much until a few months ago. Because of the business being slow, they were trying to put ELP on tour with us and I was saying, "Well, if ELP come on then we're not going to be able to do our whole show." People want to see Yes go through the motion of creating and evening: The Yes experience. I can't dilute that by putting anyone on tour with the band unless I could do a festival tour with four or five groups. The audience can only hang there for about two-and-a-half hours, unless it's a festival atmosphere. But this was for concert shows and I felt the band changeovers and everything would just ruin the evening. There's never been any rivalry with anybody that I can remember. Musical rivalries, of course, because you listen to each other bands and think, "I wish we could play as good as that."

SECONDS: Could you compare your work with Yes to your solo work with Kitaro and Vangelis?

ANDERSON: I never compare them because they are different. Vangelis is more spontaneous and Kitaro more gentle and reserved. We toured all over Asia last year and did some gigs in America.

SECONDS: What is your relationship to Classical music?

ANDERSON: Well, I am writing a lot. I've just been writing some piano concertos. I've written a couple of symphonies that are recorded already and will definitely come out by next year. I'm very interested in modern symphonic works. Creating symphonies with computer art is really what I want to do.

SECONDS: Are you a fan of Wendy Carlos?

ANDERSON: Oh yeah. We've been together a couple of times.

SECONDS: She is the defining point between classical and modern.

ANDERSON: She's definitely a composer on that level. I was with her about three months ago.

SECONDS: What were most YES fans thinking when Owner of A Lonely Heart came out?

ANDERSON: There had been a three year period where the band hadn't been together. Like any other commercial success, it doesn't mean that two years later everybody's going to be with you. There's so many Yes fans around the world, you know they're going to go through what we go through. They've been with us for ten, fifteen, twenty years. they're going through the evolution of who and what we are and they're still there with us. It ain't The Stones, it ain't The WHO, it ain't a Grunge band, it ain't something that's here today and gone tomorrow. It's just something people want to live with.

SECONDS: How about the science fiction element of the band?

ANDERSON: Well, I believe every five thousand years we come together and make music. We've been doing it for fifty thousand years. We don't always come to Earth. We've been to other planets and places, we've been to other galaxies, we've spent time in other dimensions on this planet. I believe that I've lived many lives. I've been Chinese, I've been Indian, I've been Native-American, I've been Greek, I've been French - I think we've all been everything. We just tend to forget this other side of us that we don't know much about.

SECONDS: As far as those lives, which was the most vivid?

ANDERSON: Chinese. I was a healer. My mother made special potions and I traveled around and sang. I sold herbs to heal people all over South China. I went there last year and it felt like I was coming home. I am going to be working in China early next year on a project.

SECONDS: How did you die in that life?

ANDERSON: No idea at all. I haven't got into all the chronicles of my past lives yet. It's just that I've learned over the years that I have been an American Indian. I really relate to that energy strongly. Like "Long Lost Brother of Mine, " a song I wrote with Steve Howe for ABWH. It's about a very narrow-minded person that doesn't believe he is part of everybody on this entire planet. We're all one.

SECONDS: Do you have any thoughts on clairvoyant pioneer Edgar Cayce?

ANDERSON: No, I don't know about him. I just learned a lot from a Dr. Byron White. It's just something you start to believe in, or else you don't care. I just happen to believe.

SECONDS: How has the Rock business changed or remained the same? What advice would you give young musicians reading this?

ANDERSON: It's exactly the same and the only way to do it is practice, practice. You're only one song away from becoming a commercial success, and you could write it tomorrow. Just persevere and follow your dreams. It's the same in any art.

SECONDS: Yes was known for classic stage productions. Which of those are you most fond of and which do you wince at?

ANDERSON: There was one for Relayer where we had a three-headed monster on stage. It was amazing. Then we did a great show for 90135, a stage which was sloping down and very modern. The new show we're doing now has got a very unique look. We've always been interested in putting on a good show for people, putting that extra little bit of work into production.

SECONDS: Did you ever get talked into things you didn't want to do?

ANDERSON: I'm very careful about listening to too many people outside of the musicians. You listen to other people and two or three years down the line you wish that you hadn't.

SECONDS: How would you like to (sic) remembered in musical history?

ANDERSON: We never stood still musically and we were always willing to go the last mile. The Yes Experience is very powerful and they're going to get it this time around as well.

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