Conversation with Steve Howe
from nfte #196
Source: Roxi Cook
MOT: For the first time in years it seems that Yes is really focused now. Could you talk a little bit about the current goals for Yes, and overall game plan.
SH: I think the only thing we're focused about is what we're doing, because we're touring; it's almost like Yes have tapped back into that source, the original flame, the original fire, that was burning in Yes, was that about staging, and about playing and performing. Somehow if you look at the productivity and the rate of recent records it seems the less records you make, it doesn't mean you do more touring, or it doesn't seem to bring out the right things. So that busy period in the '70s, we've got that kind of busyness right now, and I don't know whether that felt the same when they were doing TALK, BIG GENERATOR--most probably 90125, they might have done. But I don't know whether for a long time Yes has had so much pulling together. But most of that is generated from us being onstage and what we learn about each other keeps astounding us more and more, believe it or not, and we'll go through barren times when you're just like working together and getting on and that's fine, and occasionally you'll hit something where you're quite caught by surprise, by how you're thrown together and you're kind of in the deep end all the time together and suddenly you understand each other better. You're prepared to tolerate and learn about the things that are different about each other. That is pretty amazing when that happens. It doesn't happen all the time, but it has happened recently and it's been very good for us. It happened the beginning of the tour when we forged and shaped the general shape of it, and other times we had these sort of rebirths where we get closer, barriers go down, and then if we're not silly we'll all benefit in the long term from that without forgetting about that sort of the bond where there is a way where everybody can feel they're contributing equally and that makes it work really good.
But there's something I think you can't really explain, just about the spirit of the band, it either is or it isn't kind of happening, and it does seem that Yes have got that going again and I would credit the fact that this touring, this kind of touring particularly, where we have contact with the audience makes it pretty important to know what you're doing and also enjoyable. I mean, Jon couldn't hold back some nights saying how lovely a place was, how beautiful, surprising, or amazing the theatre was, could we take the theatre with us, all this stuff, because you don't really talk about that in an auditorium [laughs], it's just a very giant arena, right? So I think those things affect and help us play. We like playing close together now. You might see Yes on a big stage in the future but I think we're going to try to keep the union of the band tighter. Ever since we played the other night in Hard Rock Cafe [in Las Vegas] we thought seriously about being much closer on stage physically, it helps a lot of things, it makes a lot of difficult things easy, keeping it together. Because obviously in a bigger place if you are stretched out you can be at the other end of it for a while, the other end of the beat.
MOT: So what's the overall plan, where does Yes go after this initial tour?
SH: It's strange, I speculate in a different way in my career. I speculate with the music I've got on tape that nobody's heard. That's my belief where I'm going and that's going to help Yes go somewhere. But I'm not very good at conjuring up politically correct sort of things to say about how the group's going to surge forward and go on to the year two thousand and whatever. So I'll leave that to people who have that thought train in their spirit to do, but I'm just happy, I'm happy that this is working at the moment, I'm happy that the team of our management people and the label and all the other people who have worked with us have created something that's working. Every one of them knows it's working quite well, it's quite efficient, it's quite in control and yet it's very creative, so you've got this sort of snowball feeling that this could mean many, many good things if we just don't lose sight of why we went back to here before we move too quickly onto any other new destinations.
MOT: You're going to work your way from the west to the east then jump over the ocean and tour Europe.
SH: There is about a month gap between that happening and at the moment I have a bunch of plans for that month to carry on working on different projects. They asked me to play at the Smithsonian Institute at a concert the end of January...
MOT: Just you, solo?
SH: No, me and Martin Taylor...what we'll be doing initially is to coincide with this concert we're going to release a CD single of just a tune called "Blue Bossa" which I don't play on but I produced with Martin Taylor, and it's a remarkable recording, 6 1/2 minutes long. What happens on it--it has one guitar called a D'Aquisto playing all the rhythm parts and then it has 19 other guitars that individually play one at a time, so they each change, they weave from one guitar to another, all of them immaculate. That's the featured track on the album [MASTERPIECE GUITARS,] because it features some, most of the 25 new guitars he had made last year, called the blue guitars. And then after that will come the complete album with Blue Guitars and the whole album of music, not all if it overdubbed quite so much, but on some there's eight or ten guitars on one track of it, 2, 1, and it solos, it goes from one guitar to two guitars, me and him, playing off each other. So I'm really looking forward to it, I'm just helping him get the sleeve information, so we're doing the single first and then basically the concert will be on the blue guitars. Martin and I won't only play those guitars--we're not going to end up playing all of them, but we'll play only blue guitars, they'll all be there.
MOT: Why the Smithsonian?
SH: They're about to display them, because they're all made in America I think except one, my friend Scharpach is the only exception. So I'm going to do that, and then I'm hoping to work with Annie for a couple of weeks in Pennsylvania. Then there will be two solo concerts I'm doing in South Carolina, in Hilton Head Island between Charlotte and Savannah. That's just something that they wanted me to do and I kind of put it there, and I thought, I'll build some stuff around it, and that's basically what's happened. Then Yes kick off in England on February 27th.
MOT: First time in a long time Yes has toured Europe and a lot of the fans are excited about it.
SH: Yeah! And it's going to be amazing playing at some of these gigs we're playing...
SH: I'm thinking of London, England, actually, just the ones we're going back to, it'll be great, be lovely...
MOT: Old haunts.
SH: Mmm, very exciting.
MOT: Has there been any discussion as to what happens after these two months in Europe? Jump over to Japan...?
SH: I think it could be easy to speculate, it's very easy. I mean we might come back and do some Florida and southern America...all I've heard is that there might be three weeks more in America that we do before we stop this leg of touring, this long extending leg of touring. So if we do I'll be pretty amazed but I'll be happy to keep the energy going as long as we get some breaks and I definitely want to keep busy because...I don't know, there's nothing quite as exciting as playing the guitar on stage, there's isn't really anything quite as exciting as that [chuckles], it's pretty addictive, it can turn around on you without you realizing it. And I suppose after a couple of very restless years with Yes when this is exactly what I wanted to do all the time, as I may have said before on or off the record, that I really wanted to tour with Yes. And I felt that only then would things really start happening because, look, we didn't do a lot just sitting in San Luis Obispo, the voice wasn't heard all around the world, sort of thing.
MOT: Resurrecting songs like "Revealing Science of God" and "America" gives the whole band an opportunity to re-explore the high points of your past catalog. Have you and the band discussed, or have you thought about, doing any other songs that the band hadn't done in years, like from RELAYER, for instance?
SH: My thoughts went in a slightly different direction recently because I got a CD of TIME AND A WORD, and I said to Jon that the album can't be easily dismissed because even though I'm not there and Alan's not there, and Rick wasn't there, that they're outstanding vibrant in direction, they have a good point of direction. And I've always said to Peter Banks' credit that it wasn't difficult to step into Yes and play because they already had a guitarist who kind of messed around in the same that way I did, he kind of messed around with moods and colors in the sound very well, and he was very rhythmical as well, all those "Then" parts, and "Astral Traveler", and all that which I was also very keen on. So TIME AND A WORD is sort of like what a lot a music does, I get new ideas in my mind, I just like that music, and I quite like to dream up some arrangement ideas of how to play some of TIME AND A WORD, maybe play a few of the songs together, going from one to another, because the bit that they play [in "Everydays"...sings melody, and taps out the rhythm with his hands, that runs from 2:28 to 2:40 on the CD], that's great, and when it comes back a second time, boy...and Bill's very jazzy there.
MOT: How do you feel about "Something's Coming"?
SH: Mmmm, Jon's been a bit keen on that one, and Chris too, and I've always said that I just have a little of trouble with that one. More or less anything else--I do like "Survival" a lot from the first album, and some of the other stuff. I kind of think that I'm very interested in the new music Jon and I have been writing, and started to write, at the beginning of these sessions, we've got some really great stuff up our sleeve that we foresee or see Yes doing, I suppose my attention's partly on the new stuff. I'm kind of thinking of Yes as almost like a classical catalog, that each year you should look at your repertoire and you should drop things, really drop them that year, give them a good rest, and then go on and play something else. So I suppose I do look back and think that it would be nice to play "To Be Over", and do a kind of set that lent more about, since we didn't do any of GOING FOR THE ONE this time, or RELAYER, it might be nice to kind of maybe--there's some songs we can't seem to leave, but we might find songs that we can balance them; we've talked about doing "Close to the Edge" soon but I really don't want "Revealing" to go because of it.
MOT: If Yes is going to continue to build momentum as a touring band I think it's probably important that you resurrect some of these songs. Like "The Revealing Science of God", people who didn't know it was coming it was like a total mind blower.
SH: Yeah, I could see people getting like--when we start playing it and then they realize if we're seriously going to play the whole number what it means, in terms of what might happen, and what they don't know what it's going to be like to see us play that song...
MOT: It's kind of sad that the Internet has kind of spoiled things a little bit--
SH: Yeah, I know.
MOT: --because everybody sees the show and they tell everybody else about the show, and I liked to have that element of surprise. I remember at San Luis Obispo there was a woman next to me at one of the shows, and when you started playing "America" it was like, "They're playing America! They're playing America!!"
SH: I think that shows the kind of conviction that we can get, and he had it for a long time with "Awaken", we almost played "Awaken" this tour, we could have done. We might do that next tour, because it is a very powerful number to do, and Jon loves it very, very much and we all do, and I'd like to see "Soon" back in the set, when Jon's ready to get...
MOT: What happened to "Soon" [which was dropped from the set]?
SH: It had to be taken out for a while because it was when Jon had a little bit of vocal difficulty, it was a song he felt he wasn't going to be comfortable with for a couple of nights, so we dropped it. And then suddenly I miss it...[laughs]
MOT: I missed it too [laughs]...I didn't even get to see it! Maybe this is just a pipe dream but what about TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS, if not in its entirely but in a form that kind of hits on all four sides...could it happen?
SH: As you know I'd got a lot of things out of my system when I went solo and I did that exact thing you said, a very miniscule, microscopic version of that, and if Yes was to do something like that it would be quite interesting really, just to simply extract the key elements of three, four sides and do those. I think that would be quite easy for us to do, really, not really a monumental task. But there may be other ways that things like that could happen, other involvements, or other opportunities. There are a few things on the horizon that really would be far too premature to talk about, but there are potential collaborations with another entity; not another rock band, but another sort of entity that would augment the group in a certain kind of way. But whether or not in the end we get that far with a project like that is yet to be seen. We've got to open up OPEN YOUR EYES and as has been noted lots of times, KEYS 2 as well. Maybe we've got to take a different look at all of our material after we finish this leg...so if we can do that that'll be great.
MOT: You seemed to spend an awful lot of time on the East Coast.
SH: We did, didn't we? There's an awful lot of towns to play.
MOT: People in the south were really, really upset.
SH: Well you can't play everywhere at once and we're on tour for two months...there have to be some exclusions. Sometimes that's unfortunate, yeah.
MOT: Does it surprise you, the number of people who have been flying in from other places around the world? How do you feel about people traveling from all over the world to see Yes?
SH: [Whispers] Crazy! [Laughs] That's my stock answer, every time somebody comes up and says, "I've just traveled like, six hours to see you." I always just say, "You're crazy! You must be crazy!" I like to lighten the intensity because sometimes I've traveled further than they have to get there [laughing], so they never really stop to think that; "I've come six hours to see you!" and I say, "I just came ten hours from somewhere else just to play to you!" So in a way I suppose I try not to be too impressed with this, I don't want to underestimate, or make them think that I don't think that it's quite amazing, really, that they do it, but it's kind of beyond my control. There's a lot of things beyond my control and I kind of cut myself off from them quite a lot, so I do see people around and I do know that a lot of them go to a lot of trouble. If I can pick up on that I can give them a little bit of attention. If I don't pick up on it then unfortunately I won't. But somebody running to me and saying, "I just got here from Brazil!!!" can be like, this is going to be a problem [laughs], hang on a second, just slow down a bit!
MOT: People are passionate about music, really.
SH: There's no way I've been more impressed--without slighting America at all in an actual contact level Argentina was astounding for me. I plan to write a little story about that tour because it changed my life in a way. In a small way I learned more there then I had, not only about performing but about observing life, the way you pick up on observing life, and something about Argentina, and Buenos Aires when I went there, it had all the shades of Europe and it had so may crossovers. But when I played there and I picked up my guitar and played the first note, it was electrifying, I was completely spellbound because they were like no other audience I've played to. They all seemed to be sprung the same, they're all sitting there like this, on the same edge of the same seat, watching me with the same intensity. It was so arousing, it was like being a flamenco guitarist in the middle of a room of people and they're all about to go, "Heyyy, OLE!!!" like they do in Spain. And these people did do that as well. I played a section like [sings portion of "Mood For a Day"...then] ROWLLL! So they were applauding it... I like talking about my solo experiences because what I was trying to get to was after the show not only was I overly very impressed with the audiences, incredible in tuneness with music, was that when I tried to get out of these venues the guys wanted to hug me, there was no way I could get out without getting hugged! So my road crew guys were counting the hugs and the first night was like, four or five tonight, five hugs tonight, on the next night they'd add on the five from the last one, and people really wanted to get to me, and hug me and touch me. It was a very... [laughs] dangerous sort of alliance but it was marvelous, it taught me different sorts of humanity, taught me about people that really needs to show their, in a different sort of way, they really definitely wanted to show their respect, or enjoyment in a different way, in a different language. Not a handshake, not a respectful bow, but a hug, and it was quite amazing. I got some pictures that I took over there, and to me they're very powerful, about what I like, what I caught visually over there.
MOT: Is the band talking about South America at all?
SH: There's been some very similar conversations about Mexico. It happens every time Yes ever toured, we're always going to go to Mexico and so far I've never been with any band--Asia, GTR--and every band I've ever been in has been offered Mexico. So I got kind of tired of it being there and never happening. Certainly I would think it would be very interesting if we went back to Argentina, and I haven't played Brazil yet myself. Although I'm not a tremendously adventurous traveler, I don't have a yearn to travel to the North or South Pole, and I find that when I think about things I like, there's a lot more I'd like to see given the opportunity in my own country actually [chuckles], a strange thing to say, having been a sort of traveler on and off for years I haven't grown tired of it but I've certainly have seen the other side of it, the reverse side of that is that you actually appreciate what you like more, and you become more like a sponge to absorb all these new experiences. Argentina was really phenomenal and I'll never forget it, very powerful. But America's been something that's been a whole career, not just one trip...
MOT: At some point you're going to have to, hopefully, record a new album. Have you been throwing around musical ideas at sound checks and the such?
SH: There might be odd times when something gets stuck on a tape because someone's jamming, yeah, we do that a lot ourselves. In fact, we're kind of loose in certain respects and I think that there's a lot of openings for acceptance of different ways material will become the group's material, and I think that's an open door. So the direction and when we do it is all about when we've sort of got past a certain point, most probably September, October next year, I can't see us going beyond that point very easily without wanting to get the creative side onto a new project, really. But that's only an estimate.
MOT: Hopefully with Billy now in the band there will be an organic approach to the next album, a lot more like classic Yes, kind of like KEYS TO ASCENSION 2. Those studio tracks are definitely classic Yes tracks.
SH: Bear in mind they were constructed, completed without Rick there at all. He heard what we did and then played on top of it, due to his schedule.
MOT: Really? He's really well integrated into those tracks, more so than KEYS 1.
SH: He's *very* well integrated, we integrated him in the preparation, there was space left for him, it was an organized project like that. But Rick added a familiar and needed contribution; not to say even though it was left to be done as opposed to done together--obviously you can't do all those things together anyway, because you can't focus and at least playing things right. You can tell yourself again and then you can do it and then you can pull it apart afterwards and find it's no good and you have to play it again with less people quite often. But certainly I'd like to think that we could have a really interesting crossbreed of what Yes can do, which might be worth thinking about paying some tribute to the people who've been in it and helped it in its way, like for instance there's a kind of slant that Yes uses occasionally, and maybe it's just an awareness that we've all got about English pop and things like the Buggles, so in a way there was a kind of newness and freshness about that Buggles that became part of Yes. Sometimes Yes revitalize themselves like that, you could say we've done it with Billy on OPEN YOUR EYES, but as we know it did spawn from the relationship that we've have with Billy over the years, and that's to its credit really, that it's not a shot in the dark sort of situation, and so Billy's kind of had experience working with us all prior to this.
MOT: I would like to think that Billy is one reason that those tracks on KEYS 2 are as good as they are.
SH: Well he certainly helped in the conceptualizing of an approach to doing it, and kept believing that we could do it in his studio, and that meant that certain conditions which were acceptable to Chris and I. And we got the sounds we liked, and Alan played away in the big room, and we had a good time playing those backing tracks and that was a start, I could think of all those classic albums always started with us liking it just with nothing on it, you know what I mean? We like it when it's got just three instruments playing, thank you, good night. If it's like that then, then when you overdub it properly and you take stuff out you don't want, you put it back in, it fits together like a jigsaw, it all becomes like you didn't know you could do it for clever, but in fact because you're structuring it and keeping things in order that the order prevailed and you got a very organized beautiful track, you got what you wanted, you achieve a goal, and we did that in the same way. So I daresay that's why KEYS 2 studio [tracks] has that thing. Billy was acting very much in the Eddie Offord chair, he was acting out that role very proficiently, he had his own way of working in the studio which meant a lot of things got decided down the way, he didn't leave every decision until the last minute which helped us a lot. Billy and I teamed up well recording it and we did I suppose a couple of weeks of guitars after we did the tracks, and we were able to pull the project in really well, and everybody got what they wanted.
MOT: Billy was right in there with suggestions and knows what he's talking about as far as Yes history goes.
SH: That's right. When you take an idea, like when the track breaks down and goes [sings portion that begins at 9:38 on "Mind Drive"]--a lot of ideas took a lot believing in when you saw it as a structure. Fortunately we were taking some chances because there were some surprises in there, the accepted thing didn't happen, we didn't fall into something ordinary, we kind of pulled out a few surprises, and that meant that it had to be well produced to get those ideas across. I like the guitars on that album a heck of a lot. In fact, the "Mind Drive" guitar, which is the 175, was I think the most pronounced thing that I've done that I can only think of is...the guy who's been in my thoughts for so long is Roland Kirk. What happened was certain areas of the texture in the music were arranged so that there'd be very close calls on the chords, the chords would be moving in a, not necessarily chromatic, but close call, in other words you get one chord and you might get a stranger chord coming in quite soon after it, not necessarily on the beat but in a rhythmical sense, on an accent. I was quite cautious about this; I kind of said that makes it pretty rough for me because I want to get in there and move around, and every time I'm going somewhere, hey, we're somewhere else. So at first it was a challenge, and I though, I think I'll have to simplify it, or I'll try to get the guys to simplify it. But actually I worked around it, and what it did to me was take me to levels of planned improvising that I like to be at, which is more like "Close to the Edge", that kind of head down and we're moving, we're already into a groove, we've already got the groove, just play it, just start it, and we're grooving. I've long liked jazz, and jazz is the main voice of improvisation besides rock guitar and all the other things, it was the first form of open and frenzied improvisation and that's got at lot to do with psychedelic rock, and rock guitar, and blues guitar, it's got a heck of a lot to do with all that. And I thought the main influence I was having often would be guitarists, though over the year I enjoyed getting influenced from difference instruments, different--not necessarily one instrument but maybe one particular performer. What happened was five or so years ago I had some Roland Kirk records and when I played them I realized they were some of my favorite jazz records of all time and that what he did when he played was so full of power and determination, it's like the voice element because he's playing a wind instrument. Sometimes he'd play three of them at once, and he was just an astounding musician, he's in no way forgotten, he's had two anthologies out recently and some of the anthologies have a few tracks of him talking, and it's really spaced out stuff. I like the stuff mainly where he's playing with bass, drums, and piano because then it's just him, he makes all these noises, he's got whistles and bangs and everything, but he's got also remarkable ability to improvise. And, of course, write, because most of what he played were actually his compositions, and I only became even more aware of this the other day when I realized that one of the tunes I was listening to called "The Haunted Melody", I was saying to people have you ever heard of a tune called "The Haunted Melody"? "No, I'd not heard of that." I'd go, "It goes [sings melody]." So I looked on the CD and it's see it's written by Roland Kirk. And I looked down the tracks and they're all written by Roland Kirk, all of these tunes I've been just throwing on the CD, I've been [going], oh I love this stuff, where did this stuff come from? It's Roland Kirk [laughs]!
Then I played in Columbus, Ohio, came off stage and thought, there's something I can't...got back [to the hotel], picked up Roland Kirk's CD, thought "I wonder what this," looked...born in Columbus, Ohio...and I flipped. I missed my one opportunity to say. "Today, you guys, I've to congratulate you, you're the hometown of Roland Kirk." And I missed it by a couple of hours, just seeing it, and being reminded that he was born [there]. But that's something that would be wonderful to have that, all that noise. But in a way I hope that I carry maybe just a point-one percent of Roland Kirk's kind of enjoyment of music, because of lot of people who--like, he was blind from the age of 2, so he had a tremendous disability to cope with, and for his music to become that important to him obviously was a complete rebalancing of the senses, his whole body was really sort of channeled, if you like, through his instrument. It's much like an orchestra I heard playing, and all the people were deaf in the whole orchestra--they were all supposed to be deaf, if you like, deaf of being able to hear normally, But the whole orchestra, and they all played, and [laughs] it was better than anything else! I've said to people that it was better than any music I've ever heard in my life. Ever. Just one time I was trapped and I saw it on television, and I was so shocked...they were playing the music in a really new, vital way, and it was hard to imagine how people could bring something out, they brought something completely special to it. Many of the great musicians have been disabled in some way because somehow it's led them to the music, in a beautiful, beautiful way, and that's a tremendous tribute to human endurance, to become great.
Like Django, I was mentioning Django just because I hurt my finger [in Los Angeles the previous day prior to the show], he had two fingers that were burnt in a fire in a caravan, really before he became an acclaimed guitarist, as he was playing, or I think he may have been playing violin. But let's just say that this was before his career blossomed, but he then found a way of playing all his own. He may have been great before, one can't really estimate. The best Django to hear I think at this point of time is the electric guitar playing of Django Reinhardt. It's obscure, it's was only recorded in the last couple or years of his life, but all the other stuff is on an acoustic guitar called a Macaferri by Selmer, and that's a terrific sound, that's his identifiable sound. But then he picked up electric guitar...he made it sing in a way that's really quite surprising, a lot of sustain on electric guitar all that time ago. These sort of instrumentalists, they have a pretty big effect on me. I let them, I want them to have, I enjoy them so much. I guess that alternates some of my other diversions like, sometimes I actually really do still like singing even though I'm not a great singer [laughs]. So I enjoy those things that maybe help to humble you to know that you still have limitations no matter who you are, and in a way as a musician you're always trying to break those limitations, particularly onstage.
Going right back to PET SOUNDS [which we had been discussing earlier] you can see how long we can talk about live playing, because we've really been talking about live playing a heck of a lot...live playing is like real life to a musician, and studio is really where the fantasy is, because that's where the Beach Boys dreamed up, and Brian Wilson dreamed up that record, and George Martin and the Beatles got SERGEANT PEPPER, and then BLONDE ON BLONDE and all the other records continued--not necessarily chronologically there, but there became to be a wealth of classic records, classic albums, and maybe people will look back at the '80s and see different ones in years to come. So there's a lot to think about in where Yes could go, and where Yes might go, I don't know.
MOT: You're unique in that you're one of the few instrumentalists, in the rock 'n' roll scene at least, who has a distinct voice, and voice in the instrumental sense. That's what struck me about your solo in "Mind Drive", it sounds totally spontaneous, and it reminded me of,...actually gave me the feeling of THE YES ALBUM, and I guess particularly your solo in "Yours is No Is No Disgrace", because that too is the 175 and it had that same sound, that same feel, what, 25, 30 years later...?
SH: Mmmm...yeah...I take that as a compliment because I do like things I played in those days particularly around 1972, '73, and then up to'75 when we played at QPR. Of course there is a certain excitement that you need I suppose to get to that point. I meant the sound that you make, if the sound that you make when you put your fingers down is the sound that you wanted to make, and really quite precisely, then more or less anything's possible. I mean, you can reach your goals, you can go way beyond what you think you might do, purely because the sound somehow allows you to do it, it's an amazing thing. So that has to happen, that has to structurally happen, you have to get the guitar ringing away and singing just how you want to hear it. And maybe you don't do it to start with but somebody else is down there going, well, what if I turn the middle up a bit, get a bit more treble, I know I'm going to change the pickup here, I know I'm going to use that pickup--a couple of people are messing with the sound, and suddenly--I know that happened before "Mind Drive", much like Eddie would do, get the compression right on both channels, maybe you've got a close mic and a distant mic, not have all sorts of gadgets we do now, but certainly nothing very digital, mainly analog guitar sort of things. A little bit of digital on some of it, we sometimes soup it up, we've got all sorts of options, I don't really want to go into that. But if we think of it as a guitar and an amp primarily, that's the bulk of the sound, it's about getting that. Because once that happens, ok, the structure's coming along and yeah, I had to design from the ground up really what I would play from the lead guitar point of view, because first of all I learned the structure, played the structure, arranged that with the guys, and then the next step was coloring it a little, texturing it a little, but then like sitting on top of it an playing all that fast lead guitar, that was a slow process, it didn't have a long time to slow but it was a gradual process in my mind of getting to the point where I was able to sit right up there and really take it over, and it's really exciting because it was such a tremendous challenge.
Like I told you, to learn it on stage is going to be a monumental, very, very time consuming challenge of learning--not note for note improvising, because I don't always do that but I've got to learn key movements in the structure, so "that's sounds right, hey this is different," but then it comes back, so there's always safety in the level of familiarity in the part. So I've already thought, well it may be easier to me for me to really learn a lot of that to start with...some songs there are parts that bounce along and when you look at improvising you've got to either decide that you're going to take the structure on every night and not learn it, which is quite brave, or you're going to take the idea and work around it as much as you can, maybe not note for note. I love that challenge, I don't mind that at all, but it's kind of awesomely enormous, because I always listen to it and go, check that bit out for a start [laughs]. I'm going to have to be very nifty and very concentrated, it maybe will take me a couple of days of working to get that structure all mapped out in my mind, because I can't learn it any way else. I can make a few notes, like this run starts on F, this run starts on C, that one starts here, but very rough guidelines and it's got to go in my mind. But it'll be easy because "Mind Drive" as a structure has Yes structure thinking. It has like an English looking thing to me, it's as if it's got a Union Jack on one end and another Union Jack at the other [laughs] and it does to me have a lot of English quality in the music, and for that reason I feel so sure that it's going to be easy to play because of the organized part of structure of everything and the immense work for me on "Mind Drive" which is going to have to happen. In a way it wouldn't be worth me learning it if we weren't playing and it would be very boring for me not to recap all that and work out how I did it.
MOT: It's definitely a classic Yes song. It's a testament to the song that-- and I'm sure I'm voicing the opinion of a lot of Yes fans--I'd like to hear "Mind Drive" probably even more than some of the classic stuff.
SH: You're right...you've got to realize in the major areas that is pretty strong circumstances of opinion. But there are other markets that you play where it really does go down great, because they do think it's a nice thing to come out and see, but because they're not so hip with it it's not so laid on them all the time, what they're doing. It's actually more apparent on the west coast because just the slight difference of the audience involvement level, and I'm quite in tune with it, I think it's quite an intelligent response, it's just a little bit more thought out. Maybe the east coast throw themselves at us a bit more and therefore they get sucked up into, "Hey, this is great, let's go along with it," and I think some of the west coast people where even when the concert's going on they'll be sifting their thoughts, "Yeah, I'm quite happy with this, I'll go along with it," but they might be thinking that because intelligently they might be thinking, "Well, in a way they could have maybe gone out of their way to do something not so often played." I would like to think maybe that was the best intention which I think is very encouraging for us because I do think Yes can get strong enough now to take away some of that material--I don't really want to cite the particular songs but we all know what they are, the ones that we've always done and they're always there. They're always pretty good, but...
MOT: There's nothing wrong with them.
MOT: It's just that here you've created some new, phenomenal music that demands to be played, really.
SH: Even "That, That Is" isn't bad, I wouldn't mind hearing that some time in the next few days just to reevaluate that. Although "That, That Is" in a way very rough on the lyric side and Jon took a very sort of biting look at it and that did scare me...but "That, That Is" is something that had mood, that was where we got mood from, we had quite a bit of attitude on that, besides the moody style beginning which I don't think we should repeat too often there--that's what I like about "Bring to the Power", it's got one of those more unusual introductions, loads of guitars, they're all just like moving around and doing things.
MOT: That's a great song. It seems only Yes can get away with starting out with what sounds like one song and move to a whole different thing, almost eschewing what came before it, but [as in "Bring to the Power"] return to it at the end.
SH: It's the sort of thing we do, I guess, is the best way to say it, it is the kind of thing we do, we shift those. And in a way it allows us to fit together sometimes. Sometimes at the time we can get to the point of thinking we're going a bit bizarre, though sometimes things are quite ordinary and they get even more bizarre when you've recorded them, you might get an ordinary patch that's just trucking along and something will happen in there that will make it all weird. So there's lots of contradictions about how we get to these musical moments. Most of the good things about it is the collaboration, the stitching together of in idea, the belief that this goes with that. I hear that in lots of people's records, fine, they think that goes with that, that's fine, you kind of find out about people by what they do and I guess that's what Yes is, almost like a pictorial story, by listening you kind of hear what we're all about. It's a relatively honest approach in the best way, you can look at the classic albums; like if CLOSE TO THE EDGE is one the classic '70s albums then it's less about clever studio techniques and much more about clever musical ideas, although there are tremendous dynamics in there also but that is from a musical--and a production perspective of course, but I suppose mixing and not overdoing the production, and finding a balance with that production. In fact the perfect word for Yes at its optimum *is* balance because you can't be on that stage and be playing with those guys, or with me, or with us, or which ever way around you want to look at it, unless there's that sort of consensus, that feeling that we're there and everybody's doing something right, and it's being done right. I think we're quite much more disciplined, and fairly reasonable, about being able to say, 'What happened there? What happened there tonight?" And everybody takes it fine, you know, "Oh yeah, I had a problem." When I see them tomorrow I'll go in and I'll say, "Hey, you think it was my roadie who screwed up, it was actually me," I left something in the wrong mode. He pressed a footswitch and we had a big howl at one time which [laughing] was quite interesting in "And You and I", which wasn't supposed to be there obviously and it was horrible. But it was a moment of like complete collapse and then we just carried on with bravado, ignored it. Of course it was horrible and I have to let the guys know that it was completely my fault. He did the right thing. The fact that it happened twice was a miscommunication because I said leave it out, which to me means leave it out, don't have it on, and he thought I said leave it on [laughs]. So we had two howls at the same time. [Makes two shrieking noises] Hm, the guitar department is having a slight problem over there [laughs]. What's extremely interesting about problems is obviously you realize how important you are to music when you do something wrong. Obviously if you make a howling noise it's just a bit like punk music really.
MOT: [Laughing] "And You and I"...punk...
SH: Yeah, the punk version...[Shrieking] "And you and I roll over do do dododododo..."
MOT: In the promo material Jon was quoted as saying OPEN YOUR EYES is an album of songs rather than musical concepts, as if your other songs had no validity...
SH: I think you're overinterpeting what he's saying, you might well be overinterpeting what he's saying, but that stuff [OPEN YOUR EYES] is not really aimed at the main Yes fan, the bulk Yes fan, the knowledgeable Yes fan, it seems to be aimed at somebody who forgot what Yes was like 20 years ago. I'm not egotistical about that, I'm quite happy not to be recognized for weeks, and that's what happens when I go back to England, I most probably won't be recognized again for a while, who knows [laughs], it's certainly great coming here and being recognized all the time. I think what [Jon's] trying to say is that instead of a concept album you've just got a batch of songs, which is kind of like slighting it a little bit by saying that it's actually not a concept album, it's just a bunch of songs. I think he's bringing it more low key, he's not making a fuss about it, he's not saying it's got a message.
MOT: I have two questions about "Children of Light". One is that on stage you didn't play "Lifeline". What was the reason behind not including that part?
SH: Originally it was that, I guess that KEYS was only partially being presented on this tour, we were only in passing giving you a taste of it. Because the idea came from Jon saying, "You know I could almost sit up here and strum it and sing, and we could have a bit of--" it was sort of like to make it easy for everybody so nobody really had to go back and deliver the recording version. This was like an impromptu live version, and for that reason we didn't go launching into the wonderful grandeur of that second section. I always think you raise good points, I think that is a good point that could be noted here, those kind of moments...one of the reasons I'd like "Soon" to come back, not just because I like to play on both of them but because I think that kind of mood is needed in the set, more the "And You and I" dreamy, floaty sort of tuneful side to balance out some of the edges and peaks of the set.
MOT: The other question was that I was surprised that "Lightening", the introduction that Rick did wasn't on the album. What happened there?
SH: Two things happened. The band made the decision that we didn't like the introduction and like other times you took it off. So we decided that we thought the track started just fine like that and what we have before it seemed completely out of context. So the end was just terrific, so obviously that's what we saw as a goal, was to make the song have the shape. Funnily enough there was another opportunity where it could have been the other way except for the fact that the record company who had final decision said they preferred it without it. So that was not only the band in the majority, all of us saying that we decided to take off the intro and the record company said well actually we prefer it without the intro so let's not go back to the trouble of putting the intro back on, thank you, goodnight, end of story, that was what had happened.
MOT: It mainly it was a creative and artistic decision on the part of the band.
SH: Well it was a big pretend orchestra going [sings a portion]...
MOT: But was it totally separate from the song, or did it echo themes from the song?
SH: Not distinctly in any way at all, no. It was invented and it was not used.
MOT: Someone suggested that the reason it's not on the album is because the masters were lost, which sounds like more of a bullshitty excuse.
SH: Well, to put my penny worth in there, there often is confusion about masters when it comes down to it, especially when tapes were finished in November '96 and then they were not delivered. And although a tape was delivered then to Castle there were minor tape problems, they weren't catastrophic or anything, there were some minor temporary problems, but then the assembled master was in Castle's hands and that's the one that they've used. I'll only add a whimsical thought that fate has a funny way of...being the right thing to do. You can look at it one way either artistically and say that the group felt that we didn't need this weighty, orchestral introduction to that song because it was really a folk song, and we had a very spacey ending to it that we thought was a good piece of teamwork, but I think Rick and I are credited as writing.
MOT: What can you say about Rick Wakeman and his departure from the band?
SH: I can only say that it was entirely his decision. We didn't consciously in any way formulate any plan that we didn't want to have him in the band, all our plans involved Rick, and Rick knew this, and that was the alliance that we formed in October 1995, we said these things, we set about a course. We didn't really get very far, and that was the bands are generally are easily misled by management, in fact management is a powerful force within the industry, and if it's not right for the band then the band can't flourish in that period. So it was a difficult time for that but at the same time that spawned the sort of thinking that allowed it to continue in a way, because it was like that, it continued instead of being brought to a short stop and change of course, it's hard to change course, so we were going through that at the same time as doing KEYS 1 and KEYS 2. I think I'm very pleased that because we were left alone as we were on all the musical decisions, the music itself was ours and we made up that batch of music. "Sign Language" was not a small idea in itself because in fact we knew we wanted another short piece of music and we knew that we could--like we did on "From the Balcony", in other words team a couple of guys off and say, well you write something, and I came forth very quickly and said I had a couple of pieces, if you like one of them we could do them. They wouldn't be a big thing, it would be guitar and the keyboards on it. So I'm very pleased the guys in the band, said, yeah, let's hear them and I think the first one I played was "Sign Language" and they said, oh that's nice, do that with Rick. So Rick embellished it a little bit structurally and then we just recorded it all in the same breath. So there's only one other instrumental we've ever done called "Montreaux Theme" which is a strange mix without all the instrumentation that was available at that time, but thank goodness we have a quarter inch mix of it as opposed to nothing.
MOT: And it's on YESYEARS.
SH: Yeah, and that's a very intricate piece of structure, it was just left laying there, it could have started GOING FOR THE ONE, it could have started it there and then gone [sings steel guitar intro to title song] and you would have had a sort of warning of what was to come, because there are some very powerful moments in that.
MOT: It would be nice to hear Yes play that one. Actually there's a couple of things in YESYEARS...
SH: What do you think about "Money"?
MOT: That's what I was going to say, "Money".
SH: I played it one day, it was in the other room and I left the CD on with YESYEARS and along came "Money" and I thought, this is great, be-bop...it shows my roots. Dave Davies in the Kinks was definitely right when he saw me do a solo concert where I did some Spanish pieces and folk pieces in my usual sort of style, and then because it was a school concert we got a sort of band together and I played a couple of Chuck Berry songs. And afterward Dave Davies came up to me and said, "I don't know about that Spanish and folk guitar stuff, but that Chuck Berry's stuff's really you, that's really you in your element." I've always loved rock 'n' roll and I always will, and it starts with all sorts of interesting musicians and singers and guitarists. Before rock 'n' roll really came about there was marvelous growth of people that made it possible for people to streamline all these sort of trendy ideas, which is sort of like hillbilly, R&B, folk, turning into rock, and suddenly it's really exciting. Certainly, I suppose Chuck Berry symbolized, along comes a guy who writes songs, he sings, and he has his own guitar style and he's off. Of course he was the first major star I ever saw, he was headlining the first big concert I ever went to in my life and that was sometime, I can't quite remember when it was, might say in MOTHBALLS...Carl Perkins was before Chuck Berry and it had the Animals, and when Chuck Berry came on he was fucking great, he was really rocking and tore the place apart, so I've always remembered those influences.
MOT: That would be great if you did "Money"...in fact that's a Yes fan's dream, on certain nights you just pulled something out of your hat, you just played it that night, it's not like a standard set song, and that kind of creates a buzz too...
SH: Funnily enough a few nights ago I wondered if Jon would be at all flexible to that very idea, because I thought one night, "We just need to do something between these two songs, it doesn't have to be anything but just something to break that thing." And I thought of having that sort of a moment where Jon knew I might play anything from Yes and he would have to maybe sing something. Like if I went [sings a few notes] and he had to sing "Perpetual Change" or something, [sings] "I see the cold mist in the night..." [sings a few notes] we go a bit wrong then, ok that's the end of that, let's go on, then.
MOT: Chris uses a wireless and I noticed you haven't gone to that, you're still using cables.
SH: It's not that I'm old fashioned in using cables, I'm using very, very high quality cables and I believe in cables. I don't believe in radio. The sound that I get, particularly the 175 is very delicate. Acoustic guitars, like the system I use, it's really about having good cables and nothing to do with having to do about radio. Someday I might think it's fine for certain kinds of sounds, but I just don't believe in it...I need to be in a certain place onstage. I'm pretty free to go in the center and walk around, do anything I like, but the area I work in is the area where my sound is best, and if I go away I don't hear that sound and I hear it in the monitor it's not the same. I haven't had the same contact, it's like I can't hear anymore really because it's not the sound, so I go back and I'll hear the sound...like last night at one time somewhere in the solo spot I went back there to get the sound together in my mind, "Hang on, I've got this sound, it's sounds like this," but when I go over there of course it sounds like something else [laughs]. So it's kind of a sacrifice which you usually make, this is quite often the room is giving you a lot of sound, so then you've got more flexibility if you play solo. But even in the solos that I do while the group are playing I need to be where I am, I've gone rather back to how it used to feel, very dependent on the contact that I've got with the sound, I've got to be in that field of sound, it's like no other field of sound exactly. And if I don't hear that then believe in it, and like I said to you first of all once you've got the sound--you asked me about "Mind Drive"--the first thing I did was get that sound really cooking so that I could get freed up, and you have to do that every night on stage, and you can't really but yet what you're trying to do is get the sound right every night for yourself. Doesn't sound [like a] difficult thing to do but it's a constant changing challenge, it's just like another day: is it going to rain, is it going to shine? Is it going to be good, is it going to be bad? Is it going to be dead, is it going to be live? Wet, dry? Some places have got a back delay, so you've all these different things, that's great, I like the challenge.
MOT: I heard Vegas was great.
SH: [In Vegas] Chris was out in the front [during "The Fish"]...so I was standing there and Jon's picking up that I'm getting a mite restless. I warned Billy that some nights crazy stuff is happening. We've done a few mad things, I don't know whether you saw both of us with our guitars through the tambourine playing, hanging on the mic stands in the tambourine, we've done some wild things, here and there were crazy bits happened. And the crazy bit started to happen where I went into this very unusual guitar position where my leg's over the guitar neck and I'm playing under here like this [demonstrates]. So I'm doing this not facing the audience particularly while Chris is right at the front of the stage doing the big posing bit and I'm back there, and Jon's starting to crack up, and I think they must have put me on the screen because Chris is looking out there and suddenly he went--you could see everybody was looking at something else, so he turns around, and I'm standing there with my guitar like this through my leg and my leg moving like this playing, just looking totally silly...we've had a couple of silly nights. Every now and again we just get--if someone's going to be silly then I'll be even sillier.
MOT: [Laughing] That's great, that's spontaneous. That's what rock 'n' roll's all about, having fun.
SH: It is. I remember when I was in this band the In Crowd with Keith West we used to play a gig, whenever we played it we used to get drunk, which I don't recommend at all. But we used to get drunk and play because we hated the gig so much, and it was in Liverpool, and it was a pier at midnight, it was a double gig, you played somewhere else and then you played this one. It was a hellish gig to play, and it was a ballroom, it was about 1966, and we used to get legless there, we used to get drunk, get up on stage, just run around stage the whole time with that 175, I used to do Chuck Berry walks all the time and that was the night I did it, was Liverpool. That gig was dangerous. Antics...yeah, everybody in the band's got their own right to do whatever they like and that's my condition. Anybody can do anything they like, they can stand on their piano, they can roll on the floor, I think anybody should do what they want. But there again everything should work within the group, that it should always be a group, and even if Jon is out there singing on his own and everybody else is in darkness, Jon's doing it for us as much as I'm doing it for them, and we all contribute to it, so that's the way I think of it.
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Copyright © 2002, Mike Tiano
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From Notes From the Edge #196
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