Jon Anderson interview by John Perry
June 2, 1998
Jon Anderson is the voice of Yes. He is a founding member of the band and is known for creating spiritual progressive rock music. We caught up with Jon between the band’s South and North American tours and spoke to him about the tour, his inspiration for writing music, and his solo projects. Yes has undergone many lineup changes over the years and has managed to retain its melodic rock flavor. In the seventies, the band cranked out such epic masterpieces as “Close To The Edge”, “The Gates Of Delirium,” and “The Revealing Science Of God,” back when records had two sides and one song took up a whole side. They had commercial success in the eighties with hits such as “Owner Of A Lonely Heart,” and “Rhythm Of Love.” The nineties has seen a resurgence of progressive rock bands, and Yes is popular all over again. Yes came out with two studio albums in 1997 — “Open Your Eyes” and “Keys To Ascension II.” Jon Anderson, along with fellow bandmates Chris Squire (bass), Steve Howe (guitars), and Alan White (drums), have welcomed two new members to the fold: Billy Sherwood (rhythm guitar), and Igor Khoroshev (keyboards). Yes appears at Oakdale on July 1. What follows are excerpts from our conversation with Jon Anderson.
What was the tour in Mexico like?
We’ve never been to Mexico and the people have been waiting 25 or 30 years to come and see Yes. They love everything we do, and it’s kind of a lifetime achievement…I think that’s what we deserve, a lifetime achievement award…. for making people happy throughout these ages.
Are you playing more songs off “Open Your Eyes”?
A couple. We’re just doing more of a collection of our music…we’ve found that music that we wrote and recorded 25 years ago is still as current to musical listeners as it was when we wrote it, because it wasn’t commercially pop music, it was music that we wrote as musicians. So we’re just performing this music because we know it’s still good. It’s very hard to explain in words what people are missing, why Yes is still successful, not because of it’s hit records but because of it’s musical power. The fact that Yes still believes in its music…you know we’ve been pushed around enough by critics and business companies, we try and stand by our ethics. It’s very hard in this crazy world.
Do you have a favorite place to tour?
Anywhere, it seems we get the same fulfillment everywhere we play.
Do you have any tour disaster stories?
The classic one…we were in Uraguay, approximately 10 years ago. We were going over to play in Argentina and we were the first English band to perform after the Falkland war…We had sold out a soccer stadium for 2 shows and it was right after the English sank an Argentinian ship sailing out of the war zone, killing about 1,000 soldiers. So there was this real depressive feeling that we were going to play there and have death threats against us. We had to be escorted into Argentina by private air force jet and were surrounded by 30 militia the whole trip. It was an extraordinary experience. We had to be kept in the hotel, we couldn’t go out for fear of being shot at. I remember as we were walking onstage to play in front of 50,000 people, Chris Squire turned to me and said, “You know who they’re going to shoot at first!” And I said, “Oh no, the singer!” I ran around that stage like crazy. The band played amazingly…playing under incredible duress that we were going to be shot at.
Why was Alan Parsons chosen to open the tour?
It was a group decision…the general feeling was that Alan Parsons has got a great reputation around the world, he’s a very highly evolved musician, and that can be very appealing to a festival atmosphere. It’s going to be quite an entertaining evening.
Are you looking forward to the Yes Festival?
Sure. It’s always nice to meet people under the Yes banner.
Do you have a favorite Yes song?
“And You And I” is always a very important moment on stage. “Heart Of The Sunrise” is becoming a better piece of music for us. There’s quite a lot of music that we’ve done over the years that we’ve never had the chance to perform on stage. I really enjoyed the “Talk” album very much.
What inspires you most to write your songs?
I’m just a musician. I love making songs and am always trying to better the approach to writing songs. I try to push the envelope a little bit and make sure that people have better experiences of the work that we do.
One of my favorite of your solo albums was your first one, “Olias Of Sunhillow.” What was your concept for that album?
I wanted to do a solo album. I wanted to lock myself away and learn about music. So I played everything. That was basically a very rare solo album…solo albums are usually a bunch of new people with you. Not many people try to do it themselves. And I thought, if I’m going to do a solo album, I just want to do it on my own.
And you have a new solo album, “The More You Know.” Could you tell me about that?
You’ve gotta hear it. I met these two guys from Africa in Paris and we got together with my wife and made this album. They’re really sort of earthy, R&B world music types and we just made an album in about a month. It was an instant experience.
You also did a Celtic album, right?
Yes. I just love all different kinds of music. It was just so easy to do. Music isn’t hard to do, it’s a question of being able to have as many varied experiences as you can in your life. You can never turn around and say, ‘I wish I had done that.’ I’m just half way through what I want to do in my life, so I’ve got a lot of stuff that I still want to get doin’.
Can you tell me something about Opio World?
It’s just an extension of what I do with the Opio Foundation. Raising money for Unicef, doing paintings for people, and putting money into the foundation…it just keeps it going.
Do you think you’ll ever work with Vangelis again?
Maybe. It’s hard to say. I’d love to, of course, but it’s hard to say since he lives in Greece. Who knows?