HAVING been in existence since 1968, English prog-rockers Yes are true mainstays of the music world, with more than thirty studio and live albums under their belts. Founding vocalist Jon Anderson left the band in 2008, paving the way for newest recruit, Californian Jon Davison, to become a part of a group who had already released three records by the time he was born. The newly rejuvenated line-up of Davison, Chris Squire, Steve Howe, Alan White and Geoff Downes will tour Australia in November, playing their classic ’70s Fragile and Close To The Edge albums in full, as well as releasing a new LP entitled Heaven & Earth.
You’re the new boy in Yes, having joined in 2012. How did you come to be in the band?
It was kind of by simultaneous means, which was interesting. My friend Taylor Hawkins, the drummer for the Foo Fighters, with whom I grew up, was always – during the last few years prior to my joining – suggesting to Chris [Squire, founding bassist] that should he need a replacement, I might be a suitable option. So Chris was aware of me, and at the same time the Australian tour in 2012 was booked and the band didn’t want to back out of it, so they were willing to take me on immediately. The manager called me first, saying there wasn’t even going to be an audition and that I would have to jump right in, so the band could continue looking forward to the tour.
How much notice did you have before the tour?
I think we were off maybe a month later, or six weeks at most.
Were you aware of all of the band’s material before you joined?
Yes, I was. Having been in a Yes tribute band, I knew most of the main tracks, but they were doing a lot of emphasis at the time on Fly From Here, so I had to learn the big bulk of that album, and there were a few others; a couple from Drama I hadn’t performed before. So there was a bit of a learning curve, but I had a lot of the material in my mind.
Have you had to change much to fit in, or are you more or less free to be yourself?
That’s a good question. It’s really a balance, you know? You want to do complete justice to the music, but you don’t want anyone to feel that something is missing, so you really pay homage as accurately as you can. To do that, you have to really incorporate your own style into it as well; you can’t be a clone. You have to incorporate what is uniquely you, so it’s a fine balance between those two aspects.
How long have you been planning to tour Fragile and Close To The Edge?
It’s been in the works for probably about a year now, because we’ve doing three classic albums for a couple of years now. We were thinking ahead a couple of years ago, wondering what we should do next and it felt like Fragile needed to be fitted into the occasion or formula somehow, and we’re doing Close To The Edge again, but we really wanted to do those two albums together, back to back. In most respects they’re the greatest, ground-breaking albums for the band.
So it’s purely a nostalgic thing.
Yeah, it’s a nostalgic thing, and I think it means so much to the fans to have that nostalgic experience; at least what I’ve heard that they’ve shared. Also, it’s never been done before. It’s an new move for the band. They’re always looking to do something new and fresh, and I think this is the answer to that.
It sounds like there are some fairly complex arrangements in those two albums. Are they relatively easy to translate to the live setting?
I would say for the most part. Really, at the heart of a band, that’s what makes them successful; being good players who feed off each other and work together. In essence they are a live band, and they’ve always taken that as far as they can. Although they’ve had some ground-breaking studio albums, ultimately they are a live band. So, yeah, it has been quite straightforward. Having said that, Fragile has a lot of over-dubbing, so there will be some re-interpretation and we’ll be doing whatever we can to make it as accurate as possible.
Could Heaven & Earth be called a classic Yes album, in terms of how it sounds?
I don’t know if it will end up being called that [laughs]. It’s very different and fresh, and it’s moving the band in a bit of a different direction, and that’s natural for every new line-up. Even though the other four have been involved a lot longer than I have, every time a new member comes in it changes things up. So, it’s a unique album in that sense and has to be translated not with words, but with music.
How has the song-writing been shared?
Steve [Howe, guitar] and I did the majority of the song-writing, but the band all very much collaborated as a unit, and I think that’s the final product that’s reflected and when the music is fully realised and comes to life. It’s definitely a group effort. For the most part, [listener reaction] has been quite encouraging so far.
What was it like working with Roy Thomas Baker?
He’s a character, and I mean that in an affectionate way. He’s a lot of fun and he’s very old-school, and that’s what I love about him. I’m a huge fan of his work and ’70s material in general, so it’s been great to pick his mind and analyse him at work. I think he ultimately brought out the best in the band; an organic quality to the material. We have him to thank for that.
Does he get involved in everything or let you get on with it in the studio?
Creatively speaking, he just lets us get on with it, but he has his own creative element in the technical aspect and getting the right sound. He’s big on sounds and the engineering aspect of the project.
Why do you think Yes have survived and stuck together this long?
There have never been more than two consecutive albums with the same line-up in the history of Yes, and it’s because of this I think they always had a new ingredient that helped to propel them forward in a spontaneous way. It’s also that they’ve always tried to break new ground; they’re very open-minded. When I was contributing music they never wanted to throw anything out; they would always fully explore something and really vibe with it before they make a decision about it, and I respect that so much. I know that that’s always been the formula. There have been times in their history when the music hasn’t come easily, but their tenacity and hunger has kept them going.
Do you think prog-rock is in good shape globally?
I would say yes; it’s a healthy, thriving thing. I wouldn’t say that by any means it’s a mainstream type of music, but that’s a traditional thing. That’s what a lot of people love about it; it’s their music and it’s unique. The fans feel like it’s their niche, and that makes it special for them.
How are you dealing with the heavy schedule the band has right now?
It’s just more experience. While I feel that I’m doing a pretty good job, there’s so much more I want to accomplish as a vocalist. I feel that I still have a long way to go to perfect my craft. So, the more I’m playing the better.
YES TOUR DATES:
Wednesday November 12 – PERTH Crown Casino
Friday November 14 – GOLD COAST Jupiters Casino
Saturday November 15 – SYDNEY State Theatre
Tuesday November 18 – MELBOURNE Palais Theatre
HEAVEN & EARTH BY YES IS OUT JULY 22.
For The AU Review