Yes frontman Jon Anderson is always thinking about — and working on — new music. But as you’ll discover when speaking with the legendary frontman, he’s still got his ear to the ground and is constantly consuming new music as well. We’re talking about his desire to go to the “top of the mountain” with another Yes album, and he takes a detour to discuss Childish Gambino. “Is that a video? Or is that
a video,” he exclaims with an excited tone, during a recent phone call in advance of a forthcoming 50th anniversary concert by Yes featuring Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman.
The tour lands at Hard Rock Live on Saturday, Sept. 8.
“That’s one of the greatest things since Lemonade
,” he says. “I loved Lemonade
. [Beyoncé] bared it all out, and she said what it is, and she smashed windows and cars. A woman! A true Earth Mother, you know? This guy — it’s so real. It’s just so...I’ve watched it about 10 times in the last three days.”
Whether it is Beyoncé or Childish Gambino, Anderson is still plugged in and paying attention when it comes to the current music that’s being made a half century after he made his first moves in the late ‘60s with Yes.
“You know, I watch America’s Got Talent
. Me and my wife love So You Think You Can Dance
,” he laughs. “Because you know, young artists are the soul of the world. They’re the young people coming through, the talented people still going, you know, even when they’ve been in the business 10 or 20 years. I remember seeing Beyoncé when she was in her trio band [Destiny’s Child], playing in a record store to nobody in Santa Monica. That was like 20 years ago, and there was a half a dozen people watching them perform. I was walking past thinking, ‘Hey, go for it girl! Go!’ And you think, there she is now, the Queen Bee! It’s not an easy road. My God, it’s not.”
As someone who ‘s navigated the many twists and turns of the music business for decades, Anderson speaks from experience.
“It’s like a juggling act, you know? It’s another one of those things,” he says. “It’s interesting that….you know, you make a record and you go through that experience, and you’re charged to let people know it, hear it and be with it because you spent three months working on it and stuff. And then, you find out six months later that the record company really weren’t that interested! It was a tax write-off.”
If Anderson’s not on the road touring, it’s likely he’ll be at home working on a number of new music projects. During our conversation, he rattles off a flurry of things that are percolating, including a new solo album, 1,000 Hands
, that he’s working to finish. The history of the record goes back nearly three decades, but this is hardly Anderson’s Chinese Democracy
in terms of the amount of actual time he’s spent working on it.
“I’m working on a piece that’s so bizarre. I started a piece of music 28 years ago in Big Bear, which is southeast of L.A. I was just getting away from the world for three months, and I decided to do an album,” he explains. “But it never got finished because life is like that. Now, 28 years later, I’m just finishing five of the songs, plus five new songs and an album called 1,000 Hands
. That’s coming out [soon], and I’m going to Orlando to finish mixing next week. It’s amazing how music is timeless. I’m actually working on a piece yesterday with a friend of mine in Australia and when we started it, it was called ‘The Big If.’ I had this big idea for ‘The Big If.’ If is right in the middle of life, you know, the word ‘life’? And then, I found out there’s a book about it called The Big If and it was just minds thinking the same thing at the same time. We did all of this music and then the guy sadly, had a sort of mental breakdown. He was very confused about this and that. Then we linked up again three months ago! Yesterday, I was composing some music with him.”
He hints that he’s “planning something for 2020,” telling us that he keeps dreaming about “that perfect Yes album,” adding that, “you never know.” So we’re curious, what does the idea of the perfect Yes album represent to Anderson at this point?
“The top of the mountain. The view from the top of the mountain,” he says, with a confident tone. “Because we’re always climbing mountains and I always felt that Close to the Edge
was that first moment when I thought, ‘Oh my God, we’re doing something very, very unique and very different.’ It’s all based on performance, because Yes was always a performing band. It was never, ‘Let’s write a hit!’ Because that’s not what Yes was all about and still isn’t. You know, in my mind, the last thing that I think about is trying to get a hit. Even though I want to get my music played on the radio somehow. On this 1,000 Hands
[album] that I’m doing, there’s one or two obvious good radio songs. Whether they’ll go viral or whatever, who cares. You know, it’s what it is. But all you want is for people to hear what you do. I even do some dance EDM music on one track on the album. One track on it is very EDM. Because I’ve been doing some of that [over the] last year.”
In the past few years, he’s also been playing Yes music with his longtime cohorts Rick Wakeman and Trevor Rabin. When they began touring together in 2016, it was the first time that the trio had shared the stage in 25 years, going back to the massive Union tour at the beginning of the '90s. At the time they began touring again, it was revealed that they also had new music in the works. We ask Anderson if he’s planning to go to the top of that mountain with Wakeman and Rabin and if they factor into his vision for that “perfect Yes album.”
“I don’t know! It’s something that’s just percolating in my mind,” he admits. “I have no idea what it sounds or looks like, but I just know that the music that we’re doing, to me, is pretty fantastic. When it will get recorded properly, who knows? Because we have great demos already, but the music, it’s a question of timing. You realize when you get older, everybody has a life! [Anderson chuckles.] One minute, we’re going to do it in this period of time and you know, somebody can’t do it at that period of time. Everybody’s got work to do and stuff, and their own dreams, I suppose. So we do have some great music and it’s a question of finding the right time. [This current tour is] a short tour, and maybe after that, it will get done. I thought it was going to get done earlier this year, but it never did. Because, you know, everybody has a life! You get to that point. The most important thing is performance. We just got back from Europe and we were performing like there’s no tomorrow and that’s all we need. In some ways, that’s the key to success is you get on stage and the people are there and you perform your best. That’s success. People have got no idea what we were doing in Europe, over here in America — they’re busy living in America!”
In the days that followed our chat with Anderson, which took place in late July, “Fragile,” a new piece of music from Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman, slipped out. It’s tangible proof of the ideas that they’ve been working on. Rabin himself, surprised fans by playing the song
during a July 16 appearance on the L.A.-based radio show Jonesy’s Jukebox
, hosted by former Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones.
“It’s actually a song that I wrote quite some time ago. It was going to be for a film, but you know, with film, a lot of times, a lot of footage hits the floor and this was one of those times,” Rabin shared during the interview
on the program, which airs on 95.5 KLOS. “I always kind of liked it. It’s pretty laid back and pretty calm, as opposed to a big fleshy instrumental thing. The band really liked it, so we thought, 'Yeah, let’s do it.'”
While Anderson was unsure when the new music they’ve been working on might finally be released, fans can get a hold of a recording of Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman playing classic Yes music, with the pending release of Live at the Apollo
, which was recorded at the Manchester Apollo in March of 2017. The new release will be available September 7 on Blu-ray, DVD, CD, vinyl and digital download.
The Apollo gig finds Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman in top form, playing with a lineup rounded out by bassist Lee Pomeroy and drummer Lou Molino. They move through a setlist that mixes classic Yes epics like “Heart Of The Sunrise” and “Awaken,” with a selection of later material from Rabin’s era with the band, featuring songs like “Hold On” and “Changes” from the band’s blockbuster 1983 album 90125
. There’s even an airing of “Lift Me Up,” the group’s initial single from 1990’s ill-fated Union
While the tour itself for Union
was an amazing opportunity for fans to see the 90125
lineup melded with the classic era lineup of the group, the album, which evolved out of separate recording sessions between the two camps, was a less pleasant experience. During the Apollo show, Anderson quips that Wakeman calls it “The Onion album, because every time he listens to it, he cries.”
Even if Wakeman maintains a distaste for the album, the inclusion of “Lift Me Up” in the setlist was a thrilling moment, one of many that fans experienced each night of the tour. With the arrival of this new live release, there is finally an official, high quality documentation of Trevor Rabin on stage playing Yes music. While there have been a handful of scattered releases in the past, it has also been a long time since Rabin, who spent the bulk of the past couple of decades scoring blockbuster movies like Armageddon
and National Treasure
, has been seen playing this material. Because of that and the advances in technology, this new Apollo set feels like a crucial capture of an important moment in Yes history. As Anderson himself has discussed, the idea of him playing music with Rabin and Wakeman again was one which had been in the works for a long time. It took quite a while for the plans to actually come to fruition. Which makes the shows that they’ve done together in the past few years, especially sweet.
“I think the three of us just found ourselves at the right time. We had talked about it for many years, because I’ve been sort of following Trevor’s career over the past 10 years,” he says. “I would go down and watch him work in the studios on film scores, because that world and orchestration is something that I’m very interested in, even though I don’t even know how to write music. I just know that good instrumentation and good orchestration when I hear it. Listening to him work in the studio was magnificent.”
Eventually, Anderson got his guy, and the trio hit the road. Since then, they haven’t looked back.
“I feel like I’m singing better than ever. I just feel great. I think I’ve had a second boost of life over the past 10 years. I got really sick 10 years ago and then all of the sudden, I have so much energy and to work with Rick and Trevor, it’s something very powerful,” he says. “Rick [Wakeman] is quite a genius performer, as is well known. And Trevor [Rabincoming out of spending years in the cave doing film scores, it’s a new lease of life for him, you know. He’s one of these guitarists, that he’s very mesmerizing and pretty powerful at times. Because he doesn’t glide through the music, he jumps up and down through it and there’s not many guitar players that I know who can be as adventurous and still hit the mark every time. Because it’s a balancing act, really, for a guitarist to go out and perform, especially Trevor performing the ‘70s music, with Steve Howe’s guitar playing styles, but making it his own and of course, doing the ‘90s and ‘80s music has been kind of a revelation for us as well. It’s a very exciting time.”
Yes Featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman, 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8, Hard Rock Live, 10777 Northfield Rd., Northfield, 330-908-7625 . Tickets: Sold out, hrrocksinonorthfieldpark.com.