CHRIS SQUIRE OF YES INTERVIEWED (2014): A career that's no disgrace
Graham Reid | Nov 7, 2014
Chris Squire – bassist and sole constant in Yes, the prog-rock band he founded – is reflecting on the group's longevity using the only reference point he had when the group formed.
“Oh yes. 'Who knew?' is the catch phrase about this.
“When Yes first started in 68 that was a year prior to the Beatles breaking up. Their visible career was really just 63 to 69 and when I started Yes I thought it would be amazing if we could have a five or six year career. Not knowing that here we are year 46 or something now,” he laughs.
And in that time Yes has seen an interesting revolving door of members: a quick count reveals – aside from Squire – 18 names including keyboard player Rick Wakeman, producer and onetime Buggle Trevor Horn, on-again off-again drummer Bill Bruford, keyboard player/violinist Eddie Jobson (for a few months), keyboard player Patrick Moraz, drummer Alan White who was a former member of the Plastic Ono Band . . .
And as the sole surviving member of the original line-up, is 66-year old Squire the archivist, the keeper of the keys?
“That role has fallen to me more by default than desire. I never left. The only difference between me and some of the others like singer Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman is they left the band on more than one occasion to pursue solo careers, and then rejoined and left again. That's their legacy in the band.
“But I was just there toiling on the whole time. But let's not forget that Alan White has been there since 72. That's a good innings.”
Indeed, and it hasn't been a bad one for Yes which, despite the musical chairs and going out of the business for a year or so in the early Eighties, is not only still here but still recording and touring widely.
“We never thought that was possible. It was a young man's game when we started and not something you thought you could do for life. But I was wrong about that. It's a testament to the prog-rock genre that it has lasted.
“Also – and I know this from touring the last couple of years – that, apart from fans who came to the band in the Eighties which was a successful period with 90125 album and are still there in the audience, there are a lot of younger people coming to the shows. They've either been influenced by their parent's record collections . . . or just peer pressure because a lot of younger kids are into this music now.”
Although it something of a senior musician's cliché about attracting younger audiences, that's true for Yes.
In the August issue of Britain's Prog magazine their '72 album Close to the Edge was voted the top prog album of all time by its readers and musicians.
Fragile from '71 came in at number 10. Of the 100 greatest prog albums Yes had seven entries, one more than Genesis, Pink Floyd and Marillion in a list which included contemporary prog bands like Dream Theatre, Porcupine Tree, Tool, Opeth and Haken.
“I hadn't seen that, so thanks for the news. They didn't include Fish Out of Water my solo album, did they?”, says the man known by the nickname Fish and who counts among his passions Formula 1.
I don't have the heart to tell him no, but say I'll check while we speak.
Business is brisk in the prog world for Yes who released their 21st studio album Heaven and Earth earlier this year – the first with singer Jon Davison who wrote much of the material. They then toured in Canada, did the Miami prog-rock Caribbean cruise (“Cruise to the Edge”), dates across Britain and Europe and then an American summer tour which finished in mid-August.
“Fortunately I've had a couple of months off to chill out, then we come down your way.”
And for their return visit to Auckland on November 10 – they were here in early 2012 – they will play those classic albums Fragile and Closer to the Edge in their entirety, and close with new material from Heaven and Earth and some of their hits.
“By now we should know how to play those albums,” he laughs. “And it's not as if they haven't been on-and-off part of the repertoire over the years. Especially And You and I the 10 minute piece on Close to the Edge which has been more a staple song than Close to the Edge itself or Siberian Khatru. They've all been in different sets at different times so are pretty much in our DNA.”
But having played these songs, if not entire albums, for the past four decades is it possible to still enjoy them?
“There's always the joy of the performance and the fine-tuning of new interpretations and over the years we've all grown as musicians, so obviously there is a lot of subtlety that gets thrown in that wasn't there in the first place.
“That contributes to the joy of the performance by not only the audience but ourselves. And the band's has been playing at a great level in the past year or two.”
The problem for Yes however is that no fan – old or new – wants to hear them say, “We hope you like our new direction”. Yes is a band with an autograph style and that's what people want to hear in concert, or as on the new album Heaven and Earth.
“True perhaps, but Yes has been flexible over the years. In the Eighties when Trevor Rabin was the guitar player we definitely made a diversion from the core of prog-rock and got more into regular hard rock to an extent. And the 90125 album with the hit single Owner of a Lonely Heart was a slightly different Yes to that of the 7Seventies.
“I'm not afraid of change, I quite like messing around with different styles and new ideas. And of course every time there's a new member of the band they bring in ideas and the music subtly changes again. It's nice now to have our singer Jon Davison far right, above as a writing member as well as a performer, and the last album was musically successful to me because of that.
“And the Yes Appreciation Society certainly seem to appreciate him.
“Strangely enough we've been playing a couple of tracks from Heaven and Earth and I'm surprised how well they are received.
“I saw the Who in London a few years back when they had a new album out and there was a distinct lack of interest from the audience when they played new songs.
"In contrast our fans are enjoying the songs from the new album.
“But no, this is nothing I could have foreseen all those years ago.”
For an encouraging number of “heritage acts” the urge to prove themselves dies hard. Take Yes, concocting Heaven And Earth four years shy of their 50th anniversary. Only Chris Squire remains from the 1968 line-up: nevertheless, Steve Howe joined before decimalisation, Alan White signed up when the Austin Allegro was still in “development”, and even Geoff Downes was conscripted before the advent of deely boppers. Only vocalist Jon Davison counts as a newbie, and he’s a real find: so similar to Jon Anderson that even his name only differs by two syllables. Are we sure it’s not actually him? You never see them together.
Musically, Heaven And Earth is (generally) concise and catchy. Davison and Squire repeatedly sing “one step beyond” during Step Beyond without alluding to Madness, which is indicative of actual madness: but you’ve got to admire their balls. From a safe distance. Believe Again’s sing-song refrain is so simple that even Jimmy Crack Corn would feel slighted, but then Howe peels off one of his scalding scalar runs, and suddenly you’re bobbing on a topographic ocean. Likewise, Light Of The Ages is propitiously cut from much the same cape cloth as Nous Sommes Du Soleil.
Oregano Rathbone Record Collector #431 August 2, 2014
Songs From Tsongas: The 35th Anniversary Concert | Yes
Terry Staunton Record Collector #435 November 29, 2014
Though some fans may contest the claim, the five men who comprise Yes on this 2004 show represent what’s generally perceived as the band’s “classic line-up”. The gig, at the Tsongas Arena in Lowell, Massachusetts, was the final date of the tour where Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Rick Wakeman and Alan White performed together for the last time.
It’s worth noting, however, that a sixth man played an integral role, the elaborate stage set having been designed by Roger Dean, responsible for the bulk of the group’s iconic album sleeves. Visuals aside, it’s an occasionally intriguing setlist, taking in relatively unheralded album tracks such as 1970’s Sweet Dream and 1997’s Mind Drive, though the band seem more assured on home bankers Yours Is No Disgrace and Going For The One.
Arguably, the acoustic portion of the set makes the most impact, Anderson’s vocals less swamped by instrumentation on Wondrous Stories and Roundabout, giving the songs more room to breathe. A second disc features 70 minutes of a show from earlier in the tour, filmed in Lugano, Switzerland, on a stripped-down stage where the players – guitarist Howe in particular – let rip on rockier versions of old favourites.
The classically trained pianist on The Moody Blues , Gentle Giant and why he'd play with Yes again
Patrick Moraz isn’t slow in coming forwards. Back in the mid-60s, when he was still in his 20s, he won the support slot to tour Europe with legendary jazz saxophonist John Coltrane. In 1973 he co-founded Refugee with ex-Nice members Lee Jackson and Brian Davison before being poached to join Yes a year later in time to record Relayer. He followed that stint by joining another progressive rock institution, The Moody Blues, in 1978, staying with them until 1990. He’s won awards for his film scores, collaborated with ex-Yes and King Crimson drummer Bill Bruford, and has even spent time in the jungle with Arnold Schwarzenegger during the filming of Predator. Forever busy with one project or another, we try to understand what makes this Swiss-born precision pianist tick.
**How’s your Alpine horn these days? **
You know, I still have that Alpine horn! Unfortunately it’s in Los Angeles and I’m now in Florida. Nowadays I can use samples of the horn although I always enjoy playing the real one. Every time I go to Switzerland, there are friends I can borrow one off and I can always go into the mountains and play the Alpine horn there. It really warms my soul!
**You were one of the artists performing at sea on the Cruise To The Edge earlier this year. How did you find that? **
Oh man, it was unbelievable being reunited with all kinds of friends like Alan White, Steve Howe and Chris Squire. I got to spend a bit of time with Alan, which was great. We were talking about his Ramshackled album. It was great seeing Steve Hackett as well. The camaraderie when all the musicians get together is wonderful. Presto Ballet were a real discovery for me and, of course, there were so many bands I’d not seen before, like Tangerine Dream. I met Eddie Jobson from UK and it’s not impossible that we might record something together in the future. He’s a great guy.
**No seasickness then? **
No, although one of the concerts had to be rescheduled when the ship was diverted to Mexico instead of sailing to Honduras because there was a huge storm brewing! The second concert I did on the last day of the cruise, I included an impromptu version of Soon, the end section of The Gates Of Delirium, with Renaissance’s Annie Haslam – she did a fantastic job.
**You’ve recently recorded a Gentle Giant track for a new symphonic rock album, haven’t you? **
Yes, and it’s funny because not only did Gentle Giant open for Yes but I also saw Gary Green and Three Friends while I was on the Cruise To The Edge. Anthony Klein, who is a producer overseeing the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and conductor James Graydon got in touch asking if I would be interested in delivering a piano interpretation based on James’ arrangement of Gentle Giant’s Think Of Me With Kindness from Octopus. It took me a nanosecond to say yes! It’s a beautiful song. It’s not really what some would call prog, but it’s prog enough for me!
Have you always liked working with orchestras?
Of course. For many years, a long time before I was in bands, I was writing for film. You know, by the time I did Relayer I was 30 years old and I’d done around 30 scores for movies, so I had a lot of experience at working with orchestras and scoring for strings. After I joined Yes I did the score for the chamber orchestra on Steve Howe’s first solo album Beginnings, which I enjoyed enormously.
**It’s 40 years since you recorded Relayer. What was it like joining Yes and working on that album? **
It was a huge honour. I loved Tony Kaye and Rick Wakeman’s work in the band. I first met them in 1969 when they were invited to play at the Golden Rose Festival in Montreux and I organised a party for them. Even then they were one of my favourite groups. It was a real thrill to get a call in 1974 from their manager inviting me to attend a Yes rehearsal. I’d never seen so many big joints as I did that day! I loved my time in the group. I jumped from seven keyboards at the time, plus my alpine horn, to 14, because in those days there were no sequencers or computers. It was all magically done by hand! The best thing about being in Yes was the quality of the playing and the audiences. Everywhere we went was sold out!
**If Yes rang tomorrow and asked you to rejoin them to play _Relayer _on tour, what would you say? **
Absolutely! Of course! I know the album by heart even after all these years. Any time!
**What are the moments that stand out from your time with The Moody Blues? **
I’d been with them for a couple of years when we recorded the album _Long Distance Voyager _in 1980. It stayed at No.1 in the US charts for several weeks – a fantastic breakthrough at that point in their career. That made me feel really good and very secure for all our future recordings and live concerts as well. I always had an impeccable rig of keyboards and machines, and I was always using my three mellotrons in order to recreate the original sounds Mike Pinder had created so well before me. It was a truly magnificent part of my life and I felt it could have lasted much longer than it did. We used to have a real camaraderie.
**Have you had any thoughts about retiring? **
No! I’ve never been busier. As a musician you never retire. I’ve got so many things I want to release. I compose every day and I’ve got two new albums which I’m currently in the process of finishing. The only thing I would love to do is to play more concerts and I’m even thinking of the best way to do that, so check back with me for news of that!
Yes’ Relayer is being reissued by Panegyric on October 27. For more information, see www.yesworld.com and www.patrickmoraz.com.
The legendary producer who reputedly ‘invented the Eighties’ reveals he’s an “awful engineer” and often didn’t take any songwriting credits urham-born Trevor Horn is a prolific music producer, songwriter, musician and singer, whose influence on popular music was such that he has been dubbed ‘The Man Who Invented The Eighties’ and continues to produce some of the biggest names in pop. At the height of his commercial success, Horn helped launch the career of Frankie Goes to Hollywood and has since gone on to produce a staggering array of stellar artists including Paul McCartney, Tom Jones, Cher, Grace Jones, Tina Turner, Lisa Stansfield, Pet Shop Boys, Seal, Simple Minds, Eros Ramazzotti, Mike Oldfield, Marc Almond, Charlotte Church, t.A.T.u., LeAnn Rimes, Genesis and Robbie Williams.
Although widely known for being a groundbreaking record producer, Trevor Horn’s songwriting credits are almost equally successful and as varied, starting with writing Baby Blue for Dusty Springfield in 1979. His co-writer then was Geoff Downes with whom he joined forces as The Buggles, and continued to collaborate with on a string of hits in the early 80s, including Video Killed The Radio Star that went to No.1 on the singles charts of 16 countries.
From The Buggles, Horn moved to Yes, where he co-wrote all of their 1980 album, Drama and returned to the band in 1984 to co-write their biggest ever hit Owner Of A Lonely Heart. In the meantime, he’d also managed to write four Top 20 singles for Dollar’s The Dollar Album in 1982, and formed a winning songwriting trio with Malcolm McLaren and Anne Dudley to achieve worldwide chart success with Buffalo Girls, Double Dutch, and Duck For The Oyster, as well as co-wroting McLaren’s subsequent album Swamp Thing in 1985. Art Of Noise was another successful synthpop group and songwriting team, with whom Horn co-wrote Slave To The Rhythm which became a major hit for superstar model Grace Jones, and has eventually become her biggest chart success.
During the last decade, Trevor Horn wrote three international hits for Russian female pop duo t.A.T.u – All The Things She Said, Not Gonna Get Us and Clowns (Can You See Me Now) – the official 2004 Olympic song Pass The Flame, and co-wrote the title track from Lisa Stansfield’s 2004 album The Moment.
As well as remarkable chart success, Horn has earned widespread respect and acclaim across the industry, receiving a Grammy Award in 1996 for Seal’s second album, being appointed CBE in 2011 for services to the music industry, and most recently the Outstanding Contribution to UK Music award at the 2014 Music Producer’s Guild Awards.
It was during the weeks prior to the MPG Awards ceremony that Songwriting caught up with Trevor Horn to reflect on this long and illustrious career in music production, how he chooses projects now and what he’ll say when a song isn’t good enough!
How did you get into music?
“My father was a civil engineer during the day, but he was what they used to call a semi-pro musician – he played five nights-a-week in a dance band playing the double bass. We’re talking about the 1940s and 50s when I was a kid, and I loved records. One of the first records I had was Audie Murphy singing The Last Round-up. I loved that song. I never knew it was about death, but when you’re six you never give a damn about that.
“I never thought much about playing music until everybody in school got a recorder and had to learn to play them. I came back after a weekend and I could play! I thought it was easy, but I was one of the only people in the class that actually could. That was the first time I ever realised that I had any kind of minor musical talent. Then when I was 11 years old I played the double bass in the youth orchestra and I used to stand in for my dad sometimes. I ended up playing in the Ray McVay band and used to do all the big functions; Come Dancing, the World Ballroom Championships and all those kind of things.”
I KNEW I WANTED TO BE A HIT RECORD PRODUCER. I THOUGHT IF I COULD KEEP GOING IT WAS ONLY A MATTER OF TIME
What took you along the route to production and pop music?
“I’d always been fascinated by studios. I built one in Leicester and started to record people. Then I had five years working for a music publisher on Denmark Street, where he’d sign the artist and I’d do the demos for them. After about three or four years, a couple of writers got deals from my demos and somebody gave me the shot to let me produce the master. Of course, I fucked it up, which everyone does at first. So we had five years of making demos before we made Video Killed The Radio Star, so Geoff [Downes, the other half of pop duo The Buggles] and I had a lot of time in the studio before we’d made that record, so we’d started to know what we were doing. We put everything into it.”
Did you know straight away that being a producer was what you wanted to dedicate your life to, or was it just a job?
“Oh I knew I wanted to be a hit record producer. I thought if I could keep going it was only a matter of time and I’d get there.”
Who were your idols?
“I didn’t really model myself on anyone. Back then there was no education for producers. One producer had no idea what another producer did. The only way to learn about a recording studio was to be in one! There was no literature – there was no way of finding out how to do the job other than to learn on the spot yourself, so I’m pretty much self-taught. I think the most I learnt from anybody was Bidu [pioneering disco producer] and his backing track for I Love to Love (But My Baby Loves to Dance) by Tina Charles. I just listened to it and listened to it, then after that I just made it up myself.”
Have there been any other songs that inspired you with their production?
“I thought the best produced song ever was I’m Not In Love by 10cc, where the production really made the song. So I always used to say if you’ve got studio fever and you think your tune’s really good, listen to I’m Not In Love and that’ll sort you right out!”
What would you say is the key to being a successful producer?
”It’s funny, people always say my records have a certain sound to them. I suppose because I used to be a musician, I’m ‘manic’ about how people play on my records – I make sure every overdub is really great. If you took a look at one of my multi-tracks and soloed any of the musicians you’d be impressed. I always use really good musicians and I try to give them the space to work and enjoy the session. I mean, I’m a songwriter and a musician, I’m not an engineer. In fact, I was an awful engineer, but I know what’s going on in the desk. I know how it all works and what it’s capable of.”
Before you’re about to produce a track or an album, how do you like to hear the raw material?
“I don’t like fantastically produced demos. I’m absolutely immune to production. You could do anything with it and that wouldn’t sell it to me. All I’m interested in is the song and the idea, so I prefer to have the roughest demo possible. Then I don’t have to worry about reproducing it.”
When do you get involved in the songwriting?
“It depends who’s written the song. Because I used to be a singer, I’m very conscious of how a singer feels on a song and I try to make the song so it’s good to sing. Sometimes I’m lumbered with a song that I don’t particularly want to do, and then the challenge for me is to get it so I like it.
I FIGURED IT WAS EASIER IF I DIDN’T CLAIM ANY SONGWRITING… THEN PEOPLE WOULD LET ME GET ON WITH IT
How would you deal with that situation if the songwriter is in the studio with you?
“I don’t get the songwriter in; I generally like them not to be there. They’ve written the song, so I want them to let me get on with it and make it into a record!
“I don’t really like to songs by professional songwriters unless they’re really well written. Diane Warren is a great example of somebody who really spends time finishing her songs off properly, so when you’ve got a song from her you’ve generally got everything you need to make a record – you’ll have the bridge, the middle eight… you’ll have everything. I find with other songwriters what I tend to get sometimes is a verse and a chorus, no middle eight, no bridge. Then I have to start working it into something or change all chords. I do all of those things frequently but I don’t often take song publishing. Sometimes I completely fit people’s songs up, changed them around, changed all the chords, but I figured it was easier if I didn’t claim any songwriting, then people would let me get on with it.
You got a writing credit on Owner Of A Lonely Heart with Yes. What was your contribution with that song?
“The verse. I never really liked the one that Trevor Rabin had originally written, so I wrote that. The chorus was so good and the idea was good as well.”
You’ve worked your way to a point where you could work with anyone. How do you choose projects now?
“I choose them purely on the material. It’s whether I like the songs and the person and whether I can add something. They can bring things that are very well produced, and I have to tell them I can’t hear anything else on it. I’ll say ‘You’ve done it, it’s finished, you don’t need me!’”
Alan White, a 40 year mainstay of the innovative rock group Yes, took some time out of his busy New York schedule to get all transatlantic with progster questioner Tim Price. They talk about working with the famous Queen producer, roller skating with Virgin’s top dog, the ins and outs of line-up changes and all things Plastic.
Alan, I am calling you in New York from here in the Black Country, in the heartland of the UK and am conscious we only have limited time as you have to do rehearsals today for the new tour?
Yes, I have to take off for rehearsals for the Radio City Music Hall show here in New York straight after this interview.
I saw the promotion for these latest YesShows, are you still doing three classic Yes albums in their entirety?
Actually, we are only two this time, Fragile and the Yes Album.
What about the new album, Heaven & Earth are you not going to be playing that on this current tour?
Yes, but we have to make the overall show a little bit shorter as we have an opening band, so we are cutting down to two classic albums and fielding some of the old hits and favourites which people like.
Excellent, they always go down very well live. The first question I have got for you is after 35 years, and that initial 1979 attempt which never got completed, why did you choose to work with Roy Thomas Baker (RTB) this time around?
Well, the first time around things did not work out so well, which was all basically my fault, as I broke my ankle.
I remember that, were you not on roller skates or in-liners, or something?
That was with Richard Branson, he and I happened to be roller skating around Paris at one o clock in the morning, unfortunately. (Laughs)
That’s a famous old Yes story! Are you pleased with the outcome of the new Yes production, ‘Heaven and Earth’?
Well, yes, I am pleased with it, we have pre-released some tracks on the website, have you heard all of it yet?
Certainly most of it, but I am still exploring some of your rhythms and drum sounds. I have read your comments whereby you claim that under RTB’s production some $50,000 has been spent on the microphone sets ups for your drum sound. How does that work?
Roy would want to get heavy on some tracks and a tidier sound on other tracks and would get microphones around the drums and paying attention to details basically, he is very much into drum sounds being the focus and centre of the recordings.
Which track on the new album you play on is the heaviest? I mean Alan White himself has a unique pedigree sound which you have created on John Lennon’s ‘Instant Karma’ and particularly the opening minutes of Sound Chaser. Do you see moments when these massive signature drum movements are re-created within the new album?
The music on the new album does has a longer approach in some cases, we I adjusted accordingly on different songs, and on this album I think it is actually very song orientated, when we wrote Sound Chaser and that stuff there were a lot of deep sounds and song rallies but there is a mixture of both on this one. It is one of those albums which really grows on you as-well
I think you are right but the first track I heard, Believe Again I thought my goodness the opening keyboard sequences with the Geoff Downes seemed to be very 1980’s?
Well, that is an interesting perspective but my personal favorite, I like Regain, that is a good track and another is To Ascend which is a track I co-wrote with Jon Davison.
Well, there you are, as that was actually my next question I had down for you. How many of these songs did you write yourself?
Basically, I wrote To Ascend and Jon (Davison) went round to each member of the band (actually traveling to their homes to personally visit) and was writing with each member of the band and that is what came out. Jon (Davison) and I had a couple of days to finish things and he also spent a couple of days with Geoff, Steve and Chris. So, we did it that way.
Good, that is quite a unique way of recording and writing, certainly a new way for Yes. Then you bought in Billy Sherwood to finalize the mix, was Billy the last aspect of pulling everything and everyone together?
We were still recording things and we ran out of time basically , so Billy was bought in and he mixed the album and did the vocals.
Well, in old English terms Billy lives just “down the road” from where you are in Seattle and to where he has his recording studios in LA. Have you worked with him on other projects in recent times?
Well we have not seen that much of each recently as he is so busy with his Studio projects and I am committed to Yes touring and my solo projects.
Alan it was 1973 when you came into Yes and we are now talking about Yes life some 40 years later!
Well, actually it is 42 years!
There you go, and you are still churning out those drums as frantically as ever!
The band has just been playing in Europe and we did a Canadian tour and then Cruise To The Edge and that is so far what we have done this year, and of course we are now embarked, as we speak, on yet another US sell out tour, but I have to say Jon Davison has been a real inspiration to the band, we are all keyed in.
Going to the period when you broke your ankle, not finishing that first RTB studio project in ‘79 with Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman leaving, that is when Trevor (Horn) and Geoff (Downes) joined Yes as the Buggles. Back then there was a lot of flak from hard core fans who could not accept an Anderson replacement. Do you think that today Jon Davison is getting a harder time with it all?
The Drama days you mean?
I am sure you know where I am coming from, the current ‘Drama’ more to do with the fact that Davison has now replaced Anderson. There are still many Yes followers who will always want to have Jon Anderson as the singer of Yes.
Well, there is always that but I think what we have seen people go through the changes and the American people, and now Europe, have accepted that Jon Anderson is not in the band anymore. Many have accepted Jon Davison as the voice of the band and he is a great promoter and does have a good voice.
Yes, Jon Davison does have a good voice, I would say that. So, going back over the last 42 years, you have never actually left the band and along with Chris Squire and you are the backbones of Yes. For a long time now you are still considered to be the best rhythm section in the rock business. It is incredible the way you two have stuck together through thick and thin. How do you do it?
Well we are so used to playing with each other, we brush off each other really well (laughs), sometimes we know when we are going to do this bit slowly, but, you know…
You now often use a drum kit constructed from pure glass to create a totally dead sound and next to you have the ‘Squire Meter’, in order that you can hear what Chris is doing as it gets so massively loud, all of these details sum up your total polished professionalism.
The Squire meter is one of those things which have developed over the years but my rhythm relationship with Chris is really tight, and we have small signals we can give each other which have been developed through over 40 years of playing together.
Your own song writing compositions such as ‘Shoot High Aim Low’ (From Big Generator) are often the best tracks on the album. Why don’t you do more writing?
Well, it is the ideas, it just takes a while, you know, on the new album I wrote ‘To Ascend’ and I wrote ‘Changes’ from 90125 and songs like ‘In the Presence of’ from Magnification (the only Yes album credited to only four players replacing the keyboardist slot with an orchestra which was released in 2001)
That is when you came up front stage, from behind your drum kit, to play the opening on keyboards, you wrote the lyrics on that or just the music?
Yes, that was generally just Jon Anderson and myself who wrote In The Presence Of.
I did actually meet you once in 2004 during the after show events in the Oxford Theatre on that Acoustic Tour. We spoke for a while and you told me that you had played on all of the tracks for George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass triple album.
Yes, that was a unique show, small theatre, with opening acts including comedy stand up performers and a fire eater! Thinking back it may have only been 2/3 as the other tracks were played by a guy called Jim……….
Was that Jim Keltner?
No, that was not the same Jim, this particular guy played on ‘Delaney and Bonnie’ (Eric Clapton) and he tried to kill his mother, he went nuts, it was Jim Gordon, he went on to play on Material World and some other George Harrison albums.
Of all the Yes Solo Albums from 1976 I believe your own effort of Ramshackled came out as one of the most listenable. Those opening tracks of Ooh Baby and One Way Rag still sound very up to date and have credence. Did you write all those songs yourself?
One Way Rag was a Reggae song and it came via a band I had been rehearsing with which was originally Griffin and turned into a number of different things when Graham Bell got involved, but I think at the end of the day Chris (Squire) did the best solo album.
Talking about solo projects, with all the time you spend on Yes, is your own band White, with Steve Boyce, still active and kicking around?
Yes, I am doing some gigs with them straight after this current Yes US tour
Last year you cut a fabulous album with David Torn and Tony Levin simply called Levin Torn White with some drum technology where you spent time getting around new rhythms which you were exploring and expanding as never before.
Well, that was a strange album the way it all came together but basically I did the drum tracks I wrote a few years back and had a few Bach melodies in mind with piano, and then Tony Levin developed and contributed with MP3 tracks.
You made a great video explaining how new rhythms’ come to you and it can take days just playing them out. Are any of those Levin Torn White riffs used one on the Yes album?
Sometimes those new things are originally in my head but I am also a believer in playing what is necessary for the song, sometimes, the song is not leaning in that direction, but sometimes you have to let the song work, as song is always evolving and you have to listen to the melody, the vocals and the direction. That is why you will not hear so much of the Levin White Torn type stuff on this new Yes album.
Alan, how Long can you keep going on in this relentless way? Not being disrespectful, but both Bill Bruford and Phil Collins have now retired from drumming.
Well, Big Phil, he has a strong back but we don’t know about all this stuff and King Crimson are back so maybe Bill will return.
From the heavy drumming perspective you have to be the long term master has this something to do with your fitness created from your passion for sailing?
I generally just try to take care of myself, stay healthy eat good food and is pacing is everything now these days and of course am still married to the beautiful Gigi and have two great children, so that keeps me busy.
I don’t want to take any more time of your precious time Alan as I know you have to get over to Radio City in the heavy New York morning traffic!
Thanks, Tim; you have been a great columnist.
Tim Price interviewed Alan White on July 4th 2014. Wolverhampton and New York.
It’s time for prog fans to forgive Rolling Stone magazine
SEPTEMBER 15, 2014 BY MIKE TIANO
Once upon a time when progressive rock was starting to bloom, Rolling Stone magazine looked favorably upon the genre, and particularly the one prog band that epitomized it: Yes. Early Yes albums generally received favorable reviews, and all was right in the Yes, er, world. Then came the monolith that crushed all of the Rolling Stone good will that had come before it: Tales From Topographic Oceans, the most divisive Yes album up to that time.
When it was released, this was the album that separated the true believer from the casual listener. The latter might have had The Yes Album, Fragile and Close to the Edge in their collection alongside releases by, say, the Eagles, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, and Joni Mitchell but, for them, Tales From Topographic Oceans was the end of the line. And, in a sense, RS followed suit. After positive reviews for the Yes albums that preceded it, the largely negative review for TFTO — memorably titled “Psychedelic Doodles” — signaled the end of the magazine’s focusing on progressive rock in general.
Cameron Crowe’s interaction with Yes might be seen as an indicator of what happened to this song we once knew so well. Crowe’s first big article in Rolling Stone was about Yes’ tour right after Alan White replaced Bill Bruford. (Crowe has his articles archived on his own site, and this first about Yes can be found here.) Crowe’s experiences with Yes were later used in Almost Famous, his fictional account of his first flights into rock journalism. His inclusion of Yes songs in that movie was his way of paying tribute to the band that helped launch his own career.
Crowe wrote about Yes again for RS in 1975, but the band wasn’t the main focus of that article. Instead, it was about Rick Wakeman, who had also decided that Tales from Topographic Oceans was too much for him, and was embarking on what appeared to be a promising solo career. In the article Crowe documents a hostile interaction between a Circus magazine reporter and members of Yes. While that journalist found the TFTO concert boring and lacking in cohesion, one can read between the lines that Crowe felt that way too. (It can also be argued that Crowe preferred to attach himself to rising star Wakeman and leave a fading Yes in the dust; whether that is true or not the article about Wakeman can be found here.[Link])
After TFTO any reviews of Yes’ albums were farmed out to unsympathetic RS staff members who didn’t have an ear for progressive rock, instead being more reflective of the magazine’s overall editorial direction — where the focus was on punk and New Wave. And if there was any major news about Yes, it was relegated to a short blurb in Random Notes — even RS couldn’t ignore the news when Jon Anderson and Rick were out and the Buggles were in, but it wasn’t big enough news that it warranted an actual article. And it appears someone wasn’t looking when the first edition of Rolling Stone album reviews was published, as it gave high marks to many of Yes’ albums. Subsequent editions scrapped that and relegated Yes’ best output as merely mediocre, and the rest just plain garbage.
So after an RS about-face with regard to Yes specifically — and prog, in general — it’s understandable that Yes fans are still unforgiving when it comes to how what is arguably the biggest rock journal ignored what is also arguably the most influential prog rock band in the history of rock and roll — along with their brethren including Genesis, Emerson Lake and Palmer, and King Crimson), and full disclosure is that I was among those who thought little of Rolling Stone because of what appeared to be a deliberate snub.
Fast forward to the 21st Century. A few years after launching its web site (ironically with Yes magazine’s Doug Gottlieb on the original web management staff), something must have changed at RS. While having to be selective about what appears in a printed journal, a web edition doesn’t have the same constraints. Web traffic is important, and obviously the aforementioned selectivity probably worked against their web efforts — where the more visits to a site, the better. (Note that while one is tempted to credit Doug Gottlieb here, he had left Rolling Stone long before the apparent change in attitude towards Yes and prog. While he possibly may have made attempts to influence key staffers, it was more to his professional advantage to not be a fanboy with an ultimatum.)
In the last couple of years, classic prog artists have received prominent space on Rolling Stone‘s web site. For Yes, this included the rift between Jon Anderson and the band; Benoit’s departure; the Cruise to the Edge; Squire on Yes taking a residency on Broadway; a flashback to the Union tour; polls, including the top ten prog albums of all time; and the Yestival. Other prog artists have also been prominently featured, including a recent glowing article by senior staff writer David Fricke on how the currently touring Mark VIII version of King Crimson, whom he dubbed the “best new band in prog.” While these articles indicate a definite shift in the web journal’s attitude towards Yes, I believe it was a bigger event that involved a different band that demonstrated how the times have changed: the induction of Rush into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Before examining the impact of the Canadian trio, let’s review the history (or lack of thereof) of prog in the Hall of Fame. A few years back, the HOF web side listed two bands that were perceived as progressive — the Who and Pink Floyd. Labeling the former as progressive might have appeared to be a bit of a stretch, but in a way the Who helped pave the way for that genre — particularly with Tommy. That album used many concepts that were usually associated with classical music, including an overture that introduced themes that would appear throughout the album, and the restating of those themes in various compositions. They continued to break tradition with compositions like “Won’t Get Fooled Again” they went beyond the compact, then-dominant singles-ready format by bringing expansiveness to their repertoire. Nevertheless, while the Who may have been progressive in certain aspects they never went as far as those acts that are identified with the prog moniker.
There might be some debate as to whether Pink Floyd could be considered prog, but if nothing else they should be from a conceptual standpoint, at the least. In some ways, Floyd initially had more in common with the Grateful Dead than they did with the Who: not in terms of composition, but from an experimental/improvisational standpoint.
Early on, Pink Floyd would delve into space-y forays, later dropping that in favor of more song-based structures that sometimes stood alone but occasionally introduced themes into a larger concept. (The Wall is a good example of this approach.) But the HOF seemed to recognize progressive rock only if the act in question hit it big and/or had a number of hits. Starting with Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd’s albums raced to the top of the charts, and would stay there In fact, Moon stayed on the charts from 1973 to 1988, according to Billboard, selling a whopping 50 million, and still counting.
While prog fans may have been happy by Genesis’ induction into the Hall, it was easy to be cynical that the reason Genesis made the cut was more because of the likes of “Invisible Touch” than it was of “Supper’s Ready.” Kudos to Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio for speaking for prog fans in general (“this is our moment”), for not downplaying Genesis’ prog roots in his introduction speech, and for later performing “Watcher of the Skies” with Phish (in its entirety!) to the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder and Meryl Streep.
I’ll leave it to those on forums like Facebook to argue if Rush is really prog or not, but it cannot be denied that they were influenced by prog early on — and that has colored their creative output ever since. The following video interview with Rush from 1980 illustrates the point at the 3-minute, 37-second mark… [Link]
Unlike Yes in recent years, Rush has continued to regularly release new studio albums and even sell out large venues, even if they aren’t the stadiums that are expected for the likes of, say, Paul McCartney or Bruce Springsteen.
OK, Rush didn’t play Safeco Field in Seattle, but their show last year at Key Arena sold out, while Yes tries to fill wineries or casinos. It’s ironic that while over a decade ago a board member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame sneered that Rush would never (repeat, never) get in, their perseverance in staying true to their musical principles, pleasing their fan base while maintaining their musical integrity and, of course, their enormous talent finally couldn’t be denied — particularly when the newest crop of rock stars (e.g., Dave Grohl) went on record saying how much Rush influenced them, and that they thought Rush was always cool.
After Rush’s induction for 2013 it almost seemed like Yes was destined to follow suit, but unfortunately that wasn’t to be. While a nomination was a step forward, Yes didn’t make it to the finish line, and it didn’t help that there was some stiff competition from the other nominees — regardless of what the feverish Yes fan (and prog aficionados in general) may think of those other artists. But prog continues to gain support for induction.
One of the bands that beat Yes into the Hall of Fame this year was Kiss, and it was startling yet gratifying to read that guitarist Paul Stanley was quoted as saying that, even though he isn’t a prog fan, it is ridiculous that Yes wasn’t in the Hall.
If Rush is any indication, an induction would mean even more content of Yes on Rolling Stone‘s web site, as before and after Rush’s induction there were numerous articles and video clips prominently featured on the RS site focusing on both their current plans, and past history.
However, while one can surmise that progressive acts getting more exposure on the site is probably a good thing, I’ve noticed that anytime I post an RS article about the band on the Notes From the Edge Facebook page [Link] - inevitably there will be responses from folks who have not forgiven Rolling Stone for their past transgressions. For them, whatever RS does is too little, too late.
This attitude may have been understandable, if ignoring prog continued to be their editorial stance but it hasn’t. It’s time to let bygones be bygones and recognize the fact that prog is getting regular, objective coverage at Rolling Stone. That site is the most prominent one on the internet, when it comes to news about all genres of rock — reaching a large number of individuals who might have been those same casual listeners mentioned at the start of this editorial, the folks who remember buying Fragile and may become newly interested in the fact that Yes is still active, releasing new albums and still touring. As I indicated with Rush, if Yes is inducted, there will more than likely be more items appearing on RS that one could have ever imagined.
So should prog fans forgive Rolling Stone? I almost added a question mark to the title of this editorial. But I decided against it as I don’t see it as a question, but as a statement of fact. Who needs bad vibes?
Let it go.
This is an updated version of an editorial written for Notes From the Edge in October 2013.