Notes From the Edge 

Conversation with
Benoit David
nfte #309

It can't be easy to stand in for one of the most beloved singers in rock.  That singer is, of course, Jon Anderson, and when he spoke to me for Notes back in February Jon was ready to bring joy to the many Yes fans who were eager for their return. But as fans know Jon fell ill and faced a lengthy recuperation, and the planned tour was cancelled. However Steve, Alan, and Chris were itching to perform the music that brought them satisfaction and adulation, and made a decision that didn't come easy--they recruited a singer for a Yes tribute band that Chris discovered to fill in until Jon would be well enough to tour.

That band was Close to the Edge from Montreal, and their singer Benoit David possessed an uncanny timbre and range that would provide a fitting tribute to the absent icon. Though he faced the ire of some of Jon's most fervent fans Benoit stepped up to the plate, as he has shown on the current In the Present tour that he is up to the challenge. We wish Jon a speedy recovery and hope to see him performing again soon, but in the meantime fans are happy to be revisiting that special brand of music that only these musicians can provide.

I spoke to Benoit shortly before rehearsals, where I wanted to learn about his musical influences and how Yes has influenced his life.


MIKE TIANO: Benoit, first I want to set the record straight. You're not to be confused with keyboard player David Benoit.

No, actually…no, nothing to do with me, nothing whatsoever.

MOT: You've heard of him though, right?

Oh yes I have. I've bought a record or two. I thought it was funny that we had the name, only reversed, right? His family name is my first name, and vice versa. Yeah, he's a good jazz player. He's a good pianist.

MOT: When and where were you born?

I was born in Montreal in 1966, 19th of April.

MOT: Did you learn both English and French from the start?

I was raised in French, went to school in French. I learned English with my friends on the street, and by working in the West Island of Montreal as a sales person. The West Island, what we call the West Island, is like the west-end part of the island of Montreal, and that's mostly English-speaking over there. So by working there for about 10 years, that's when I got to be more fluent.

MOT: What were your musical influences growing up?

Well, I listened to mostly pop-rock that was going around in the mid-80s; that's what I remember the most. I listened a lot to Bryan Adams, Honeymoon Suite, Loverboy, and that sort of music. That's actually when I started singing in rock bands as well. At the time, music from Yes was a bit complicated for me (laughs). I didn't understand all of it.

MOT: When you first started singing in rock bands about how old were you?

I was about 15 years old.

MOT: And it sounds like you were exposed to Yes, but you hadn't yet taken a liking to them.

Well, I found it was just too [many] things going on. I couldn't grasp it, if you know what I mean. It was just too much (laughs). That's all I can say.

MOT: How were you exposed to Yes? How did you first find out about them?

I knew some songs from Yes, because I listened to CHOM, the rock station here in Montreal, to which I was listening to a bit earlier today. So I knew some songs that I liked…I'm thinking of say, "Roundabout" and "All Good People" and those songs, that's fine. I heard that on the radio all the time. A couple of my buddy friends had records, and they listened to it a lot, that and Genesis and that sort of music, and I wasn't much into that. What happened is a bit later on when I was in my early 20s, I'd always been singing in a rock band, touring, in bars, and there was a guy I used to play with, he's a bass player, and he always said to me, "You have the voice to sing Yes; you can sing Jon Anderson." And many, many years later --1994 --I was approached by a guitar player Philippe Charmettant, who's the guitar player for our tribute band Close to the Edge, and I got a call from this guy saying, "I've been told you have the voice for that. Would you be interested in a tribute band? Would you like to do an audition for that?" So I went there, did "Roundabout", and that's when he gave me more stuff to listen to: CLOSE TO THE EDGE album and different other things, and at that time, I had played more music, and I really found something there. "Wow, that's amazing music". That's when it happened for me, in 1994.

MOT: And that was Gaia, right?

Yes, yes it was.

MOT: Hearing you speak, you have certain inflections that Jon also has, so I can see where your vocals would lend itself to Yes music. I've heard some of work with Mystery's BENEATH THE VEIL OF WINTER'S FACE, and on that recording, your voice doesn't sound like it does on what I've heard of you doing the Yes songs with Close to the Edge. Is that deliberate, or is it just a by-product of the style that you're singing in?

Well, there's only one way to sing Yes is the way you sing Yes; that's the way it goes. I don't see myself doing this any other way. Yes is music that doesn't need--that's my impression--that doesn't need much room for interpretation; it's all there. That's the way it is, and it's all been thought of, and it sounds good just the way it does. Mystery's material is different; it wasn't made by anybody else before, so my inspiration was…well, that's how it came to me to do it that way, so it's a very different approach for me.

MOT: Overall do you find that you can sing Yes songs the way they were recorded, or do you find you sometimes have to make adjustments?

Well, I certainly have to adjust to a certain point. It's not a hard thing to do; what is a bit hard sometimes [is] it's on the high end. It's always high-pitched voice, which sometimes it's not that easy to stay focused in that way, but it feels so good to sing that. When I listen to Jon singing, it's like I'm hearing an angel, and when I sing that, I feel like an angel. It's just what it does; it hits the spot.

MOT: Are you familiar with Trevor Horn's work on DRAMA?

I have listened to some of the pieces on DRAMA, and that's a great album. I wasn't familiar with it; I listened to it when Chris mentioned that he'd probably want to play some songs from that album, and I was surprised how much it sounds like Yes without Jon being there. It's a great album; it sounds very, very good.

MOT: Have you heard any of the live tracks that Trevor attempted to do from Yes' catalog?

No, I haven't.

MOT: That might be something worth visiting. Your range may be different from his, but he had a really hard time singing those songs.

It's funny, because it's harder for me to sing Trevor Horn's vocals than it is for me to sing Jon's vocals, so I guess it's a question of each person's range or specific chords.

MOT: In what sense is it harder?

Well, it's just not as natural for me; let's put it this way. It's fine; I like it. It's inspiring. I find that Chris' vocals take more space on the DRAMA album - the songs that I've heard anyway, which is great, because Chris has a very, very nice voice. I love the way this guy sings. Wow.

MOT: Oh yes, he has a great voice. Many times he sings higher than Jon (laughs).

Yes, absolutely, and there's this color to it too; it's so specific. I can pinpoint this guy; just make me listen to anything and if he's there, I'll know for sure, just like Jon actually. It's very, very personal.

MOT: In singing the DRAMA songs do you think that you're going to make some changes as far as the melody lines to accommodate your own voice?

Well, I'm just not sure about that for now, Mike; until we start practicing and I start getting the guys' impressions and so forth, it could happen, but the way I always felt about the music is it's all there, though I'll just say l think we'll have to wait and see for that. I'm just not sure yet.

MOT: That makes perfect sense. One reason I ask is I didn't know if you were practicing some of those songs now and thought about that at the time, but when the time comes, I'm sure you'll know. Let's go into how you got this offer to sing with Yes. How did that come about?

Oh well, that's an amazing story. Here's the whole story. It all started when Richard, our bass player for the tribute band Close to the Edge, he's our manager and bass player in the band, and he had ordered a re-release of an album that Chris made. I don't have the details from that, but you probably know about that.


Yeah, I guess; I don't even know the name. Though he had ordered that, and the thing said well, be patient, because Scottie and me are taking care of this in our own kitchen, and it might take a while before we get back at you, but it doesn't mean that we're not taking care of you. And I think it was like in June of this year, Richard got a call from Scottie at his place here in the Laurentians, and as he was talking with Scottie on the phone, going over the order and so forth, well, Richard mentioned, "By the way, maybe you guys would like to know that we have a tribute band, a pretty good one too, and we're having a ball playing that music." So Scottie put Chris on the phone, and they had a bit of conversation together, and a couple of days after, we got an email from Chris on our website saying I watched this, and you guys are great, and this is really good, and I'm telling the other guys about it. It happened that a couple of weeks later the news came out that Jon had health problems, so another week later Chris called Richard, saying, "Would it be ok if we borrowed your singer," (laughs). Richard gave Chris my phone number, and Chris called me as I was working, and there you go. That's how it happened.

MOT: When you were working, what is your day job?

I have a little business, a mobile service, where I go to car dealerships and places where they sell and fix boats and so forth. I fix vinyls, plastics, leathers and so forth that are cracked or [have] cigarette burns and things like that, so I go with my truck and my materials and I go to those boats and cars and so forth and do those repairs on them. When Chris called me, I was actually on the St. Lawrence River on a boat, and I was fixing some seats on there at the time. I was so surprised that I remember saying, "Let me look around for a camera here, because I think somebody is playing a joke on me or something. I can't believe this (laughs)." Yeah, that's what I was doing at the time.

MOT: Essentially you own your own business, so it's not a big deal for you to take a little hiatus then?

Well, to be honest with you, it is, because I've been working a while to make that work. I'm the only employee, so I'm self-employed, but I don't have employees, so it meant for me to put aside the business, and I don't know how long this adventure is going to last, but obviously it's not going to be the same way when I go back. I'm going to have to rebuild it again, but that's another thing. But yes, it's probably more simple than to have to go to your boss and say I have to go away for a while. I just had to put the business aside for a while.

MOT: Was it pretty much a no-brainer or did you kind of think long and hard about taking this gig?

Well, I wouldn't say long and hard, but I had some thinking to do. I'm a family man – father of two boys, 12 and 14, that need me around, and this business that I've been working on for a while, and I had to think about it. But I mean I don't think that I really had to think about it, because my decision was already taken, emotionally I knew I wanted to do this, but I really had to make my reason…I had to talk myself into it to make my more reasonable part of me, to make it more comfortable with it.

MOT:  Are you prepared to be away from home for a long time, if this does go on to be, say, a world tour and you're still with the band at that time?

BD: I'm prepared to have a lot of fun, and I'm prepared to work hard, and I'm prepared to do this for as long as it's going to work. This is what I'm prepared to do.

MOT: Which songs from the set list are you most excited about singing?

BD: Well, there's a lot of songs that I like a lot. I like to sing "And You and I" a whole lot; this has got to be my favorite one. "Heart of the Sunrise"; I love that song, and a bunch of others. They are all great songs.

MOT: I was referring specifically to any proposed songs that are currently on the set list. Are those two on the set list?

Well, the set list [is] not that clear, to be honest with you. There's song that I didn't know per se, that I'm starting to work on that I liked a lot. "Machine Messiah" is a great, great song from the DRAMA album; that's great music. Otherwise the other songs I already know. There's some songs from 90125 there that I'm very excited to be able to sing, because that's an album that I listened to a lot. It was released in '83, and that's when I really…because I was born in '66, right, so I was 18. That's when I was starting to be a bit more aware of what's going on, those were good years for me, so that was an album that I listened to a lot, so those songs are going to be nice.

MOT: It sounds like you're saying that 90125 was your gateway to Yes' back catalog.

Yes, pretty much, yeah. It's funny because when I was approached to actually sing for the tribute band, well, that's all I had in mind: "Owner of a Lonely Heart", "Changes" and those songs; that's the album I knew about. But when I started to listen to the other stuff, wow, I had no clue, I just had no clue. They did so many songs, so many albums; that's a great band.

MOT: Which albums of the back catalog did you first take a liking to after you revisited them many years later; in other words, you didn't care for them when you first heard them back as you were growing up, but when you were exposed to 90125 and then you were asked to join this tribute band, which album did you find that you grasped onto the most?

Well, CLOSE TO THE EDGE. That album is…wow, it's a masterpiece. That one I was very, very impressed with, and the fact that there's only three songs on the album (laughs). It was something. Yeah, that album I found very, very impressive.

MOT: Yeah, I like to say three "compositions"; "a song" kind of doesn't capture what it is.

You're right. Yeah, it's true. I like to think of Yes music, well those pieces anyway more like you would think of classical music, different movements and songs that go into different moods, and there's a whole album in every song, or in every composition (laughs).

MOT: Do you like the more extended pieces like on TALES FROM TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS?

Yes…probably the song that I enjoy the most listening to now is "The Revealing Science of God"; that's one great piece, and I listen a lot to the live version from KEYS TO ASCENSION back in '96--wow, so well done.

MOT: It sounded like from what you said earlier you if you had one song to choose to sing it would be "And You and I", did I get that right?

Actually no. I would probably ask to do now is "The Revealing Science of God" (both laugh). "And You and I", I sing that one a lot; I love it, but if I got to choose a song, I would probably go for something else. Right now, that's my feeling right now.

MOT: Is it a relief having Oliver [Wakeman] as a fellow new guy to help lessen the stress?

It is. Yes, it is. The fact that we're going to be two of us being the new guys; yes, it's a bit comforting, even though the other guys after talking with them, seem to be very nice people, but I think that we're kind of sharing this. Being the only new guy on there would be a bit more pressure, yeah. I like [sharing this with Oliver].

MOT: Have you ever been outside of Canada?

I have. I've been to the East Coast of the States, northern part on vacation, but that's about it.

MOT: If you do end up going somewhere outside of North America, what city and country are most excited about possibly visiting?

BD: Well, definitely Europe. Europe is a big country now; I don't have to say any country in particular.

MOT: Well, Europe is a continent; there are many countries within Europe.

(laughs) They'll have the same money in all, so it's one big country (both laugh).

MOT: But is there one particular city that would excite you to go visit?

I'm tossed between London and Paris--one of the two or both (laughs).

MOT: Well, chances are if you get over there, you'll be in both places anyway.

Right, looking forward to that. Hopefully I'll have a bit of time to look around.

MOT: What other types of music do you listen to?

I listen to rock, mostly what I do, a bit of jazz, a bit of everything actually, but I enjoy rock, and I enjoy some progressive rock, especially because of the fact that I was put into it by playing the music. To get into that music, by playing that, makes me more interested by anything that is in the same style, and I don't enjoy as much anymore music that is too simple because of that. Rock, progressive rock, is really what I prefer to listen to.

MOT: Can you name any artists--just one or two?

I'm not much into the newer stuff; I'm not too aware of the newer talents. I listen to a lot of Yes music; I've listened to some Genesis, the older stuff. What do I listen to? I'm not a guy who carries 100 CDs in my car and listens to music all the time. I like to listen to the silence a lot. I pick up my good old records and listen to that; I like to listen to Queen, I like to listen to Rush, that sort of thing.

MOT: I was going to ask about Rush, your being a Canadian and liking progressive music.

I mean, aren't they great? There was a song playing on the radio just a bit earlier today…wow.

MOT: You didn't see their SNAKES AND ARROWS tour, did you?

I didn't.

MOT: Oh, it was phenomenal.

Yeah, our son, he goes to all their shows. He's crazy about them. They're so talented.

MOT: Do you play an instrument?

I don't. I play a little bit of acoustic guitar just to make a bit of noise on a few songs, but that's about it. I don't have a talent for that (laughs).

MOT: And you never had any real vocal training, right? It just came naturally?

Pretty much. I got some help at a few times just to help to not to ruin my voice, basically that was the objective, but, no, I wasn't trained in a classical way or anything like that. It came pretty natural.

MOT: What would you like to say to Yes fans out there through this conversation?

What I would like to say to them is I'm not Jon Anderson. I can't take Jon's place and do that. I'm fortunate enough that the members of the band thought that I could do a good job singing those songs, but I won't be replacing Jon Anderson. I'm just going to do my best to sing those pieces in the best way that I can so the public can have a good time listening to them. That's what I want to say. I go there very simply, because I was asked, and that's it. I don't want to take too much space in that process.

Notes From the Edge #309

The entire contents of this interview are
Copyright © 2008 Mike Tiano

All images © 2008 Robin Kauffman

Special thanks to Jen Gaudette
This conversation was conducted on September 19, 2008

© 2008 Notes From the Edge