Jon Anderson is truly in a
golden stretch of his amazing half-century plus arc in the musical
world. Famous as the lead singer and front-man of YES – the
progressive-rock giant of a band – Anderson
has steadily toured, written
and released music, and kept the art-rock flame burning these recent
decades. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, will induct him and his YES
bandmates into that long-awaited pantheon on April 7, 2017.
A celebrated lyricist and
is a master of bringing together world music,
spirituality, and imagery into works that are still distinctly the
creation those of an English art troubadour and rocker. He has had a
hugely successful solo career, during and between working with different
incarnations of the YES group.
YES began as an artsy London
band, formed by Jon Anderson and Chris Squire, at the end of the 1960s.
Since then, the evolving YES troupe has managed to fuse the vision and
spirit of that era with abstract and progressive thinking and virtuosic
playing to deliver a rich, heady catalogue of music, spanning five
An affable and approachable
guy with Yoda-like
and shamanesque underpinnings, Anderson
was New Age before there was
New Age. (He sometimes travelled with a tent, set up in his dressing
room, when touring with YES.)
Coming off the triumphant
2016 ARW U.S. tour, with former YES bandmates Trevor Rabin and Rick
Wakeman, Anderson spoke to us recently from his home in the hills near
San Luis Obispo. On this occasion, we pulled him out of his studio
during the recent California storms – a rare rainy day in paradise – to
reflect on all that’s in the works for him in 2017:
album Tour of the Universe was released late last year. It’s the
audio of the DVD performance that you recorded in the studios of XM
Sirius Radio in 2004. The result is very pure, sparse, stripped-down
tracks focused on your voice. It contains some of your best and most
beloved melodies and some lesser-known songs – some drawn from YES
music, some from your solo career, and other sources. What was the
impetus behind this project?
Last year, we were going
through material that we had currently on hand, reviewing what we might
put out. We’d
had requests for an album version of this DVD performance, so we
thought, why not? This was a studio experience back in 2004 where it
was just me before an audience, and, honestly, I needed to get past the
fear of not being surrounded by a band of musicians. So, for
accompaniment, I used pedals and keyboards. I had five petals that I
could fade in and out, controlled through my MIDI guitar. It was a good
challenge with a good result that was entertaining for people. I’ve
always felt that music is a challenge and it should always be approached
that way. If you are challenging yourself, you are entertaining people
better. I try to take that approach when I’m performing live, whether
solo or with other musicians.
The Anderson Rabin Wakeman
(ARW) U.S. tour ran this fall and finished up in December. Tell us your
impressions of it.
Well, the audiences loved
it. And we enjoyed ourselves like crazy, everyone in the band. It
evolved rather differently than I thought initially, when we were
planning it. I assumed it would be a chance to do a lot of music that
we wouldn’t normally have a chance to perform, going deeper maybe into
our various catalogues. But as we rehearsed, we found ourselves just
naturally gravitating toward a fair amount of YES music. The more we
worked on it, we realized, well, that’s really who we are when we come
together, so let’s do it.And we did. We even included
“Awaken” in the shows. Naturally it was great, also, to have a chance
to do a lot of the 1980’s YES material. With Trevor along, we were
really glad to be able to do “Rhythm of Love,” “Hold On,” and of course
“Owner of a Lonely Heart,” which was YES’ No. 1 hit.
Trevor Rabin, and Rick Wakeman all seemed in fine form. We were
fortunate to catch the ARW performance in October at the Keswick Theater
in Glenside, Pa., a standing-room only performance that was wildly
received. Trevor and Rick felt comfortable that night taking to the
audience, where they moved up the aisles doing a guitar and keytar
duel. How do you feel about performing in smaller concert halls like
that versus the huge arenas that you’ve played many times over the
years? Which do you prefer?
Ha! Well, life is like that
isn’t it? One time you’re performing before 20 thousand people and the
next you’re performing before 1,500, and back again.
was the first time we had toured as ARW and it was up to us to prove
prove that we were a good band. To
show that we could find an audience for what we were bringing. You
can’t assume what venues you ought to be playing these days. There are
so many bands touring, as they have to today to make a go of it. We
stuck with the smaller halls all through the tour, and it worked out
you will be taking the tour to Europe? With the same line up?
Yes, we will be touring
Europe in March with the same band. Other great news is that, along the
way, we’ve been making progress in writing music together. As for more
touring later this year, it will probably include Canada, some places in
South America, and also some locations that we didn’t get to last year
in the U.S.
You’ll be back quickly
from the March dates for YES’ induction ceremony to the Rock & Roll Hall
of Fame (April 7), then off to Japan for more ARW dates. How do you
keep up the pace?
Well, I’m feeling very well.
I’m 73 now and I keep healthy. We live in a wonderful place and
exercise a lot. I’m constantly working – writing and keeping fit at the
same time. I have a beautiful wife, who takes good care of me. And I
stay young at heart.
talk some more about the Hall of Fame induction. How are you feeling
I like it very much. Of
course, I was pleasantly surprised when it finally happened. But
everyone kept saying it would happen, so my thought was, “It will happen
when it happens. And I won’t lose sleep over it.” The Hall of Fame
people are very nice, very special people. I performed there before at
a special story-telling and song program.
Many of your fans think
this recognition for YES is sorely overdue, partly as a result of the
music industry – and certain outlets in particular in it – never
adequately recognizing YES over the years, either because YES was not
pop oriented enough or they couldn’t easily put a label on the music.
Thoughts on this?
Well, sure, but I make the
music I want to make. I always have. We were so grateful to have the
tremendous audiences we had, for example in the 70s, during a time that
the band I were pursuing invention. That’s always been our goal
and my goal, inspired by bands that did the same and that charted new
ground a bit before us – the Beatles, Frank Zappa, the Beach Boys. I
was a great fan of those artists and artists like them.
wanted to continue that tradition of inventive, new music.
Understandably, over the years, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has mostly
been interested in enshrining what I would call the best of the norm in
particular periods. YES was never the norm.But it’s all worked out and
we’re encouraged and undaunted – and aiming to continue to invent in the
mode. I can tell you that Trevor, Rick, and I are creating songs now
and will continue – and hope to record them later this summer. What
we’re developing is in the YES style but very much 21st
Century sounding. I’m very pleased with it.
fans will be excited to hear that. At the Hall of Fame ceremony, Alex
Lifeson and Geddy Lee from Rush will be inducting YES. What do you
think about that selection? They are apparently big YES fans.
It’s so nice. I know Rush
and their music. It makes a difference having someone who understands
you. (Laughs.) Someone who is of a mind of what building that
type of music involves.
Will you perform with
Steven Howe and Alan White that night?
Yes, we will play
In that case, your fans
won’t let us get away without asking you if you think that will lead to
other opportunities for you to perform with Steve and Alan [members of
the core 1970s YES line-up].
Not really. I doubt it. I
can’t imagine going on the road with them at this point, given the
different agendas that their band and ours have currently. I have my
understanding of YES and they have theirs. We were brothers in it once,
but… But you never know. If everyone were to get emotionally in
the right place, you never know what might happen.
you felt any kind of resurgence in the YES following due to the hard
work that different band members have put into touring recently? Or,
over the past couple of years, due to Chris Squire’s passing, reminding
fans of the mortality of the music they love? Or, perhaps in the past
few months because the kind of uplift your music provides is needed by
American audiences these days, due to the political environment?
Yes. I would agree with all
of that.There’s been a resurgence in
interest in progressive music, especially in Europe. There’s lots of
great music out there now that has nothing to do with the radio, more so
than at any earlier time in rock and pop.Rick also says that if you
keep going on stage long enough, eventually everyone will know who you
are, so we keep on going. (Laughs.)
But do you think there’s a
hunger now for that message of . . . universality, so to speak,
in your music?
Absolutely. Listen, people
need something. I once wrote a lyric: “If we are one,
Then we are refugees,
We are the prisoners of our
Magnification)There’s no savior coming from
heaven. No, instead love is everything. That’s what everyone from the
Beatles to Krishna were saying. I’m still a love messenger.
Thanks, Jon. Before we
close, this interviewer just has to mention that he was fortunate in
1976 to be at the famous YES concert at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia,
with 120,000 others – the largest arena event ever held in the region to
this day. Peter Frampton warmed the crowd up for you, and YES were on
stage that night with their capes flowing in the breeze behind them, as
can the wind with some many around me?” as a full moon rose over the
event. Just a quick thanks for that because it was a wonderful memory
you gave to all of us.
It is for us too! I have a
big picture of that concert hanging in my studio.
JON ANDERSON'S "TOUR OF THE CENTURY" TRAILER!