Jon Anderson formly of YES

by Ron & Don Higgins
Staff Writer –

Hardrock Haven: First, I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to talk with us today.

Jon Anderson: I’m happy to talk to you too. How are you doing?

HRH: Doing great. Having wonderful weather here in the Midwest for a change. Where are you at right now?

Jon Anderson: I’m in central California in a very small village actually, up in the hills. Beautiful, surrounded by little birds, little doves, little rabbits, little jackrabbits.

HRH: That sounds wonderful.

Jon Anderson: A little heaven.

HRH: Kinda like heaven, yes. I know you’re in the middle of your tour, or did you just wrap up this leg of the solo tour?

Jon Anderson: Yeah, just last week and now we’re on holiday for three weeks. Then we’re going to do more music and then tour with Rick Wakeman on the East Coast.

HRH: Right.

Jon Anderson: In mid October to November.

HRH: That willl be fabulous. You’ve toured with him solo in the past haven’t you?

Jon Anderson: We did a tour five years ago and we did one last year in the UK.

HRH: Will this be the first time you two have done this show in the US?

Jon Anderson: Yeah, it will be considerably voice heavy. We actually tell jokes and then we play music and we play songs from our new album Living Tree. We’ll be playing the songs and some new ideas. Actually, we might do “Awaken”… a stripped down version.

HRH: That would be fabulous. That’s a great tune. You used to play that on the Union tour.

Jon Anderson: Oh yeah, that was amazing!

HRH: That’s one of my favorites. Obviously one of the main reasons we wanted to talk with you today is to talk about this fabulous new album of yours. We’ve had it now for about a month. I enjoyed it when I first listened to it but, I have to tell you, I like it more every time I listen to it. I don’t know why but it just gets better and better. It’s just absorbed into my psyche now and I really, really enjoy this album.

Jon Anderson: Excellent. I’m glad you like it. It’s one of those things, you make music, you put together an album of songs… Every time I’d listen to them… I love hearing them again. By time you finish you know them inside and out.

HRH: Right.

Jon Anderson: So you’re listening to them differently than when you first heard them and first created them. When you hear the album it’s like the first time and you hope people spend some time like you have done to listen to them again every day or once a week or something and you go through the experience of the music, exactly the same experience I went through when creating the music.

HRH: I like to do it because I’m going to review the album and I like to make sure I really know it before I review it because it’s only fair. I like to live with it for a while. That’s what I did in this case. It’s funny, for reviews I like to highlight a couple of the standouts. What I caught myself doing is, I had two or three standout tracks and then every time I listened to it I added another standout track. Give me another month and there will be 11 standout tracks on the 11 song album.

Jon Anderson: I love it!

HRH: I love how this came together, the fact you just put a note on your web site saying if you’re a musician and interested in collaborating, contact me. What a great idea and something I don’t think people would expect from someone with your history to do but it’s clearly worked out very well.

Jon Anderson: It’s one of those things, when you start doing a project you hope you are doing the right thing but when you put it out there on the web site and you have everyone around the world sending you music, you realize, first of all, that there’s so many talented people out there and secondly they sort of resound with me when I hear the music for the first time. I would sing the ideas right away, send it back to them and they’d send it back to me with a little change in the music or put something in or take something out, then we’d talk about it and then Skype each other. That’s how we got to know each other. Then over the years you start to create lots of music. For me it was always a big fascination, what was going to come in my email today. Actually, I had one piece of music yesterday from a guy in Romania. It’s just so beautiful to hear the music because it’s very fresh for me, you see?

HRH: Yeah, that’s great. You’re not confined to just one or two songwriters, you’ve basically got the world at your fingertips that you can draw creativity from and that just opens up an entire realm of possibilities.

Jon Anderson: That’s for sure.

HRH: The fact you can take all those things and combine them into a cohesive album… it certainly doesn’t sound like 11 disjointed songs by a bunch of different people, it sounds like a Jon Anderson album. It very much sounds like a unified effort and there’s something to say about that as well.

Jon Anderson: Yeah, you have people come through my web site, so first of all, they know who I am and the music I like to do so they create music that resonates inside of me. As I said before, there are so many talented people out there and we’re living in a sort of new world of music where we can put music on the internet and we don’t have to deal with record companies deciding if it’s good or bad. You just put music out there. It’s a very , very good time.

HRH: Sure. That’s an interesting perspective because you hear a lot of artists complain about the digital age whereas you have embraced it. You’re right, with the advent of technology you can kind of utilize the record labels less and it gets more back to the art and the music and less of being about the business.

Jon Anderson: That’s so true. Part of it is, I’m very lucky that I went through the past 40 years realizing how things have changed and modernized. I still believe… I’ve worked with a lot of young people over the last 5-6 years. I’ve worked with the School of Rock people in LA and New York and Chicago and San Francisco. You work with these young people… there are some very talented teenagers, you know? It really inspires me to want to do more work and create more with younger people.

HRH: That’s great. So were the people you collaborated with on these songs , were they primarily younger people?

Jon Anderson: Some were sort of 30, 40, year old. But there are a couple in their 20’s. One guy, the second song “Understanding Truth”, he came to see my show in Holland and played some guitar for me backstage so I sent him my email address and he sent me this beautiful music that I sang on and gosh he was 22 years old, you know?

HRH: That’s great. And it’s opening up an opportunity for a guy that never would’ve had the ability to collaborate with someone that’s been in the business as long as you have.

Jon Anderson: Again, that’s the world we’re living in, you know? We’ve got new systems now where you can work with people… Skype, you now, you can talk to people and see people, you can make music with people in Skype. I’ve done it. It sounds kind of far out as well.

HRH: That would be interesting. I’ve got to know though, you mentioned placing that ad for musicians, did you have some well known musicians respond? I’ve got to think a lot of people would be interested in working with you whether they’re already popular in their own right.

Jon Anderson: It’s funny, no, because people that are already popular probably don’t go to my web site.

HRH: Well they should!

Jon Anderson: (laughs)

HRH: If I understand correctly, these collaborations, this is not a one-off project. You are going to release other stuff with these collaborations, isn’t that right?

Jon Anderson: Yeah, I’ve got a couple more albums of this music that will come out this year and the year after.

HRH: Oh, that’s great!

Jon Anderson: I’m constantly writing music with different people so it could just be an endless stream of energy, which is kind of cool too.

HRH: As a fan, I love to hear that. That the creativity is going to keep on coming and we’ll keep getting great music.

Jon Anderson: I like to keep doing it, that’s for sure.

HRH: That’s great. By the way, I meant to ask this at the beginning of the interview, but how are you doing ? I know you had some health issues but on this album you sound great. You sound as well as you ever have.

Jon Anderson: Yeah, thanks for that. I’m feeling really good. It’s funny when I start singing this energy kicks in. I’m singing as well as I ever have and sometimes better. Physically, I’m a lot better than I was and obviously I’m just a lot happier over the past couple of years. I’m just getting better and better so thanks for asking.

HRH: That’s fantastic. Jon Anderson has a lot more up his sleeves, a lot more for the fans. That’s great for everybody. Now speaking of the album, first off, I really enjoyed it. There are a number of standouts. The first one “New New World” is one my absolute favorites. I love how it starts off with tribal drumming, almost making me think I’m getting ready to watch another season of Survivor or something. But what rally struck me about that song and “Love of the Life” are how similar they sound to Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe, which I absolutely love. More people need to discover that album. And I felt because of the up-tempo stuff, in particular, “Love of the Life” reminds me of “Teakbois.”

Jon Anderson: Oh yeah! You know, I never thought of that. But it’s that kind of music I enjoy doing.

HRH: I think that’s one of the reasons I enjoyed the album so much because I really do love that ABWH album and having a couple of tracks off this that reminds me of that… I was sold from that point.

Jon Anderson: It is interesting, when you look at songs from ABWH, I was able to control that album and when you control something the best that you can do is give everybody freedom to do what they want. When you manage something, the best way to manage is to let everybody perform their best rather than tell them what to play. This is the same situation. I don’t tell anybody what to create. I just say send me what you’ve got. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s just the way it is.

HRH: Sure. I noticed that some things sounded a little like ABWH and some reminded me of Magnification as well, like when you have the orchestrated parts.

Jon Anderson: Yeah, in some ways Magnification was a point in time where we were all working on this in high gear. Sometimes you get together as a band and sometimes everybody is sort of pushing and pulling in different ways and an album can come out that’s not quite in harmony but that’s what you do for that year. You say, well okay, this is the album. You hope it’s good but there are some albums you do that are really special.

HRH: And Magnification is one of those album that are probably less known but shouldn’t be.

Jon Anderson: I agree. (laughs)

HRH: And I would go a step back. I thought The Ladder before that was great, and it was nice to see with that and Magnification that the creativity of the group and the music was still strong. It doesn’t sound exactly like an album recorded in 1972, but it doesn’t need to.

Jon Anderson: It’s quite amazing that a band could be together for 35 years for one thing. Not many bands can stay together for that long musically, you know. People in the band change here and there, come back, left, whatever, but the music kept going for 35 years. You can look at that and that’s a truly amazing event itself. When I look at it, 80% of the albums we did were really special and that’s a pretty good percentage, you know?

HRH: Very much for the amount of material you guys have put out as a group and as individuals. There’s just so much out there and so much is very good and, like I said, with all the collaborations and solo projects, not everything sounds the same but you wouldn’t want to have 20 albums and have them all sound the same, that would be very boring. You can see the creativity change and grow with the different members. At times it may be a little different but it’s still very good in my opinion. Although Angus Young does say AC/DC has created the same album 20 times!

Jon Anderson: Yeah, different strokes for different people. That’s just the way it is.

HRH: But you make a good point about the fact YES music has been able to sustain so long. I’m always struck by the bands that are in a sense still going but when you get to their concert… I just had this experience, I just saw Foreigner and you realize that they now have exactly one original member.

Jon Anderson: Oh, yeah.

HRH: At what point does it stop being a band and become a really good cover band?

Jon Anderson: My whole idea of YES music is that it will survive the band. In 10-20 years time, there will be young musicians performing YES music.

HRH: I think that’s absolutely true.

Jon Anderson: It will be part of the music knowledge. You’re in a band, you’ll learn some Beatles, a little Zappa, some YES… it’s just of the things you learn to become a better musician. It’s part of the schooling.

HRH: Sure. I guarantee there will be YES in those types of curriculum’s. Well, to get back to the album, the other thing is, this doesn’t surprise me, but lyrically it’s a very spiritual album. I’m sure you’d agree with that?

Jon Anderson: Like everybody, we’re all spiritual beings and I like to sing about the path and the seeking, the connection with Mother Earth and The Divine. I just like singing about it and I always have so it’s nothing new in a way, it’s just a way of explaining certain things and emotions, you know?

HRH: Sure. And the obvious one on the album, you see a song titled “Big Buddha Song” it’s pretty obvious it’s going to be somewhat spiritual. I wasn’t sure what to expect but after hearing it I enjoyed it very much. I thought it was interesting how it calls out a lot of the … Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed… it thanks all of them. What kind of reaction have you gotten from people?

Jon Anderson: It’s mostly positive because they were related to the cold hard life and war-like tendencies of the human experience. But we do have the reality of Buddha, Krishna, Mohammed, Jesus. They are the ones who show us the way. The Enlightenment. So the actual song is pretty dark in the actual lyric of the verse, it talks about the “balance of the Earth is in the sand”, which is about oil.

HRH: Well, it’s one my favorite songs on the album, musically and lyrically it’s top-notch.

Jon Anderson: It’s funny, I wrote the chorus while I was driving around listening to the Christian channel on the radio because they have very good productions and good songs. I’m interested in how they… the recordings are pretty cool. So I’m listening and I started thinking… I wonder if there’s somebody in India driving around listening to Krishna music. And of course, there is. They have Krishna music, they have music for Mohammed, they have music for Buddha in China. They have music which is very spiritual which is their connection with God or The Divine or whatever you want to call it. So the whole idea is… I thought why not write a song about all four of the masters. I know it won’t get played on Christian radio but maybe somebody out there will hear it, you know?

HRH: Sure. The other song that strikes me is “Just One Man”. Did you write that thinking about one particular person? Because when I hear it, as a Christian, I can easily substitute that for Jesus.

Jon Anderson: Oh yeah, that was definitely for Jesus.

HRH: Oh, okay.

Jon Anderson: Because you know, he’s The Savior, on our hearts, you know?

HRH: Absolutely.

Jon Anderson: Because Buddha was a teacher.

HRH: Right.

Jon Anderson: He was a great man, like Gandhi. Like Chief Seattle. He was a great teacher. It’s just one of those funny things, we keep forgetting that they’re all saying the same thing in a way but Jesus was the one that came and said “I Am the Light,” you know?

HRH: Absolutely.

Jon Anderson: You can’t discount the millions of people who look up to Buddha, who look up to Mohammed… you can’t say, well the Muslims are crazy. No, no, no, no. The Muslims are beautiful, just like you and me.

HRH: Right. We’re all human.

Jon Anderson: You always get some people that are a little bit wild and crazy in any religion.

HRH: Yeah, it always bothers me when people try to stereotype a religion based on the fanatics. Every religion has them. I wouldn’t dare compare the typical Muslim to a terrorist any more than I would compare a Christian to one of the people who bombs abortion clinics. That’ a small fragment.

Jon Anderson: Exactly.

HRH: But too many people, I think, too easily want to write off an entire group of people because they don’t happen to be their group of people.

Jon Anderson: The good thing is we’re waking up to a realization where 40, 50, 60 years ago we didn’t care. Now we care. We’re waking up, you know?

HRH: And exactly how we talked about the internet and how it is useful for Skyping and music, it just makes the whole world a smaller place. It’s one community; it’s one globe. We’re not as separated by coast lines and everything else, whether it’s religion or music, it’s definitely a smaller world and hopefully we can get to a more cohesive, unified harmony among everybody where everyone understands each other and accepts a little bit better.

Jon Anderson: Totally agree.

HRH: I think your music definitely helps do that. Your music has always been spiritual, everything from Tales to your new album and everything else in between. It’s great to see you are still passionate about your lyrical content and what you’re putting out there.

Jon Anderson: We all play our part in our world like you do with your project and you get people interested in totally different kinds of music. It opens up so many avenues to so many people, you know?

HRH: Absolutely and speaking of music, you’ve been doing stuff with Rick Wakeman. YES fans obviously love to hear that but they may not be aware that you are also collaborating with Trevor Rabin as well. I’ve heard the three of you are working on a new project, so I just wanted to ask about that.

Jon Anderson: Yeah, I feel we’re all connected on so many levels. I’m actually working with Trevor… I went to see him do a movie a few months ago. It was amazing to watch him work in a studio with a full orchestra and about 20 people around him. It was for a movie and it was just wonderful music as well.

HRH: Sure. He’s done a lot of that recently.

Jon Anderson: Oh yeah, he’s become a master.

HRH: Yes. He sure has. You see his name and Danny Elfman, there’s a few of them you see over and over again. It’ll be great for fans of his solo music like Can’t Look Away as well as the number of YES albums he’s done to be back doing new music with you and Rick. I think it’s very exciting. Do you have time for one more question?

Jon Anderson: I’ve got time for one more.

HRH: Okay, great. I just wanted to comment, in this day and age, people like to download music but in this case it would be a real shame because there are very extensive biographical liner notes that I thoroughly enjoyed . My question is, in the liner notes, it gets to a point where they sort of just stop so I’m assuming the next chapter will be in the next CD. Is that right?

Jon Anderson: Yes, my stories will be in each CD that I release.

HRH: Got it. My favorite quote had to be the one where you talk about being a young man and seeing strippers that you say, “will turn you off sex forever.” That’s hysterical.

Jon Anderson: Exactly! (Laughs)

HRH: Loved it. Well Jon we can’t let you go without at least asking this question. Obviously YES has released a brand new album. Have you heard it and what are your thoughts?

Jon Anderson: I’ve heard it. The singing is beautiful, the arranging is good but when I listen to it, it didn’t sound like the YES that I understand. It didn’t sound as exciting as I had hoped it would be and to me it sounded a little bit… it wasn’t like future music, it sounded a little dated in a way. That’s the way I felt. I only listened to it once and thought, well, that’s what they’re doing. I gotta get along with my life.

HRH: Sure. Part of the reason it sounds dated is the first part of the album ,the first six tracks, the “Fly From Here” suite, was actually put together and written 30 years ago when the same group of guys were working on the Drama album, so it would make sense that at least that part of the album would be somewhat dated.

Jon Anderson: Sure. They were working with Trevor Horn, he was the producer. It didn’t feel like he was there. I was expecting it to jump out and be a big music thing but it didn’t do anything for me. That’s the way life can be.

HRH: That’s fair.

Jon Anderson: Okay, I wish you well, guys.

HRH: Ok, well, listen, thanks again for taking time out of your busy schedule. You’re scheduled to be here in March so we hope to see your solo show live.

Jon Anderson: Excellent!

HRH: So thank you so much. Have a wonderful day and congrats on the great album and we look forward to the next collaboration.

Jon Anderson: Thanks, guys. (laughs)

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