"We thought, There's no way people won't buy what we're doing, because we're too good"
The 1971 prog-rock classic discussed in full
“We were certainly cocky and chirpy," says guitarist Steve Howe, recalling the late months of 1970 when he, singer Jon Anderson, bassist Chris Squire, keyboardist Tony Kaye and drummer Bill Bruford recorded Yes' third long-player, which was simply called The Yes Album. "There was a feeling of confidence in the room that we were doing something ambitious and fresh."
It would be Howe's first record with the band (he had replaced Yes' previous guitarist Peter Banks), and he remembers that he had no trouble at all fitting in immediately. “I’d been playing well, doing things in various bands," he says, "but I needed something that would move the air. When I got in with Yes, I said, ‘This feels good. We’re all equals, and everybody’s outstanding.’ It was like joining an orchestra, where all of the members are of a very high level. I thought, We’re going to do something pretty great."
The group worked up material, mostly at a farmhouse in Devonshire, England, before heading to Advision Studios where they tracked with producer-engineer Eddy Offord. Many of the songs were long (two of them come in at over nine minutes a piece), and as Howe sees it, they set a standard that Yes would follow on future discs.
“We weren’t going to be obvious and predictable," he says. "We didn't want to do three-minute songs for the radio, although we did manage to get a lot of radio play. Bill loved to play challenging music – I don’t think he was very used to 4/4 time, in fact. And I was one of those people who dug in and said, ‘I’m not going to play blues.’ We had a lot of musical integrity and held tightly to our ideals."
Much like Emerson, Lake & Palmer, who also recorded at Advison and would compete with Yes for studio time there, the band had total freedom to create – no pesky A&R guys lurked about asking for hit singles. "But it wasn’t like we were just jamming with no point," Howe says. "Everything had to matter. You had to play parts; you had to know what you were doing."
As for being deemed 'prog,' the guitarist says that he didn't hear the term until years later. "Prog has a certain stigma to it – flared trousers and grandiose indulgence," he says. "Yes were more of a feet-on-the-floor band. We knew we were quality, and we thought, There’s no way people won’t buy what we’re doing, because we’re too good.” [Laughs]
Released on 19 February 1971, The Yes Album made a big splash on both sides of the Atlantic, hitting No. 4 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 40 on the Billboard 200 in the US. Starting 1 March 2013, Yes will play the album in its entirety, along with other classics, Close To The Edge and Going For The One, on tour in the US.
"I came up with the idea that we should play an album in full," says Howe, "and then it went to two and eventually to three. Certain venues will only allow us to play for an hour and a half, in which case we'll play The Yes Album and Close To The Edge. For the places that let us play as long as we like, we'll do all three. It's going to be a great night, and I can't wait to explore all of this exceptional music live."
On the following pages, Howe looks back at the writing and recording of The Yes Album, a record that he says came about because the band operated as "five like-minded people. Bill thought I was a bit of a hippie, so was everybody. We loved music, and we thought that was the key to survival in the universe."
1. YOURS IS NO DISGRACE
“It’s quite an exceptional song, isn’t it? It’s big. We started with a percussive idea. There was a television program that had this opening – the ‘da-da-da-da’ thing – and we just changed the chords and moved everything around. It was slightly kinky, really. Our idea was orchestral: We’re going to start with something, and then we’re going to play a theme, then we’re going to stop, then we’re going to sing, and then we’re going to play more music. [Laughs]
“Bits came up as they were needed. We wanted to take our time and flesh out this idea where everybody could contribute the same kind of balance. I brought in guitar structures and stylized them around the possibilities that we had as instrumentalists.
“I played two guitars on it – my Gibson ES175D from 1964 and my Martin OO-18, which came from 1953. The fact that I didn’t have a lot of guitars didn’t really matter, because those two offered me a lot of beautiful sounds and options.
“There is a basic rhythm track I did with the Gibson. We recorded the song in sections. We weren’t going to just go in and play the whole thing for 10 minutes, but there is a lot of group playing and not a whole lot of individual things.
There’s some great effects and things for the ear. You’ve got the panning of the guitar, the wah-wah which goes into the acoustic and then into spacey guitar sounds and the jazzy stuff. I’m just a crazy, mixed-up guitar player, so I won’t just make one sound – I’ll do them all.
“Jon had written some lyrics with his friend David Foster, a Scotsman. So that’s what came in when we started singing, ‘Yesterday a morning came, a smile upon your face.’ I must say, Jon was brilliant at what he was doing, which helped bring about an enlightenment that we were now going to be making music that people wanted to listen to.”
“I was so happy that Yes were open to having this type of song on the album, but I didn’t have a title. Jon said, ‘Why don’t you call it Clap?’ And I said, ‘That’s great – Clap.’ It was so simple and innocent.
“We recorded it live with Eddy Offord [at the Lyceum Theatre in London]. He used a Revox A77 going at 15 i.p.s. on quarter-inch tape. I think he put up a couple of really good mics up, but I’m not sure what they were. The only problem with the song was when Jon mis-announced it on stage and called it ‘The Clap,’ when it’s really just called ‘Clap.’ On the new CDs it’s written out correctly, but on the old albums it’s called ‘The Clap.’
“It’s the first song I ever wrote, and I think it’s really a good piece. I wrote it on the 4th of August in 1969, when my oldest son, Dylan, was born. The very night that he was born, I finished the song. Originally, it was a dedication to Chet Atkins, but then it became a dedication to Dylan.
“It combined a lot of things I’d learned or imagined. I always wanted to write music, and when I decided to write solo guitar music, it was earth-shattering inside, because suddenly I was an independent person. I could stand up on stage and play Clap. That meant as much to me as it did to be in Yes."
3. STARSHIP TROOPER
“We started with a good guitar sound, but it wasn’t what exactly we wanted to hear. So we sat down with a Bell flanger, and we basically put the whole track through it. It gave everything a lot of movement.
“The song wasn’t rehearsed; it was constructed in the studio from various pieces. I had the Wurm part from another band I used to be in called Bodast. It was in a song called The Ghost Of Nether Street. We’d recorded an album, but the label closed down, and so the record never came out.
“I always loved the section as a whole piece of music, so I decided to carry it over to Yes. I like the way it goes from G to E-flat to C, but different things happen on the roots. Although it repeats endlessly, it sometimes has the fifth below roots on the chords. It sounds like a lot going on, and of course, it’s flanged.
“The build-up of it is very impressive. It splits into two guitar tracks, one side taking a solo. Somehow, we did a bunch of takes, and so we’d pick the best of each. They were all done as complete takes. I remember thinking that I was sort of jamming with myself.
“The rest of the song is wonderful too. Jon had some fantastic writing on it. It’s arranged nicely. We did very little overdubbing, really.”
4. I'VE SEEN ALL GOOD PEOPLE
“We had the song pretty much worked up in rehearsals. The beginning of it, the parts where I’m playing the acoustic, they never sounded right, however, and so when we got in the studio, we got a click out and I played to it. I did a whole take that way. The click was Bill’s idea. What he’s playing with Chris, that ‘ba-doot’ beat, we made a loop of that.
“The guitar I’m using on the opening is a Portuguese 12-string tuned to a unique way that I think sounds right. The rock section does have a bit of a Western swing to it. That guitar solo is great – I wish I could keep writing them like that. It’s very much like a Bill Haley-type solo. When I played it, I believe I was thinking about how I liked that beboppy guitar approach. It sort of softens the rock but edges up the swing.
“I remember at one point saying that we needed some recorders, which everybody liked the idea of. A guy [Colin Goldring] came in and played them, and they sounded fantastic. I’m not sure if the organ is a Hammond or an actual church organ, but it rises up and it’s just incredible.
“When we do the song live on tour now, we’re going to move the keys down for the ‘I’ve seen all good people’ harmonies at the end. We do love to sing. In Yes, we’ve always had so many ideas for the various instruments, our sonic story, but the vocals are always a lot of fun to do too.”
5. A VENTURE
“This one definitely came up in the studio. I have that jazzy guitar part, and there’s the tinkly piano – lots of great stuff in the song. Tony was such a terrific player for me to work with because he was so comfortable supporting me and helping me, but he would find his moments too.
“I’ve always liked it. We’ve tried it on stage in different guises. In the early years, we used to jam on it a lot and make it quite complicated – just massive things happening. But now we’re determined to do a very good version of it live and make it as close to the record as we possibly can.”
6. PERPETUAL CHANGE
“This is a song that really echoes the feelings of the Devon countryside where we were rehearsing. Jon was looking out at the scenery, and he just said, ‘There it is – perpetual change.’
“I just worked on the song with Geoff Downes, and when we looked at it, we realized that there’s only a few structures to it, but they come in different ways and with different irregularities, and they come together in a battle in the middle.
“How we started on the song was, we started on the fragility of ‘I see the cold mist in the night and watch the hills roll out of sight,’ and we build, getting some nice, jazzy chords in there. But returning as we do to the intro, it’s kind of very anthemic. Of course, it’s rocky too. We were doing it all very well. Then the monster bit happens in the middle. It’s going to be good fun playing the song on stage soon.
“I played the ES-175 on this as well – it’s on Good People, Disgrace, Starship Trooper and A Venture – but at the end of this song, I played an Antoria. Or it might have been a Guyetone. It was definitely one of the two. They looked the same. One was a copy of the other one, but I never really worked out which came first.
“The song is joyful, and it ends the album on such a nice note. Once again, it gives people the signal that Yes can be kind of classical.” --
Joe is a freelance journalist who has, over the past few decades, interviewed hundreds of guitarists for Guitar World, Guitar Player, MusicRadar and Classic Rock. He is also a former editor of Guitar World, contributing writer for Guitar Aficionado and VP of A&R for Island Records. He’s an enthusiastic guitarist, but he’s nowhere near the likes of the people he interviews. Surprisingly, his skills are more suited to the drums. If you need a drummer for your Beatles tribute band, look him up.
Interview: Yes' Chris Squire on Rickenbackers, critics, Trevor Horn and more
By Joe Bosso published January 09, 2012
"Being called a 'music legend' is a very funny thing," says Yes bassist Chris Squire. "It's nice to know that my work has been appreciated and that people have given me that status. On a personal level, however, I can't think about it too much. It means a lot...but then it doesn't."
Which is another way of saying that Squire isn't letting accolades (especially those of MusicRadar readers) go to his head, nor is he resting on his laurels. In 2011, Yes released two albums, a glorious studio set, Fly From Here, helmed by longtime producer (and onetime band singer) Trevor Horn and featuring classic-lineup members Squire, guitarist Steve Howe and drummer Alan White, along with returning keyboardist Geoff Downes and 2009 singer recruit, Benoit David.
In addition, the group recently issued an elaborate live set, In The Present: Live From Lyon, also produced by Horn, which highlights the talents of Oliver Wakeman, son of legendary keyboardist Rick Wakeman, who temporarily assumed his father's spot in Yes. (Downes has since rejoined the fold.)
Recording the studio album was, in Squire's words, "a fantastic experience. In fact, Steve Howe said something that was pretty amazing: 'My God, I think we've actually made an album that everybody in the band likes!' That has never happened before. The vibe was quite good the whole time. And working with Trevor was a real pleasure."
Horn's association with Yes is a long and interesting one, and so that's where our conversation with Chris Squire begins.
Trevor Horn has worked with Yes as a producer on various occasions, but there was that brief period in 1980 and '81 when he was singing with the band.
"That's right, he had done the Drama album with us. I remember there was a lot of pressure on us at the time. We had a US tour booked, which was pretty much sold out everywhere, including four nights at Madison Square Garden. But we had a change of personnel: Trevor came in for Jon [Anderson], and Geoff came in for Rick. At this point, before such a tour, we thought that our fans deserved to know who the new members of the band were, and so we made an album.
"Drama was put together quickly; there were a lot of intense, 16-hour days. Despite the pressure, it was a lot of fun, and the end result was an album I'm very proud of. I think Drama defined Yes as they had become at that point in time, and it's stood the rest of time, as well."
During the '70s, the critics were brutal to Yes. You were called things like "self-indulgent," "dinosaurs..."
[laughs] "Sure. That's right."
And then the New Wave bands joined in on the criticism. Did that sting? Did you take it to heart? Or because you were so successful, did you not care?
"Well, at the time, Yes were doing extremely well, filling arenas and stadiums. I saw those things in the press, but I can't say they had any kind of impact on our career. [laughs] Initially, of course, the whole New Wave thing was much more of a Euro-based movement. People will point to The Ramones and a few other bands, but I don't think it was as big a deal in the US as it was in other places."
You've been a longtime Rickenbacker player. When did you come out with your signature model bass?
"The one that came out in the '90s…I can't remember when that was. It was probably towards the beginning of the '90s. One thing that's always been something of a mystery, and I've never been able to pin them down on it, is the actual number of instruments produced. There seems to be some confusion as to whether it was 900 or 1000.
"I remember John Hall, the owner and CEO of Rickenbacker, called me and said, 'I think we only made 900 of them, but I'm not quite sure.' So I said, 'Well, if you're not sure, John, then go ahead and make the other 100!'" [laughs]
The first Rick you bought in the '60s, the RM1999 model - how did you come to acquire it?
"What happened was, I had left school and took a temporary job while I tried to figure out what to do with my life - this was before I became a full-time musician, obviously. I was working in a music store in London, and this particularl place happened to be the importers for Rickenbacker guitars into England. So I started seeing these basses coming in.
"I think the first three Rickenbacker basses were imported around 1964. Pete Quaife, the bassist for The Kinks, bought one. Then John Entwistle from The Who bought one. As for the third one, I asked the manager of the store if I could get an employee discount. He said I could, and so I picked up that one. [laughs] I went on to live with that guitar and perfect my style, really."
You got your first Rickenbacker before Paul McCartney?
"I think so, yeah. If this was '64, then yes, that would be true. I don't think Paul went with his Rickenbacker until a little later."
So many bassists cite you as a major influence, but when you were coming up, who did you listen to? Who helped to shape your playing?
"When I was 16 years old, I had great influences. There was Paul McCartney, of course. I was greatly impressed by his playing and his ability to sing at the same time. I strove to make that my goal, to be able to do both things.
I loved Bill Wyman from The Rolling Stones. Jack Bruce, too: At this point, I started going to clubs, so I saw Jack play with The Graham Bond Organization, his band before Cream. And John Entwistle, he was a huge influence. I was at just the right age in 1965 when The Who broke out in London. I was one of those 17-year-olds who went to see them everywhere they played. When I was a teenager, they were my favorite band. I really adored The Who."
Back then, your gear options weren't what they are now. In a way, did that make things more interesting? You had to rely on your own creativity…
"It was fun, sure. In the '60s, you were limited to whatever guitar you chose to play and the amp you decided to play it through. Those were about your own options. [laughs]
"Eventually, the fuzz and the wah-wah pedals came into play, but originally, it was all about your guitar and amp. It's interesting, though, and I was thinking about this just the other day: With The Beatles, George and John played Rickenbackers, as did Paul, although at first he was playing his Hofner. But it was the combination of those instruments that made their sound.
"Later on, they got into Fenders and Gibsons and other things. But the quintessential Beatles sound came from Rickenbacker guitars and the Hofner bass. With The Who, Pete Townshend played Rickenbackers before he started playing Fenders and Les Pauls. So it was just that: the guitarists got their sound with the instruments themselves.
"You could make them sound different by using certain things, like different speaker boxes and amplifiers. And Townshend obviously started with the feedback idea and using volume. It was very much every man for himself and what you could come up with!" [laughs]
Because you favored a more trebly sound for your bass, on the early records, did you ever have frequency wars with Steve Howe?
"Strangely enough, it all seemed to work quite well. Steve was playing that big hollowbody Gibson ES-175. That was basically a jazz guitar, and it had a lot of body and low-end to it. Somehow or other, the two sounds worked well together.
"But something else you have to consider is that Bill Bruford was the drummer on the first Yes albums. He was more of a jazz player, which made me have to fulfill some of the drum role a bit more than the drums did. Bill sort of played around me. In theory, it's supposed to be the other way around. We had a unique way of playing, and so the engineer was able to combine the sounds and turn them into something that people liked."
Did you change your playing a bit when Alan White joined the band?
"It didn't change a bit, it changed completely! [laughs] Alan had come from a basic rock drumming background. As we all know, he had played on the Imagine sessions and was part of the Plastic Ono Band. So it was all very solid rock drumming, but very different from Bill's playing.
"When I first started working with Alan, it took a little while to get the chemistry; it was all a bit foreign to both of us. As time went on, we modified our styles to fit each other, and now here we are, we've played together since 1972. It's like riding a bike!" [laughs]
Do you have a general philosophy as to how you approach bass playing?
"The song is the main thing, so the melody and, to some extent, the lyrical content is important to what you come up with. There's all kinds of approaches, really. You may be doing something that has a riff, or the song might be written around the riff - there's all kinds of ways you can go about it. I can't say I'm limited to doing just one thing. When it comes to looking at the bass part, all kinds of information plays a role."
What is your relationship like with Jon Anderson? Several years ago, Yes decided to continue without him. Are there any hard feelings?
"I don't think so; there shouldn't be. We just had to move on and brought in Benoit David to come in and sing. At the time, it was looking less and less likely that Jon could do it, mainly because of his medical status. And, of course, he was reluctant to commit to long-term touring - and I understand why. So we had to make that change. I always hoped that Jon would see it as a business decision and nothing personal. That's where it stands."
What was it like playing with Oliver Wakeman? Having performed with his dad for so many years, was it a little strange?
"Oliver's a really nice guy. We spent a few years on the road together, and we get along very well. It was a little strange. [laughs] Probably 50 percent of his is exactly like his father, and then the other half is all him - he's his own man. But when it comes down to playing, he's as accomplished as Rick."
Speaking of Rick Wakeman, here's probably the most important question of all: Did you ever tease him about that whole King Arthur on ice thing he did in the '70s?
"Uh…no, not really. At the time he did that, people were going for the lavish productions, and Rick just took it one stage further - onto the ice rink! [laughs] I didn't actually see it. I assume there must be some film of it. What can I say? Those were the days."
Joe Bosso is a freelance journalist who has, over the past few decades, interviewed hundreds of guitarists for Guitar World, Guitar Player, MusicRadar and Classic Rock. He is also a former editor of Guitar World, contributing writer for Guitar Aficionado and VP of A&R for Island Records. He’s an enthusiastic guitarist, but he’s nowhere near the likes of the people he interviews. Surprisingly, his skills are more suited to the drums. If you need a drummer for your Beatles tribute band, look him up.
In Set List, we talk to veteran musicians about some of their most famous songs, learning about their lives and careers (and maybe hearing a good backstage anecdote or two) in the process.
The artist: The lineup of Yes has repeatedly fluctuated since the band’s inception in the late ’60s, but one musician—and only one—has played a part in every permutation of the band: bassist Chris Squire. The A.V. Club recently spoke with Squire in conjunction with the release of Yes’ latest live album, In The Present: Live From Lyon, and asked about as many of the band’s seminal tracks as the limited amount of interview time would allow.
Yes, “Astral Traveller” (from 1970’s Time And A Word)
Chris Squire: That originally was recorded in ’69, back on the second Yes album. It was pretty much right when we were starting to write more and more of our own original songs, and that was pretty representative of where our heads were at the time: spacey lyrics and quite hard-hitting playing. We revived it, of course, for touring when Benoit [David] joined the band in 2008. Strangely enough, Steve Howe suggested we do it, and he didn’t even play on the original. [Laughs.] But he thought it was something worth doing, and it turned out great. And we added a little drum feature on the end for Alan [White] that was built into the show.
The A.V. Club: It’s the oldest of the tracks on Live From Lyon.
CS: I’m sure it is, yes. [Laughs.]
AVC: Didn’t anything from the self-titled album warrant revival?
CS: Well, I don’t know if we’ve ever really played anything from that album in a long time. I do have a vague recollection of reviving the cover of The Beatles’ “Every Little Thing,” but I don’t know if that was just our riffing on it in rehearsal. I don’t think we ever did it actually in the show.
AVC: In a perfect world, you might launch into “Beyond And Before” some night.
CS: Yeah, “Beyond And Before,” that is a classic Yes song. Originally written for [the band] Mabel Greer’s Toy Shop, actually, before Yes was even around.
AVC: Time And A Word also marked a notable use of orchestra, which wasn’t necessarily a big thing in rock at the time.
CS: Yeah, well, exactly. Jon Anderson and I, we really liked a lot of classical music, and we wanted to get some orchestral arrangements going on Time And A Word. And, of course, at that time, I also discovered that guitarists hate it when anybody suggests having an orchestra on anything. [Laughs.] Because it tends, I think, to detract from the art of the lead guitarist. And that also was with Peter Banks, and it was one of the reasons why we actually parted company with Peter Banks after that album. Because he just thought we were going in a different direction from the way he thought. But that wasn’t really the case. We just wanted to use some orchestral arrangements. But anyway, he left after that album, and Steve Howe came in, and then we did The Yes Album. And that all worked out really well.
Yes, “Starship Trooper” (from 1971’s The Yes Album)
CS: I remember it was the last thing we did [on that album], and it was pretty much put together in the studio. You know, it sort of developed, and… it’s probably one of our first experiments of actually creating in the studio, and that’s why it had one piece Jon had written, a piece that I had written, and a piece Steve Howe had written. And we sort of Sellotaped them together. [Laughs.] Which was a fairly modern technique around 1969 or ’70, or whenever we were doing that. ’70, I think. And of course, you had to have an engineer who was capable of physically editing tape, which was quite an unusual thing amongst studio engineers, because up until then, they’d just been used to taping things in one piece, and that was it, whether it be pop music or orchestral music. But Eddie [Offord] had become good at actually cutting the… probably that was a 16-track. Maybe it was an 8-track. [Laughs.] But Eddie had perfected the art of doing it, so we took advantage of that and started editing bits of music together that didn’t necessarily… We hadn’t played it before we edited it together. And then, strangely enough, “Starship Trooper” became a song that we never, ever played. For years and years and years. It never seemed to be that good in the show. And then I guess sometime in the later ’70s or something, we decided to reintroduce it, and then it turned out to be a really good live song.
Yes, “I’ve Seen All Good People” (from 1971’s The Yes Album) AVC: Steve Howe really stakes his claim as a key member of Yes on “I’ve Seen All Good People.”
CS: Oh, yeah, exactly. [Hesitates.] Although, really, everything on The Yes Album is part of Steve Howe’s first effort out there with us. But yeah, he definitely put it out there with his Portuguese sort of mandolin-ish guitar he had. That definitely gave that whole song a sound. And that was also, on the “Your Move” section of the song, our first experimentation with a loop tape, because we just recorded the bass drum and the bass guitar together playing a “duh-dumph,” and we put that on a loop and ran it through a quarter-inch tape machine, and then recorded that again back onto the 1-inch or 2-inch—whatever it was at the time—and then we overdubbed everything on top of that pulse.
AVC: It’s turned up in more than a few films and TV series over the years.
CS: Oh, absolutely, yeah, I know. And I think it’s even used for a Chase Manhattan Bank ad.
AVC: Do you have a favorite use of the song?
CS: Ah, well, not really. But, strangely enough, “I’ve Seen All Good People” is, I think, the second most played Yes song on American radio after “Owner Of A Lonely Heart.” And then I think “Roundabout” is third. So it’s definitely had a lot of usage over the years. And it’s still being played. So that’s great.
AVC: “I’ve Seen All Good People” and “Roundabout” have both been used on Fringe. Did you guys cut them a deal?
CS: Oh, I know Fringe, yeah! I hadn’t noticed that, though. I haven’t seen every episode, either. But I’ve seen the show. In fact, I’m quite surprised it’s still going, ’cause it seems to keep having new seasons, and I never thought it was that great. But now I know they’ve used our music, I’ll support them. [Laughs.]
Yes, “And You And I” (from 1972’s Close To The Edge)
CS: Well, of course, by that time, we’d already developed the idea of doing our songs in sections and recording them in sections. So there was the first section, which, once again, had sort of a pulse thing from the bass and drums, and a strummy guitar. Then there’s the middle section I wrote, which is called “Eclipse.” I wanted to make that sound orchestral, and that was also because at that time… well, actually, I think we started on Fragile. When Rick Wakeman joined the band, he brought in the Moog synthesizer and the Mellotron and everything, so those instruments were sort of part of our arsenal then, and we were using them to do quasi-orchestral pieces. Which worked very well for us. Once again, that was recorded in about four different sections and edited together.
AVC: The Yes singles of that era… a lot of times, you’d have half a song on one side and half of the song on the other side. Do you cringe when you hear those edits?
CS: [Laughs.] Oh, God. Uh, yeah. Yes. But, I mean, at the time, I guess we couldn’t figure out why anybody would want to do anything like that. I guess it was some form of quality control. In a way, I’m sort of happy to think that people would buy something of ours even in that butchered state. It showed they liked the band that much. So in a way, that was good.
Yes, “Onward” (from 1978’s Tormato)
CS: Well, “Onward” was a song I wrote in Montreux, in Switzerland, when we were there camping out for the whole winter. In the summer, Montreux is a really, really big summertime-touristy, full-of-life kind of place. In the winter, it closes down. [Laughs.] To nothing. So we were doing some kind of a financial tax year where you only could have a limited time in England in order to qualify for certain tax regulations, and it would save you a bunch of money in taxes. So we elected to go to the studio—because they had a studio, to start with—on the lake, and it was a beautiful place. And I actually was living in a rented house that was right on Lake Geneva, which coincidentally was across the road from where [Igor] Stravinsky used to write a lot of his compositions. So it was obvious the vibes around there were kind of good. And I wrote “Onward” there, and it ended up on the Tormato album, which came after Going For The One.
AVC: Did you guys have any particular reaction to the punk movement that was going on right around that time?
CS: Yeah, I’ve been asked that so many times, and, of course, we were… You know, right around that time—’76, ’77, ’78—we were selling out stadiums in America, so the punk movement was sort of just… We looked upon it as quaint. [Laughs.] So we didn’t think about it very much, really. But I recognize the validity of that now. It was a certain revolution against perceived pomposity, I guess, on the part of bands like us and ELP and Genesis, I guess, to an extent, too. But, you know, we didn’t really notice it that much.
Yes, “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” (from 1983’s 90125)
AVC: You worked with producer Trevor Horn when he was a member of Yes for the Drama album, but who put you in touch with Trevor Rabin?
CS: You know, Trevor had just been… around. Sort of. He was originally from South Africa, but he’d moved to London and was doing something in London with a label he was trying to put together. So I was aware of him. And one day somebody gave me… Well, back in those days, it was a cassette tape of Trevor. And I was amazed, because it sounded like… The whole thing was just like a new Foreigner album. To me, anyway. [Laughs.] And it was Trevor’s demos! And I thought, “Well, that’s amazing!” And of course I was told he’d played and sung everything on it. And I thought, “Well, this guy’s really clever, but he sounds like Foreigner,” so I didn’t take too much notice of him. And then a year or two went by, and his name came up again, and… This was after Yes was on hiatus for a while, after we’d made the Drama album with Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes. We’d toured that ’round the world, and we just needed a rest. So we’d had some time off, and then once again his name came up, ’cause Steve Howe was off with Geoff Downes with their Asia project by then. And I said, “Yeah, okay, I know who this guy is: He sounds like Foreigner. But let me meet him.”
I remember he came to my house and… [Laughs.] I think we were just drinking and stuff like that, so by the time we went down to the studio—which I had in my basement, which was very sophisticated, actually, and was pretty much like a commercial studio, except I’d had it built under my house—we went and had a jam for about five or 10 minutes, and it was dreadful. And after that, we just said, “Oh, well, okay, let’s just form a new band, then.” [Laughs.] Because we got on very well, so it didn’t really matter what the playing was like at the time. Looking back, it probably wasn’t as bad as all that, anyway.
Ironically, this album’s title is now out of date, for Oliver Wakeman’s keyboard stool has been taken by Geoff Downes, returning to the Yes fold. Thankfully, however, this live set records Rick’s son’s efforts over 13 tunes which, on the whole, are a faithful, if sometimes Yes-lite take on the band’s classics.
The set opens with the simulacrum of Siberian Khatru, Steve Howe’s skittering guitar atop Wakeman Jr’s keys and Benoît David’s lofty vocals. He also puts in a good shift on the likes of I’ve Seen All Good People and the trilling Onward; but Astral Traveller – with drum solo – lacks a certain presence, as does a less slick Owner Of A Lonely Heart. Still, Yours Is No Disgrace speaks for itself, Southside Of The Sky continues the monumental tradition ably and, with bankers such as the ecstatic Heart Of The Sunrise, clapalong Roundabout and all-action Starship Trooper, most fans should consent to begrudging approval.
Nearly 45 years after saying “Yes!” to progressive, symphonic-style rock music, British band Yes still rolls strongly, but through plenty of changes.
Although the band's music has earned it many fans since the '70s and '80s, flexibility seems to play a key role in the band's longevity. Yes is a “mysteriously determined band” that has such a long heritage, partially because of its revolving door, with numerous member changes, says guitarist Steve Howe, who still lives in England.
Since Yes began in 1968, the band has had four guitarists, two drummers, and more than six keyboardists. Yes is on its fourth singer: Jon Davison, who joined the band in February because of lead vocalist Benoit David's illness. Bassist Chris Squire is the only original member remaining in the five-man band, although Howe joined in 1970, shortly after Yes was formed.
“When you put all that together, that's the answer to your question: We change,” Howe says about the band's long lifespan, minus a two-year disband in 1981 and a four-year hiatus in 2004. “We're like an orchestra; an orchestra can change membership.”
Howe and Yes keyboardist Geoff Downes also split their time between Grammy Award-winning Yes, which is coming to the Carnegie Library Music Hall in Munhall on Tuesday, and Asia, another '80s British rock band that is coming to the music hall Oct. 31 for its 30th anniversary tour. Howe also has nurtured a solid solo career outside of his bands, and released his 19th solo album in 2010.
Yes has sold more than 50 million albums, and put out a studio album — “Fly From Here,” its first studio album in a decade — last year. The album worked out well, but Howe doesn't know if Yes — known for hits including “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” “Leave It,” “Long Distance Runaround,” and “Starship Trooper” — will make another new studio album in the future.
Focusing on continual touring and live performances has helped Yes continue to thrive and connect with fans in a personal way, Howe says. Stage charisma and energy make live shows entertaining, but Howe prefers to express them in a less flamboyant way than some bands do. He's not one to put on a show that's reliant on stage movement, theatrics and “that kind of razzmatazz.”
“It's a good thing — the audience likes to see the whole package,” Howe says about live shows. But, “Kneeling at the edge of the stage is cringe-worthy ... the music police should come on. I like to move around ... but certainly I'm not going to be wiggling on the (back) with my legs in the air.”
Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7824.
Yes' Chris Squire on Tribute Singer's Exit, Broadway Reunion Talks
'He started to get a little wobbly onstage,' says bassist of Benoit David
By ANDY GREENE MAY 25, 2012
Just four years ago, Benoît David seemed like the perfect solution to Yes' problems. The prog-rock giants were in the midst of a four-year hiatus from the road as lead singer Jon Anderson recovered from a respiratory ailment, and they'd grown weary of sitting around. So the band decided to hire a new singer, and David was the perfect choice – he was the frontman of Canadian Yes tribute act Close to the Edge, and he could recreate Anderson's soaring tenor vocals with stunning accuracy. In a storyline straight out of the movie Rock Star, Yes gave him the job. "Benoît came in and he seemed real good," the band's bassist, Chris Squire, tells Rolling Stone. "The fanbase seemed to really like him and everything was going well."
Last year, Yes released Fly From Here with David on lead vocals and hit the road on a co-headlining tour with Styx to promote it. "At that point, he started to get a little wobbly onstage," says Squire. "I thought he was having a cold or had gotten sick on the road. That happens all the time, but in Benoît's case it seemed to not be getting better. We toured Europe after that, and once again he started to go a little soft. But it was more than that. He just seemed to not want to carry on doing the job. I assumed that after the Christmas break he'd feel differently, but he didn't. We figured it was time to change partners."
With David out of the picture and a big year of touring quickly coming up, Squire remembered a singer that Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters had once suggested: Jon Davison, the lead vocalist of Tennessee-based prog-rockers Glass Hammer. "Taylor is my friend and he told me on numerous occasions that Jon Davison should have the gig," says Squire. "We got together with him and realized that he would be a very good fit. Like Jon Anderson, he's a tenor, but he has a different pitch to his voice. We just returned from our Pacific Rim tour and he did a fantastic job, so everything is happy again in the Yes realm."
All of this begs an obvious question: why not just reunite with Jon Anderson after David left the group? "I've always had the same attitude about that," says Squire. "I would never close the door on that possibility, but we're in the throes of promoting our new album and Jon Davison is doing a good job with that. If anything in the future happens regarding a possible collaboration with Jon [Anderson], I'm sure we'd look at it, but right now we're in a good place and not even thinking about it."
When Rolling Stone spoke to Jon Anderson last summer, he was none too pleased about getting replaced by a vocal doppelgänger in a group that he co-founded. "People get into that place where they don't care about people," said Anderson. "To them, it's just business." Needless to say, Squire has a different take on the situation.
"I don't think Jon has anything to be bitter about," he says. "We cancelled a whole tour in 2008 when his respiratory problems came back. Touring is a tough business. One of the main reasons we aren't working with him now is that he's only able to do a certain amount of shows a week. It would limit our ability to move and make money, really. After we canceled the 2008 tour, the rest of us wanted to work. We all enjoy playing and we wanted to feed the fans' needs – their Yes injections."
Squire is open to the idea of a Yes reunion as part of a residency at a Broadway theater in New York. "The idea of 'Yes on Broadway' has come up," he says. "It would reflect the history of Yes. It requires the collaboration not only with Jon Anderson, but also other ex-members, including keyboard players like Patrick Moraz and obviously Rick [Wakeman] would be looked at as well. Of course, it would have to depend on if there's any interest from that side as well. It's something that's brewing, but it's very much on the backburner."
A big project on the frontburner for Squire right now is Squackett, a new collaboration with former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett. Their debut LP, Life Within a Day, comes out on June 5th. "For years I've been trying to do a follow-up to [1975 solo LP] Fish Out of Water," says Squire. "Every time I tried to do it, the songs got diverted onto a Yes album or some other project. This time I was writing in London and I brought Steve in. Towards the end of the project, we were actually writing songs together from scratch. Also, we started singing together and realized that our voices sounded great together. I didn't even know that he sang!"
The new group is planning on touring England in the fall, and they might expand that into a broader European tour. Just don't expect to hear any Yes or Genesis tunes at the shows. "That's very unlikely," says Squire. "I have never played anything live – expect for a few special occasions – from Fish Out of Water," says Squire. "I've always wanted to play that material, and Steve has a wealth of albums he can draw from on his own. By the time we add all that up we'll have a pretty lengthy show, and there won't be time for any Yes or Genesis songs."
Before Squackett goes on the road, Yes has a 26-date North American tour kicking off on July 13th in Atlantic City. The group has been around for 44 years now, and Squire sees no end in sight. "It's quite an odd thing that Jon Davison is the 18th member to come into the circus ring of Yes," he says. "In many ways I think about the possibility that there could still be a Yes in 100 or 200 years from now, just like a live symphony orchestra. I don't think I'll be in it unless there is an extraordinary medical breakthrough. Just think of the Los Angeles Philharmonic: the members change, but the band keeps the same name."
In 1991, most of the members of Yes, both past and present, put aside their differences for the Union album and tour. If the Broadway residency never comes together, the only place where a reunion would be likely to happen again is at a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. "That would be fantastic, wouldn't it?" says Squire. "It would be great to get every member up there onstage. Fortunately, I think every member is still alive, so they shouldn't wait too long."
Squire isn't holding his breath, though. "I don't know what happens at those meetings where they pick the inductees," he says, laughing. "They're probably like, 'Oh, Yes? Of course they won't be getting in. Next!'"
Jon Anderson talks Yes' Close To The Edge track-by-track
By Joe Bosso published December 02, 2012
"We told stories and created moods. It was all very daring and wonderful."
Jon Anderson talks Yes' Close To The Edge track-by-track "We were on top of the world when we made Close To The Edge," says singer-songwriter Jon Anderson, recalling the early months of 1972 when he and his Yes mates (guitarist Steve Howe, bassist Chris Squire, keyboardist Rick Wakeman and drummer Bill Bruford) holed up inside London's Advision Studios to record the follow-up to their breakout hit, Fragile, which was released a year earlier.
“The band had just done a huge tour for Fragile,” says Anderson, “and we were quite pleased at how the audiences were loving the longer pieces that we played live. Roundabout was eight minutes long, Starship Trooper was nine, and Heart Of The Sunrise was over 11 minutes. These are well-constructed pieces of music that really worked on stage. We were feeling very powerful, like we could do anything.”
And that they did. Comprised of just three songs – the title track along with And You And I, both four-movement epics, plus the relatively short (at eight minutes, 55 seconds) Siberian Khatru – Close To The Edge was the result of the progressive rock band’s musical impulses running on full, a broad canvas of dizzying instrumental exchanges supporting Anderson’s sublime, mystical poetic vistas.
“It’s very representative of what I think is the Yes style,” Anderson says. “We experimented a lot, but we also had the talent to back it up – it wasn’t just solo after solo. We told stories and created moods. It was all very daring and wonderful.”
The group eschewed making demos, preferring to work on rough ideas while co-producer Eddy Offord rolled tape. After several weeks, concepts were sewn together into elaborate song structures. “We’d get the basic sketch of something, and then it was a matter of refinement,” says Anderson. “A piece would start to feel complete, but then I’d look to Steve and say, ‘We need a very poignant 12-string guitar introduction.’ He’d come up with it, it would be great, and we’d be off.”
Released on 13 September 1972, Close To The Edge bested the performance of Fragile, reaching No. 4 on the UK Albums Chart and placing a spot higher on Billboard’s Top 200 in the US. “FM stations really supported us, particularly on the college campuses in the States,” says Anderson. “They weren’t interested in what was commercial – they were just into playing great music.”
On the following pages, Anderson looks back at the writing and recording of Close To The Edge, offering his insights into the record track-by-track (and, more specifically, movement-by-movement). “It was the beginning of my musical journey in terms of really understanding structure,” he says. “I was able to help guide the band into Tales From Topographic Oceans, The Gates Of Delirium and Awaken. Everybody was so talented, so we could play these epic songs marvelously. The biggest thing was that we were all in harmony. We were truly connected.”
Close To The Edge - The Solid Time Of Change “I had been listening to an album called Sonic Seasoning by Walter Carlos, who’s now Wendy Carlos, and it gave me the idea for this sound effect that came from outer space. It came towards you and then bang! – the band started charging. At first, there’s this wonderful musical chaos, and then we have the guitar riff.
“The idea of the chant was key to the song. [Sings] ‘A seasoned witch could call you from the depths of your disgrace/ And rearrange-da-dada-dada-dada-da-da-daa.’ It’s a rhythmic thing. I worked that out with Steve.
“The band started playing, and I said, ‘Guys, maybe you should be doing something more syncopated instead of a straight-on beat.’ So while Bill and Chris worked on a drum and bass thing, I looked at Rick and said, ‘OK, how fast can you play?’ And, of course, he could play very fast. The whole idea was to make it musically entertaining even before we put the voices on.
“For lyrics, I did a rough sketch of the whole piece, but as the sections came together, that’s when I rewrote the words. It took about three or four revisions till everything was there. It’s all metaphors. Simply put, ‘A seasoned witch could call you from the depths of your disgrace’ – that means your higher self will eventually bring you out of your dark world.”
Close To The Edge - Total Mass Retain “We’ve laid the foundation of where we’re going to go, and now we’re into the second part. This is about the relaxation of life and being close to the edge of the realization of our universal experiences. That’s what the song is starting to explain.
“This part flows. It shows you that you have to let music guide you. It’s best to open up and not force the situation. Everything will come to you.
[Sings] “’Sudden cause shouldn't take away the startled memory/ all in all, the journey takes you all the way.’ The idea is that life is an ongoing journey, and you have to enjoy it, you know?”
Close To The Edge - I Get Up, I Get Down “We have the ‘the I get up, I get down’ part before it goes into a beautiful ocean of energy. You’ve gone through nearly 10 minutes of music that’s very well put-together, but then you want to let go of it. You relax a little bit.
“The song came about because Steve was playing these chords one day, and I started singing, ‘Two million people barely satisfy.’ It’s about the incredible imbalance of the human experience on the planet.
“The vocals came together nicely. I’m a big fan of The Beach Boys and The Association – such great voices. Steve and I were working on this, and at one point he said, ‘I have this other song…’ And I said, ‘Well, start singing it.’ And he went [sings], ‘In her white lace, you could clearly see the lady sadly looking/ saying that she'd take the blame for the crucifixion of her own domain… ’
“When I heard that, I said, ‘Wait. That’s going to be perfect! You start singing that with Chris, and then I’ll sing my part.’ We have an answer-back thing.
“I heard a record with a church organ. I can’t remember what the album was, but I remember that it really woke things up. Going into the end, we needed something really big. Sonically, it changes all the textures.”
Close To The Edge - Seasons Of Man “The arrangement had gone to where Rick was doing a solo. We’d always tried to give Steve a solo, then Rick a solo… Chris and Bill were working out the drum and bass parts. I said, ‘There’s got to come a time where I can get back in with [sings] The time between the notes relates the color to the scenes.’ Because the band is just cookin’ away, so I knew we needed a crescendo, and that’s where I came back in singing. They rehearsed it a few time, and this phrase then came out of the keyboard-organ solo.
“The line that goes, ‘Then according to the man who showed his outstretched arm to space/ he turned around and pointed, revealing all the human race’ – I’d had this dream where I was up on a mountain. This man was holding me around the shoulders, and he was pointing and saying, ‘That’s the human experience.’ And I smiled because I realized that it was true.”
And You And I - Cord Of Life “And You And I was written in maybe five different sections, and then we put them all together. The idea was very straightforward at first. It was going to be a very pretty folk song that I wrote with Steve. Soon we decided that it was to be surrounded by very big themes.
“’A man conceived a moment's answers to the dream/ staying the flowers daily, sensing all the themes’ – I love singing this song on tour. In fact, I still sing it.
“When we were writing in those days, it was ‘Here’s the verse, here’s the verse, we’ve gotta get from the verse to the bridge.’ We had to make the bridge very, very different. ‘And you and I climb over the sea to the valley, and you and I reached out for reasons to call’ – and then we’re going to hold that note, and the theme is going to come back in.
“I would always record Rick when he was writing music. He was working on something at the time, and I said, ‘Let’s develop this theme.’ It felt really good.”
And You And I - Eclipse “You work on a solo section, and it gets to the point where you feel it’s finished, and maybe it’s time to get back to that part that we sang at the end of the second verse – and just double up on it. That’s how we brought this section back in.”
And You And I - The Preacher The Teacher “It goes to a totally different song and feel. Steve is a magical guitar player, and he could switch to a new style so easily. I said to him, ‘It’s got to be have a real country feel to it.’ He knew just what to do, and then Chris, one of the greatest melodic bassists ever, came in, and right there the song sat together so sweet.
“We wrote this section in one afternoon, but it probably took about a week to put the whole piece of music for And You And I together.”
And You And I - Apocalypse “Nearly all of the music we ever made had one thought behind it: what will it sound like on stage? We liked to make records, but our main reason for doing what we did was to perform live, surrounded by a sound system and under the lights.
“I remember when we did And You And I at the Spectrum in Philadelphia for the first time. The whole room was so alive with the music we were making – it was really overwhelming – and when we were finished, the audience cheered and clapped for 15 minutes. I’m not kidding.
“That’s what I think of when I remember the end moments of And You And I. It was one of those times in your life that you never forget.”
Siberian Khatru “I was playing this on acoustic guitar the other day. ‘Khatru’ means ‘as you wish’ in Yemeni. When we were working on it, I kept singing the word over and over again, even though I had no idea what it meant. I asked somebody to look it up for me, and when they told me the meaning, it worked for the song.
“I had already written most of it, but I needed help with some of the sections. I started playing it on guitar for the band, and then I realized that it needed a strong riff. Steve really helped out with some of the parts and, of course, the riff. The song could work with the riff and the vocals alone.
[Sings] “’Even Siberia goes through the motions… ‘” The idea is that Siberia is so far away. The Iron Curtain still existed, and Siberia was like this no man’s land. Russia is such a huge country, and the thought was that life still happens there as it does here.
“The verses have a different rhythmic feel. We had a lots influences and elements going on. Before Yes, I was in a band in the ‘60s, and we did all the R&B songs that were on the charts. I loved singing those songs, but I didn’t want to write about the same things subject-wise. ‘My babe don’t love me no more, what am I gonna do?’ – why should I compete with people who were writing those songs so damn well?
“Steve’s guitar playing is brilliant. I’ve always been amazed at his incredible talent. Even on the last tour I did with him, I’d come off stage and say to him, ‘How do you do that?’ But the great thing about his playing here is that he’s always aware of the structure. He’s not just playing to play.
“The song builds and builds and builds and builds – you’re taking the audience on an epic adventure. People think it can’t get bigger, but it does. The vocalization I was doing – ‘Bluetail, tailfly, Luther, in time, suntower, asking, cover, lover’ – it builds and builds, too, and then it goes into the solo, and everybody goes crazy. A very cool song.”
Joe Bosso is a freelance journalist who has, over the past few decades, interviewed hundreds of guitarists for Guitar World, Guitar Player, MusicRadar and Classic Rock. He is also a former editor of Guitar World, contributing writer for Guitar Aficionado and VP of A&R for Island Records. He’s an enthusiastic guitarist, but he’s nowhere near the likes of the people he interviews. Surprisingly, his skills are more suited to the drums. If you need a drummer for your Beatles tribute band, look him up.