Notes From the Edge
Conversation with Rick Wakeman
from nfte #171

[As Rick and I were settling in for the conversation we were discussing the edited versions of "That, That Is" that were intended for radio airplay and which I had just heard for the first time that morning. I was telling Rick my opinion of the edits and his response essentially began our chat. --MOT]

RW: My view is I wouldn’t have put an edited single version out from the album at all now. My reason for saying that is, and I know I’ve got pretty strong views on the subject that I think KEYS TO ASCENSION has basically done the job it was intended to do, as far as I’m concerned.

MOT: Which is?

RW: To let people know that the band is back, and to let people know that we’re back in existence. My feeling is that one of the things that has always bugged me about Yes is that whenever it’s either reformed or about to get another lineup it makes all the announcements and then it’s months, sometimes even years, before a piece of product comes out. One of the things that we all discussed in the first place and all agreed on, and Chris and I sort of pushed it probably more strongly, was that we should do something just to let people know that we’re back, that we do mean business, it’s not "well there’s the announcement and in couple of years there should be something out, guys," you know, because that was something that was frustrating even when it appears at times I wasn’t in the band! Waiting for albums is like a Yes occupation, waiting for product. So the idea of putting together some shows and initially just doing a live album to put out, to say ‘Hey listen, we’re back,’ and to add on a little bit of new music because obviously the band had to get to work together a bit to find out how we’d all progressed over the years, and it wasn’t ready straight away to go and do a new album but it was interesting to get us together to do an album with a little bit of new music on it that showed people that, yeah, there is new stuff there, the band is working together, also to do some concerts albeit limited, just to say, hey, yeah, and we’re playing together. It was as important for the band as for anybody else , and then to get something out well within a year so there wasn’t a long wait, almost a stop gap. As far as I was concerned KEYS TO ASCENSION is a stop gap, a stepping stone to where Yes was going.

Now obviously with the concert there was a lot of other material that was left over, I mean real good stuff that was hanging around and the record company said, "We'd like the other stuff as well," hence the expression KEYS 2 came about. Now, I am vehemently against calling the album KEYS TO ASCENSION 2. Very heavily against it. And I’ve made my point as strong as I can, and the reason for that is quite simply that KEYS TO ASCENSION to me has done its job, and great, if it trickles on selling a bit, it’s done it’s job. It is not a major event musically in Yes’ life but it’s a major event in the reformation of Yes’ life. What’s happened with the second album is that instead of having just 25, 30 minutes worth of new music, certainly there’s 48 minutes worth of new music and I probably am sometimes overcritical of a Yes piece and how it's done, and I don’t mean that unkindly, it’s just that I’ve probably set higher standards for Yes than I think for anything else, that's probably why. I was genuinely so excited about the finished music for the new album, I really was excited…I thought this is class stuff and I haven’t felt that for years, I mean really, really class stuff. I enjoyed the two tracks off of KEYS but these are light years ahead of that, I mean light years ahead.

MOT: What made the difference for you?

RW: There were a few differences. There was a maturity about the music. There was also much, much, much more input from everybody concerned, both not only on what they played themselves but on what everybody else played. Now that hasn’t happened with Yes for years and years and years, so everybody was interested in what everybody else did, even if we came in separately to do things, people were still changing parts; I mean I came and did loads of stuff, and Steve was altering parts because we were discussing about, "Hey listen, if I do that then it would be great"—and all this sort of thing was going on. And there were bits all done together: Chris and Steve and I did bits together, Chris, Alan and Steve did bits together, and there was a lot more—and I’m trying not to use a hackneyed phrase, but there was so much more interactive involvement with the making of music, and when that happens—and it hasn’t happened for years—it creates strong, really strong Yes music, that sometimes if you don’t get that and it sort of came clear to me, sometimes some of the music can become what I call lopsided in certain areas. And I felt, maybe even the two tracks off of KEYS 1 in certain areas were a little lopsided. But that was understandable because of the nature of how it was recorded; it was done, not in a rush but in a limited period of time and people couldn’t get together. So to hear this new stuff I came away from there thinking, this is not KEYS 2. Maybe for the first time in its life Yes is ahead of its own self. We were looking at it as a KEYS 2, of the rest of the stuff from San Luis Obispo with a couple of tracks again, the same as KEYS 1 and then looking at making a full blown Yes album with new Yes music.

Well I came away from there, and I know Billy Sherwood feels the same—I think Alan feels the same as well—of, hold on a minute, we’ve actually jumped a stepping stone, because what we’ve done is we’ve actually produced a Yes album, maybe almost by not really even trying because it was for a different reason. But a class Yes album. I mean this isn’t a throwaway couple of add-on tracks for—and which I’m not suggesting that the other one, was, you know, "Here’s a bit for a contractual agreement, there’s a couple of new tracks on there"—this is class stuff, I mean real class stuff. This is not KEYS 2. This has got nothing to do with KEYS TO ASCENSION as far as I’m saying in any way, manner, fashion, or form. My personal view on how I’d like to see it appear is that—and I’ve made it felt, and I think everybody’s making their own opinion—is that is should be an album in its own right, and why not throw in almost as a freebie CD with it the remaining tracks from the live set, it would be the price of a normal CD, maybe just with a couple of dollars added to cover the cost of the additional packaging, but as far as I’m concerned the remaining live tracks from San Luis Obispo as a free gift, because I think anyway that is something that would appeal to the Yes fans and they deserve a free gift, but this is a Yes album if you know what I mean.

This is not part of the stop gap, it’s something quite special, and I think that it comes out as KEYS TO ASCENSION 2 it will be totally wasted and marketed totally incorrectly because what it will be, it will be then linked to the live product. And OK, I know there’s a lot of live stuff out there and I know it was an important event and I know it is collectible and I know it is nice to have, but suddenly because the new music is so good that’s where the focus should go, not on the other side, and I’ve made my feelings felt and it’ll be interesting. I’ve actually had no comments back from anybody as of yet but in fairness that’s not because they’re ignoring me, it’s because I’ve been all over the place and literally haven’t had a chance to talk to anybody.

MOT: As a Yes fan that would be the tactic the band should take because everybody’s waiting for that studio album, that cohesive Yes studio album, and to call it KEYS 2 is going to link it in people’s mind to the first one…

RW: There’s another thing I should mention as well: Yes has always found it very hard to work with a producer, always very hard, because everybody’s got very strong opinions and the one thing that Yes is not good at is compromising. In the Yes dictionary unfortunately that word doesn’t exist, which to some extent is a good thing but to some extent is a bad thing. It’s the first time I’ve worked with Billy Sherwood, and I thought he was tremendous, absolutely tremendous. He was capable of tuning into everybody’s wavelength and that is a good engineer/producer’s art, of being able to tune into the mind of each individual, so he can talk on their level, the way that they want to talk and the way that they want to work. And when I arrived there, I mean literally within the first half a day, he’d completely tuned into the way that I like to work, and he spoke to Stuart [Sawney] who produces all my stuff in the Island, I know they had a chat, and it was nothing short of great fun for the period of time I was in there and I’ve never known such a fun period in a studio, and that makes you work better, and I noticed from everybody, that they all enjoyed being with him.

He was also very good at when the famous what I call Yes discussions, which normally gets printed in magazines as arguments, when Yes discussions sort of came up he’d let them go for a little while, and then he’d say, "Right, that’s it, ok, back on your heads, we’re at it again," and everybody would go, yeah, ok, fine, and maybe talk about it over dinner or something like that. And it also reminded me about the amount of time Yes has wasted in the studio, myself included, we’re all guilty, I’m talking about us as a whole, because if Yes gets into a discussion and Yes discussions, boy, they can go on for days, nights, and that’s not good when you’re trying to work, especially if you’re in the studio and there’s a buzz going, things are going really well, and then you end up being sidetracked by some discussion that’s going on however important or relevant it will be, and most of the time the discussions involve management, record companies, accountants, or lawyers, and that’s not a good thing to discuss when you’re trying to make music. So I would say Billy played, I think, a very, very important role and I would like to think of him as, to the band, I would love to think that he could be what I could only describe as I suppose a latter day Eddie Offord for the band, because I would have no qualms about going to the studio doing work with the band under any form whatever with Billy sitting there.

MOT: Another thing that he does is brings a perspective of Yes music, not only because he was a quasi-member during the TALK tour, but he’s knowledgeable about Yes music.

RW: Oh he is.

MOT: I was fortunate enough to sit in on a couple of Steve’s sessions for KTA 2, or whatever it ends up being called, and I was really impressed that Billy would refer to Yes songs past, like he would stay to Steve "I see like a ‘Sound Chaser’ type of guitar crunch here," or he would say, "How about a fingerpicking style ala what you did on side 2 of TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS?" He knew what he was talking about.

RW: See, the interesting thing is he did it to me as well in as much as he—and certainly with Chris, because he did Chris’ solo album and they worked closely together—he knows the band’s strengths and weaknesses. And the thing that was very interesting was that he was very, very keen on having all the strengths involved as against the weaknesses, and that’s what he was playing on. He’s a good musician as well so that counts a lot so all over it was a pleasure, an absolute pleasure to do that album.

MOT: Another amazing things about these tracks for the album is that they were done in record time…

RW: I claim a little bit of the credit for that. We were four minutes in essence shorter than we would like to have been, and we’re looking at doing another track, and to be very honest to do the other track called "Axis of Love" which Jon and I wrote a little while ago—

MOT: So you did not record "Axis of Love"?

RW: No. The one thing about "Axis of Love" is to do it properly, you need to go in the studio with a very, very top class grand piano, you cannot do it with an electric, it has to be done as a piano based thing. So to put it together as it should be, really, is…I’ll put it bluntly, it would come to Christmas as well, so suddenly you’re looking at delivery at end of January if all went well, and Jon was going to Maui and Steve was going off to do something, so was Fish, and Alan had his—and it was looking as if there was a possibility that it could be, here we go again. But there are a couple of pieces that Billy pointed out were in desperate need of introductions, and introduction is always a dangerous word. I like to think of Yes introductions as calming the seas, or wiping the blackboard clean, so you can actually start to see the picture unfold, it sets the scene, it’s almost preparing you for all the things that are going on, and it was a little lacking in a couple of areas, and Steve had an idea for the beginning for one and I added some chord sequences and things to it. But then there was a unique thing that happened, and I can’t remember the piece, it was untitled when I did it but Jon had said, "This could really do with an intro, really could do with something.’ And I had a whole huge orchestral patch that I'd put together in the UK and I had a similar setup to what I have in the UK, and Jon loves the phrase orchestral, and I said, hey, let’s try this one, I put this together. The most interesting thing was, and this is where—and I firmly believe that divine intervention, whether it be from up there or from some sort of Yes little icon that lives amongst us all that sort of works—what Billy did, he ran the tape back—and it’s important to know that this album was not done to sequencers, there’s no sequencing involved, there was none of the old traps that Yes got into for the last few albums all the way around, there were no sequencers involved, no running sequencers, it was just direct to digital with all the parts. Yes, there was a click track for a count into the piece, but nothing before. There’s absolutely nothing.

So Billy said, "I’ll tell you what we’ll do, I’ll just wind the tape back to the blank tape before the piece starts, start when you feel like it." And Jon says, "Play the piece that you’ve got, and we’ll just see how it goes." Billy had no idea how far he’d run back, I started playing accordingly and played this piece when I felt like sort of starting, literally closed my eyes and played it through. I mean I did know the piece and the things that I wanted to do, but there was no timing, it was all what we call colla voce, without time, and then building in time. And it built up in what I call very much a "Heart of the Sunrise" vein of sounds and the moment I hit the big what I call, crescendo ending, the moment I hit the note the piece started. Now the odds of that happening I would dread to think how many million to one that is, and we are talking millions to one. And it was really interesting because as I was moving up the top of the keyboard before I came down, I actually sort of came to right at the end I thought, "I don’t think I’ll ever be able to it better than this, it’s just right," it hit right on the button. Jon’s lovely when he gets really enthusiastic—when Jon likes something he gets really enthusiastic, and he was whooping with joy around the room, it was just brilliant. Now when those sort of thing happen you know that it’s more than a recording that you’re involved in, because I don’t believe in odds and it’s just too ridiculous. And then we listened to the whole piece back and then put some bits on the end, and suddenly Billy Sherwood turned round with a grin and said, you’re up to speed, guys, you got the time, that’s it, you’re done. The other word I don’t believe in is coincidence. There were too many good coincidences, too many beating of the odds with the making of this for it to be dismissed as KEYS 2. That’s the only way I can describe it really. I feel very strongly about this about this album, I’ve never felt this strongly about Yes for an awfully long time. I sometimes, which is perhaps wrong and I get myself into trouble for it, I get quite verbal as I did with the UNION album—

MOT: Rightly so.

RW: Yeah, rightly so, but sometimes I tend to get carried away but I stand by everything I said on the UNION album but the only thing I can say in my favor is when I enthuse about something people then who know me know that it’s not just a generalizing enthusing, it’s because I feel as strongly about this as I felt as strongly about what a disgusting piece of garbage UNION was, (chuckles) do you understand what I mean? So if people knew how strongly I felt to say that will understand how strongly I feel to talk about this album.

MOT: This last piece you were discussing, you don’t know the title?

RW: The reason I don’t know is because none of the pieces were titled when I was putting all the parts on. Jon was still actually changing and moving lyrics around and changing things which Jon does and titles tend to come together right at the last minute with Jon, that’s very much his domain, which is fine because when he hears the overall piece the final thing he’s put the words on, words have changed all over the place and titles have changed. But I probably wouldn’t even recognize the piece from the title. But it was too uncanny, spooky, call it what you like. When I drove away from there, Stuart, who I work very closely with, said, "I hope this album is not wasted because there’s some classic music on there and there’s some classic playing," he said, "there hasn’t been good Yes playing around, really, on the albums for a long time, it’s been lacking," he said there’s some real good playing floating around. He’s a Yes fan as well, he said there's to get into. Yes had made some long pieces and one of the criticisms about some of the more recent longer pieces is that they are just that, they are longer pieces, and perhaps not something that the part of the Yes fans who like musicianship have really been able to get their teeth into, on a musician's side of things, and that’s sort of coming through. I mean, some of Fish’s bass work is tremendous, and bass players will go, [Wow], what I would say, that’s the Fish of old but in the late 90s, do you know what I mean, rather than, "Well, that’s good…"

MOT: I agree. That’s one of the things that struck me about "That, That Is", was Chris’ playing, was like, Chris is back.

RW: Chris is playing as best as I can ever remember him playing. I’m really proud of Chris because like all of us, and I’ve had my problems, he’s had his problems, it gives me a genuine thrill to see Chris really back in with his music, back in the world, really, and the enthusiasm that he’s got. That’s a great thrill for me. And I’m not going to harp on Chris’ problems, I’ve had more problems of my own, but I know how difficult it is to get back. I’m really proud of him. I really am.

MOT: I understand you and Steve did a duet together.

RW: Oh yeah, we did, that’s right, we put a little thing together which is quite good, Steve had a few bars of something; again we were looking for an intro, because again that was something else that had been sorely missing from Yes pieces for a long time, Yes pieces never just started and finished, they were a painting. You know a good art lover will tell you that when you look at a painting there’s a point you go in at, a point you work ‘round, and you go on a little journey around the painting, and that’s what Yes pieces of music used to do. I think for quite a long time now that’s been lacking, sadly lacking in Yes music, that the pieces, I won’t say just started and finished, but maybe structurally they were no longer a picture. Still structured nicely but they weren’t a picture anymore that you could look at. And I felt with this album, we’re back, we structure it in what I call Yes pictures again, and again Billy spotted this. It was interesting when you said you went to some of Steve’s sessions where Billy was pointing out things. Well again he was very keen on setting the scene for what was going to happen. There was this one particular piece, and Steve said, ‘I’ve got a tape here that I did at home,’ he had a tape and it was sort of a bit more than a riff, it was a real good idea, and it was one of those nights where I said, hey, listen, I now I know a nice sequence we could do and I added a bit after it and then we’d played it together; then Fishy wanted in and he said, ‘oh, that’s nice’, and he knew instantly what’s it’s going to be for. The next thing you know Fish has picked up the bass and we did it, and again timing wise it just worked out on the button, and again wiped out the word coincidence out of the dictionary. And Billy turned around and said, ‘Thank you very much, got that, ‘night guys, we’re all going home," and that was the other thing that Billy was good about, and I think we all actually could have learned a little bit more from him, I think sometimes we all carried on longer than was musically in us. I think if there’s one thing we could improve on the next album is if, hopefully if Billy’s involved, he turns around and says, "OK guys, we’ve had a really good day, everything’s gone well, I think you’ve done what you can do, let’s not push it, go home, go and have a meal, relax, see you tomorrow, guys." I think we’re all guilty sometimes of going on a bit too long, sometimes because of enthusiasm, sometimes because you feel, well, I’m here, so I’d better do something. I think maybe that’s the one lesson we can learn.

But there was certainly for me a lot of parallels from the feelings that were going around in the FRAGILE-CLOSE TO THE EDGE era, feeling wise. I’m not suggesting that wed gone retrograde, there’s nothing retrograde about this album at all, with the one exception that there was that overall enthusiasm that was around there and also things just worked. We didn’t have to work at it. I didn’t have to struggle on anything that I did, of thinking, "What can I do here, I’ve got to write a part for here, or this is a bit I got…" None of that. None of that happened at all. And I think…

MOT: It just flowed.

RW: Oh, it was brilliant, it really was, it was very unusual. That doesn’t happen every time, I mean it happens rarely. For it to happen basically throughout an album is bordering on quite astonishing.

MOT: So what happened to Chris on the duet?

RW: I don’t know whether Chris actually kept the whole part that he wanted to put on. Steve and I did do various bits together throughout it. In fact there was a lot more interplay between the pair of us than certainly than there was on KEYS and certainly than there has been certainly for a long time. And again I praise Billy for that, because Billy was the guy who would turn around and say, this is what---when we did something and it really turned out well, if I’d already recorded a line and Steve shoved something over in the evening after I’d gone home or vice versa it would be Billy who would turn around and say "That’s what people want to hear, that’s Yes music." He wasn’t afraid of saying what was and what wasn’t, and that was tremendous, And he wanted to hear people play, he wanted the best out of Jon. He certainly got the best out of Chris, I feel.

MOT: What really worked was the fact that you were all together at the same time rather than recording parts piecemeal.

RW: Yeah, I mean there is a certain area where things have to be recorded beforehand. I mean, I knew the parts where my involvement with the writing was going to be there, but also it was a bit like the old days as well which is sometimes—there was one piece, when I arrived which was a series of single notes which had absolutely no chordal structure whatsoever, but they'd left that because it was a bit of, "Great, that’s Rick’s department, he’ll deal with that, he’ll come and sort that out." And that was really nice, that was very much like the FRAGILE-CLOSE TO THE EDGE days where’d I’d roll in….the good thing about Yes music is if everybody’s left--obviously with everybody else’s input--but to do their own sort of unique way that they do things--if that’s allowed to happen, when you put those five little unique things together that’s what creates Yes music. When one of the areas is weak for whatever reason, whether it be that they can’t get into that particular piece, they can’t do this or they can’t do that, when that happens then obviously you get into a muddle. Because for various reasons sometimes if one area gets weak then it doesn’t become strong Yes music. We talked about tuning in, when everybody’s tuned in to something…Billy was very good—there were bits done with Chris and Alan before Steve arrived, and bits done with Steve, and when I arrived do bits with Steve, so there was a lot of interactive play going on and it worked really well that way. Jon is very aware of the way that I work; I don’t like playing things fifty times. That’s not my way of thinking. My best playing is always within the first three takes of everything. Otherwise the inspirational side of my playing goes straight out the window.

MOT: Becomes mechanical.

RW: Yeah, and it’s useless for me. Steve works in a different way; Steve likes to do things lots and lots and lots of times. We all work totally different, and that works very well for Steve, and that’s great. The good thing is that he’s got that way of working which is fine for him. He likes putting down guide parts, working with the guide parts, then creating the parts he wants to keep and how he wants to work from there. And that’s another thing that’s very important, that every individual knows the way that they like to do it and the way that they like to work. Alan likes to play with total feel throughout a piece, and then do various edits and tidy up and do what he wants afterwards, he wants to work from that feel he’s got. I like to be able to come in knowing what I’m going to do, having an adrenaline flow and go for it. So Billy felt, because he’d spoken to Jon, he’d spoken to Stuart on the way, he said, "OK, I don’t even want you in the studio sometimes when we’re putting down a backing track that I know is going to take two days, I don’t want you here because you’ll get bored, you’ll get fed up, and you’ll end up not having any inspiration for the piece and you won’t be fresh when you put in…" The other thing that was really good between him and Jon in those areas they made sure they made sure they were kept very wide and very open and uncluttered so when I came in I could add the bits and things going on. We haven’t worked like this for years. I will go on record as saying that if this comes out as KEYS TO ASCENSION 2 there will be one very sad keyboard player because I think that what will happen is there’ll be one extremely good Yes album lost to a lot of people that otherwise would have heard it. And I don’t think that the media would take anywhere as close as much interest in it if it’s called KEYS TO ASCENSION 2 as if it’s given its own definitive title and we explain, hey listen, for once in its life we’re ahead of the game.

MOT: I really hope that your opinion prevails. Let’s talk a little bit about the impending tour that’s going to start in June. I take it rehearsals aren’t scheduled yet…

RW: No, I think I heard that the dates that are penciled in heavy lead I believe goes June 12th to August the 3rd, rehearsals we’re probably looking at a couple of weeks beforehand. I’ve got a small English tour which finishes early May but then I’ve got to go into the hospital for ten days for an extremely nasty operation in my mouth which I’m not looking forward to, so when I finally arrive for rehearsals at sort of the end of May a lot of people will be very glad to know that I’ll be unable to speak for quite a long now. I’ve got four wisdom teeth that not only have grown the wrong way that they’ve impacted into the gum and grown into the bone, they’ve formed abscesses underneath which is now seeping the poison into my bloodstream and it’s causing problems with my eyes and my ears and the only way they can do it—they very kindly explained to me what they were going to do which I really wish they hadn’t, which is they literally have to cut the gum and the bone and everything away, and that’s the only way they can do it, and then try to rebuild the various things back there. They’ve been very honest, they’ve said, you’re going to feel extremely uncomfortable for ten days, you’re not going to feel like eating, and you’re not going to be able to eat, really, it’s straw time, which can only be good for the diet, I suppose, but I have to say I’m not looking forward to it. So I shall be arriving over here for rehearsals and the one thing it will get me out of is doing interviews (laughs) because when I go over I won’t be able to talk to anybody, which is a shame because I enjoy doing interviews. I think my day I’m booked in is the 6th so I’ll be out on the 16th, so I just have to get clearance from the hospital that I can fly. I would think rehearsals would start probably the last week in May, that’s sort of an educated guess.

MOT: I would assume that the bulk of your concerts are going to consist of the new songs.

RW: It’s an interesting thing, Bill Bruford and I always used to disagree—I really firmly believe that there has to be an element of Yes classics in any show. I call it the "My Way" principal. If I went to see Frank Sinatra and he didn’t sing "My Way" or "New York New York" I’d go home a very disappointed man. He is probably sick to death of singing those songs. I know with Yes that everybody has their own ideas of what certain Yes classics are but I think that there has to be, shall I say, more than a token couple slung in. But I would like to see quite a lot of emphasis on this new album, whatever it may be called, I would like to see that. I would like to think that the tour would be promoting that as against promoting KEYS TO ASCENSION. KEYS TO ASCENSION is something that will trickle along, that people will put in their collection, it’s a bit of history more that anything else, it’s no more than that, it’s a bit of history and it’s a bit of stop gap whereas what we’ve just done is something I think a little bit special, and I’d like to see that…the old school, the way that when we used to go around and do tours it would be, whatever the album is called, I would like to see the tour named after that, I certainly don’t think it should be called the KEYS TO ASCENSION tour, because that to me is in a way is a retrograde step…

MOT: And also KEYS TO ASCENSION is strongly identified with San Louis Obispo.

RW: That’s right, absolutely. And it has to be said that San Louis Obispo played a very important part in the reformation, call it whatever you like, and I’d rather to prefer to call it the rehabilitation of Yes of Yes, which was very important because we were in a small town, we away from, to put it bluntly, the glare of everything and it gave everybody a chance to spend a bit of time together and just quietly almost reprogram ourselves, to put what we knew we could work with and how it could work and what we could do without having lots and lots and lots of people around all the time which sometimes doesn’t give you a chance to. So San Louis Obispo I will always have a soft spot for because it played a very important in what happened to the band.

MOT: How did you feel about playing "The Revealing Science of God", was that enjoyable for you?

RW: Actually of the four pieces as far as I’m concerned it’s the most interesting piece to play and I didn’t mind playing that. Being a Christian I’m not overwhelmingly happy about the lyrical content, what it’s based on. But having said that, I classify myself as a Christian who lives in the real world and provided something is not anti-Christian, or anti-Christ, or in any way devil words or devil worship then that’s fine. I’ve never really said it before but even though because of my beliefs--and I was way off the rails in the 70s--I still had down inside of me, I won’t say that niggling Christian element but it was always there, and it did actually play a part in my decision as to why I didn’t like TOPOGRAPHIC; but I never really said it at the time in that respect about the Shastric scriptures and things simply because Christianity at that particular time did not play an important part in my life and I’ve neither had the courage to say what was going inside me, because I would have to questioned my own faith and the fact that I’d lost it and I was hooligan and did all the things, so it was a little bit of an interesting part. But the one that I've accepted is that "Revealing Science of God" and in fact the whole of TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS to a lot of people play an important part in their own personal Yes’s life. I certainly would not have played all four sides but I was happy to play the one side. I felt we actually played it better than we did on the original record.

MOT: Would like to play "The Revealing…" on the upcoming tour?

RW: I’d be happy to play it on the tour because we’ve not played it since the TOPOGRAPHIC tour. Musically I think we better equipped to play it. I don’t in any way consider the piece anti-Christian, word-wise, although it does involve in essence another religion. There are other things to look at as well. If you take the actual Shastric scriptures I believe that if somebody actually sat down and tried to read them all from cover to cover it would take eighty years non-stop. I know that in fairness when Jon put the lyrical content together he was in no way, shall we say, a scholar of the work to fully understand, nobody fully understands what it’s all about. I think what it does is that, as with anything, I sit down and I look at things and I’d like to think that I’m a little bit more rational than I used to be. Jon and I were both unbelievably hot-headed, in the original days of TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS I said I hated the entire lot. Jon said he loved the entire lot.

When we started to become extremely close friends in later years we actually owned up to each other. I mean I thought "Nous Sommes du Soliel" is a beautiful song, lovely song, some lovely melodies amongst it. And Jon actually owned up that he thought a lot of it was dreadful with a lot of padding, and one of his dreams he wanted desperately was to get hold of it and edit it down to single CDs length. And that’s where we both suddenly realized how turn of events might have happened in as much as we of course were limited by what you could put on an LP: 36 minutes, 38 at best, 34 really ideally for a cut. The interesting thing is if it had been CD days there’s a very very fair chance that it would have been four tracks, maybe one at twelve minutes, one at nine, maybe one at fifteen, maybe one of thirteen. And if that had been the case everybody would have ended up relatively happy—maybe the lyrical content I might have been a little bit upset about, but in essence everybody would have been very happy and it would have moved on. But then you could argue there would have been no transition, there would have been no RELAYER, there would have been no return for GOING FOR THE ONE and the whole path of Yes might have taken a whole different course. So it’s very easy to sort of say ‘what ifs’, what might have been.

MOT: Right. At the same time because that’s the work as we have it a lot of fans like it as it is.

RW: Yeah. I would not go out and play the whole lot, I have to say if the guys said, "Hey we want to go out and for the second half of the show do the whole of TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS," I could not go around a do a tour like that.

MOT: A lot of fans would like you to do that. Recently the Who came on tour and they did all of QUADROPHENIA…

RW: QUADROPHENIA, that’s right, yeah.

MOT: ..in fact I asked Alan what about Yes doing similar with TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS, and Alan said he’d love to do it.

RW: Alan, bless him, I love Alan dearly…Alan plays a very important role in the life of Yes, not just as a drummer and his contribution musically, but the fact that he’s a very peaceful person and a lot of drummers are, they’re not all sort of madmen. And Alan will say "Why does everybody have to argue? There’s no need for people to argue, and if there’s a way of calming the waters then I’d rather see the waters calm." Alan doesn’t like rough waters, and that’s a lovely attitude in its fashion and it plays a big part. And that's nice of him to say but as you well know I do not like all of TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS, it’s all been said a long time before, but the one thing is as much as I love all the Yes fans and the support that they’ve given us over the years, I’m sorry guys and girls, there is absolutely no human way I could go out and do a [TALES] tour, and if ever I did then that will be the first time that you would know that I had been paid an incredible amount of money and it would mean for the first time in my life I would be doing a show with the aim at the end of the day being getting a paycheck and I’d probably start drinking again (laughs).

MOT: You said you really like "Nous Sommes du Soliel" from TALES. How would you feel about playing ‘song portions’ from that album, like that one, or "Leaves of Green"?

RW: Now there’s a possibility!

MOT: One question that comes up a lot is what is your position on performing songs on those albums you weren’t on, like DRAMA, or RELAYER?

RW: I’ve never done anything off of DRAMA…I must admit I don’t particularly like playing somebody else’s parts, that’s something I don’t like doing, mainly because styles are totally different. I would not be happy really to play stuff off of RELAYER. I've got to be honest, it’s not a favorite Yes album of mine; it’s of a certain style and it certainly is an extension in its style of some extents of what TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS is. This might sound strange but I for one was very pleased when I heard RELAYER because I'd left moralistically because of TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS, and if RELAYER had turned out to be an album like GOING FOR THE ONE I'd have been sick as a parrot. So I was actually very pleased when I heard RELAYER because I listened to it and I thought I’m pleased for the band, but I’m pleased for me because there is no way that I have I have inside of me anything musically to offer this music, I’ve got nothing musically to offer the style of RELAYER at all. That’s not saying the music’s bad, I wouldn’t say that at all, but I had nothing to offer that. So to be honest I would not be very keen to personally playing anything off of RELAYER because I’d be playing somebody else’s parts that I don’t particularly like, and music that, though it’s an important part of Yes’ life, I don’t have any musical affinity for. The DRAMA album I would think you’d probably have to ask Jon that question more than anything else…I would like to think that we’ve got so much Yes music around that these problems really shouldn’t arise, I know I said Yes isn’t very good at compromising but I would like to think that we’ve got enough music floating around to keep everybody happy without saying "We’ve got to play something from RELAYER…"

MOT: I don’t think it’s a kind of obligation, I guess it comes down to individual members and how they feel about it; I know Steve would love to play "To Be Over" from RELAYER, that’s one of his favorite tunes.

RW: Yeah…I’m a fan, you see, the same as everybody else. If you’re a part of a band and it becomes a big part of you, even at the times when I’m critical—I mean fans are critical—and I have my own argument when people say, "You should criticize things the band did," I say I’m a fan the same as everybody else, you criticize and say the tracks you don’t like, you say your favorite tracks, I’m entitled to say mine. As I said about RELAYER it’s an album that I have absolutely no---affinity’s the wrong word, I have no musical understanding for what goes on in RELAYER in any way, manner, fashion, or form. If everybody sat down and all the guys really, really felt so strongly that within the set there had to be something from RELAYER because that would make them really feel great, and if they really felt that vehemently strong about it then I probably would say, yeah, OK. But for me I would look upon that part in the set as, that’s five minutes or ten minutes that I look forward to it getting over, for me personally it would be a down moment in the set where I was for once playing a part I didn’t understand amongst a piece of music that I didn’t understand. That situation’s not at risk, I mean, in fairness when the TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS thing up Chris’ first words were to me were, "If everybody wanted to play this how would you feel about playing it?" And my answer was, "Let’s play it and see how it sounds. We haven’t done it for many, many years, let’s see how it sounds. If it stands up as a piece of music and it sounds good and it’s strong enough that we feel we could do it, then absolutely. Let’s be honest about it when we’ve done it and have a listen." And "Revealing Science" is probably the only track that I would have been happy playing. And I felt that we played it better than we’d ever done on the TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS tour. In fact, on that entire TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS tour of America I felt that there was only one show where we played TALES, within the inhibitions that I have with the piece, I felt there was only one show where we played it well, and that was Madison Square Garden [in NYC], and that was the only time that I felt that as band we’d come close to playing it fairly well.

MOT: But you have played Tony Kaye’s parts on pre-FRAGILE songs, including staples like "Starship Trooper", and in fact you also played on the "Soon" portion from RELAYER’s "The Gates of Delirium" on the ’78 and ’79 tours. What is the difference for you?

RW: True I have played on other tracks…pre-FRAGILE I associate with better albums; those made after [his departure after TALES] I find alien as regards keyboard parts.

MOT: Can you clear something up then? I had read that when you left the band you charted a lot of parts for the RELAYER album for Patrick Moraz. Is that true?

RW: I didn’t physically do any charting in as much as they came to me and said "Will you do this for Pat," no, that I didn’t do. It was a strange thing, what was happening, we did a European tour, I’d basically moralistically handed in my notice at the end of the American tour. Then Jon sat down with me and said, "We’ve got a European tour, do the European tour, and see how you feel at the end of the European tour. We’re coming up to where Yes was looking like breaking even bigger than it was [at that time], there was a football stadium gig booked in London," and the management said, "Listen, you’ve done all the ground work. Why leave when now you’re going into a period where you’re going to reap the financial benefits? Now you want to leave so somebody else will get the benefit?" Just morally I felt very strongly. I did the European tour and halfway through called a meeting in Frankfurt and I just said, "Look, I really have tried but for various reasons I can’t get off on this." And some of the bits of music were starting to be played at sound checks and things for RELAYER and I was involved with little bits of chordal routing out of things but I didn’t write Pat’s parts for him in any way. At the end of that tour I left, the whole story is well documented, there was an honorable deal done that I didn’t make any announcement until they’d found a replacement and it was just kept very quiet 'til they’d done that because it was very fair that everybody could have a new start and move on from there.

MOT: Let’s shift to your new label, Hope Records. What was the catalyst for you forming this label?

RW: I’ve got to careful what I say here, and I’ll tell you why. I have a strong Christian faith but I like to think that I live in the real world, which sometimes upsets some—narrow minded’s the wrong word but a certain element of the Christian community. I mean, I perhaps laugh at jokes I shouldn’t laugh at, if I drop something on my foot and it hurts I sometimes say words where Christians say, "You shouldn’t say things like that." I’m a normal human being. I don’t ever want anybody to, when they meet me, to think, "Oh I’ve got to be careful what I say, I’ve got to be careful what I do, I wonder if he’s going to throw a Bible in my face." The moment that starts then it’s all over. So I like to think I’m still living in the real world and do the various things I do. But I do enjoy writing music that's based on what I believe in and I have done for quite some time. The English Christian music scene is poor. It’s very poor. It’s been run very much on what I call a semi-professional basis, a lot of the time by extremely enthusiastic amateurs all the way around. Having said that, it’s not all disaster and there are bands like Iona who are fabulous, they’re probably my favorite band, both secular and Christian, they play the same set in churches that they do in the huge stadiums that they play in, and things, I mean they’re a lovely band. So it’s not all doom and gloom but in general it’s been poor. So basically what you do, you start to look to that area of America because it’s big here, and it has a good reputation for high quality, good production, and well put together.

I was approached by a few large Christian labels over here, most them are based in Nashville and I went and actually had some meetings and—this sounds horrible since I talking to an American gentleman about it!--I realized that if I signed for them that I was going to be suddenly put into the whole American Christian format, only difference being was I’m British, that the way that I saw the music, what I felt that I that had to do, I felt totally differently from the way that the American Christian areas in music is structured. And I came away from there and I realized that the only way that I could achieve what I firmly believed I’d been ask to do was to do it myself. But to do it myself, and to start it, in a country that really had the most, well, I won’t say sort of laughable system for the way that it worked within the Christian media. but certainly something that, should we say, the rest of the music industry in the UK didn’t really take much credence of, it something that existed for loonies who run around with Bibles in their hands, with the odd exception of a few, I mean Cliff Richard does obviously very well, some great songwriters like Paul Field, I mean there are some good people about, don’t get me wrong, but I’m talking about a whole generalization of things.

And I went back and that’s what I did, I started a label and I’ve got a very good friend who’s a former director, which is an equivalent of a VP, of Decca Records in the UK and I went to see him because he does a lot of private label management, and I told him what I wanted to do. And the great thing that he did for me, he said, "Let me do just a little bit of research and I’ll come back to you." This was four or five years ago now, and he came back and he said, "I can you tell you what's right with the way that it’s done, which is very little." He said, "But the major problem that the UK has got is it doesn’t live in the real world, it lives in it’s own Christian market," and a lot of Christian music is crossover music. I mean there’s lots of very ordinary standard songs that are going out there that talks about, "God loves me" and things, I mean all sort of things which nobody considers to be Christian records but they are in a strange way. Probably after "love" it's--if you get the software and look up the publishing titles you look at the number of tracks that start with "God", "God Only Knows," "God loves me," thousands of them. You can always call them crossover Christian records. And the thing that Frank, who’s now my partner, said to me, is, "What you’ve got to do, is you’ve got to treat this label not as a Christian label, but as a label, that’s out there in the world as a label. Yes, some of the product will be very much geared at the Christian market and some of it will be virtually crossover which anybody could enjoy so therefore we’ve got to hit the whole market. Therefore," he said, "you’ve got to have the best secular promotion people because if you don’t have them on board then nobody will believe that you mean business. You’ve got to have not only the best Christian distribution in the UK, you’ve got to have secular distribution in the UK, and not just some local little firm working out a garage in South London, you’ve got to have a reputable big guy. So what we do," he said, "we’ll go for the best on everything."

Now, the best Christian distributors in the UK are called STL, they’re huge, and suddenly we’re on STL, right? The biggest independent distributors in the UK if not Europe are Pinnacle. I put together a serious presentation, went to Pinnacle, they’ve never taken anything like it, suddenly we’re on Pinnacle. The biggest UK promotion company is called Go For It Promotions, they’re the most successful. They may not be the biggest in terms of number of people who work for them but they’re certainly the most successful, run by a guy called Golly Gallagher, he’s the president of the company, and we go to see him. Suddenly we’re putting together a package where to the rest of the industry it’s, "Hold on, these guys aren’t in here for a giggle, they really mean business." And as you know contrary to popular belief rock musicians do not have pots of money, they do not have, especially Yes, and I have overdrafts over the years the same as everybody else has. But to put all this together basically Nina and I just signed our lives away, signed our necks on the line because we really believed in it very strongly.

Then came the interesting thing, is THE NEW GOSPELS, which is almost classically based, sold extremely well in the UK and kept the interest of the bank, that they would support the assorted loans that we’ve got going to put it all together, and then came the most bizarre thing. We suddenly became quite generally the most talked about crossover Christian label in the UK. The expression that we heard from various media sources was that because we’d come in with a just totally different hard hitting [approach] we’d rattled some serious cages around the big boys, who were mainly subsidiaries of the big American Christian labels, and that we’d come in cage rattling because suddenly we’re on every radio station, both secular and Christian stations, we’re getting all the TV programs, we’re getting all the reviews all over the place, and there was some serious cage rattling done. Then the most interesting thing was a lot of the articles that were written in Christian magazines suddenly appeared in American magazines. There was always a plan to get good a American label distribution but we knew we wouldn’t be able to do that until we could present a very good CV showing what we’d achieved in the UK, that was always going to be an important thing to come in and say, "This is what we’ve done in a short space of time, this is our growth, this is how it’s structured, now we want to move into America."

To cut a long story short suddenly because of various articles that were written about Hope Records in American Christian papers, and a lot of them that wrote articles were unaware that I was sort of behind the starting of it all because I try and keep a back seat even though I put it all together, I’ve sort of set the constitution out as to how it should be and it should run, suddenly we’ve got American bands who want to sign to the English label. And we’re saying, hold on a minute. We haven’t got the American side of things set up yet, it’s going to take a bit of time, but then I said to myself, I don’t care. And these are bands that have been chased by, should we say, very much the big Christian labels in the US that for whatever reason, whether it’s that they just like the way that we’ve structured the company and the way that we run it and what we’re trying to achieve and what we’re trying to do, they want to be part of it.

The difficulty that we’ve got is that, I’ve got a big problem, and I’ll tell you what the big problem is, is that there are major Christian acts in Europe that you wouldn’t actually know over here, and you’ll understand why I can’t tell you what the names of some of them are, who are actively coming in to the Hope office and saying, "Hey listen, our contract runs out in a year’s time, we want to sign with you, we want to come on the label." Obviously we’re a Christian label, we’ve have ethics and morals the same as everybody else has, we’re not going out chasing people, we’re looking for new artists. We just signed a fabulous singer called MaryAnn Velvart, who’s like a 1990s Joni Mitchell, English girl, fabulous. We’re taking Paul Field on board who’s a great songwriter, he wrote a lot of Cliff Richard’s hits, "Thief in the Night", and he wrote a track that sold over a million copies called "Save You" which is a beautiful song, we’re out there actively looking for our own people and we’re getting now so many tapes it’s a joke, it’s ridiculous. The problem that we’ve got is that basically I can’t afford to take on any more loans to take on everybody that I would like to do. And I certainly can’t progress as fast as I would like until the American distribution is set up. Once that’s set up then we can look at it from a different perspective.

At the moment I’m running everything on what can come in from the UK, I’m trying to have an international record label that at this present moment in time, its income is UK based. Now it’s not going to grow unless that changes. The astonishing thing is that they actually want to come on board; I firmly believe it’s just purely a matter of time before the right setup comes and having said that we have got two very good roads, not just of interest, of we can set it up, it can be done, it’s just a matter of getting the timing right and then making sure that the principals we set the company up with continues in that way. It’s been very exciting. I mean, Ajalon, who we signed, who you came to see the other night, I mean it’s been tremendous in the UK. I mean they have been on these Christian programs amongst the radio stations that we’re on, everyone that played music they were play listed. They were album of the week on every station that has an album of the week.

MOT: That’s surprising considering they’re kind of a progressive rock band.

RW: Here’s the interesting thing. Because the UK has really not got any Christian format, because it’s been so haphazard in the way that it's run, it’s not formatted at all. Christianity’s growing in the UK which is a good thing, and the Christian music scene is growing because it couldn’t get any worse than it was, but the thing that’s been interesting is that Ajalon we really believe sort of hit these producers and guys and ladies who have been running these programs for years, suddenly appears on their desk. First of all there’s a modicum of interest because, "Hold on, there’s an American band signed to an English Christian label? You’ve got to joking!" I mean UCB called it an absolute breath of fresh air with the exception of the eighteen minute track they broke even all their own rules and playlisted every single track, it was phenomenal, and the letters we got, the reviews we got, it’s absolutely tremendous and it helped us as a label as well, because again rattled a few more cages because some of what I call the big boys turned around, we know they were having meetings about us, saying, "They signed an American band! What’s going on here?" And it’s been quite astonishing.

My problem is I have to be careful. I have my name against, and Nina does as well, against a large supportive loan from the bank, we are servicing it and it’s holding it’s own, in fact it’s a very good business run by Candy and Frank, and I should add very ably assisted by Microsoft software (laughs), I have to say that because especially on the presentation things, that wasn’t a deliberate plug but it’s true, but it’s certainly, as you well know with the aid of presentation software suddenly, where you used to have to have an office of five or six people, it’s now one person happily does it and you can flick it across where ever you like whenever you like and it’s great. So that’s actually helped. That’s been one huge cost saving in a strange way, technology’s really helped us in that event. Even all the artwork, we have a full time art director on board, called Chris White, and that’s another great thing as well, he puts the covers together, sends it down the line to me and down to Frank, we each make a few comments and it’s done, the time on that sort of thing saved is tremendous.

All our sleeves, everything is done in house to that extent; in London Frank’s partner, who is also his wife, actually does everything all on a Mac---so all and all the thing about Hope is that on one side I have a terrible frustration because I know the support we could get over in America from CBN and lots of other areas I know is huge because they know what we’re doing in the UK. I know of four bands—actually one single artist and three other bands that I would sign tomorrow, absolutely sign tomorrow, that would be perfect and great for the label that I know are good people and good guys and good music and good things all the way around, but I can’t. All I can do is sit down and tell them where’s the label’s at. Tell them what I’m not just dreaming of doing, what I intend to do. And the amazing thing is they said, "OK, we’re with you, we’ll hang on in there." Which is a pressure I almost don’t want. I mean in a strange way I’m not being pressurized by these people but it is a pressure hanging over your head.

So it’s a crucial area that my partner Frank Rogers in London is really working full time on. It’s not actually that difficult to get a distribution, we could get a distribution deal of a sort tomorrow, but for what we want to do for the company which is to help support musicians and help them get their music out, out reaching their music, out reaching their belief, call it whatever you like, in order for them to do that if you set the wrong distribution company up, the wrong thing, then that could do as much harm if not more than not having one at all. That’s where Frank’s really good because he said we must not do anything as a stop gap. We could help ourselves a lot by exporting, there’s a lot of companies in America that import. We could have sold quite a serious number of thousand copies on import both of Ajalon and of my stuff and that really would have eased the bank situation. But Frank with his wisdom and the team that he’s got, said no. They own a large stake in Hope and I’ve given them that carte blanche and they said no, that’s wrong because if you start importing that’s going to make life difficult on getting the licensing deal simply because the first thing they’ll say is how much has been imported. There’s the odd few going to shops or through fanzines, that’s fine, but they don’t know how many import warehouses there are with stocks of them that suddenly could flood the market. So by solving a short term problem of heavily increasing the cash flow by exporting you damaging yourself on a long term basis. So what I’ve had to do is take a very much frustrating back seat and to letting these guys who everything they’ve done for the company so far has been spot on and they’re right, and they’re very experienced in this area, I’ve got to sort of stand back.

MOT: You’re really excited about Yes currently. Do you think Yes could actually make it into the 21st century?

RW: I think in order to reach the moon you have to aim for the sun, and that’s something that’s sort of what Yes has done. I would think it’s very dangerous for Yes to set targets because there are so many unknown quantities. This has nothing to do with the fact that I’d had nothing with the album but if there had been what I called a second TALK appeared then you have to say would there have been any more Yes, however hard anybody tries because, for whatever reason with the tour not doing particularly well, how many promoters are going to take it on board maybe a third time, how many record companies are going to throw their support behind it afterwards. It is a crucial time for Yes and it’s an important time, and Yes is no longer at this juncture in time 100% responsible for its own destiny, there are outside elements which are called agents/promoters and record companies, and when your sales exceed either the expectations or the needs of the record company then you hold the royal flush. At this present moment in time I think you could say that Yes hold two pairs and the record company and agents haven’t yet turned their cards over. I would like to think that we could [make it to the 21st century] but at the moment you have to be really brutally honest and say that we are not in charge entirely of our own destiny at this present moment in time, of where we would like to go, no longer can we say we’ll do this and we’ll do that, the band is not in a position to do that and I think that everybody realizes that as well. But that’s still no reason not to plan.


From Notes From the Edge #171

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1997, Mike Tiano
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