from nfte #234
This interview is actually a composite made from two sessions (the first one for my "Yesstories" book and the second done on May 25, 2000). I thought it would be interesting for the readers of NFTE to hear some of the recording details from the man who co-produced the Yes albums in the main sequence.
I found Eddy to be generous with his time and insightful, frank and witty about his past with Yes. He has retired from the music business and claims that music isn't a big part of his life anymore. Eddy currently lives in Southern California with his wife. He has two children who have both graduated from college this year and spends most of his time either sailing or playing with his boat.
TIM MORSE: Let's go way back in time to Autumn, 1970 when you were about to record THE YES ALBUM. Did you know that it was a make or break time for the band? Was that pressure hanging over the recording process?
EDDY OFFORD: They had done two previous albums to that one. The first one was recorded at Advision and I had vaguely kind of seen what was going on there. I was the engineer on the second one, TIME AND A WORD and someone else was producing it. I'd known Tony Colton (producer) for a long time until that point. I liked him a lot, but I don't think he was right for Yes particularly. I think that Time and a Word was done on eight track, I believe. None of those albums ever took off, but during that time the band and I got close, even though I was just the engineer. And when they approached me to do THE YES ALBUM with them...I don't know, my mind wasn't really geared into commercialism. I didn't really think about whether they were going to be dropped or this was a make or break situation.
TM: The label wasn't giving you any pressure about that?
EO: No, Phil Carson was at Atlantic back then and he had hardly any input whatsoever.
TM: Great, that's the way it should be.
EO: It was actually quite cool.
TM: Could you give me a little physical description of Advision Studios?
EO: It was one studio and back in those days it was sixteen tracks. I think twenty-four tracks came with the next album. So it was a very outdated, very old antiquated console. Some of the faders weren't even faders - they were these big rotary parts.
TM: It sounds like something from the fifties!
EO: Yeah, pretty much, yeah.
TM: Wasn't that the way it was in England back then? Weren't they a little behind the times as far as recording gear?
EO: I guess, until Rupert Neve came out with all of his stuff it was all very experimental. It was just really simplistic. There was absolutely nothing in the way of effects, the only thing we had was an EMT echo plate, but nothing else, everything else you had to do yourself.
TM: But it inspired you to be a lot more inventive and creative though...
EO: That's exactly right. We'd spend hours coming up with new sounds, doing all kinds of stupid things.
TM: Did you keep studio logs or diaries of the sessions?
EO: They kept a diary of the sessions that were scheduled, but it was nothing detailed. Advision was an independent studio and it was a little looser compared to EMI.
TM: Do you recall how long you spent recording that album?
EO: It was quite a long time, I can't remember exactly. It had to be at least two months I think. They were extremely anxious to get every bar of music really perfect, plus some of the music wasn't pre-written. It was developed in the studio. Songs could be quite long, but they would be recorded in thirty second sections so that each section was really right on the money. It wasn't until the whole song was finished, recorded and mixed that they would then go and learn how to play it live. It was a very experimental kind of thing.
TM: Did that process start with TIME AND A WORD or THE YES ALBUM?
EO: It more started with THE YES ALBUM. Time and a Word they pretty much came in with a preconceived arrangement.
TM: Was there ever any exception to this with even the shorter, more straight-ahead songs?
EO: Any time there was a change in the music - when it would go from one feeling to another - they would then make that it an edit.
TM: Did the band ever have demos of this material or did they just steam straight into recording?
EO: They didn't really have demos. They would go into rehearsal and they would rehearse different sections and ideas, but I don't remember hearing anything on tape.
TM: Would you go to rehearsals then?
EO: Oh yeah, absolutely.
TM: What would a typical day be like in the studio?
EO: They were long sessions, very long sessions. The basic tracks were pretty much just drums and bass, maybe with a guide guitar track and probably no keyboards. Chris was extremely precise and would want every kick drum and bass note be locked in time-wise. I think eventually that drove Bill crazy! He wanted a little more freedom. But getting a minute of music might take several hours of experimentation. So the basic tracks were long, long sessions; they might start at two in the afternoon and go until two or three in the morning.
TM: Were there times when you wished they'd just get that damn bit down?
EO: There were times were it was a little frustrating, but overall it was a lot of fun. Sometimes there was a little fighting and differences of opinion. Chris and Jon used to be at odds quite a lot and sometimes I was more of a referee than I was anything else! But it was exciting, I really enjoyed it.
TM: Who was the musician that was easiest to produce?
EO: To be honest, do you know who was the quickest? It was actually Rick. They were all really good at what they did. I didn't really have any problems with any of them.
TM: Rick of course had a lot of studio experience.
EO: And a lot of classical training.
TM: Would the band put the basic tracks down for the album and then start the overdubbing process? Or would they basically finish a song, one at a time?
EO: They would pretty much do one song until it was finished. Although...did we leave all the vocals for the very end?
TM: You've mentioned how Jon would be nervous singing over these masterpieces...
EO: The poor guy, the song built up and all the overdubs went on it - it was like a big symphony/wall of music - and it was a nerve-wracking thing for him to sing on it. I'm not sure if we did all the vocals for all the songs at the end or whether we did some in the middle as we went along.
TM: What did you think of Jon's lyrics?
EO: I always loved the way Jon wrote his lyrics. The rest of the band gave him such a hard time about his lyrics. They'd all say to him, "Jon, your fucking lyrics don't make any sense at all! What is this river, mountain stuff - it's absolutely meaningless drivel!" And he'd say, "Look, when I'm writing lyrics I use words like colors. I use words for the sounding of the words, not the actual meaning." Chris especially used to tease him like hell. I mean go back and look at his lyrics, "You And I" there's a syllable missing... "And You And I"! Everyone criticizes Jon for his lack of musical training, but in fact I think that's one of his beauties. That he didn't follow set structures when he was writing, he was like "Oh, I'll just throw that there," for no apparent reason and it turned out to be good.
TM: The last time we spoke you talked about how difficult it was to do the harmonies in the studio.
EO: To be honest with you they really weren't very good singers in the beginning. They really couldn't hold a good note on those parts and it was very tedious recording the harmonies. It wasn't until they'd been on tour for about a couple years that they really started to gain confidence as singers and really started to sing in tune. They really developed from bad singers to quite good ones.
TM: In regards to the editing on the master tape you would edit the performances together and then blend them when you mixed down to two track, is that correct?
EO: Yes, you would record the first section and then I'd do a little quick mix of that to two track and then I'd feed them the section that they'd just recorded into their headphones so they'd get the tempo matched up and then they'd just count it in and record the next section and then we'd just splice it together. After it was all spliced, the keyboard and guitar overdubs would smooth out the splices.
TM: This was really the era when the recording studio was also becoming a musical instrument. There are lots of ways this is manifested on THE YES ALBUM, but one way that struck me was the endings of the songs: On "Yours Is No Disgrace", you have the endless synthesizer chromatic ascension, "Starship Trooper" has the "Hey Jude" grand build up and fade, "All Good People" has the cross fade mix to the organ that keeps modulating. How much of this sort of thing was your input - or was it a combination of you and the band?
EO: I think in some ways you have to credit the Beatles, they really plowed the way on that. In terms of our sessions I would say it was more Jon Anderson was the driving force behind that; he'd keep wanting to add and add and sometimes the band would say, "That's enough!" But it worked itself out.
TM: I'd like to mention a couple of song titles and see if it jogs anything in your memory: If I say, "Yours Is No Disgrace" what comes to mind?
EO: I remember doing those silly little panning things on the guitar, but other than that...
TM: It has a wonderful layered guitar solo, with a nylon string guitar, then a jazzy electric and then the rock solo.
EO: Yes, that is beautiful. That was Steve, he came up with some beautiful things. He reminded me of a racehorse: If you said "Boo" to him he'd probably jump! He lived in an isolated, peaceful kind of thing - he'd like to get down and stuff, but he was nervous about extraneous things...it's hard to explain, but what a phenomenal guitarist!
TM: What about "Perpetual Change" where you have two bands playing in separate channels simultaneously?
EO: It was an idea they came up with of having two totally different rhythm sections playing at the same time, it came from them for sure. But getting it together was no easy thing, because with sixteen tracks required a lot of fiddling around.
TM: To get everything in time together? There wasn't any SMPTE code back then.
EO: There was no SMPTE code...we're talking many, many tracks and a lot of bouncing and moving around. Two drum kits took up a lot of tracks. It was tough, it was a lot of work.
TM: How would you compare working with Emerson, Lake and Palmer with Yes?
EO: I felt that Yes was a much warmer band, more earthy and more real. Whereas ELP was a lot more cold and calculated.
TM: Why do you think Tony Kaye left the band?
EO: He's probably one of the greatest B-3 players around. The reason he left the band was because everyone wanted him to get into synthesizers and Mellotrons and stuff and he was so happy hammering away on the B-3.
TM: How would you describe Rick Wakeman?
EO: Rick was kind of an outsider, but he did his parts really well. He's just a really accomplished player. He was into Benny Hill, that sort of hanging out in the pub type humor. And the rest of the band was into Monty Python - a bit more dopey or something.
TM: Let's talk about some of the specifics regarding the equipment you used at Advision - what tape recorders did you use?
EO: The twenty-four track and the two track mastering deck were both Scullys.
TM: What about the desk and the monitoring speakers?
EO: The console in the studio was custom made by Advision. The speakers were custom made as well, but from JBL components. They actually weren't that good in reproducing the low end and so that had to be taken in to account as we mixed.
TM: What kinds of microphones did you use?
EO: I used different mics. But I would mostly use an old AKG C28 for guitars and U64 for vocals.
TM: There have been different stories as to why the band recorded solo tracks for the Fragile album, do you remember why they did this? Jon said that it was to showcase the individual talents of the band, Chris said that they were short on time and had to get the record finished.
EO: I don't think it was either one myself! I think that maybe people were thinking about doing solo albums and in an effort to keep the band together - "How come Jon and Chris are writing all the songs?" "How come they get all the publishing?" - "Well, why don't we give everyone in the band the opportunity to do their own thing?" I think that was more like it.
TM: This is kind of an aside, but apparently you influenced the band with your health food diet/life style, particularly Steve.
EO: After the Fragile album came out, they said, "Look we need you to come out on tour with us to help recreate this thing live." At that time there were no samplers or anything so I had all kinds of church organs and vocal cues and I had them all spliced onto a Revox tape machine. At different parts of the song I'd just hit the play button and cue in some of the parts that they couldn't quite manage to live.
TM: Like the pipe organ run before the Moog fanfare in "Close To The Edge"?
EO: Yeah, that for example or the waterfall sounds at the beginning of the song. There were vocal parts and so on. It was kind of a strange thing for an engineer/producer to go on the road with a band, but I jumped at it. I went out with them and I had the best time! It was so great. To be honest one of things I did a lot for Yes was I kind of was a peacemaker and a kind of psychiatrist, helping to keep things smooth. I became really close friends with most of the band, especially Chris and Jon. They also called me their dietician, because I'd advise them on how to stay healthy.
TM: Which is difficult anyway, because you're getting all this junk food on the road.
EO: Right, so we'd stop off for a bite at a restaurant and I'd recommend this and that off the menu. It was a funny thing; it was back in the time of brown rice and "you are what you eat" kind of thing.
TM: Many people, myself included feel that CLOSE TO THE EDGE is the definitive Yes album, but by all accounts the sessions for the record weren't easy - what do you remember of the recording process on that album?
EO: As the band became more successful the hours spent in the studio would be even longer and longer. There'd be a session starting at two and Chris wouldn't show up until four or five. People would get frustrated, but it was big money now, big success. I still really love that album, the problems you came up with you just dealt with, you know?
TM: Let's go back to the "Close To The Edge" intro...
EO: Jon might come up with an idea and I would take it to the max.
TM: There seems to be all kinds of overlaying overdubs on that intro: the babbling brook, the birds, tinkling bells, a keyboard part in the distance...
EO: It took about a thousand tracks to make that opening!
TM: I wish I could have been the fly on the wall for that record.
EO: Too much weed I think (laughs)!
TM: I love the story about the Doppler effect you got in "Siberian Khatru" that you achieved by having your assistant swing the microphone cable around in the studio during the guitar solo.
EO: Right! That was one of those things. Nowadays you could probably get the same effect with a harmonizer or something, but it started with us thinking about trying to get a Leslie sound and then I thought, "Well, instead of having the speakers revolving, why not have the microphone revolving?" And then we tried it on a short piece of wire and we eventually had it long and swinging around the studio. It had that backwards sound; it was kind of cool.
TM: I was wondering if your assistant's arm got tired because of the amount of takes?
EO: No, I don't think it was that bad!
TM: Where did you record the pipe organ for "Close To The Edge"?
EO: It gets a little hazy for me, because I did all that work with Emerson, Lake and Palmer. I remember recording in churches, but I can't remember which band was where. I think I just recorded them right onto a Revox and then laid them into the tracks. I just used a couple of mics to record, in that situation more isn't necessarily better.
TM: What about recording synthesizers? I know some of the parts are at least triple tracked like Rick's Moog section before the big organ solo.
EO: I'm sure there was, there were six or seven tracks sometimes. Remember there was no polyphonic synthesizers either. Anything like a string section or a brass section or whatever was done note by note. It meant recording lots of tracks and bouncing down, doing lots of backing vocals and bouncing them, just to try and cram that thing onto twenty-four tracks.
TM: You described yourself as a mediator for the band. Were there times where you weren't able to make the peace with them?
EO: There used to be some bad flare-ups, especially between Chris and Jon. It was a full time job just keeping those two talking to each other. I guess Lennon and McCartney were the same way, they used to fight like cats and dogs. I guess in some ways it's a great thing, because out of it comes great music.
TM: Was there a time when you vetoed an idea, because it was too strange or just impossible to accomplish?
EO: That would happen all the time. Basically my philosophy was if someone has an idea, and there was plenty of ideas, at least try it. I used to tell everyone in the band, no matter how crazy this idea sounds, just try it. But having tried it and getting a sketch of the idea on tape, then you have to be objective and say, "Does this really add anything or is it a kind of white noise in the background?" In the beginning I found myself saying, "That's a bad idea." But then I came to the realization that occasionally I was wrong and it was a good idea. So I said, "Anyone has an idea, we're going to try it, but we're going to be objective at the end of the day." And that's what we'd do. It might sound like a really stupid idea, but it would sound great in the song. You can spend more time arguing about whether or not to try it or you could just try it. Even if nine out of ten ideas are terrible and don't work, that one that does is worth it all.
TM: Did you have any sense that Bill would be leaving the band soon?
EO: I had no idea that was going to happen. It was a complete shock to me.
TM: How would you describe Bill?
EO: Bill was the only guy in the band who didn't do drugs or drink, really. He had a great sense of humor - he was a funny guy. He had great timing, he was incredible. He has that pseudo-English intellectuality about him too.
TM: Were there any outtakes from the sessions of THE YES ALBUM, FRAGILE or CTTE?
EO: There were no outtakes, because if there were they'd be thirty second or one minute pieces that would go into the garbage.
TM: How did the band change during the TALES sessions? It has been said that there was a possibility of Squire leaving the band at that point.
EO: Yes, Chris's and Jon's relationship got worse and worse. The TALES album broke my spirit, because I knew then that it was the beginning of the end. It being a double album and the fighting's getting worse and it was getting really tedious in the studio, it wasn't fun anymore.
TM: Do you remember your reaction to the idea of a double album with four songs?
EO: I was never surprised by the idea and the things they came up with, but the reality of having to - just a regular Yes album took forever to record - and now we're doing one twice as long. It was awful.
TM: Did anyone try to convince them to make a single instead?
EO: I think the label wasn't too happy about it, but at that point no one could tell them anything.
TM: Even the band wasn't on the same page - Rick didn't want to do it...
EO: It was very untogether. It was really bad. At that point it was obvious that Rick became really much more outside the rest of the band. It wasn't so much musical direction, well yes that too. If you want the honest truth it was the fact that the whole band was into smoking dope and hash and Rick was into drinking beer. He never touched pot. I don't know what it was, but he was on the outside.
TM: You made the move to Morgan studios for the recording of TALES - how was this studio different from Advision?
EO: I had used it before, it was fine. I think it was a way to try a get a fresh start. I was really pushing Brian Lane to record an album in a country setting. I thought some flowers and trees would help people chill out a little bit. Maybe it won't be quite so confined as when you're in a town studio. I thought it might give some kind of rebirth, but I argued with Brian for ages about that. The compromise we finally arrived up with was we walked into Morgan Studios and there was these large wooden cows and the whole place was filled with trees and plants, trying to appease me somewhat. About halfway through the album the cows were covered with graffiti and all the plants had died. That just about sums up that whole album.
TM: How difficult was it to mix down something like TALES?
EO: Those mixes were not easy, but at least I never had any of the band put their hands on the faders, that happened very rarely. I would mix it in the same way I recorded it, in sections. I'd get this part right and then move on without automation it would have been impossible to do it any other way.
TM: With RELAYER you changed recording location again - this time to Squire's unfinished recording studio at his house to which you added your desk. What kind of gear did you use?
EO: I came up with this concept where I built this equipment that I could use on the road to mix the sound live with and also use in a recording situation. And Chris's studio was half built and so I just put my equipment in and we recorded there. It was a thirty-channel board, which fit into three different fly cases and we'd put it together. There was a twenty-four track MCI which I also had cut into three pieces and then it was all built into fly cases. It was just basic stuff, nothing too outlandish.
TM: How would you compare the RELAYER sessions to the TALES sessions?
EO: It was a little better. Patrick came in and...Alan was the other thing. Alan had shared my penthouse apartment with me and it was actually me that got him into the band. I always felt that maybe Bill had lacked a little bit of soul or something, but had great technique. But Alan on the other hand had a lot of feel and soul, but not enough technique. When he first joined the band, it was tough, it was really hard for him...and then going into TALES with all of that uncertainty - the poor guy. It was really hard, it wasn't a solid situation. But having gone on tour and then coming back onto RELAYER - Rick had been on the outside for a long time anyway - so going into RELAYER Alan was more accepted and he was doing better and this crazy Swiss guy was coming in. It was actually quite nice, it was a better time.
TM: And that was another album that was recorded fairly quickly by Yes standards.
EO: It was, yeah. It was fairly short.
TM: How did you create the battle scene from the "Gates of Delirium"?
EO: I just remember all kinds of weird percussion things Jon brought in, metal sheets and so on. It was basically all created with percussion.
TM: Chris told me that they recorded this song thirty second to minute sections without even knowing what the end of the song would be. There had to be an element of luck along with skill, talent and inspiration.
EO: Yes, exactly. I'd say so!
TM: Steve mentioned that "To Be Over" is one of his favorite Yes songs of the moment. It has that majestic, symphonic sound Yes is known for.
EO: Yeah, it's nice.
TM: What was your impression of Patrick?
EO: I liked him a lot. But he had a hard time on the road. The biggest challenge of a keyboard player in those days was trying to stay in tune - that was the sign of a good keyboard player!
TM: All of those monophonic synthesizers going out...
EO: And the Mellotrons, Jesus! It took awhile for Patrick to get the older material down as well.
TM: Do you ever go back and listen to these recordings?
TM: Do you ever hear any of it on the radio?
EO: I occasionally hear "Roundabout", but that's about it.
TM: Is there a song or album that sums up Yes for you?
EO: This might sound stupid, but I liked "Time and a Word". I really liked that song. I don't think it was done justice on that record, but it's really a beautiful song. Another song I do like is "And You And I." There's something really great about that song.
TM: How does it feel to be the George Martin of progressive rock?
EO: I don't feel like I am - I don't know what that means! I had a wonderful time working with people like David Sancious, ELP, and Yes. Music was really exciting and new and innovative and I was really happy to a part of that whole thing.
From Notes From the Edge #234
Read our chat with Jon & Igor in that issue
Tim Morse is the author of "Yesstories".
His new book is "Classic Rock Stories".
Visit the Yesstories section on YesNet Sites.
The entire contents of this interview are
copyright © 2002 Tim Morse and Notes From the Edge
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© 2002 Notes from the Edge