KEYBOARD August 1991 RICK WAKEMAN & TONY KAYE FACE OFF
After A Quarter-Century Of Grandiose (Some Would Say Pretentious) Art Rock, Yes Is Blazing Down The Reunion Trail. In Spite Of Their Stylistic Differences, Two Of The Band*s Keyboard Pillars Have Finally Joined Forces.
By Robert L Doerschuk Interviews by Robert L Doerschuk and Mark Vail
It all seemed so simple in the liner notes. Jon Anderson called Trevor Rabin. Trevor played Jon some of the stuff he was doing with Chris Squire, Alan White, and Tony Kaye. Jon suddenly decided he'd like to do vocals on these cuts, while Trevor simultaneously realized that Jon's vocals might make a nice addition. Then, of course, "it was only logical" that Chris return the favor by singing on the latest Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe (ABWH) album, which coincidentally was wrapping up at the same time. "Naturally, it followed that" all the prodigal sons would join hands, recant the errors of their separatist ways, and come together as they always should have beenas a single entity. A union of kindred souls.
On one level, maybe it really was that simple. The eight musicians who form the latest and biggest incarnation of Yes have interweaving roots that stretch back 23 years, to a chance meeting between Kaye and original Yes guitarist Peter Banks in a London club. The band members' relationships would have given Tolstoy ample inspiration for an update of War and Peace, with dramatic exits by key members of the band, their replacement by previously unknown players who in turn became just as crucial as their predecessors, and the repentant reappearance of older personnel after years in the cold wilderness of pop obscurity.
But few things in life are as simple as they seem, especially when you're talking about the music business in general and this group in particular. The days when Jon Anderson might call Chris Squire and say, "Hey, let's form a group!" are long gone. Now all the Yes alumni are entangled in conflicting management and recording contracts. The fact that they were able to put together a Union tour this summer testifies to the determination of these warhorses to get back to what brought them together nearly a quarter century ago: Making music.
Of course, times have changed since the spangly, starry-eyed '60s, when too much was the right amount in music and in lifestyle. Yes was born in the backwash of that era. They played one of their first gigs at London's Speakeasy subbing for Sly and the Family Stone: In those days, a group specializing in abstruse arrangements riddled with metrical irregularities and mind-bending solos could sit in for America's hottest funk band and nobody would bat an eye. Though Union [Arista] does feature some bite-sized musical capsules, such as the single "Lift Me Up," it also includes "Miracle of I Life" and "I Would Have Waited Forever," whose ambitious structures wave the old banner of prog rock in all its ragged but persistent glory.
Still, despite this mix-and-match assortment, Union is a surprisingly consistent effort. Every cut sounds like Yes. There are a few nods to more contemporary synth textures, butas we'll see in Rick Wakeman's commentsthe band shouldn't be saddled with the blame or the credit for these minor deviations. Basically, though recorded by two separate halves of the bandten cuts by Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, and Howe, four by Anderson, Rabin, Squire, White, and Kaye, plus one guitar solo by HoweUnion comes across as a singular effort.
The point is that Yes is one of those bands whose identity overshadows the styles and idiosyncrasies of its members. In a sense, playing with Yes is similar to working with Miles Davis in that you need tons of chops and a willingness to submerge your personality into an ensemble sound that your audience recognizes and anticipates. If your part doesn't contribute to the effort, no matter how brilliant it might be, you're in the way.
This is precisely why the gargantuan Yes '91 tour is so fascinating to longtime observers of the band. The musicians involved with Yes have always been able to tinker with the sound to a degree. Though the overall effect has endured, die-hard fans might feel that guitarist Trevor Rabin, for instance, either blew away everything the group stood for or rescued the band from sinking into a nostalgic ooze. Similarly, each of the band's keyboard players has his partisans and critics, who might see Tony Kaye as the group's prototypical spirit or most archaic throwback, while agreeing that Rick Wakeman is the definitive prog rock keyboardista magnificent achievement or a dreadful excess, depending on your point of view.
The news that these two guys would be sharing keyboard parts puzzled and excited onlookers. Would their combined styles and personalities work? Kaye, with his sleek two keyboard onstage setup, has held onto his Jon Lord-like organ perspective in doggedly pursuing the emotional approach. Onstage, he plays with physical abandon, improvising percussive jabs, punctuating fills with palm smears up the keys, all the while vigorously chewing gum and restlessly writhing, as if twisting sideways and cocking his head and even spinning away from the keyboard squeezes that crucial extra drop of feeling from the notes. Across the stage, Wakeman is both a loftier and looser presence, waving and grinning amiably to the crowd during his entrance, then getting down to business. Surrounded by nine keyboards, he moves methodically, takes his time, then spreads his arms to opposite instruments, playing chords or lickety-split lines. That gesture alonethe winglike stretch, accentuated by Wakeman's unfurled sparkling capeis the very image of classic prog rock keyboards, as grandiose and detached as Kaye's exertions are intense and electrifying.
Offstage, the contrasts continue. Wakemantall, lanky, relaxedhas a good word for everyone, props himself up on whatever box happens to be lying nearby for long chats with fans and well-wishers. Kaye, with striking white hair and a pierced ear, is a bundle of energy, stopping for only a few words before dashing off for a few more somewhere else. Wakeman happily declares himself ˝free of drugs and alcoholţ; Kaye pulls repeatedly on cigarettes. On days off, Kaye hurtles through tennis matches; Wakeman strolls and swings through golf courses.
As for the U.S. leg of the tour, Wakeman gave up his seat on the band's flights and elected to travel from gig to gig by van. "I'm fed up with traveling," he confides while sprawled on a dressing room couch. "I've spent 22 years in and out of airports. And I don't drink, so I'm an early riser: I get up at 6:30 every morning. If I fly with them, I have to wait for the rest of the band until 11:30 or 12 o'clock. After you've watched Wheel of Fortune 15 times and tried to work out which are the real bits of Vanna White and which aren't, what do you do? Then you've got a half an hour to the airport, an hour wait for the plane, an hour-and-a-half flight, a half-hour to get your luggage, another half an hour to get to the hotel, and then you're off to the gig.
"So when we were sorting out the air tickets in Pensacola before the tour began, I saw an advertisement in the local paper for a 1985 Dodge conversion van. I went down there, bought it, and I've done 12,000 miles in it, driving all over America. I arrive at the gigs fresh, I shower there, I eat at sensible times. I've had a wonderful time. In fact, on the next U.S. tour, I'm going to buy a camper."
Trevor Rabin and Alan White have both accompanied Wakeman on a couple of his road treks. What about Kaye? The idea of trading road stories at truck stops conjures a faint smile. "No," he says with a wave of his cigarette. "That's not for me. Too crazy."
So their lives are different, their views conflict, and their playing styles would seem to clash. Their personal histories don't connect: Amazingly, Wakeman and Kaye seem to have never even met until rehearsals began for this tour; though Kaye insists that "we did meet in a men's room once," Wakeman doesn't recall the encounter. Yet somehow, when the entire eight-man aggregation takes the stage with Stravinsky's Firebird thundering throughout the venue, then launches into "Siberian Khatru" like the Yes of yore, it all comes together and makes sense. The greatest tribute to Wakeman and Kaye is that they are as effective together as they have been individually at resurrecting, updating, and amplifying on the unmatchable sound of Yes.
How difficult was it to take the two incarnations of Yes that appear on Union and fuse them together as a single entity for the tour?
It wasn't too hard, because basically you're putting the piece of music in the center stage and having eight people rearrange it. The great thing is that with the sort of music we do, there's always many parts to play onstage.
Because there are plenty of overdubs on the records?
Exactly. The other thing is that nobody is up there feeling that they've got anything to prove anymore. So if there's a piece of music that requires me to play extremely little, that's what I'll do. I don't think, "It's a good night, so I'm going to stick 3,000 notes into that bar." We're all old enough to pull that together.
How do you feel about the Union album?
I find it hard to give honest answers on albums until at least a couple of years after, when I can look back on them in various guises, as to why they were done, how they were done, and all the factors that come into the picture. If you look at the reasons why the album was put together as it was, why it sounds like it does, why it's out now, and why there are certain unsatisfactory things on it, then from that perspective it's a bloody good album. For what it has achieved under unbelievable adversity, it's a damn fine album. It could have been absolute bullshit. On the other hand, if I looked at it as if there were no legal problems going on, and we had plenty of time, and everybody would have been available to do what they had to do, then I wouldn't be sitting here talking with you. I wouldn't be in the band, because I would have said, "If that's the attitude it's taken, then I don't want to know." I'm not talking about the band; I'm talking about the things the producers did with it. You could say that I look at Union as the Drama album of the 1990s.
In what sense?
When Drama came out, with [producer/vocalist] Trevor Horn and [keyboardist] Geoff Downes, I publicly said, "I don't class this as a Yes album. This has nothing whatsoever to do with Yes." And I was very wrong. I aimed that remark very much at Chris [Squire, bassist], to whom I have apologized and apologize again. Without Drama, there wouldn't have been a 90125, and there would have been no Trevor Rabin coming in to bring the band into the '80s with a whole new style of playing. Drama may have been a low-selling album, but boy, it was an important catalytic element as to what happened in the '80s. I feel now that Union will do for Yes in the '90s what Drama did for us in the '80s. It's an album that's desperately needed. It's enabled us to play together, to get to know each other. It will stand us between the album and these 85 shows in leading toward doing an album next year thathand on heart could be quite astonishing. We've all been away from each other long enough to have gathered a nice arsenal of musical ideas and knowledge from playing with other people. All we needed was a catalyst that could hold us together, and that's exactly what Union is.
It's interesting to consider Union a catalyst for further developments in the '9Os, since some parts of the album seem designed to evoke the organ-based sound and complex arrangements of early-'70s Yes.
I have to say that not all of the sounds that are on the parts that ABWH [Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe] recorded are of my choosing. In fact, I'm not entirely happy with them. But I accept why they are there. As you know, two albums were being done separately. Then, when we were told that we could all get together legally and play, Arista wanted the album finished hastily. The problem was that [guitarist] Steve Howe and I had a lot of other heavy commitments, so a lot of our stuff was stuck in the computer [as MIDI data] and had not been transferred to digital tape. That, sadly, gave the producer a lot more carte blanche than he should ever have had in editing what I'd done, even to the extent of changing what I had played, because it was so easy: You just sit there, play with the little mouse, and things can come and go. It's like when you do films, and the director says, "Ah, this bit needs music," which means that the film doesn't work at that moment. It's the same thing when a producer says, "This needs a Hammond sound" or some other very familiar sound to cover up what they see as shortfalls in the music. Now, I accept what went on on that front, purely because otherwise there wouldn't be an album out, and I was unavailable. But under normal circumstances, I would have been able to go in and finish off my own work. So it is an unhappy situation. If I'd had my way, there would have been little or no reference to any sounds from the past.
So we won't be hearing the album arrangements of songs from Union when you do them onstage.
Undoubtedly you will not. For example, my personal arrangement of playing "Shock to the System" bears no resemblance to what was on the record.
Why were so many keyboard players, including Steve Porcaro, Rory Kaplan, and Jonathan Elias, credited on Union?
Well, Jonathan Elias, who I wouldn't have trusted with a food mixer, was the producer. Basically, though, the whole thing got out of control. When I was unavailable, they just steamed away. The thing that annoyed me more than anything was that even if you're unavailable to come in and do things, there are such things as telephones for consultation on the pieces of music you're involved in. I want the next Yes production to be done inhouse, or I'm out. If there's any talk from Arista that they want to give the producer license to do what he likes, they'll be one keyboard player short. That's very important: I want the next Yes album to be a Yes album.
On some of the cuts on which you played, the keyboard sounds do seem uncharacteristic "Take the Water to the Mountain, " for example, has almost an industrial quality.
Again, some of those sounds came as a minor shock to me when I heard them, because they came out of the computer. Those are certainly not the sounds that I contributed. To be honest, it took me a long time to play Union all the way through. The first cassette I received from Arista went out of the limo window after about 15 minutes. The next one went out of a hotel window. It's taken me a long time to calm down and be rational about it. In a nutshell, I am 100 percent unhappy with every piece of keyboard work that's on that album. There is not one piece on there that I can put my hand on and say to anybody who knows me as a player, "Listen to this."
How much of you is actually on Union?
That's hard to tell, because some of my stuff has been changed in the sequencer. I mean, I'm on it, but Rick Wakeman's not on the album. But I don't look at it like that. I look at Union as a Yes album. It's the same as when I'm out on the stage. I listen to what I'm playing, but the main thing is that I listen to the band, to what we're creating as a unit.
How does this particular incarnation of Yes feel different from some of the other lineups with which you've been involved?
It's considerably different because it encompasses 20-odd years. You have the Yes of the '70s up there, and you have the Yes of the '80s up there. That, to me, is really fascinating, because they're blatantly and obviously different.
Does this mean that you have to go back and forth between different styles?
Initially, I set out as I did with ABWH, thinking "I'll try to recreate some of the '70s." But then my son Adam, who is a stunning keyboard player now, said, "There are certain things, like 'And You And 1,' that need very definite Minimoog-type, sounds. But don't do that on every track." So I got that actual sound together, then made it better, and put that into my Ensoniq VFX-SD. For that type of soundan utter nick from the original-you've got to have something that's definitive but better. For all of the rest of the things, you're in the '9Os. After all, a record may have a date stamped on it, but the music certainly doesn't. So basically, without trying to change the nature of the pieces of music, I have completely and utterly started again on each sound. I look at this music and I think, "How would I have done 'And You And 1' or 'Roundabout' if I had this at my disposal?"
How has it been working with Trevor Rabin, with whom you had never played before?
I have stunning respect for Trevor Rabin. We've become bosom pals. For a lot of the stuff that he did in the '80s, he said, "Fancy a journey into the past?" "Love to!" I said. And he said, "Imagine that you were in the band with me then. Here's the music. What would you do with it?" That's been marvelous. That way I've been able to keep myself in the '90s.
One feature typical of both early and late Yes material is the band's indulgence in complex irregularities in a song that's essentially set in 4/4. Why has this band always gone for what some might consider show-offy metrical pyrotechnics?
The major problem is Jon [Anderson, vocalist] and myself. We'll play around with a piece of music, and Jon will come up with a rough line or a simple sequence on guitar. I'll change all the chord sequences around in different inversions, and then Jon will start singing. It might be the nature of the way I play that encourages Jon to come in at one or another point. That tends to dictate the meter of the piece, because I'll have to change something to adapt to where Jon comes in. When you look at it, it means I'm playing 4/4, 5/4, 7/8, 4/4, 5/4something like that. Phrasing is very important. Sometimes, at the end of a phrase, you'll want to go very quickly to the next phrase, and that might chop a 4/4 bar to 7/8 or 3/4. But it's never deliberate. We've never said, "Let's be real clever." It always stems from how it feels. Oftener than not, we'll record it down, and then somebody will go, "What bloody time signature is that?"
˝I Would Have Waited Foreverţ is a 4/4 tune, but on the fade you go into 12/8. Why not just fade in 4/4?
I believe that the original piece was in 12/8. If I remember correctly, while we were running it through that way, it didn't sit. The fact is that we can handle 4/4 for an awfully long time because we're all accustomed to it. 12/8 is very difficult to handle for a long period of time. It can become almost comical. I believe that we reverted to 4/4 because that gave us more flexibility, but the ending and the fade still sat nicely in 12/8.
Sounds and arrangements are clearly important, but what about the characteristics of today's controllers? Have such features as polyphonic aftertouch and the Ensoniq's patch select buttons had a strong impact on your playing?
Very much so. Everything is used. I try to make as much use of technology as I can to do two things: (a) to make my life easier, and (b) to give me more colors for my paint pot. I couldn't do half the things I do without the Sycologic [MIDI patchbay/processor]. And the great thing about the presets on the VFXSD is that they are so wonderfully adaptable and editable. I enjoy getting an instrument, listening to the factory sounds, picking maybe half a dozen to save to disc because they're quite useful, and then, with the rest, going, "Why don't I like that? Why wouldn't I use that? How would I edit it to make it useful?" We tear those sounds to shreds, or we start again. Maybe that's because I'm an old man. [Ed Note: Our interview took place the day before Wakeman's 42nd birthday.] When I got my first synths, there was no such thing as presets. You made your own sounds. You had to. Though we didn't know it at the time, that's what made you identifiable. It's very difficult for keyboard players today to become identifiable, because people tend to buy instruments now for the sounds they've got. They'll stick a couple of MIDI things together, and that will do. I feel that if a young keyboard player wants to be identifiable, technique by itself isn't good enough anymore. They have to be identifiable in their technique, their way of playing, and also in their sounds. That means that they've got to spend a lot of time writing, a lot of time rehearsing, and a lot of time with their instruments, making up whole sets of sounds. Try to find something that's yours. Then, when somebody says, "That's a good sound. Could you make me a copy?," say, "No." You know, I've been offered serious percentages to say what my settings on Minimoog and other instruments were for early Yes stuff and solo albums. I know exactly what they were, but I've never let anybody know.
Because you don't want people to have your sounds?
Not because I don't want people to have my sounds.
Because you think people should come up with those sounds themselves?
That's exactly right. I might well do it next year, though, because a lot of young people are discovering analog. Sorry to keep mentioning my sons, but I shoved a Korg Trident at them because that machine can teach them everything they need to know about analog sounds. It's one of the cleverest, most misunderstood instruments ever. Whenever I go down to do some bits and pieces at my kids' schools, I'll take along the Trident. It's much better than taking an old modular Moog, because the Trident was from that period of time when they'd sort of gotten presets together but you still had to do an incredible amount yourself.
But haven't times changed? Rather than encourage everyone to become a virtuoso programmer as in the good old days, shouldn't we accept the fact that third-party programming is here and learn to live with it?
The only trouble is that the virtuoso programmer is not just doing it for one person. He's doing it for hundreds of keyboard players. I'm not saying that's bad. There should be programmers around. Some of them are very good. We look at ads and buy sounds from various companies, just to check them out. I'm just saying that there's a gross shortage of individual keyboard players. If you put a lot of records on, you'd be hard pushed to tell one very fine session musician from another very fine session musician. The key for somebody who wants to break out of that mold is to be a little bit more individualistic. I'm just saying that people should spend a lot of time on their sounds and not just be satisfied with what they've got. Really go into your instruments and try. Here's a good exercise: If you record a piece of music into a sequencer using ten factory soundsarco strings, funk bass, whateverand then spend half an hour on each one of those sounds, editing them fractionally, and then you replay the whole thing and listen to the difference, it can be stunning. Just those little changes can go a long way.
Do you compose mainly using sequencers, or do you rely primarily on pencil and paper?
It depends. If I'm up onstage and an idea comes up, I'll swiftly whip it onto the [Korg] T1 or M1 or the [Yamaha] V50 whatever I happen to be playing. But I also like to write down the basic ideas, so I've got it doublestored. I carry a cassette recorder as well, so in hotel rooms I can just lob it over because it's always nice to be able to play your ideas in the car. I try to cover myself all the way around.
Does your music vary in nature, depending on what medium you use to write?
Yeah, you do think differently. When you're writing in manuscript, you don't initially have a sound in mind. You have an ambient feeling. I might put something at the top to give me a clue later on, like "oboe," which means that somewhere along the line I was thinking of a woodwind type of sound. But it's very much unpreconceived, whereas if you start writing on the keyboard whatever sound comes up instantly dictates the style of what you start to play. Sometimes I've sat down with a new keyboard and a batch of new sounds that we═ve been editing to achieve something, and I've wound up achieving something else. That happens a lot with Stuart [Sawney], my engineer. We'll be looking for, say, a percussive lead-type sound that's got to cut through something without being too ostentatious. While we═re working, we'll come up with something that's quite different, and that will make us start playing something else. Stuart can spot when that's happened from a mile away. After I've been knocking around, he'll say, "I don't have to record this. I know he's got [Steinberg] Cubase on. If it's there, it's stored." Oftener than not, those are the sorts of pieces that end up becoming quite special, because they're instantaneous.
Are you rolling tape at the same time?
In that situation, no. It'll go down onto Cubase, and we load the sounds. It will almost certainly go down in real time. You don't want to waste time. I'm a great admirer of the Cubase system. I was brought up on Steinberg's Pro-24 and Pro-16.
So it's easier and cheaper to compose into a MIDI sequencer than onto tape?
Well, it is a wonderful memory. Until the advent of the tape recorder, there must have been lots of wonderful vocal lines that were lost from singers who had nothing to sing into. Like most keyboard players, I've lost a certain percentage of things: You play something that you like, then hunt around for a tape recorder, and by the time you're ready to go, it's gone. For a studio, MIDI sequencers are priceless because they enable me to give a performance in the studio. They keep me from panicking if I'm doing a virtuosic thing. That always happened back in the '70s: If you were in the middle of a solo, and you knew it was going really well, there was a tendency for all playersI defy them to say otherwiseto play safe at the end of the solo. I used to have a fail-safe last four bars that I could go into if the solo was going really well. Now, I can really leap into a performance, and if there's an odd split note or something that doesn't work, Stu and I can tidy it up, and I've got my performance. I don't have to play safe anymore. That's the greatest use MIDI sequencers have given me.
Let's talk controllers. Why do you have so many keyboards onstage?
We use a lot within the MIDI capabilities of touch, so certain things we do wouldn═t actually click in at all if we were using fewer controllers. We've set all kinds of things up at different positions on the keys, so that I don't have to worry about pedals. Instead, I can bring in things I want totally on touch control, which I find very useful. But even though I'm combining lots of sounds, MIDI basically gives you unison, and that doesn't help the way that I play because I've always played with parts in counterpoint. I don't use MIDI like, "Oh, let's add strings to a trumpet." I will use MIDI to create textures, and then the parts will be played accordingly. The problem is that within one piece I will need changes that are humanly impossible to do. The interesting thing is that when we put the show together, the object was to make my rig as compact as possible. In fact, I started with eight keyboard controllers, but I ended up with nine because it was a struggle to perform with fewer keyboards. We have bucketloads of gear underneath the stage, though.
Although a rack-mounted version of your old Minimoog seems to be missing.
I did take a MIDIed Minimoog out, but somebody dropped it, so that's gone back. Basically, while one thing is exchanged for another [in Wakeman's two racks] according to the nature of the tour and what we're doing, the master controller setup onstage remains the same because the footpedals control everything that's under the stage. I can give the P.A. a stereo mix. I have total control over what goes out. With the Celestion monitoring system I use, I know that what I'm getting onstage is what they're getting out front. That's really importantjust as important as when you're in a studio, knowing that what you take on tape is going to sound the same in your home. The onstage monitor is really the end of your production line, but too many young musicians think of it purely as volume, not quality. They'll spend serious money on keyboards, and think that by setting up a couple of cabinets with a couple of 12" speakers and some nice horns at 150 or 250 watts a side, that═s gonna do the trick for them. But it doesn't, especially for what keyboards do. You're going to end up with serious phasing problems, serious arc drops in where your sounds go, which means you're going to be EQing on your mixer to adapt to that. That is a great mistake, especially if they're giving a separate feed out to the P.A. They're giving themselves a false impression of what they think the P.A. guy is getting. So it's important to me that I know what I'm hearing in my monitors is exactly what the audience hears.
Are you saying that you shouldn't EQ the sound for your speakers?
By all means EQ, but it's important that the EQ you hear out of your monitors is the same as what goes out front or onto tape. I want my monitors to be quiet. I want to hear what I'm playing, but when the band stops I don't want to hear hiss floating around because the EQ is so toppy. Still, the quality that comes out of reasonably-priced keyboards these days is phenomenal, so you've got to give them the chance to be heard.
How do you familiarize yourself with a new keyboard?
I'll take it into the studio first. We normally try to use new stuff on our newest projects. The music for whatever project we're working on, a film or whatever, would be pretty much written. Then we start going through the sounds, we start editing, and we start building up a bank of sounds that we feel might be useful to us throughout the project. It's very interesting, because whatever the instrument is, there are always shortfalls, but even things that sound horrendous on their own might be great when used in the mix. For example, the [Oberheim] Matrix-1000 has some of the worst sounds I've ever heard in my life, until you use them in conjunction with other things. The Cheetah MS6 is another classic example. You want something to cut through? Shove that in. It'll cut through brick.
Those two instruments have some striking similarities.
That's true. There are considerable differences too, but they are similar in purpose. The MS6 linked with a good old Moog-standard analog synth somewhere along the line gives you an overdrive that you would normally have to achieve with a volume pedal. It's very useful, especially for solo purposes. You normally find, to a certain extent, that any new keyboard or module has one sensational use, and everything else fans out around the side of it, which is not different from how synths have been from day one, when dear old Bob [Moog] created these wonderful machines which, in essence, wound up playing a piccolo trumpet by the end of the day because that's what they did really, reallywell.
The difference between the early days and now, of course, is that you have a far greater choice of specialties today than you did back then.
Absolutely. I've got nothing against music that was written in the '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, or '80s, because a good piece of music should be timeless. But I don't want to be controlled by the limitations of that period of time. If I'm still doing this in the year 2000, I would like to think that I might be looking at a totally different approach than I have now because of what will be available then.
And we may be sitting here with you ten years from now, asking the same questions yet again about some other version of Yes.
Strange, isn't it? It's like a nice kind of cancer. You've got it, and it never goes away. It lies dormant, then every now and then it comes back to life. Look, it sounds bloody daft, but I remember when I was 22, thinking, "I wonder what I'll be doing when I'm 32." Then, when I was 32, thinking, "There's no way I'll be doing this when I'm 42!" Now I'm 42, and I realize that I am going to be doing this when I'm 52. So it's become less farcical, because time gives you the chance to stay well, "current" is an awful word, but to stay in the decade that you're in. It's not music that keeps people back in time. It's attitude.
When you listen to the Union album, what are your impressions? Does it sound like two groups sharing space on one CD, or like a single unified product?
Well, obviously it's a combination of two things that were recorded separately and then put together. The fact that it worked out and everybody is happily playing together probably indicates that this was really a ground-breaking kind of album. But, of course, six months ago that wasn't so obvious. Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe were recording their own album in Paris, and we were working on material in Los Angeles, not really knowing what was going on because we didn't have Jon [Anderson] at that point.
It seems that once everybody became aware of what was going on, all the musicians felt fine about working together, but couldn't do so until they had finished dealing with some hellacious complications and legal problems.
I don't know too much about legal problems. I'd guess that the most complicated thing was for us to join with the record company that really wanted to put out the album. We [i.e., the pre-Union Yes] were on Atco, and they were given an opportunity to do it, but they didn't want to, while Arista was very enthusiastic, and they had ABWH. So we had to leave a record company we had been with for 25 years to join something new. But it worked out.
You and Rick have very different approaches toward your onstage rigs. While he's surrounded himself with keyboards, you've got two Yamaha KX76s.
It's basically the same setup I used on the Big Generator tour, in an updated version. Rick has always had his own configurations; he likes to play on different keyboards. But gradually, since the 90125 tour and the beginning of MIDI, I started paring down what I was using. I had my little [E-mu] Emulator [the original model] doing the ˝Owner of a Lonely Heartţ sounds, with two synths on top: my analog [Oberheim] OB-Xa and the [Yamaha] DX7. That's how it started out, and I loved that concept of getting everything as clean as possible. Two months before Big Generator, Robby Eagle, my technician, and I went into a studio and built my system to the specifications I wanted.
Apparently MIDI has had a big impact on how you work.
Yes. I'm such a fan of MIDI that it's completely taken over the way that I approach everything I play. It's strange, because one of the reasons that I left the band originally was because I was such a traditionalist in so many ways. I just wanted to play the organ. When I was a piano player, I started playing the organ because I just loved that Hammond sound. When the Mellotron and the Moog came out, I wanted nothing to do with them. I hated those sounds. But the band was pushing forward very rapidly at that point; there was definitely a disagreement. And Rick was getting that stuff together, so obviously having him come in was the right progression for the music.
What changed your attitude toward music technology?
It was MIDI, the concept of layering sounds, the fact that I could create the sounds I wanted to create more easily. Everything had become more sophisticated. I didn't have to turn lots of knobs and have equipment constantly going out of tune.
So MIDI allowed keyboard players like yourself, who were more concerned with playing than programming, to get as involved in arranging sounds as more program-oriented, Wakeman-type players.
That's right. With people making all these sounds available to you, you didn't have to spend hours and hours making them yourself. Suddenly I found that I could create a fabulous Hammond sound in all of its dimensions. Of course, it'll never be exactly the same, but I could create a sound on synthesizers that was like the Hammond.
What do you use to create Hammond-like sounds?
I use the Korg BX-3. That's underneath the stage and Tidied into my system. It's got a separate volume control, so when I pull up the organ patches I can mix the BX-3 into them. Of course I have a Leslie speaker miked up under the stage, so I've got that sound too. I created those organ sounds in stereo, so they sound fabulous: There's distortion, and the right amount of delays and echoes.
What else do you use for your organ sounds?
Mostly the Korg EX-8000s. I've got a ton of those. So that, plus some sampled stuff, and the Roland D-550 organ sound, which I like quite a lot, are in stereo, and I can mix the Leslie in mono into that.
How is the Leslie miked?
There are three mikes: two on the top, one on the bottom.
Have you tried any Leslie simulators?
Didn't like them. I tried several, but you could never get that air into the sound. The real Leslie with the amplifier built-in and those speakers has that natural distortion when you switch on the fast rotor and ram it up. You can't simulate that.
Was there any real Hammond on Union ?
Actually, there was a real Hammond and Leslie on "Miracle of Life." The intro is Trevor playing piano, guitar, and keyboard, then I played the organ part. I had my rig set up, but there was a beat-up old Hammond in the studio too. I wasn't sure I wanted to play it. The keys were so stiff compared to what I'd been using; you get used to playing very light, touch-sensitive keyboards, and playing this Hammond was like hammering nails into a piece of wood. I thought I'd never be able to play it. In fact, when I go to an acoustic piano now, I find it difficult too. I guess I've lost all the strength in my fingers from playing those KX76s.
There seems to be a lot of good old-fashioned Yes-type polyrhythms and metrical irregularities in "Miracle of Life."
That's the reason we started working on it. We thought it would be a departure from Big Generator or 90125. Trevor wrote it, and it seemed so Yessy.
What have you got in your rack?
Everything [laughs]. The sampling stuff is actually different from what I had on the Big Generator tour because at that time there was really nothing that was capable of doing what I wanted: quick changes controlled from the master keyboard, assigning notes for the different sounds into a hard-disk system, and so on. Of course, Oberheim had developed their playback units, so they said they'd build me a hard-disk system. That's what I used on that tour. It was fine, but E-mu got much more sophisticated over the years, so now I'm using two Emaxes, and they're fabulous.
What are you using for piano sounds?
The pianos are Roland MKS-20. 1 love those sounds; I can't find anything better. It's just such a natural piano sound. I'm also using the little E-mu Proformance/1 piano module mixed in. Some of the Rhodes sounds that I use on "Lift Me Up" are a combination of those two.
How do you go about dividing sounds with Rick?
Actually, it's strange, because we rehearsed for two weeks without him. I was the only keyboard player for two weeks in Los Angeles because he was doing a tour. So when I got down to Pensacola [for the final stages of the tour rehearsals], it was an odd situation because I didn't know what he was doing. But when we got onstage and started playing the numbers, we didn't have to talk at all about who would do what.
Was there any competitive element in having to make room for him once he showed up in Pensacola?
No, not at all. There was no ego involved whatsoever. We never compared sounds. We just kind of traded parts off, and it was fabulous. Whenever we played two things together, they seemed to complement each other. I guess it's easier for keyboards than for, say, drums or even guitars. It wasn't like, "I want to play this, and I want to play that." Obviously, there are some things I've done over the past ten years that are mine, and some early Yes stuff was my thing too. And there are certain songs where he has his specific spots, like in "Awaken" [from Going for the One] . But for the middle part, I developed these sounds that I thought would complement what he was doing. So I worked with that in mind for a while, knowing what kinds of things he would be playing. It was very easy. I wish I could say that it was more complicated [laughs]
How involved do other members of the band get as you and Rick orchestrate your parts?
Trevor and I work together very closely. He's a very talented multi-instrumentalist: He plays everything. He's a great keyboard player too, so we work very closely when it comes to recording, and we help each other with sounds. But everyone does what he wants to do.
On Union, and on most previous Yes cuts, there's a strong emphasis on full, high vocal harmonies$ which in effect do what keyboard pads traditionally do in terms of filling out the texture of the sound. Does this affect how you go about creating keyboard parts?
Yes. Being aware of that, I consciously steered away from pad sounds, big string sounds, or whatever on 90125 the sounds that the vocals were going to do. We wanted to make everything sound more open.
In fact, it was an unusually percussive sound by Yes standards.
Yeah, especially because of the new technology that was available thenthe Fairlight and the Synclavier, which I suddenly confronted in the studio. I tried to make sounds that were either percussive or very dynamic, so that you could bring them out in the mix, as opposed to pad them where vocals were going to be. That was very much the approach to ˝Owner of a Lonely Heartţ from 90125 and a lot of that stuff. On Big Generator we were trying to do the same thing, getting the keyboardist to do different sounds, not sounds that would normally be played on whatever instrument we were using.
Was "Dangerous, " from Union, inspired at all by your keyboard arrangement on "Owner of a Lonely Heart"?
There are similarities. And "City of Love" [from 90125] sounds very much like "Shock to the System" [from Union] . But I wasn't involved with those two songs, so it's tough for me to comment on them.
Does Jon play any keyboards on the album or in the show?
He's been experimenting with the Atari MIDI Translator. Jon was going to play it onstage, but that doesn't seem to have come together. I met the inventor [Jimmy Hotz], and I tried it out myself. It seems to me that basically this is a controller. At the NAMM Show where they were showing it, the demonstrator had a computer and two racks full of stuff; he got some incredible sounds. As an improvisational instrument, it's very cool. But I'm not sure how it would work when played in the context of an ensemble doing rigid arrangements.
Do you often improvise into a MIDI sequencer?
Yes. I had a Mac, but I never reached any degree of virtuosity on it. It's a bit strange to me. Trevor is very into all that stuff; I'm used to playing my keyboard rig directly to tape. I don't even have a huge studio setup at home. I'm still into my simple four-track.
Do you take a portable keyboard with you on tour?
I have a little Korg. It's battery-powered, not too sophisticated. I trundle through airports with it under my arm, and put it through a portable stereo setup. The whole thing is tiny. On the last tour, though, I did have a portable studio, which was great: a four-track, a couple of Fostex speakers, and a reverb unit.
Outside of Yes, what other projects have you been involved with recently?
Well, I was working with Cinema and Lee Abrams for a while. He was involved with Patrick [Moraz] and Pete Bardens on keyboard instrumental albums, and he wanted another one from me. So I went to work, and had the whole album written, but then I lost interest in it.
First of all, it was done with a drum machine, and I get very tired of listening to drum machines. Also, I write very much for songs. I like to give what I write to Trevor or Jon, and they put vocals on top, something that I'm not capable of doing because I don't sing. So I was listening to all these tracks, and they sounded like tracks that needed vocals. All of them. It was like, "This is not really an instrumental album. It's a backing track for a band to play with." So I scrapped it. I would like to do something of my own in the future, but only on a song basis, collaborating with someone. Anything else would be unacceptable.
GUITAR SCHOOL September, 1991 YES - BACK FROM THE EDGE by Mike Mettler
After a turbulent reawakening, the realigned YES generates onstage heat, eight men strong.
STEP RIGHT UP, FOLKS, AND direct your attention to the center ring: There you can see, right before your very eyes, a '70s art-rock band merged with its '80s hitmeister counterpart. Stir in a new album, a lucrative tour, and an exhaustive box set to boot, and you have yourself an event worthy of the best Barnum & Bailey tradition.
What do we call this amazing spectacle, a feast for ears and eyes alike? Why, Yes, of course.
By now you've heard about the reunited supergroup times two, Yes, which has brought members of the Starship Trooper-era band (Jon Anderson, Bill Bruford, Rick Wakeman, and Steve Howe) together with the Big Generator squad (Anderson, Trevor Rabin, Tony Kaye, Chris Squire, and Alan White) to form an eight-man group that has been blasting through three-hour in-your-face, in-the-round sets on its Around The World In Eighty Days tour.
Oh yeah, then there's the vinyl. Union, the smash record, sports 14 tracks, 10 from the Troopers and four from the Generators, including the big summer radio hit, Rabin's "Lift Me Up." (Note that on none of the tracks do all eight Yesmen play together.) And this fall, Atlantic unveils Yes Years, a four-disc box set that features (along with the expected master-tape classics) rare B-sides, Going For The One outtakes, a live cover of the Beatles' "I'm Down," and demos from Cinema, the outfit that evolved into the Yes that eventually made 90125.
Juggling this musical juggernaut's hectic schedule could make even the most level of heads spin, but Yes has taken to the road with a hunger to prove itself a viable entity for the '90s. Observes guitar maestro Steve Howe, "Yes has had a pretty interesting history, one that we*re all quite prepared to tackle. We had to arrive at the standard of what Yes is in 1991 because we really didn't know what that was until we actually got together and did it. And after being out on the road for a while, my overall outlook is that it's turned out quite good."
Howe didn't always feel that way. Back before all eight members came face-to-face for the first time, he told me that "I've learned that if you have great expectations about things you usually wind up landing flat on your face." Other band members were also a bit hesitant about this so-called Union . "I don't know how this is going to work out," Trevor Rabin told me. "We're getting roadies, but we might need referees." Bassist Chris Squire noted, "Sure, it looks good on paper - but whether it works as a whole I've yet to hear."
Leave it to vocalist Jon Anderson to have a positive outlook, one that eventually won over the whole band. "There's a lot of beauty about it," he says. "The idea always was to bring it all together and co-create." If onstage camaraderie, record sales, and enthusiastic fan response are any measure of "bringing it all together," then Anderson is right on the mark.
An offspring of all this togetherness is the odd hybrid album Union, a mixture of styles that functions more as a snapshot of various phases of the band rather than as a cohesive whole. Still, each faction enjoyed contributing to the project. "On the one hand," says Anderson, "the Generator band could get enormously heavy and extraordinarily powerful, but on the other hand you'd have the Trooper band getting more light-headed and whimsical. It was awe-inspiring to work with both sides." Rabin says he enjoys working again with Anderson, after a few years' layoff because of legal complications. Plus, he feels relieved of some of the pressures that surfaced while recording the previous Yes album. "I don't think there was a contrived effort to come up with an attitude or image behind these songs, like we did on Big Generator," Rabin says. "The new songs seem to work well on their
Reunited Yes to tour world, record album Houston Post POST NEWS SERVICES
New York - Eight members of Yes have reunited for an Arista Records album and a worldwide tour, two years after the end of legal squabbles over the supergroup's name.
The new album, Union, will hit the street April 9 and tour, "Yesshows '91: 'Round the World in 80 Dates," produced by Electric Factory Concerts, will open April 12 at the Patriot Center in Fairfax, VA. In August, a four-CD boxed set of past Yes tracks and previously unreleased material will be released on Atco Records.
The album and tour follow the resolution of a dispute between two factions of group members that came to light in a 1989 federal suit.
Tony Kaye, Trevor Rabin, Chris Squire and Alan White - who hold rights to the Yes name and were then under contract to Atco Records - sought to prevent references to Yes history and Yes songs by former group members Anderson, Bill Bruford, Rick Wakeman and Stephen Howe during their 1989 tour. An album by the latter foursome - billed as Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman & Howe - was released by Arista in 1989 and sold more than 500,000 copies.
In June 1989, a U.S. District Court judge in New York ruled that ABWH could refer to its Yes heritage and material in promoting its tour.
Since then, according to Roy Lott, a senior vice president at Arista Records, "various rapprochements" occurred between the two groups of one-time Yes members, who began discussing guest appearances on each others albums.
Instead, Lott says, Arista Records agreed to pay Atco an undisclosed figure to release Kaye, Rabin, Squire and White from their contract. Arista subsequently signed those four, who retain rights to the Yes name. (Atco retained rights previous Yes Albums, from which this summer's boxed set will be culled).
Manager Tony Dimitriades - who represents Kaye, Rabin, Squire and White - and manager Brian Lane - who represents Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe - reached an agreement with Larry Magid of Electric Factory Concerts in Philadelphia to produce the "Yesshows" tour.
The first leg of the tour will feature Yes performing in the round, a stage design introduced by the band on its 1978 tour. The shows will feature Anderson's vocals. Howe and Rabin on guitar, Bruford and White on drums, Wakeman and Kaye on keyboards and Squire on bass. The eight musicians will perform as a group, in solo settings and various combinations.
The tour will begin with 29 dates in North America. The first show placed on sale, at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, sold out in less than four hours. An international tour will open May 29 in Frankfurt and include shows in France, Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Belgium, Holland and the United Kingdom through the end of June.
One of the six "petals" or "claws" which folded down around the round stage that Gmelin mentioned above can be found at the Electric Factory in Philly. Electric Factory Concerts (who owned the EF before some national promoter took over) was the promoter for the Union tour.
The Union tour was supposed to happen here in Brazil also... In January, 1992, before the shows in Japan, they were almost officially confirmed. But in the last minute, some guys let down and the shows didn't happen again. at least at that time there was no Internet, otherwise, there would be a bunch of SAKians killed by heart attack.
Met a roadie for the Union tour while working in Maui a few weeks back...
had some gossip....
Rabin "jokingly" asking the crew not to put the spotlight on Steve....
Jon astral projecting and complaining that the light crew had missed a cue....
Chris's vice, apparently, was everything....
Claims that Steve Howe, as well as Rick....also drove from city to city....
apparently Jon's ex left with someone who was staying at his house, who he owed a fair sum of money to....
and the usual on the personalities.....
The _Union_ tour had the six "petals" or "claws" which folded down around the round stage. On the second leg of the tour when they played conventional theaters, three petals hung out over the front of the stage, and the other three stood upended behind the band. These "petals" housed much of the stage lighting.
Chris said in a recent interview:
That Tony Kaye had never met Rick Wakeman before the rehearsals for this tour;
Rabin admitted to initial skepticism about a "Union" tour, but Wakeman now looks forward to future Yes projects.
The B side to the cassette single [of 'Lift Me Up'] is "America". I understand that the reason the band did that was to refamiliarize fans with "America". According to Steve Howe, in a recent interview, the band is planning on performing "America" on the second US leg.
For the first US leg of the tour, Wakeman, who says he's fed up with air travel, drove himself from gig to gig in a 1985 Dodge conversion van he bought in Pensecola. He was planning on getting a camper for the second US leg.
Rick and Trevor Rabin have become good pals. Rick has great respect for Trevor and has had fun rein.
Actually Wakeman played a different solo on the Union tour than on the ABWH tour.
The Union solo contained three excerpts from Six Wives, the three "Catherine" selections, I believe. It opened with the first song from Six Wives, just like on Yessongs. Then there was a slower, longing melody from another "Catherine." The third was the bit introduced by Rabin on guitar and then picked up by the keyboards.
I don't think they "jam" that much. Those long instrumental breaks are rehearsed. For instance, I've four different recordings of the "Union" tour - one CD, one video and two cassette bootlegs. They're all from different stops on the tour. The instrumental breaks are nearly identical on all of them.
Some people may have thought Rick "massacred" the ending of "Owner Of A Lonely Heart" on the Union tour when he added that long solo to the end. Others loved it. It's all dependent on your point of view.
Notes From The Edge
TONY LEVIN INTERVIEW by Mike Tiano Copyright ę 1995 Notes From The Edge #129/Jeff Hunnicutt and Mike Tiano. All rights reserved. (Used with permission) MOT: Steve told us that you were contracted for the UNION tour.
TL: Nope. I did the album, then, after we had done our S. France tracks, their overall plan changed to include a reunion. I don't recall who told me, but it obviously meant I wouldn't be touring with them, which was fine with me (not many bassists would love a two - bass - band) and I went to the show in Albany, near here, to say hi to the guys.
Seconds Magazine Jon Anderson Interview SECONDS: How did the Union tour work, where you had guys on stage who weren't the best of friends?
ANDERSON: Music is more powerful than friendship. I can't imagine everybody in an orchestra being buddies and yet they perform Rachmoninoff's Second, or Sibelius' Seventh with great aplomb. They might hate each other but maybe that's what makes them great players. the band that was on Union or as Chris Squire said, Onion: it wasn't a very good album but it was a great show. I listened to the album the other week and there were some good tracks. But it was truly an amazing live show-and that was the primary reason we did it.
I never noticed the double guitar work in Awaken or Roundabout before due to the poor mix at the concerts I attended, but now it's way cool.
Notes From The Edge
STEVE HOWE INTERVIEW by Mike Tiano Copyright ę 1994 Notes From The Edge #125/Jeff Hunnicutt and Mike Tiano. All rights reserved. (Used with permission) SH: I think to answer that fairly one's got to take into account some of the other ideas in UNION that never happened and what was talked about was what about having some very special shows where we've got Trevor [Horn] and Geoff [Downes] and Peter and Patrick as well; and the other guys were like (foo), we just got blanked on some ideas about making it even more special, topping it off with more people or something. After all, we wanted Tony Levin; quite blatantly we said, we want Tony Levin on this tour, we booked him for the tour and they wouldn't agree. And we could have played all that stuff, 'I Could [sic] Have Waited Forever' like a piece of cake, we all knew it but Chris didn't know anything, he only learned 'Shock To the System'. I was telling you that just to show you that there was an openness more from the European side about sharing this as a project, certainly making some special event.