Former Yes Front Man Jon Anderson – The Interview from Zolks! Online

I’ve had the honor of interviewing legendary front man formerly of the band Yes, Jon Anderson. He has a new album out called “Survival and Other Stories,” that if you’re a fan of Jon’s you’ll definitely love. In away it’s like Yes, but much more cinematic. I hope you enjoy my interview with Jon Anderson.

Zoiks!: How are you doing?

Jon Anderson: I’m doing fine Bob, how are you doing?

Z!: I’m a fan of your new album “Survival and Other Stories,” to me the album has a cinematic almost visual sound to it, how would you describe the album?

JA: Just the way you did (laughs) you hit the nail on the head. It is very cinematic.

Z!: Correct me if this is in accurate, but I read online that you openly invited users via your website to submit mp3 samples as a basis of collaboration, is that true and if so how much of that was used on the album?

JA: I think 2/3’s of the songs are from people around the world. I put an ad up on my website that said I wanted to work with people, invite them to send their mp3s and musical ideas. I had hundreds of people send me stuff, but I picked out people that I thought were very connected to where I wanted to go musically. When the music comes, it is really exciting.

Z!: Your album appears to be very positive, very spiritual. I that the general theme to the album?

JA: Well I live in a very positive world. I’m very optimistic about life and the amazing world we live in. I don’t really think about anything else so naturally I sing about it.

Z!: I noticed in “Big Buddha Song” you sampled “We Have Heaven.” “We Have Heaven” fits so perfectly in that song, at what point did you realize that you wanted to include that in “Big Buddha Song?”

JA: Actually it was Kevin Shima who did the arrangement, he threw that in and that’s what made me feel very strongly about using this music. I already had the song, the thinking was that if he wanted to use a backing track for this it’d be great and Kevin used “We Have Heaven” and so I left it.

Z!: One of the songs on the album that stands out to me is “Unbroken Spirit,” does that song have anything to do with your former band Yes carrying on without you after you suffered acute respiratory failure?

JA: It was more about in 2008 I had several operations. The composer, who lives in L.A. called Jann Castor and he sent me the music and it really…I could feel my heart believing, so I started singing about my experience with having operations and how the spirit is very song and is in there for life.

Z!: You’re heading out with Rick Wakeman this fall, what can fans expect from your shows with Wakeman?

JA: A lot of good music. Of course we do songs that we wrote together for Yes. Plus we have an album out now called “The Living Tree,” which we sing songs from that. We talk about our life together on the road. Rick is a stand up comedian, so he has people laughing a lot, so sometimes it’s hard to get back to the singing.

Z!: Yes has probably had more lineup changes than any other band, was it just difficult to keep all of the members satisfied or were there other reasons?

JA: Changes happen; I think change is very healthy. It’s a very simple idea, if you’re in a band and if people come to rehearsal and they’re not very excited about the project coming up it’s best to find somebody else who wants to work in the band. More or less the times when people said, ‘hey I’m not really into this music, so I’m leaving the band.’ So they leave. Sometimes you can sense when somebody is not really working for the band and you say, ‘hey I think we should get someone new.’ It’s a normal thing; it’s like a soccer or football team. If they players are playing great you do great stuff, you’re winning, but if they’re not really training or not really interested, it’s best if they leave.

Z!: Have you kept in contact with any of the former members?

JA: I’m always in touch with people. I speak with Bill Buford now and again. Rick of course, Peter Banks who was one of the first guitar players (in Yes), I spoke to him a couple of months ago. But you know, I’ve got a life, I’ve got a lot of people I’m in touch with, so I don’t really feel like I have to be in touch with the guys in the band.

Z!: Over the years, Yes has gone through different eras, you had the progressive era in the 70’s, the more popular era in the 80’s and then kind of a combination after that, what was your favorite era of the band?

JA: I think all of the work that I did with the band was really interesting. Probably the best period was the beginning, “Fragile,” “Close to the Edge,” “Topographic,” “Awaken.” “90125” was very exciting, because I became a rock star for fifteen minutes, that was really fun. The ‘90’s we created some damn good music. The last album we did called “Magnification” is still a very powerful piece of music. I honestly feel that there is always great music, so I always feel like my next project is going to be very important to me and I hope people get a chance to hear it. I’ve had a wonderful wonderful career up to now.

Z!: I’ve always been curious how some of those long complicated songs like “Rounadabout” or “Close to the Edge” come together. What is the writing process for songs like that, do you as group sit in a room and work on them or is there a designated songwriter, how did/does it work?

JA: I would sit down with Steve (Howe) in the early days and work out the long form pieces, because I was interested in those projects. As time went on I would drive the band to do long form pieces like “Gates of Delirium,” I wrote that whole piece on the piano. I learned over the years to be able to know where the music can go. I am finishing a new piece now that will be coming out before Christmas and it is called “Open.” It’s a very long form piece of music. I love doing that; I love creating these long form ideas.

Z!: How is your writing process different as a solo artist?

JA: It’s just me and the guitar. I have a lot of fun on stage singing the songs I wrote with Yes plus new songs, songs I wrote with the Vangelis. I tell stories about my life. I’m 67 this year, so I’ve had a very interesting life, so it’s nice as a solo artist, to be like in my front room with people just having a lot of fun.

Z!: You have such an amazing catalogue of music to choose from over the past forty years or so, how important is it for you to keep adding to that catalogue of music?

JA: I’ve been writing all morning. I’ve written two songs this morning. I’m working with a young guy, a great percussionist in Philadelphia. I’m sending him ideas that I want to do, which is ancient Ethiopian music, which is the kind of world I live in, very adventurous.

Z!: I read your take on the new Yes album in “Rolling Stone” magazine. I liked the new album, I thought it was ok, but I think I would have liked it more if you were singing on it, not to take anything away from Benoit David, because I can’t imagine it’s that easy filling in for a legendary rock vocalist like yourself.

JA: He’s a good singer, I heard him just the other day. I haven’t listened to the whole album I only listened to a couple of pieces, it’s not my idea of Yes music, and it’s just really ok, kind of like what you said. It didn’t blow my mind.

Z!: Back to the interview with “Rolling Stone,” you mentioned that maybe if Yes ever gets into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame that may trigger a reunion with the guys. My question is why do you think Yes has been kept out of the rock n roll hall of fame?

JA: I don’t know, I was there last year, I did a concert at the Hall of Fame and they were very sweet and very nice and they said they can’t wait for Yes to be there. I think it is just jury…I think it is just like five people who don’t like Yes or something like that.

Z!: You’ve had an amazing career, is there a moment, album, show, whatever that stands above the rest?

JA: It’s hard to say. I’ve been very very lucky. I’ve got so many great memories. Obviously performing “Close to the Edge” the first time, “Awaken” when we performed that. “90125” the tour, we toured all over the world and we were number one and we put on a great show. So I always think to the future and the better things that I got to do. I’m only half way through what I really want to do. I’ve had so many great experiences.

Z!: What do fans have to look forward to from Jon Anderson in the next year or so?

JA: Obviously I feel like I’m writing some really great music right now, because I think it would be stupid if I said, ‘well the music I’m doing is not so good.’ (laughs) I think my best work is coming. People can go to my Facebook and see songs that I put up there that I just do, which is really interesting music, it’s not for sale, people can just listen to it.

Z!: Thank you so much for taking the time to do this, that’s all the time that I had, it’s been an honor to talk with you, you’ve been one of my favorite singers since I was a little kid.

JA: Thanks Bob, I wish you well.

BYLINE:

Bob Zerull is the Managing Editor of Zoiks! Online. He writes pop culture commentary, does interviews with bands, and reviews music and stand-up concerts. He also administers Zoiks! Online’s Facebook page. Follow Bob on twitter at bzerull. Email Bob at bob@zoiksonline.com.

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One response to “Former Yes Front Man Jon Anderson – The Interview from Zolks! Online

  • Jeff

    This interview inspired me to write… and write… and write… I’ve rarely joined any of the many online discussions on all things Yes, so now that I finally I am, I’m not going for brevity!
    I’m saddened that Yes seems to be finishing as less than they are. I saw them on the double bill with Styx in Canandaigua, New York (7/7/11). I never thought I’d see the day that Yes fell apart at the seams. Granted, they had a really bad night. But still, Yes even on a bad night used to deliver a better show than nearly any other band on its best night.
    The show I saw was incredibly weak. Poor Benoit David was croaking constantly and couldn’t hit any notes at all. I can forgive that – he clearly had a cold or allergies or something – and the band should have acknowledged as much. I’ve seen him a few times by now and most nights he can hit most of the notes. So David’s not a train wreck like it was for Trevor Horn on the DRAMA tour. But at this concert the band was slow and lost, dragging, tepid and tentative. Yes attacks every note on a good night. There’s never a question about being tight. But on this night, Geoff Downes was missing all his marks, jams were confused, cuts were muddy instead of sharp, and Alan White was forced to play straight and dull in his struggle to keep the group together. It was their third show of the tour, and they clearly weren’t ready.
    (Speaking of Downes’ mediocrity, I’ve learned that Yes booted Oliver just as he was really hitting his stride because Horn wanted it that way. There’s something wrong when a producer decides who’s in the band. Then it’s really not a band, but a business transaction.)
    The concert made me think Yes was done. It made me wish I hadn’t gone at all. And this from a band that has always made my spirit soar.
    Yet I went with low expectations. I already knew that, for whatever reasons, Yes had retreated in some fundamental sense. Chris publicly claimed that most fans didn’t mind Jon being gone. That’s either blatant PR or serious denial/rationalization, given the propensity of web comments to the contrary (my own wife didn’t attend the Canandaigua show because she didn’t want to see Yes minus Jon again). Yes played to anemic crowds on its last European tour because of Jon’s absence. So maybe the money-mongers in the industry realize they have to pair Yes sans Anderson with groups like Styx in order to justify and recover tour costs. Result: Yes plays at most just two-thirds of a set. And, pressured to dumb down the set to fans of 70s radio rockers, Yes only gives us a hackneyed, predictable, “classic” sampling of their catalog, give or take a token excerpt from their “new” album, half of which is just recycled material rejected during the short-lived DRAMA era. They end up boxing themselves into this format for lack of a line-up that so many more members of their otherwise loyal cult following would still pay to see. It doesn’t allow time for the Firebird’s ritual pump priming, much less their brilliant epochs or trademark solos and extended jams. Maybe Yes is just too old and tired to give more, but I don’t think that’s it. With a line-up that fills theatres, they have the leverage to call more shots in terms of scheduling anyway. What could have happened between Jon and the rest of the guys to make this state of affairs worth it?
    I see Yes for the Yes experience. It is inspiring. It is transcendent. But it’s hard to leave your body when the band that usually plays “Heart of the Sunrise” in cut-time is slogging along like an electric John Philip Sousa tribute act rehearsing for the Podunk mayor’s ribbon cutting ceremony, and the lead singer’s vocals sound like a three-toed sloth’s mating call. This is supposed to be YES. What happened?
    I’ve since checked posts describing performances subsequent to the July 7 show, and was relieved to see that apparently both the band and Benoit’s voice had rebounded somewhat; I wish them only the best, in spite of my disappointment. But a shocking number of posts justifiably talk of how Styx is stealing the show. Styx is a band without nearly the musical adventurousness or technical prowess that Yes has always boasted, and the growing consensus among concert goers speaks volumes about Yes’ post-Anderson fall. Styx is also drawing many more fans than Yes, another commentary on how uninspired the base is when the band tours without either Anderson or Wakeman (even the next Wakeman generation).
    For many past tours, I’ve gone long distances to see Yes, and after driving for hours and blowing a fortune on travel, hotels, tickets, etc., I wondered what the hell I was doing. It’s only a rock band after all. Then the lights dim. The first strains of the Firebird flow. And I remember why it’s so worth it as they take the stage. In the lead-up to a show, I’d go on a Yes fast so the music would sound really fresh. Over the years, it became pretty ritualized, a sort of pilgrimage – which all just made it more fun. I was always careful to avoid the Yes cyber world so I wouldn’t know the set list. My friends would bet on what the band would open with and what songs they’d play that hadn’t been performed since the 70s. We were awed when they opened with “Close to the Edge.” Overjoyed to hear “Gates of Delirium.” So glad to see “Mind Drive” live. Then, of all things: “South Side of the Sky!” And the new material was great too. I know it was always just a group of guys making a living playing music, but it felt like more.
    It doesn’t feel like more now.
    When I saw them this summer I realized that none of that magic can happen with this line-up. And that means Yes isn’t Yes.
    I’m too hard on Mr. David. Seems like a very nice guy. He has a decent voice too. And he must be pretty brave to step into an icon’s (and idol’s) shoes. I don’t know the back story, only all the clap-trap that’s been put out in interviews and statements. The rest is none of my business. (Although from what I can gather Jon is certainly healthy enough to tour again and is open to reconciliation.) But the fact is, Yes has settled for less, and unless they change up – or wake up, as Jon put it in a recent interview – this group of groups will finish as a shadow of its former self, satisfied to go out with a whimper instead of a bang, playing half-sets as the warm-up act for the likes of Styx. It reminds me of Iron Butterfly. I ask again, what could have happened between Jon and the rest of the guys to make this state of affairs worth it?
    Benoit David cannot use his voice as a real instrument like Jon Anderson. Benoit’s voice is a bit flat and airy. He sounds like, well, some guy singing. Jon’s voice has a distinct quality so powerful that it never mattered what the lyrics said – you knew what they meant, like a violin piercing through the dense, rich dynamic that is Yes music. (Jon’s also a stronger instrumentalist and composer by any measure.) And Rick seems fit again as well. Imagine one last dance with Jon and Rick both back in the fold. Is it possible?
    I don’t understand how the band can stand it. How can limiting yourself to only the “classic set” for the sake of Styx fans waiting for “Roundabout” possibly be as fun as pulling out an old epoch or creating something truly new (rather than falling back on DRAMA-era rejects)? I had the same questions during the Rabin days in the 80s. How could Chris and Alan and Jon have as much fun playing “Owner of a Lonely Heart” as they did playing “Awaken?” (When I got to have a long dinner with Jon Anderson once, he actually talked along the same lines, and graciously shared some wonderful stories about backing up Jethro Tull during their first US tour.) But eventually, they came back, real Yes, better than ever. Maybe it’s too late for that this time.
    Like I said, it seems from comments posted since Yes’ bad night in Canandaigua that the group and Benoit’s voice have both rebounded, which is good news of course. It’s disappointing, though, that I must have managed to catch the worst shows of the tours two years running. Last year this lineup (sans Geoff, plus Oliver) played upstate New York during a record cold snap and neither the equipment nor the band’s fingers worked. But this year, the weather was perfect and only the band was ice-cold. Soon after that show, I watched Yes on some of my DVDs (Live at Montreux, Songs from Tsongas, etc.) with Rick and Jon, and saw Yes as they were not long ago. Those movies and albums are good. They reassure me that I didn’t imagine the power this band once had, or all that it has lost – apparently by choice.
    Yes has given me a lot and I’m grateful. Every time I’ve gotten to meet or spend time with a Yes member – I’m up to six I think – I just took the opportunity to thank him for his music… what a gift. But with their last performance, they’ve taken away any reason I’d have to see them again. Or as the Once-ler said, UNLESS…

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