Interview with Jon Anderson from Yes
Interviewed by Kevin Pollack
Q: How did you get into music? Did you come from a musical family?
Anderson: Well, my brother and myself used to work on the local farm, and we sang every day. When I was a kid, I used to sing, we had a band actually, when I was 9 years old called The Little John Skiffle Band. My parents were from big Ballroom dancing. My father was in entertainment. He did radio from way back, but that’s how we got into music, me and my brother. He had a band in 1962, and I joined it, and it was the beginning of 1963, called The Warriors. We just loved singing the Everly Brothers’ songs, and of course The Beatles, started in ’63 and we just wanted to be Beatles. So that’s how we started.
Q: How did you get started with Yes?
Anderson: Well, I’ve been with The Warriors for about 5 years, and we travelled all over Europe, and then I found myself in London, and I was working in a bar above The Marquee Club, which is a famous club in London, and there were always big stars coming in to drink and have a snack like Pete Townshend, Keith Emerson, Jimi Hendrix; people like that, and I was working in the bar cleaning up, making a bit of money. One night, Chris Squire was there, popping at the bar, very lonely, and went over and said, “Hi, how ya doin?” and we struck up a friendship and that lasted a long, long time.
Q: Tell me how Open was written. What was the concept?
Anderson: I wrote the sketch of it last year around March, I think it was, and April, and I just had this idea that I wanted to perform a large scale piece of music, and it’s part of my DNA to create these long-form pieces, I did it with Yes, and I did some with Vangelis, pretty long-form ideas. So, I just thought it was a good time to try something out, and a local friend of mine did orchestration, and he did a beautiful orchestration on it, and I just carried on working on it, and I finished it around September. I’m actually working on another one now. So, it’s just part of my musical education to myself, you know?
Q: Where did the collaboration with Marco Sabin come about?
Anderson: Well, I’ve been working a lot with a friend from Rome, Alessandro DeRoso, and he had a contact with Marco, and asked me if I would sing on his album, and sing a song. So I said, “Why don’t you send me a piece of the music,” and Marco sent me the piece of music and I sang this idea, and we both liked it, so he said he was gonna put it on his album. So I said, “Yeah, why not?” and we released it as a single, which is kind of cool. He came up with the idea of “Limitless,” so I wrote the melody and the lyric about how we are very limitless human beings, and we should always be ready to not limit ourselves.
Q: What was working with Vangelis like?
Anderson: He was amazing, because he was a very free-formed musician. Everything we did was very spontaneous, which was kind of opposite to Yes, where everything was very structured, and we spent hours and hours putting the songs together, where, with Vangelis, we did the song in one take, and then we would learn what we were doing. It was a way to create spontaneous music.
Q: You and Rick Wakeman have had a long relationship. Describe to me how you both came up with The Living Tree.
Anderson: Well, it was about 2 years earlier, me and Rick had toured together in the UK, so we’ve written 4 songs for the show, because it’s nice to sing new songs in a concert. So, we did the tour last year, and we wrote about 5 more, and realized we have an album, so we put it out as an album, and it became a big part of the show, because creating new songs creates new emotion, and a new feeling onstage together. The songs weren’t really good onstage.
Q: I recently heard you are going to be doing a project with Trevor Rabin. Can you tell me about that?
Anderson: That’s an on an off situation. I get together with Trevor every few months. He’s very busy doing film scores. There was a time when we wanted to do something together, but he’s sort of drifting towards more film score music, and I’ve been drifting towards more working with different people, so it doesn’t happen. Maybe next year we’ll see what happens. We’re good friends. That’s the main thing.
Q: What is your process as a songwriter?
Anderson: Well, I’m playing music every day. I enjoy receiving music from people all over the world on the internet. I put an ad on my website, so people send me music all the time, and it gives me a chance to go into my studio, and people just send me music and I’ll come up with musical ideas, and build on that. So, I’m in a very, very creative zone at the moment. I think I’m more creative these days than I’ve ever been in my life. I always think the best music is coming. It’s a different world, and I just enjoy creating music and singing of course.
Q: Who and what are your influences?
Anderson: There’s so many. I love Mozart. I love The Beatles. I Love Rickie Lee Jones. I love Springsteen. I love U2, Sting. I like American music, and instrumental. I love Etheopian music. I love all kinds of music. I’m always mesmerized how beautiful one sort of musical world is. There’s so much great music out there.
Q: How did your recent health issues affect you as a person and as a writer?
Anderson: Well, when you nearly die, you sit back and think, “Ok, well I better get on with some music, and try to finish the songs that I wrote. The dreams that I want to finish,” and I have so many dreams. It’s made me more happier, more healthier, and more thankful.
Q: If you can collaborate with any 3 people in the world, living or dead, who would they be and why?
Anderson: Of course, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, a saxophone player. Oh, and Frank Zappa. Reason being, they were very inventive, very forward thinking people. I was looking at the lyrics for “Imagine” yesterday, somebody sent me them, a good friend of mine, and they’re just incredible lyrics when you see them written now, and I was lucky to meet Jimi Hendrix right at the very beginning of his Experience band, because I worked in the bar nearby, and he’d come in, and he was such a friendly guy, and an incredible guitar player, unbelievable.
Q: What can your fans look forward to from you from here?
Anderson: A lot of very adventurous music. I’m not quite sure how it’s all coming together, but I’ve worked on so much music over the last 6 years, and I’m trying to figure out a way of getting it out there into the world, and it’s coming slowly for people to expect something different and exciting and adventurous I think.
Make sure to check out Jon Anderson performing at Viper Alley in Lincolnshire on June 8th starting at 8:30pm. Get tickets here: http://www.viper-alley.com/calendar/details/476.