With Yes on a break until the
upcoming Yes/Asia tour Alan White is devoting his free time to
champion worthy causes. One that he is driving as a board
Music Aid Northwest is Music Matters,
which is a fundraiser to support music programs--courses that are
quickly disappearing from many schools facing budgetary constraints.
Alan is also spearheading the
Imagine a Cure Benefit Concert, which features the music of John
Lennon to benefit the Puget Sound Affiliate of Susan G. Komen's Race for the Cure.
The event will be held on Saturday, April 18, at the Snoqualmie Casino
Ballroom in Snoqualmie, Washington. Joining Alan will be a number of stellar
musicians, including band mates present and past: Chris Squire was
originally announced, and it was recently confirmed that Trevor Rabin
will also be joining other luminaries including Michael Shrieve
of Santana, Simon Kirke of Bad Company, and Elliot Easton of the
Cars. (The News page at alanwhite.net
has the complete list of musicians, and also features comprehensive details about the event.)
These causes are discussed in this
conversation from last January. But most of the conversation centered around the
reemergence of Yes after a long hiatus, and I spoke to Alan in one of
the drum rooms at
Bennett Drum Studio prior the second leg of the In the Present tour which was
subsequently cancelled due to Chris' illness.
MIKE TIANO: So here you are touring with
Oliver, Benoit, Chris, and Steve; I have to ask you your feelings
about not touring with Jon this time around.
ALAN WHITE: Well, I'm the only one who's really spoken to Jon, and
we send emails, and Jon sent me an email when he realized it was
going to take quite a while for him to get well, so I just sent him
a long email and told him how I felt about how he'll never change in
my eyes, and I wish he was well. It was on his birthday actually,
and he sent me a great email back. He said, "I understand...I
love you very much, and it's going to take a while for me to get
better," and that was it—plain and simple.
MOT: Do you find that it's kind of a mixed blessing, because now
you're able to play songs that Jon did not want to play?
AW: No, not really. I don't even look at it like that. It's more of
a personal kind of relationship thing, but obviously the songs that
Jon didn't want to sing we can do [are] from DRAMA. It's kind of
exciting, because I enjoy playing those songs. It's two of the songs
that we play in the set that have actually really taken off, so it's
a lot of fun.
MOT: What's it like playing those songs after all these years?
AW: It's great, because it took a while for us all to—well, not so
much for me, but Oliver and Benoit, took a while for them to get
into the mood of the song. Chris and myself and Steve pretty much
locked into that straight away and was like we were playing them
MOT: Have you been approached on the tour by any unhappy Jon
AW: Not really.
It's been…I thought we have a lot more people who are questioning
what we were doing, that I occasionally had one little "boo" or
something like that. But basically I've never seen any evidence of
all that kind of stuff, and when you get to "Close to the Edge" and
he starts hitting those "I get up; I get down" and the high notes people just go
"Wow!" It's just
like it was. But at the same time I hope Jon gets better and maybe
he's not well enough of do whole tours, but possibly he'll come and
do feature things or whatever, but if he wants to go on the whole
tour, it's fine, but it's pretty arduous out there.
MOT: Is the door open to Jon to come do any recording with the band,
if any recording does happen?
AW: I'm sure everybody's open-minded about the whole thing; it all
depends on how Jon feels about doing that, and everybody else. We
haven't really approached that yet, but I think we're all thinking
about it when we can get the time to do it, because we haven't been
on the road for such a long time as a unit, so everybody is just
wanting to hear the band anyway. It's kind of like that situation,
so everybody's got music. I know Steve's got a lot of music, and
Chris has got music, and I've got music at home. We could put
something together, and Oliver's obviously been working on stuff
too, so who knows whether it will sound like a regular Yes album or
whether it would be something new.
MOT: Does it even really have to be an album in this era of iTunes
and individual downloads, would it be conceivable that you might
just do one or two songs?
AW: Yeah, but you know what, there's nothing like the old
characteristic thing of just making an album (laughs). You make it,
and people do with it what they want kind of thing. If they want to
do like an EP situation or stuff like that, I think that waters down
the whole situation. You make an album; you go out and make an
album, and make it a presentable thing. It's a statement from
everybody in the band.
MOT: So I suspect you probably spoken to a lot of fans during this
tour, or were there any that came up to you and basically said, "You
know, I was a little apprehensive about Jon not being there, but I
think that this really works"?
AW: I had a bunch of stuff like that. It's just that they said they
were really tentative about coming, and that they thought they'd be
curious about what was happening, and they came to see the show, and
I think a lot of people left with smiling faces. The band played
really, really good. However, at the same as I say that, it could
have been Jon, but people are not well enough sometimes to just do
things like what we're doing. But touch wood [looks around for wood
to touch]…where's the wood
MOT: There should be a drumstick around here someplace! (Both laugh)
AW: But I've been pretty well; I got sick one time on the last
tour—just through New York, because I did a couple of interviews
really early in the morning, and then I did that Mike Huckabee thing
in the afternoon, and then I had to drive to Asbury Park and then
play in the evening, so I got really sick for about two days, but
after that I was fine; we sailed through it. Well I wouldn't say it
sailed through it, but it was a long set, we were playing two hours
and 40 minutes and then Benoit's voice started kind of like—there's
a couple parts of the set where he has a lot to sing in a short
period of time, so we kind of cut it down about 15-20 minutes, and
now it's like a really good length of the show, and it's a pretty
power-packed show. I'm really enjoying it.
MOT: Were you pretty much sold on Benoit coming in and being able to
do the job at first?
AW: Well, I talked to him on the telephone first, and then I thought
"Well, this guy sounds like a pretty nice guy," and then afterwards
I thought yeah. I didn't really meet him until he actually came to
Los Angeles; it was just Chris and myself and him, and he seemed
like a pretty nice guy, even though the rest of the band weren't
there, because Steve was doing other stuff, and we kind of got on
straight away. I mean, he did with Chris too; he's a very kind of
forgiving guy who understands what's going on, and I've done
interviews with him on the radio, and he still says "Well, I'm just
the replacement for Jon right now," (laughs) so he understands that,
and he's not like full of himself and kind of saying "Well, I'm the
singer in Yes now."
MOT: It's wonderful that things worked out. I have to wonder though:
did you, Chris, and Steve have any contingencies in the event that
Benoit came in, and either didn't cut it or didn't fit in well,
because there's always that possibility.
AW: No, because I think when we had our conversations prior to going
on the road, you could tell the guy was capable of it, especially
when you watch the YouTube thing and he's working with his friends,
but he just came into the room and he performed straight away. So I
looked at Chris and go this guy seems to know what he's doing, but
he's also a humble guy, maybe that's not the right word, but a guy
that understands his position.
AW: Yeah, he's taking it in stride.
MOT: You're playing "Astral Traveler" and
"Parallels" on this tour.
AW: No, "Parallels" got cut. We were playing it at the beginning. It
was in a place in the set where it was really difficult vocal-wise,
not only for Benoit, but I think everybody, and we had to cut the
set down, and I was actually enjoying playing "Parallels"—I'm
enjoying playing everything, let's put it that way, and it was just
that song was probably in the wrong place, so I said, "Yeah, maybe we
should just try it without that," and then it seems to start working
better for everybody.
MOT: So you're saying you dropped it permanently; you won't be
playing it on the next leg of the tour?
AW: Who knows what Chris comes up with. He may come up and say
let's drop this and play 'Parallels'." All those things are the things
that come together in the first rehearsal, first two days of the
MOT: The reason I ask the question is because you went to see the
local tribute band called Parallels, and you sat in with them on
AW: And I couldn't remember the damn thing at all. I got to the
middle of the song, and I was like, "God, I forgot how complex this
was," because it is pretty complicated in the middle, and then it
all came back to me, but when it goes through the local band
Parallels and you sit in and go, "Oh, I know that song," and then
all of the sudden all these notes are flying around, and you go "Oh." I did play it for a long time, but it's pretty complex.
MOT: I have to ask whether going to that gig put into your mind that
maybe you should do "Astral Traveler" and "Parallels".
AW: Well, "Astral Traveler" was Steve's idea. He didn't actually
play in the original, but he just likes the song, and it's a great
guitar song, and of course it's a Bill [Bruford] song too, because
it's just drums all the way thought playing different things, so I
settled into a groove of my own playing it, and just got into kind
of like a groove of playing it, and Steve and Chris said, "Oh, that
sounds really, really good—whatever you're doing," so I just stayed
MOT: Do you listen to the first two albums much?
AW: I never did. I thought some of the material they did on the
first two albums were pretty light, and I don't know, maybe it was
just a period of time, but they're all kind of light-hearted kind of
stuff. But I would like to possibly do some more songs, but Jon was
the guy who brought in a couple of songs from that era into the setlist, but then Steve all of the sudden said that [song], and I
listened to it, and Chris looked at me and said, "Well, the drums
are pretty hard on this," and I said, "Chris, I'll handle it; it's
all right," (laughs) and I said, "Don't worry, and I'm playing all
the way through the song." So Chris then changed the arrangement and
he had me play bass licks with him, and then I said, "Wait a second,
they're not on the original record." He said, "No, but you've got
them down." And he said, "They're not in the original?" I said, "No.
The drums just step out, and you play by yourself." Anyhow we're got
used playing together on that song (sings an ascending change from
the song), and that's difficult to play the whole thing from a drum
perspective, I wonder why Bill stepped out to play that, because
it's not that hard, but I got used to doing it. It's a lot of fun.
MOT: And you have a drum solo on that song.
AW: It was Chris'
idea…I said, "Well, sometimes when I do solo gigs, I do the drum solo
in the middle of 'Owner of a Lonely Heart'" and he said, "No, it'd be
perfect in 'Astral Traveler'," and it
actually became really, really good, [became] kind of like part of
MOT: It seems like it may have been to everybody's liking that the
band went on this extended break, since 2004. It seems
like your batteries are recharged, and everybody's really, really
playing at the best of their abilities.
AW: Hey, Steve's smiling all the time, and he smiles, and Chris is
having fun on stage, and all of us smile, and the band seems to have
a very positive kind of attitude.
MOT: I'm pretty sure that when I interviewed Steve on Monday he went
on record basically saying that there were some things that were
making him unhappy and maybe a little grumpy towards the end of just
prior to that break, but now he's like got a whole new outlook, and
you're right, he even admits that he's very happy doing this, and I
keep seeing "Steve's playing on fire".
AW: No, he's playing really good. I think everybody's playing good,
and I'm not patting myself on the shoulder, but the whole band is
playing with a lot of fire right now, and we're not showing any
signs of age or fatigue or stuff like that. I get out there, and I
just slam away. I'm tired at the end of the set like everybody would
be, but we play a set that's twice as long as bands who are half our
age, who play half as long as we do, and they're tired. It's one of
those kind of things, and this is a pretty energetic set. It's got
no kind of acoustic kind of things—well, there's a couple of things
we go into, but it's short-lived compared to the other tunes we're
MOT: Do you find that the young bloods have kind of spurred you on a
little bit, like "Wow, we've got to show our stuff…"
AW: I guess it must be there, but it's not conscious. I'm looking at
Chris, and I'm looking at Steve, and all three of us are kind of
like playing all the right parts and kind of like got a lot of
energy. We're just firing it out there.
MOT: You've played with Rick quite a bit over the years, and now
you've got Oliver. You're looking over there; there's Oliver. I have
to ask what that's like for you.
AW: (Laughs) OK, Oliver's a character, just like his father. It's
great, because he has the same mannerisms as Rick, totally, so it's
kind of surreal in a way to start with, and he's just a guy that
gets on with his business. He takes his music scores up there—well,
it's more notes than music scores, and he takes it up there every
night, and he does his thing and performs, and it's pretty great.
Plus, he also tells the same joke every day, just like his dad (both
MOT: Do you think he does that because it's just part of his
character, or because it's expected of him?
AW: No, you know what; he doesn't drink or anything like that, and
he's a really kind of together, straight guy, but he said, "This
tour's going so well, I might have a beer with you at the end of the
tour," and I said, "OK, I'm going to hold you to that," and he did,
and then it went to two, and then he got really funny (laughs), but
he's actually a cool guy. He's alright.
MOT: And Benoit—it's uncanny how much he sounds like Jon sometimes.
He just really, really hits those notes as you said. When I
interviewed him a few months back, he's got a French-Canadian
accent; he has certain vocal inflections that are a lot like Jon's,
in talking to him.
AW: Yeah, even told him too on a daily basis while we're travelling
and stuff like that. I see that, but he actually switches into
another vocal mode when he sings, and I guess he's just got it down.
That's what he does, and I think even if he wasn't reflecting Jon,
he'd still have that same kind of voice.
MOT: In fact, on the DRAMA songs, he probably sounds more like
Trevor Horn does than he [sounds like] Jon on the Jon songs.
AW: "Machine Messiah" especially is kind of like one of those things
(sings part of the song), and him and Chris—I've had numerous
comments about how great his vocals are with Chris' vocals, like a
lot of Yes songs. That was the real essence of the vocals, and
they're matching really, really good. Pretty interesting what's
MOT: There's talk of duel Asia/Yes tour coming up.
AW: Yeah, they haven't worked out the details yet, but that will be
interesting (laughs). That'll mean Steve's got to play with two
bands. But with a kind of show it is, I guess our set's going to be
cut down a little, and the Asia set will be cut down a little, so
you're going to get a little bit less, but you'll get both bands.
MOT: And it won't be as hard on Steve, because instead of one long
Yes show, it'll be two shorter sets.
AW: Yeah, well that's the way he's thinking, I think. Is that what
he said to you?
AW: He said it's almost like if we do get into this and do this,
it'll be like one Yes show, but I'll be playing with Asia first,
part of the time.
MOT: It's almost part of
the re-energized mindset that Yes are in, because as you recall,
this came up earlier, like in 2004 or something, and Steve was
saying, "There's no way I'm going to
do that," and now he's totally for it.
AW: Yeah, he's kind of like…well, you know it's a mindset kind of
thing. If you want to do something, you work it out where you're not
stressing yourself too much, and it's kind of like killing two birds
with one stone, but I've kind of known in Steve's mind that Yes is
like always been the band he's in. It's like that kind of feeling,
but it's something he has to cope with, but we have to cope with it
too, make sure he's not burning himself out.
MOT: So, you have quite a few personal projects going as well. You
want to talk about some of the things you're doing outside of Yes?
AW: Oh boy, well I'm trying to rebuild White at the moment too.
AW: Yeah, the singer, Kevin, he was having a bit of a problem, so
I've been talking to Steve Boyce, the bass player, and I've been
trying to kind of like reconstruct that as a side project kind of
thing, so we're still working on that right now. But I can see
something coming about right now, so we'll see what happens. And, oh
boy, what other projects you want to get into (laughs)?
MOT: You always seem to be pulled into these Beatle-related
AW: Oh yeah. They've all got my number—all the Beatle
bands around Seattle. I play with the Apple Jam Band and the
Beatniks—you know they're totally kind of Beatle-based kind of
bands, and another band called Cream Tangerine I'm doing something
on Friday with them down at Pike Place Market in Seattle. I'm just
going to play a couple of numbers with the band, and it's outside on
a balcony—open-air, so hopefully it's not going to be snowing,
raining, and maybe over 30 ̊, which would be good (laughs).
MOT: I know; it's been so cold.
AW: It's been really cold around this area, yeah.
MOT: And that basically is the 40th anniversary of the Beatles
rooftop performance at Apple?
AW: Yeah, but they're kind of…I think they're only going to play 6,
7, 8 numbers or something like that, and they want me to do the
usual…they want me to play "Imagine" and possibly at the end play "Instant Karma", which is what I usually play, and I was talking to
somebody on the telephone this morning that was, "Well, don't you
have to rehearse?" I said, "I don't have to rehearse those songs at
all; I've been playing them for 40 years almost" (laughs).
MOT: Not like "Machine Messiah", where you've got a gazillion
AW: Well, "Machine Messiah"
is a different thing, and that's a total
mindset where you've gotta be like a bullet going through it.
MOT: Yeah, and these
[Lennon songs] are like two and a half minute songs that
you've pretty much created the drum parts for.
AW: Yeah, yeah, so that's basically what it is (laughs), but it's
kind of fun doing that stuff on the side, and no I don't mind that
at all. It's just part of what I do.
MOT: Performing is part of what you do, and an interesting segue
here—very recently Bill Bruford has announced that he's retiring
AW: I saw that; I didn't see that email until this morning, and Gigi
said, "No, I saw it yesterday; I forgot to tell you." So yeah that's
interesting, because he enjoys playing that stuff so much on stage,
but I guess he's just had enough of travelling and just wants to do
studio work. You know, I might give him a call over there and see; I
guess he's just hanging his sticks up until he gets in the studio.
MOT: Yeah, Bill's a very private person, so one does not know his
real motives for doing so. I have seen interviews with him in recent
years where he seemed almost irritated that Yes fans come up after
[a gig] and thank him for carrying on.
AW: Yeah, I know, well it's so far in his past now that he just
doesn't really want to deal with it. He kind of moved on and went
into his jazz field a long time ago, and he's into that kind of
atmosphere, you know, and all the Yes stuff for him is years and
years ago, it's 1972, so it's like digging something up. But he was
great when he played in Yes, so I mean we get on real well. He's a
nice guy, and he's very funny, and we have a rapport. We spent a
while on the road together in '91 [for the UNION tour]. Anyhow, it's
a shame to hear he doesn't want to travel again, but it's his
MOT: As long as he doesn't stop playing altogether; I think he's
going to continue to record.
AW: Yeah, I think so.
MOT: And he's got a book coming out. Have you thought about writing
AW: Oh boy, I've
had four or five people ask me to do that, but I keep telling them
I'm not finished yet. I feel fine (laughs). I'm just moving…but they
said, "Well, we could do a second one," and I said, "Well,
I'll think about it," but I really haven't had time. Any time I'm
not on the road with Yes I seem to do a million other things. It's a
lot of fun though, I like to work with a lot of different people and
meet musicians and musicians of different calibers even, and I get
involved in More Music at the Moore with kids' bands and stuff like
that, and then Music Aid Northwest I do a bunch of charity stuff
with them. If you go to [the Music Matters site]
we're trying to get all those signatures for pushing this license
plate thing through, so in the State of Washington, you have to be a
resident, and if you go to
http://musicplates.org, sign up for this
to go through we need 3,500 signatures and $35,000. And then there's
another show coming up on April 18th, and they've donated that and
that's all going to breast cancer.
MOT: When's the deadline for the plates donation thing?
AW: No, there is no deadline, because there is a moratorium on doing
it this year, I think it's going to be next year when it goes
through. We just have to have everything in order, but we're trying
to bypass the moratorium right now, so we'll see what happens there.
MOT: So Washington State residents should follow the link and sign
up. How about the donations part of it—how much did you say,
AW: Yeah, you can do all of that online; you can go to Music Aid
MOT: How are the donations coming along? Are they close?
AW: I think…well, it's kind of slow…it's $35,000 we have to raise,
and I think we're up to about $5-6,000 right now, so it'll take a
while to kind of put it in there.
MOT: But obviously anybody can donate.
AW: Yeah, I went to city hall with Gigi and two or three of the
other board members and we had a sit-down session with the
Lieutenant Governor—Brad [Owen], and he's a really nice guy. He's a
musician; he plays guitar and he said, "I play guitar, but I'm not
playing with you. You're way too good." (Laughs) And he's like a
cool guy, he's really cool, and so we're just trying to move it
MOT: And this is to benefit young musicians, correct?
AW: Yeah, it's called Music Matters, and what it does is when people
buy license plates for their car, they can get one that says Music
Matters and have your number plate, and when you pay for your number
plate a certain amount of money goes back to public schools in the
State of Washington to provide instruments and just basically music
education, because that's the first thing that's cut out of schools.
And it's been proven that if someone takes up a musical instrument,
academically at school they do so much better. I was
talking to Mike Huckabee about it, and he's the percentages all
written out. It's something amazing like eight or ten percent do so
much better when they take up an instrument.
MOT: So you have to be a Washington resident too to sign the
AW: Yeah, and you can download it online from
[Details for contributions both in and out of Washington state follow
MOT: But can anybody anywhere donate and have it be tax-deductible?
MOT: OK. It's not limited to Washington State residents.
AW: Washington State is only for the sign-up sheet for the plates
itself, but I think anybody can donate from anywhere...
MOT: So let's finish up back with Yes again. Did you have any input
into the sets Roger Dean designed for the tour?
AW: Yeah, I haven't spoken to him prior to this tour, because we
already have a stage set-up set up, which is pretty good. I've been
looking at some photographs from the last tour, and I'm kind of
enjoying it, because it's…I don't know if they've embellish that a
little bit more for this next [leg of the tour] but it's kind of
real neat and just kind of working, and the lighting guy [Steve
Baird] is being
fantastic on this tour, and it's lit really, really good. He's a cool guy; he's a
total Yes fan, and he's got the music completely down. He knows
[the cues] exactly, and he's got it all in his computer. He's pretty good; I've been really enjoying it.
MOT: Which songs do you find you really look forward to performing
AW: Oh boy—I can't really pick out one that I don't like performing.
I mean, I know it's an old favorite, but we get on stage and play "Siberian Khatru," but that thing kicks off the evening like you
wouldn't believe, and you just get into everything. And Chris has
got this new song that he was performing, right? And it was acoustic
at first, I mean he was just playing bass and with Benoit, and he
asked me if I'd join in on drums, so I created some kind of drum
part for it and made it a little bit heavier than acoustic, but it
seems to be good, and people are kind of mesmerized by it a little,
because it's a strange song—you have to totally get into it, so
we'll see how it's accepted on this part of the tour.
MOT: Do you think that the setlist is probably pretty much set, or
do you think there's some possibility that some other songs [might
AW: Yeah, it happens on a daily basis. We have two or three songs
that we could swap around at the drop of a coin, and just get into
something different at that time. But for the latter half of the
last tour, we were pretty much playing the same thing every night.
MOT: I wonder if Yes will ever revisit some of their more recent
albums—MAGNIFICATION, THE LADDER…
AW: Yeah, MAGNIFICATION I'd love to—some great songs on there.
the Presence Of..." was one song in contention, because the tour, as you
know, is called In the Present, and it was Steve who actually
brought that up, but at the same time it didn't quite fit in the set
I don't think the way it's running right now. But you know we've
heard nothing but good comments about the set after the show, pretty
much the whole way through the first half of the tour.
MOT: That's good to hear;
there are some fans out there who
were a little prescriptive about stating, "You know, Yes should
listen to what we say, and do what we want," and "To Be
Over" is at the top of the list.
AW: No, that's never going to happen. We're musicians (laughs).
MOT: I think I tried telling them that Yes does what's best for them
and for the pacing of the show, and for some reason they don't want
to accept that.
AW: Yeah, well you know you can create your own list that we'll look
at, but when we look at it…you can't please just one guy. You've got
to please everybody, and this seems to be working in a way that's
pleasing a lot of people, so we probably would stay close to where
we are right now.
is a self-perpetuating fundraising proposal to help support school
music programs through sales of a distinctive new license plate,
available through the Washington State Department of Licensing.
These special license plates will be available for purchase by
every car owner in Washington State.
Signatures: Signer must have a
Washington State Driver's License in order to be valid.
Anyone can donate to the cause.
Check with your employer's HR department to determine if this
qualifies for a company match. All donations are tax deductible.
|Imagine: A Cure Benefit Concert (featuring the Music of
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Snoqualmie Casino Ballroom (900 seat
Ticketmaster and the Snoqualmie Casino Box Office
Click here to read about Alan's interactions with John
Lennon, from NFTE #247