Notes From the Edge
Conversation with
Billy Sherwood

from nfte #195


Source: Robin Kauffman

MOT: There have been a really wide variety of opinions of OPEN YOUR EYES. Some people tend to think it was originally a Chris Squire Experiment album that metamorphosed into a Yes album.

BS: I know, it's funny when really the only song that had anything to do with it was "Wish I Knew" which is now "Open Your Eyes", and for some reason that myth is there; I don't how or why but the reality is that, that song in itself was from the Squire Experiment, and everything after that was written right after KEYS 2 was done, and that's when it all started. And we actually had a lot of the OPEN YOUR EYES album in the works and going and right, in kind of what I would say, two-thirds into the project the A&R guy came in and went, "Wait a minute, you know, I heard this song from Chris' solo thing, maybe we can rework this in." And we thought, OK, let's look at that and we cut it. So that's kind of that, there is that concept that it's the Chris Squire solo album, I don't know where or why but it's what it is. It really isn't, though. I mean in a sense it started through that because I worked with Chris and I was comfortable enough to go, "Hey, here's some tunes," but once KEYS 2 was finished and I'd worked with everybody, but that time Steve and I had gone through the motions of mixing KEYS 1 together and knowing each other, then doing KEYS 2 and basically living in the studio together for six weeks, by the end of that I was comfortable enough to start throwing songs around to the other guys too, because it wasn't as intimidating, if you will. So I started throwing tapes to Jon in Hawaii, and tapes to Steve in England, "Wonderlove", "Love Shine", "New State of Mind", "Universal Garden" in their infancy stages and you know it all kind of came together through the mail initially, and then once we started all getting excited about it, I said, well, let's do this proper and that's kind of how it came about. So which you can tell it wasn't really like we took the Squire Experiment because those songs are still there; actually Chris and I were talking about that last night, what are we going to do with that stuff? Because there's still like ten, eleven tunes sitting there. So that's kind of the deal.

MOT: People want to hear those songs too.

BS: Yeah, well we're trying to figure out a way to get it out there without derailing what we're trying to do here, obviously.

MOT: It seems like you do want to get it out soon, those songs were written a while ago...

BS: Long time, long time ago.

MOT: "Say Goodbye"...

BS: "Say Goodbye" wasn't really slated for that because I wanted to get it out there so bad I put it on my second World Trade album because I always thought it was a great song, and I frustrated that it wasn't getting out there, good, bad or indifferent, I wanted to get it out. There's another song called "Watching the World" and I decided to put it on that album too. Those were written about 1990, '91. So they are getting older but I think that they're still good, when you put them on they could have been written yesterday, in theory.

MOT: Music is timeless--look at "Mind Drive", from KEYS TO ASCENSION 2, which of course you were instrumental in as well--people may associate you just with OPEN YOUR EYES, but I know from first hand experience you were right in there--

BS: [Laughs] You were in the trenches! [Laughs]

MOT: --you were a big component, you weren't the engineer twiddling the knobs, you had some real creative say so.

BS: Yeah, we had a good time making it too, and it's a different kind of record, obviously, than OPEN YOUR EYES but I think that's kind of cool because, I mean, this band tends to go in so many ways, and for me it's all good. I know there's factions of the fan base that are kind of divided between this Rabin era and the Howe era, and for me, just as a musician and being a fan of the band, I'd put it all in the catalog and have copies of everything in triplicate.

MOT: Reason I brought up KTA2 was because we were talking about music being timeless, and you look at "Mind Drive" which probably in my opinion is one of the best Yes songs in years--

BS: Yeah, it's a good song.

MOT: --one of the best Yes songs in years, but the main part in 7/8 comes from something Chris and Alan did with Jimmy Page in the early 80s.

BS: Yeah. Well a good idea I think is going to hang on your mind until you finish it. And then once it's finished, until it's released to the public as far as I'm concerned, there's no date on when it was written. Unless you wrote "My Sharona" and you know that that's when you did it and that's that. But other than that I think that with Yes, anyway, everything is timeless, Even "Close to the Edge" sounds like it could have been written yesterday.

MOT: I'm interested in basically how you met up with Chris, how you started collaborating, and how your relationship kind of evolved.

BS: We met in 1988, '89, around there, and I had a band World Trade, and it had its kind of Yesisms about it, and Derek Shulman, who was the lead singer of Gentle Giant who signed our band World Trade was A&Ring Yes over on Atco and said to Chris, "Maybe you should meet this guy, because you might like this stuff," and Chris heard it and dug it, and we ended up meeting each other and I asked him to sing on the record, he sang on one song, and from that meeting we just evolved a friendship and a musical relationship with each other over the years that's blossomed into what we have here. The first song we wrote together was "The More We Live", which I think is a real special kind of sounding song, and I knew then that if that was the first thing we did then there could be some other things that could be really good if we kind of just kept working together, and that's kind of what we did, I mean, we like each other and people, started hanging out together, two bass players...

MOT: It comes naturally, you can't force that type of thing.

BS: Very natural. He's a Pieces, I'm a Pieces, and it's one of those things I guess, I don't know [laughs], we just seem to hang out together a lot. And the other guys I met through Chris, really, I mean Alan, all of these guys, Yes was my favorite band ever, so to me Chris first, was, OK, cool, this is great, you know. And then to meet Alan, and I play drums too, and he was my favorite drummer, and Steve has been one of my favorite guitar players, Trevor as well...

MOT: So how old were you when you discovered Yes? And what did you discover at the time?

BS: I was about 6 or 7 I think [laughs]?

MOT: That young? Were you a post ['70s] Yes fan? And how old are you?

BS: I'm 32. I have an older brother Michael and he's five years older than I was so when he was 13 he was digging it--I guess I was maybe 7 or 8, in '72, '73, yeah. It was weird because when I first started getting into music I was totally into R&B, it was really the first thing that I remember really enjoying: the Ohio Players and Earth Wind and Fire, that was it, you know. The grooves were really cool and I could get into the melodies and stuff. And then as I started getting a little older quicker I heard CLOSE TO THE EDGE and just thought, wow, this is definitely something that's really interesting, because you can put on any album and it didn't quite work that way [laughs], and CLOSE TO THE EDGE was one of those records. From that point on I was just diehard, to the point where it took me years to buy anyone else's records because I was so dedicated to just listening to Yes', people would say, "Well, have you heard Pink Floyd?" "No! Not interested right now," if you know what I mean. So as I became older then I started to listening to other stuff but Yes was like the first imprint and it's just been in me ever since. It influenced me in ways that I thought at the time, when I made the first record I had a band with my brother, Logic, on A&M, and there were Yes influences in there and when the album came out people said, this sounds a bit like Yes, and I thought, oh; people were telling me this is a bad thing, you shouldn't do this, you have to create your own thing. And I would say but this *is* my thing, it just happens to kind of sound like Yes, I mean it's not CLOSE TO THE EDGE, it doesn't sound anything like it, the influence was there. So after that band broke up and World Trade came together I wasn't as afraid to sound the way I sounded which ended up sounding a bit Yes-like, and that album is the one where Chris and I got together and met off of. So it definitely has influenced my whole musical structure. My parents are musicians as well, my dad was a big band leader, and my MOT:her was a singer and taught me to play drums, she was a drummer, and my brother's a great piano player. So music's always been around as a mainstay in life, and Yes just seemed to be like the natural thing to listen to coming out of all that.

MOT: Of course you realize that you have some really strong instrumentalists here, some really strong musical personalities, and suddenly you're coming into this. How do you see your role in Yes in relation to the other band members?

BS: I want to take this thing into 2000 with guns blazing, and I guess that's my MOT:ivation to do it. Musically it's--people can hear it on OPEN YOUR EYES, what I've got to bring to the table along with the KEYS 2 production stuff, but OPEN YOUR EYES is more the songwriter side of it, and in the touring sense that we're in now, because we were finishing OPEN YOUR EYES, when we were finishing that, I was actually mixing the album as we were starting to rehearse. I missed the first like, five, six days, so the tour that's been put together was really kind of in place, and a lot of what I'm doing is rhythm guitar oriented stuff, except in a couple of instances we built in a few areas, "Owner" solo, "Rhythm of Love" solo, and I do a thing were Steve and I kind of trade at the end of "Starship Trooper", which is really fun. But right now I'm just sort of integrating into the band without traipsing on it just because, you know, "I should be doing more", that's not the right attitude, and I respect the music enough to know it. For me I go back and research the albums and pick out the parts that were never covered live, I've seen the band enough to know the parts that weren't covered live, and that's how I approached my input into the TALK tour, and that's kind of the philosophy I'm using here too, especially because it's a two guitar player thing now and it really hasn't ever been. But I think it's interesting to push the envelope a little bit farther for Yes to keep going.

MOT: A lot of these songs may have had two guitar parts in the studio but now you actually get to hear both those parts. But what about those songs where there isn't a second guitar part, how do you approach that? If that's not too abstract a question...

BS: No...having produced a lot of records with a lot of various great musicians, a lot of times finding a cool part that might be a simple part, but it's a cool part, can add. That's what I'm trying to look for in those moments where I think, gee, what should I do here. And then there are those other moments where it's like, "You know what--even a cool part doesn't really need to be in here". So I'll just take an eight bar rest, or whatever it is, however long it is. But on the areas where the part wasn't invented I try to add something that I would have thought could have worked had I been there when they were doing it [laughs]. And you know, if no one's turning around, going, "What are you doing?" then I think we're headed in the right direction.

MOT: Hopefully you're doing, though, what you think is right...you want to be as faithful as possible, you don't want to come out right out of left field, but you can get a little creative...

BS: Yeah, I rely on my own instincts to know because I am a Yes fan as well as being in the band. I kind of monitor my own, like, ok, this is not it, this is out of the parameters. And I hope that that does translate to the other Yes fans, I'm assuming because I was out there going, 'yeah yeah yeah!' first since '73 that I'm thinking the same way that they are, so I hope it's working. It feels like it's working. to us it does anyway [laughs].

MOT: Yeah, it's sounding really good, you guys are tight. What's interesting is the tour really mainly consists of classics and not much from OPEN YOUR EYES...

BS: Not at this point...

MOT: ...only one song...it's almost sending mixed messages. What do you think about that?

BS: I think the problem is like I was saying, because I was mixing while the band was rehearsing that tells you how close the timeline was from the actual, like, bottle of wine being opened to the drinking of it, it really hasn't had the time to breath and soak in yet because it was such a mad rush to get the band on the road, then once we were on the road it's like, well, here we are, the album's out, has anyone heard it? [Laughs] So we were kind of listening to it now going, we should play "Universal Garden", we should play "The Solution". So we're going to be taking a bit of a break here and I think when we come back in the next go round we're going to have a lot more to do with that as well, the European [tour] and there's the summer shed kind of thing, I would think by then we're going to be wanting to do it because we know it and we know it's good and we want to do it.

MOT: How's the album doing at this point?

BS: It's actually doing very well. For the first couple of weeks it's doing very well. It's sold more units than they expected, a lot more than they expected, which is good, and it's number 12 right now on some record report chart for classic rock radio. So it's in the eye more than Yes has been in a while which is, I guess if I'm tying to do anything here, I'm trying to do that too, a bit, which is bring it back into the forefront again and make it, hey, this band is a classic band and should be given its due.

MOT: At the same time you do want to push forward...we do want to keep hearing new stuff.

BS: You do. I think the one interesting thing though is that, Steve hasn't been in it in a long time and now that it's up and running and touring I think it's refreshing to see these parts played by Steve, and there is so much to draw from that I think it does add a newness to the music even though it is the classic stuff. But as you say new music is always exciting to play and I think at the end of the day that will keep the thing inspiring and wanting to move forward.

MOT: You're going to be doing a lot of touring over the next few months. Is there any discussion of studio time and doing some more recording in the interim, or is that like late '98 at the soonest?

BS: I'll tell you man, it's like after KEYS 1, and then right into KEYS 2, and then right into OPEN YOUR EYES I think it's kind of good that the band is out there just playing, away from the studio anyway for a minute, but we're always talking about writing and stuff, but no one's running back right now. Because we're digging the fact that there's an album's that's out and going a little bit here, the tour's going and there's talk of touring next year [1998] for a long, long time. So it will almost make that process pull as opposed to, "see ya at the studio again..." [Laughs]

MOT: That's good because in the last few years Yes' performances have been very sporadic. The TALK tour was the last large scale tour, for what it's worth, and it really didn't do that well...or am I correct there? That was the scuttlebutt out there but I didn't go to all the shows, I didn't see the crowds...

BS: It's kind of weird. I thought it was cool. I read a lot of stuff online about how uncool it was. But I don't know. I thought it was a very cool tour, and from my perspective it looked pretty sold. I don't know if the band's head space was as a unit as functioning as it might be now, and maybe that's why it was sort of perceived to be not as good of a time, I don't know...

MOT: I think also part of the perception is that that version of Yes had run its course, that basically Trevor Rabin pretty much ran the show and Yes was more a collaborative type of band. Of course one big component of that to a lot of fans is Steve Howe. Without Steve a lot Yes fans aren't interested.

BS: That's that thing about those two sides too, which is really weird because when I first got into Yes CLOSE TO THE EDGE was it. But as I was getting older and BIG GENERATOR came out and Steve wasn't in it, BIG GENERATOR lived in my radio for a year. So there's definitely a divisionist thing there. I don't know if it's really the healthiest thing for the Yes unit, or the fans even because if we put it all together this thing we could what we want from this side [laughs], you know what I mean? So it's strange how that is like that because I don't know of any other band where it's like that. When I think about Pink Floyd, I love the fact that Roger [Waters] was there but I also dug Sid [Barrett] in the early days and you know what I mean? Once you get into that, you start looking at that, but Yes has this kind of like, hmmm, if it's not this guy, it's this and if it's not that guy it's this, and it really is the spirit of Yes carrying on that is really important. I mean, DRAMA is a perfect example of a really kind of trippy album for Yes, but at the same time I was glad it came out rather than it didn't, because I was wanting a Yes record. Obviously without Jon it wasn't what we know Yes is, but still the idea, it was moving forward.

MOT: I tend to think that that's probably the exception, not the rule. We don't have a chance to know because that particular incarnation of the band never evolved beyond that one album. But do you think that basically you might be, in a good sense, stirring up the hornet's nest, stirring things up a little bit? Because rather than have everyone fall into their basic patterns, you're forcing a new perspective?

BS: Yeah, I think the new perspective is the right thing, but I think that it's good, because I think that this band could appeal to a whole other generation of kids who could jump on from this different angle of looking at it, and then get into the past and go, wait a minute, there's a gold mine of stuff here. I think that in 1997 heading into 2000, let's face it, we've got to try make Yes grab a generation that can carry into 2000, because how long are we going to be here [laughs]? It'd be nice that this thing could go on, I mean, Yes could be a multi-generational thing, the first of its kind ever, really, because it's an idea.

MOT: I guess that depends on how the members change and how the band itself evolves. Because I agree with you to some extent but on the other hand it's like without Jon Anderson it's not Yes, although as you say DRAMA is a perfect example of what could happen. So it would depend on the band itself and how that particular version of the band evolved.

BS: Yeah. I mean obviously the musicality would have to be maintained, that's the core of the whole thing.

MOT: So at this point you're looking towards performing and not thinking About the next release at all.

BS: No, the next album, album? Not at the moment, which I don't mind. I was in the studio making the OPEN YOUR EYES record for probably six weeks straight, then going straight into this and stuff, so the break would be kind of cool.

MOT: Formulating any ideas, though, in the hotel room, in those quiet moments...?

BS: No, I'm always kind of more apt to get into songwriting by just really like being in my studio and sitting there with all my toys that you've seen, just kind of starting to mess around. Every now and then I'll get some ideas out here messing around at sound checks and stuff but I tend to fall into the moment better by just getting into the vibe, sitting there with tapes, I'll usually put on a tape that that runs for two hours and just sit there and play for a few hours, until I've got something that's like, "This is kind of cool, let's check this out." That's like the "New State of Mind" riff, the intro bit, the main deal, it was just messing around and fell into that progression and went, "Wait a minute, this is kind of cool." So it happens in a weird way but I don't really feel like I'm ever at a loss for it but I don't really push it either, you know what I'm saying? Chances are if I took a guitar to my room right now I'd end up watching TV. But in the studio where you've got everything, and the delay is on, and the lights are down, you go, this is cool and you start...

MOT: The studio is really your spawning ground of ideas.

BS: For me anyway. It has been for years. Obviously now that this has evolved into being this for the next album who knows, we probably all will be in the same place obviously as a unit doing it, that's what we're talking about. Not putting any dates on when we're going to do, it but that's the concept. And I've don't that before in other bands and that's easy too, but as a rule I usually don't mess around on the road. I know Steve takes a guitar with him everywhere he goes, up to the room and stuff, and I've been tempted because it looks like fun until I do it one night, and I go wellll, let me leave this in the case [laughs].

MOT: Steve's a special case though; let's face it, Steve is Mr. Guitar, he eats, sleeps guitars.

BS: Yeah, he's got to have that thing with him. If I have free time I'm usually playing the new "Star Wars" game on my computer, "Return of the Jedi" or something, Jedi knight...[laughs]

MOT: I'm sure you've heard the concept that your being in the band represents in people's minds the Trevor Rabin era, and with Steve from the classic era that this is a bringing together of the two. Do you think there's validity in that, or do you think it's kind of hackneyed?

BS: I don't mind it if that's how they need to perceive it because what can I do to change these perspectives, you know [laughs]? And I guess people are wondering what I'm really even doing here at times. I mean, we know, so if we know then I think we're all right. I mean, if I looked around at the band and they were all looking at me like, "What are you really doing here?" I would know and say, "I gotta go!" [Laughs]. But apparently I'm here and I was asked to be here so there's something going on, and maybe people are tripped that it's a six piece kind of looking thing for the first time ever, so they're thinking, well, ok, they've got to be representing the Rabin guy then. Which I don't mind because Trevor's a fantastic musician, it's better to be compared to a great musician than someone who's not [laughs]! But I'm not coming in trying to be Trevor but at the same time I try to pay respect to his solos, and his melodies that he implanted as Trevor did when Steve wasn't there and he played "And You and I" and he plays the melodies there. Yes music has to be kind of maintained that way. But as far as coming out and trying to be Trevor to bridge the two worlds, that's not really the MOT:ivation. I am trying to bridge the two worlds but not by being kind of a Rabin clone, I'm trying to just be who I am. People don't see it live yet because we're not really playing the new album; if we were playing "Universal Garden" and I Steve and I did in the studio what we were doing and also on "Wonderlove" and these other tunes where we kind of got stuff going on between the two of us, and we go, "Oh I see what's going on here," but because we're not playing it and the new guy's back there playing the classic stuff it might look a little confusing. But we are assured of what we are. We know what we're gonna do so we're not pushing it and I think that like I said as long as they're not looking at me going "What are you doing here?" then there is a reason.

MOT: I like a lot of the songs on OPEN YOUR EYES but I do have to admit though that, like, "Universal Garden," a couple of songs like that I wanted to be a little more expansive...

BS: Length...

MOT: Not length, but it's almost opening up at one point and it ends too soon for me. It's not so much I want it to be long but it seems like it could have evolved into something much bigger. Would you think about doing that type of thing on stage?

BS: Mmmm....I think that once we play the version that's on the album and we know what we're playing then we can start extending stuff, we'll probably end up doing that, yeah. We already talked about that on a couple of things. But like I said this is a different kind of Yes record where you'd want that but it takes a left turn, otherwise that would have been what you expected and then we'd have done that! [Laughs]

MOT: Yes is always about changing expectations.

BS: Taking turns, yeah, the whole time we were making it we were thinking, well, this will be different, and I kept saying, you know, there's nothing wrong with different, different is good, different can lead to different things. I mean what would have happened if they would've not kind of approached it that way back then in thinking, "Well. we got to do something else," then you wouldn't have had what they got. So there are those moments where you get those feelings of , God, there's got to be a song on there that's at least eight minutes long, or it's not Yes! But the reality is, not necessarily, you know what I mean?

MOT: Look at GOING FOR THE ONE for example...

BS: Yeah, it can be different and it's not like the end all Yes album where it's, OK, now it's over, we did, and thank you, that is how we're leaving you, it's just another album of the 32 albums that there are. So I think it's cool to paint with a different color every now and then, even when you expect it to go where you're thinking it's like, go that way...[laughs]

MOT: This is just the beginning, too, who knows what's going to happen in the future.

BS: And it came about the way we were writing, it wasn't like we all went in a room and did "Universal Garden", "OK, let's try it." So the arrangements that were laid out weren't even thought of as like this is going to be a Yes arrangement, it was this is on tape and it's a pretty cool idea, does anybody have any color they want to throw on it, and before you knew it it was jammed up but it was still the same skeleton that it was when it started, mostly because no one ever really said, "Hey, you know what, this isn't the right skeleton, this should be like this," we were all going, yeah, this feels good, let's just get going with this. I go the other way even when producing with other bands, other people; "We've got to do this because we did it last time," I'd say hang on a second, no we don't. I made that Paul Rodgers Muddy Waters tribute, and the whole time we were doing it everyone was saying, you're doing this all wrong, because it was Jason Bonham just slamming, Pino Paladino playing all this wild bass stuff, and Jeff Beck, and just breaking these traditional Muddy Waters roots and tripping them out, and people were saying, "You're doing this wrong, you're doing this wrong..." well, it was nominated for a Grammy! And the whole time we were making it Paul and I were going, let's just keep pushing the envelope; yeah, Slash, yeah, perfect, go!

MOT: Wrong meaning it wasn't traditional.

BS: Yeah, exactly. You're doing this all wrong, you should be using...

MOT: ...stock parts...

BS: Exactly, "You should be using like that with this," and it was more like, no, this is something different. Are we having fun? Yeah. Paul, are you digging it? Yeah. OK, let's keep going! And by doing that you end up with something that you really kind of believe in, and I think that's where it starts. If you don't really believe in it then I don't think anyone else is going to believe it in either. And it was funny because it was a Grammy nominated album and I remember thinking that day when I saw it, it was like, hm, it wasn't all *that* wrong, [laughs] it didn't win but it was in the category, it was good enough for me to just go, ok, craziness can pay off.

MOT: One of my favorite songs on OPEN YOUR EYES is "Fortune Seller".

BS: The three part vocal thing is very good, yeah, I like that one. Steve's got a really cool guitar tone on there, got the Wes [Montgomery] kind of thing going on, and Igor's got a solo on there, that's one of the ones he got on there.

MOT: Explain the closing line ["1-800"].

BS: I watch a lot of TV in the studio and in Los Angeles everything is these psychic lines, so it's always 1-800 call this, 1-800 call that. So when the song cut I thought, we've got to do something about whether is this bull, or is it not, do these guys know something I don't? Or if I call am I being duped? So it's kind of like going between the two worlds lyrically about, you sort of know your own way but maybe may or maybe they don't so at the very end it says "1-800". It was also I was trying to metaphor the, "Can we really count to 100," so I put I numbers in there [laughs]. And it was a reference literally to 1-800-you-pick-it, you are them. Yeah, that's what that tune's about, I like that song. It was "Fortune Teller", and then Jon came in and went, "No, man, it's 'Fortune Seller'," and it was like, ah, that's even better, so we changed that.

MOT: Again putting a little different spin on it.

BS: ...spin on it, yeah, definitely.

MOT: "The Solution" is one of those that in the PR gets singled out as representing Yes' more mystic, mysterious side.

BS: I think it's probably because of those verses that are kind of spacey and Jon doing his bit in there, and then the title being very positive, you can be in charge of your own thing, you are the solution. So maybe they pick up on that. But it's the one thing I really do like lyrically about the album is it's very uplifting, gives you a good, like, "Yeah, I can deal with this life." In a world where a lot of the lyrics are very dark...all of them really, there's nothing that's really on there that's dark and negative, and I always got that feeling from Yes music when I was a kid, listening to GOING FOR THE ONE, that was like my MOT:to, go for it. So I think it's kind of cool to have a record where it's really spelling it out, you're in charge of your own destiny.

MOT: Although Yes does go dark sometimes. It was kind of jarring to hear "That, That Is" at first because lyrically it's very, very harsh.

BS: Yeah, Jon definitely took a dark thing on there...well, realist, almost, which is dark. Let's face it. "Gates of Delirium" gets kind of dark.

MOT: Especially the middle section, the battle, with the flames...did you see that [the RELAYER] tour?

BS: No, I didn't, I missed that one...my brother saw it and told me I blew it, years later.

MOT: What do you think of the crowd's reaction to the gigs, do you think it's generally pretty good?

BS: Yeah, I think it's very good. It's a more intimate thing because they're really upon you, they're right there so you can definitely tell if they're grooving or not and they're all kind of going nutty.

MOT: Are you amazed by all these people who fly from afar?

BS: I saw two people who were in Japan at every gig and now they're here tonight, so that's a devoted fan. I was a diehard--I wouldn't go [as far away as] Japan to see Yes...[laughs] I think it's good that Yes is out there and touring and visible, and the more that can happen the better.

MOT: That's probably the big thing that's going to do it for Yes because let's face it, over the last few years there hasn't been one consistent version of Yes that's been out there actually playing, and that's what Yes is all about, not just great songwriting but the actual playing of those songs.

BS: Yeah, there's a charge that happens from the live thing and the classic lineup was together for KEYS, you know, but obviously--

MOT: It wasn't meant to be.

BS: --you know what I mean? And as much as we all as Yes fans want what we want, sometimes in life you've got to realize that what you want it to have been is not going to be again and that's why moving forward and taking it onto another level, it is good, and the fact that it is touring and it's going to continue to tour and we will make another album as they'll see, we're really acting like a band should. And that's what I've always said to these guys, you guys are a band, let's act like a band? What do you want to do? [Laughs]

MOT: And Yes is really in the same league as the Grateful Dead in terms of how fans relate to them--

BS: Oh yeah!

MOT: --and in terms of how it could evolve, how the fan base could grow, but the band's got to be out there playing for that to happen. Changing the songs that you play--I don't mean from night to night, but when you go back out, if you're playing different songs it gets people excited.

BS: Exactly, It keeps the band fresh too. There's got to be a challenge there.

MOT: Obviously you can't drop "Roundabout", or "All Good People"...

BS: There's classics that you have to play...it's hard to lose "Owner" too because it was a huge, huge hit for the band...

MOT: And on a different level "And You and I"...I mean I'd hate to see a tour without "And You and I"...[laughs]

BS: I know... it's tough because there's so many great songs, but that's what's good about the band, they just have that history to it.

MOT: Is there an older song that you'd particularly like to play?

BS: I wanted to play "Wonderous Stories" because I did a cover of it on the TALES [FROM YESTERDAY] record and I thought, this would be cool, because it's one of my favorites, just a classic Yes song. But I'm happy to play any and all of it really, new, old medium, I like it all. We're not touching on any of the first two albums, I suggested maybe we play "Dear Father" or something from then.

MOT: That's funny that you mention that because I had a conversation with Steve down in Los Angeles where I asked him a similar question, and he mentioned songs from TIME AND A WORD.

BS: Although that did that [song] in San Luis Obispo, because I mixed it for the album, so it has been done.

MOT: What song does more for you on OPEN YOUR EYES than any of the others, what really do you think is the greatest achievement on the album? Which song really turns you on, makes you go 'yeah!' when it comes on?

BS: I've have listened to it a couple of times now and a couple hit me different each time. But the one that kind of I just like spacing out to and listening to is "Universal Garden", it kind of takes me back to the TALES era a little bit for me anyway, and it then sort of hops into the rock mode and stuff. I like that one a lot, I think that's my most favorite. "Fortune Seller"...it goes back and forth between the two because they're trippy kind of songs...I don't know if you've heard it in headphones but you should check it out because there's all kinds of panning and cool stuff that goes around.

MOT: What's interesting is "Somehow Someday" has music from a Jon Anderson song called "Boundaries" from his second solo album ANIMATION. What's the story with that?

BS: Yeah, and it also has some from THE PROMISE RING as well. I don't know, I guess Jon's really into the Celtic vibe and we had that song sitting here at the studio and we had written "The chances are when you give the love you have", all that stuff, and we kind of didn't really have it complete. Jon sent us a copy of a piece that he wanted us to work on, and Chris came in one day and sang his melody over that piece of music on "Somehow Someday" and it's an interesting mix of timing and the feel and the Celtic thing against the rock and roll thing. It was very unexpected and it was a great idea, I think, and we sent it back to Jon, Jon dug it, said, yeah, let's go with that.

MOT: Are you saying you wrote the main crux of it and then Jon added the Celtic part?

BS: Yeah, Jon's bit is that bit, that's his song that we inserted in there, and you can really tell his influence on that. But we had a pretty good sketch of the thing beforehand.

MOT: When Jon left Yes in the late 80s to do ABWH you were rumored to have been his replacement. Can you talk a bit about this period--were you going to take over as lead vocalist?

BS: ABWH was doing their thing, and Yes was on Atco without a lead singer and there was this concept going around; I always thought it was bit crazy but a lot of different sources were pushing me to investigate it. In the process of looking into it is where those songs "The More We Live" and "Love Conquers All", and there's some other songs, "The Lonesome Trail" and "Say Goodbye", were produced from that experience. But I always had a feeling that it just wouldn't be right without Jon. I had my apprehensions about it from the word go. I think that the rumor mill kind of churned it up a bit, made more of it than it really was. I mean, I had people telling me, "Congratulations, you're the singer of Yes," while I was still in my band World Trade with a song on the radio, and I wasn't even considering it at that early stage. And then the rumors just kept going around, and around and around, and there we were kind of working in the studio and I was the singing leads while Jon wasn't there on these songs that we worked on, but I don't know if we really thought, OK, this is going to be Yes, we were just working with music at that point.

MOT: Was everyone involved at that point? Trevor, Chris--

BS: It was really Tony Kaye, myself, Chris, Alan, my friend Bruce Gowdy was helping, he cowrote a couple of other tunes that we were working on, and then Trevor was in and out and in, and it was kind of a crazy time, I don't really remember sitting down and making a conscious decision, "OK let's put a band together," I just remember working on music. Trevor ended up playing on "The More We Live" and he sang "Love Conquers All" so I guess he kind of was digging the songs enough to participate. It was a very interesting time because right after that UNION was put back together and I kind of saw that coming in the wind, so it was never really in my mind to, quote unquote, be the lead singer of Yes, no.

MOT: So those versions that ended up on UNION were the original backing tracks you recorded during these particular sessions.

BS: Yeah, "The More We Live" and "Love Conquers All" were done during that era.

MOT: The only difference on "The More We Live" is Jon came in and did vocals?

BS: Jon came in and sang the lead, yeah, and we just replaced my voice that was singing the lead with his and I think it sounds really, really good.

MOT: So it was all a lot of talk and never really god to a contractual type of stage.

BS: Oh no, no, no. A lot of people were making it a lot more than it really was [laughs] and it's kind of a myth that's been ever since.

MOT: Were the other Yes members prepared to accept you as a lead singer, or did it not even get that far?

BS: I don't think we even really took it that far. What we were doing was working on music and there was no singer around so I sang the stuff when we first started writing it, and I think maybe tapes slipped out through the grapevine and one thing led to another, and all of a sudden "Billy Sherwood's replacing Jon," which it clearly was not a case of.

MOT: You must have freaked out a little bit thinking about the prospect of singing some of those old songs...[laughs]

BS: While everyone was churning the rumor mill up I was sitting back thinking, "My God, wait a second, that's a gig that is for one man..." [laughs]

MOT: It's funny you mention "The More We Live" because that's one of the better songs from UNION, and it's a favorite among a lot of Yes fans.

BS: Yeah, I think we captured that kind of Yes vibe on there, for sure. That song is where I knew, I thought, at some point in the future I'm sure I'm going to be working more with these guys on this level, not in production but more in the songwriting capacity, and things took a natural course here.

MOT: When you were discussing possible songs to perform, did that song come up at all?

BS: No, I mean, UNION is kind of a strange record for these guys; Just looking from the outside looking in I know that it was a strange experience for them and I don't think anyone's really looking forward to getting back in there and playing any of it and no one's mentioned it, so I kind of left it alone.

MOT: Well I hope that you do pipe up and mention it if you're ever compiling a list of songs to play.

BS: Chris has mentioned it a couple of times, but...[laughs] Actually I like that song a lot, I wrote it with Chris, it's one of my favorites.

MOT: You're a bass player too. Has there been any talk of dueling basses with Chris? Apparently Chris and Steve did that in the early days.

BS: [Laughs] Did they? That's funny. Chris and I did that on the Squire Experiment thing that we did together, and it was a lot of fun, and we kind of did a double bass thing on the TALK tour; but on this tour I don't know, I'm personally wanting to just play guitar these days. That seems to be what I want to do. We flirted around with the idea of integrating some of that but I think it's cool to just have Chris doing his thing, and I'll start doing my thing on the guitar. I didn't want to be playing eight zillion instruments on stage, I thought it'd be better to just to let that one go.

MOT: Did you come from being a bass player to a guitar player, or vice versa...?

BS: I came from being a drummer to being a bass player to being a kind of keyboard-guitar thing, and then really just dove into the guitar over the last, like, ten years.

MOT: So you're proficient on all those instruments.

BS: Yeah, I can play them.

MOT: Record your own solo albums where you played all the instruments, if you wanted to do that.

BS: Yeah, if that opportunity ever came up but I like working with other people a lot, the experience of working with other musicians, you can't get that on your own, it's a different experience.

MOT: So I guess World Trade is in limbo since you're doing the Yes thing.

BS: Yeah, I'm in the band now and I'm treating it as my main thing which is really what I want to do right now. I wouldn't say it's dead, the idea lives on; I actually saw Bruce Gowdy just a little while ago, and we were hanging out and talking. Bruce is working with other musicians, he's got an album coming out, the second Unruly Child record, and he's working with all kinds of stuff doing sessions and he's got his project here in Los Angeles that he's moving around, and he's still making the calls, playing the game if you will. The idea of getting together and writing music is always intriguing with those guys cause 'cause it's cool, it's always a good time. But I think Yes is going to occupy so much time that that it's just going to be hard to focus in on anything else.


The entire contents of this interview are
Copyright 2002, Mike Tiano
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


From Notes From the Edge #195

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