Jon Anderson interview by Steph Perry
September 21, 2011
“Everything is good.” That’s what Jon Anderson wants his fans to know. He’s busy and very happy despite the fact that his former band mates from Yes have replaced him and moved on. After recovering from serious health issues in 2008 including a severe asthma attack and acute respiratory failure, Anderson is very positive about the future and is excited to write and perform the music that he loves. I called Jon at his studio in California and we talked about his new solo album, the upcoming tour with Rick Wakeman, his respect for Native Americans, his memories of spending time with Jimi Hendrix, and much more.
Jon’s thoughts on why he chose to work with fans over the internet to write songs for his new album Survival & Other Stories…
It was very simple really. It was about 6 years ago and I was very creative at home in my studio and I worked with a couple of people on the internet using MP3s and one of them was Jamie Dunlap who did a couple of tracks on the album, and I realized that working with people by the internet would be an adventure. So I just put it on my website because it seemed logical that whoever would get back to me, a) they would know who I am, b) they like what I do, and c) they would know the kind of music I’m interested in doing. So it all seemed to sort of dovetail together.
On how the process worked…
Basically I would say to people on the website, just send me one minute of your music. I can found out basically what a musician is like within one minute, whether he’s got good style, good chord sequences, and good ideas musically. So I would sift through all the people who sent me emails and pick out the people that sort of resonated with me, and just got back to them and said “okay send me some of your music, let’s hear what you got and I’ll sing on it and write lyrics and sing melodies if it really strikes me.”
On how the songs were written…
I’d write the melodies with the music that was sent and I’d write the lyrics as I went along. This is the way I write music whether it’s me playing the guitar or somebody else playing the piano, I generally write the melodies as I did with Yes all the time. I’d write all the melodies and obviously sometimes with Steve work out some songs that he had but I’d evolve them. I’m sort of very melodic-thinking so I would always have a great time doing that.
On what he learned from the experience of working with people over the internet…
Trust. You trust in the powers of the Divine, that the energy that surrounds you surrounds people all over the world. We’re all connected. So it’s not sort of abstract, it’s more like modern technology enabling people to create with each other as though they’re in the same world, which they are. And they don’t have to be in the same room to create and that’s part and parcel of why the internet is such a fascinating tool.
On what inspired him to write the lyric, “never before has living been so alive” [from the song Love and Understanding, from the album Survival & Other Stories]…
I think when I’m putting together a song, I generally sing a lot of lyrics at the same time and that just popped out. I listened back to it and thought, if people get the chance to sit back and enjoy life in the world that surrounds them, they’ll realize that being in the moment is the real place to be because the past has already happened and the future hasn’t come yet. And at this moment in time, living is so incredible and what surrounds us is just extraordinary. It’s a feast of energy and it’s infinite. It’s as though anything is possible as long as you sort of believe in yourself. I think that’s what the song really relates to, and I think probably the message on the album is that feeling, that after going through the near death experiences that I did in 2008, that it made me more thankful for what I do and more thankful for what I’m gonna be doing.
On how his long career with Yes ended so abruptly and yet he’s moving ahead with a positive attitude in his music and his life…
It took me a while to get over what they were doing because my main concern was the music, the fans, and how people relate to Yes. And what I relate to Yes as, is a doorway, like an opening, an ever-expanding experience. So when they wanted to move on and do what they did, I felt pretty sad and depressed that they did it in such a crazy manner. That fans would be upset, of course, and that’s normal because I hated it when the Beatles split up you know it was the worst day of my life. Life moves on, you got to learn to live with it, which I did. Everybody asks me about it and I just say well, when are you going to get together with Yes again? I always say it’s a joke, I always say, when they wake up! Because the music is more powerful than we could ever understand, and one of the great things about the break was that they gave me the freedom to become who I am now… a very more happy person, more contented about what I am doing creatively, and very excited about the musical experiences I’m going through now. And I just want to reach out to all the Yes fans and say don’t worry, Yes music will survive in some form or another and I’ll be part of it in some form or another. And that’s life you know. And it’s a very very tiny tiny teeny teeny part of rock and roll and a very teeny tiny part of the world so I don’t want to get too over confused about it. At times I think Yes is everything and then I think, no, Yes is really a very small thing so just get on with music.
On whether or not he communicates with his former band mates…
Not really, no. The guys got into their own world. When I got ill on tour I really wanted to have a break and do an acoustic style album so we all play together more and they just didn’t want to do that and Rick was very disappointed in them and I was sick. I was sick for two or three years before I got really bad. So I was able to go out and do some gigs with the School of Rock and work with younger people, do a couple of shows with youth orchestras and really expand my musical horizons. I wasn’t going to stand still. But they didn’t change. They just want to go out there and be like a journeyman, it’s just getting out there and performing, and that’s okay. That’s what people sometimes just are happy with what they’ve got and they want to just do it. But I’m not like that. That’s why when I was in the band, I used to drive them crazy! I want to do a long form piece of music, I want to do Awaken, I want to do Close to the Edge, I want to do Gates of Delirium, or Mind Drive, or Topographic Oceans, take them on journeys and then the audience would follow which was unbelievable when I think about it! But that’s what I am, I’m very into large form pieces of music. I’m actually just finishing one now called Open and I’m going to get it out for Christmas. It’s part of my DNA. It’s my experience of music.
On working with Rick Wakeman on their new album The Living Tree…
Rick was sending me music mid-summer last year and we were getting ready to do a concert tour in the UK, and I was doing shows at the same time that he sent me the music so I would use my laptop to sing the songs and come up with ideas for the lyrics. I’d like to say, it’s a very beautiful simple idea but the other side of the coin the lyrics are very expansive. You have songs about the darkness of war and the craziness of how we treat the world in general and the beauty and wonder of it all. Because I still retain that presence of mind to want to write about the incredible potential of my life and what I’m going through and what I’m experiencing. The internet is creating this wonderful revolution getting rid of corruption and things like that which is very important for the future of the human condition.
On the upcoming tour with Wakeman…
Well we talked over the phone. We’re going to do Awaken which will be a lot of fun to me and him because that was a great moment in our lives. And then we’re going to be hopefully doing America because I started learning the song America again and we might be doing that as well as other songs from Yes and The Living Tree.
On whether or not there will be other musicians on tour with them…
No, it’s just enough, me and Rick.
On meeting Jimi Hendrix…
It was amazing. I went to see him perform in a very small club in Munich, Germany. I was living with these two sort of rock and roll groupie girls at that time, and they were looking after me because I was a little crazy about doing too many drugs and I was hippie and I was sort of sleeping in the cupboard and they were taking care of me, they were very sweet. But they always put parties on and of course Jimi Hendrix and his band came to the apartment in Munich, and they’re all partying away and I’m in the corner keeping quiet because you know I was just going through a crazy time in my life, and he came over and sat next to me and gave me a joint and we smoked a joint together and that was a beautiful moment for me. I met him again about a year later in London and I had just started Yes and he just walked in this jazz club and got up and played with Rahsaan Roland Kirk, one of the great saxophone jazz players, and they both played for an hour spontaneous and it was one of the most important things in my life musically. And he remembered me!
On recently becoming a United States citizen…
Yes I’m an American, so I can say what I want now without getting thrown out. I want to be part of the dream, and the dream is coming true very slowly. When I first came to live here, I was amazed how badly the Americans understand the Native American culture and it’s not even in their curriculum in school which is stupid! I became more aware by meeting with Native American people and spent time talking and listening. You spend a lot of time listening rather than talking. You realize that American people are missing out on an incredible knowledge by not connecting with the Native American culture. So that instilled in me to want to stay here and then I met my wife Jane and that was a wonderful experience. And it was about a few years ago, I thought I should become an American because I live here all the time, I’ve been here twenty some years now and I’m paying my taxes and they’re wasting a lot of the tax money on rubbish! So I want to be able to say, come on! The best way to make America better then what it is at the moment is to ask the people what should we be doing to develop? Ask the people, the people know.
On what he learned from his friend and artist Marc Chagall….
Well first of all it was the color. He was so into color and the power of color. I really didn’t know his work when I met him, and then I got to know him and write songs about him, and he told me a lot about his life and his paintings which just sort of changed my perception that art doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be correct and colorful and alive. So that’s what he taught me.
On what it’s like to have his vocals from the song In High Places as sampled in a Kanye West song…
Anything that is going to expose people to my voice will expose them to Jon and Vangelis, will expose them to Yes, will expose them to other things that I’ve done, so it’s a win-win situation. When they asked me I said sure come on! I was down in Los Angeles just doing a little meet and greet concert with young kids from the projects in East L.A. at the Grammy Museum downtown. They were very excited to meet me simply because of that song. So it was fun to just jive with them and sing to them and even sing that part of the song and ask them to do some drum grooves with me and I sang them a couple of songs that I do and we had a great time. I was so amazed how beautiful they were and how alive and alight. The light that shone out of their eyes, and they live in a very difficult place in L.A., and yet they have this beautiful sereneness about them, and they were gorgeous kids and I keep in touch with them. I emailed them today in fact.
NOTE: Jon Anderson’s new album Survival & Other Stories, and Anderson/Wakeman’s new album The Living Tree are available from Amazon.com and other online record stores. Jon and Rick begin their North American tour together on October 19. Jon’s solo tour begins in late November where he will perform in Mexico, Brazil, Chile, and the United States.
October 15th, 2011 at 3:42 pm
Not only the voice of Yes, Jon was their heart and soul. He’s brimming full of life and ideas now and Yes continues it’s sad decline. Karma’s a real bitch.
October 15th, 2011 at 4:07 pm
I have been revisiting Jon’s ‘ “Change we Must ” album and now I know he has a new album coming out I have something to look forward to! I have seen Jon and Rick perform as a duo a few times and I have to agree that the mix of him and Rick is wonderful. They are masters of the long form music pieces. What I really need is for them to come on tour to Belfast as part of the UK tour as I miss seeing them now I have moved to Northern Ireland.
October 15th, 2011 at 4:10 pm
Jon is Jon and YES is YES. Deal with it. He has and they have. Move on.
October 16th, 2011 at 1:48 pm
I’ll deal with it in any way I choose, but thanks.
October 15th, 2011 at 4:53 pm
I LOVE the new Yes album and love the band with Benoit. I like what Jon’s been doing. There’s no reason why people should choose sides. Having Yes and Jon in separate camps means we get twice the music and twice the enjoyment.
October 16th, 2011 at 2:09 am
Thanks Jon, for the sincere interview, best and wonderful wishes for your future work. We are all looking forward to your ongoing efforts.
October 16th, 2011 at 10:47 pm
Best to Yes and Jon. I’m happy he is blazing his own trail, complete creative control, and he is damn good at it if you listen to Living Tree and Survival. Jon and his music are a sanctuary.
October 17th, 2011 at 3:25 pm
The Hendrix story is priceless. And I know exactly what Jon is refferring to and the state of (expanded, probably) consciousness he was in.
Wow, think about it. Two musical icons sharing a bone. Niether knew how much they would influence the world at that time. Too kismet!!
October 24th, 2011 at 12:08 pm
I have followed YES and all of the related YES bands since March of 1971. t this juncture, October 24, 2011, I have the possiblitiy of seeing JON and RICK 3x in upcoming shows in the Phila-NYC region.Right now, Jon and Rick are apart from YES. I think Jon still has another time with YES, less so for RICK. I say this because in this article, Jon’s musical path described still has strong reverberations of “YESSENCE,” and like in 1983, and again in 1990, I believe this path with somehow connect once again. Even if this is a far fetched idea, it is OK. I have continued to see YES several times since 2008, and I would rather have a YES than not.
As per Jon, YES and the YES members represent a small segment in the rock pantheon, but in my life and music preference they ARE the rock PANTHEON!
November 4th, 2011 at 1:15 am
Take a few minutes to watch/listen to the youtube video of the song “Surfing With God”, written by Jon Anderson (YES founding member and beloved vocalist) and Bill Kilpatrick. Shortly after the song was posted on Jon’s facebook, someone created this video, using the song, to honor the late big wave surfer, Sion Milosky. Listen to the song all the way through, click ‘like’, and feel free to leave a comment.
Please share the link with your friends as well!
November 6th, 2011 at 10:44 am
AS A lifetime body surfer off of BRANT BEACH , N.J. (LONG BEACH ISLAND ), this JON ANDERSON piece really hits home. On a big day out in the line up, between swells, there is sometimes a period of calm. It is at these moments in time that the serenity, and the intensity of the effort out there really shines! Usualy the music that comes out to me especially right before a take-off, is something akin to JEFF BECK! But it is the calm times, and the the time imediately after getting out that SURFING WITH GOD will instill for me a sense of place..and well being! This song is brand new to me, so I am going to have to wait for about 8 months (and memorial day weekend 2012) to try it out! lol!
February 19th, 2023 at 12:06 am
Thanks for sharinng