By Brian Ives
Jon Anderson picks up the phone, and in less than two syllables, you kind of freak out a little: “It’s him!” His unmistakeable voice is an blend of accents from Northern England, Scotland, Ireland and somewhere else that you can’t quite put your finger on. And his enthusiasm for life and his art is infectious. And these days, there’s a lot of art for him to be enthused about.
He may have been a bit off the radar since he parted ways with Yes in 2008. But if you’ve been paying attention, you’re aware that the man has been busy lately: he recently wrapped up a tour with French violin virtuoso Jean-Luc Ponty. He’s getting ready to release a new album called Invention of Knowledge, a collaboration with Swedish progressive rock guitarist Roine Stolt (of the Flower Kings, and also of the prog-rock supergroup Translantic). And he’s preparing for rehearsals with his new band, Anderson Rabin Wakeman, with fellow Yes alumni Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman. We spoke with him about all of the above; he was also very honest and forthcoming about his opinion of the current incarnation of Yes (which features his former bandmates Alan White and Steve Howe) and his relationship with the late Chris Squire, the man he co-founded Yes with in the late ’60s.
Related: Chris Squire, Remembered
I’d read that you got together with Roine Stolt when you performed with his band, Translantic, on a cruise. Is that what led to the album?
The manager of the record company, Inside Out, got in touch with me a month after that, and said, “Why don’t you work with Roine? We’ll finance the album.” And I said “OK.” I remember meeting Roine on the boat, we got on very nicely, we were actually rehearsing “Revealing” [“The Revealing Science of God (Dance of the Dawn)”] from 1973’s Tales from Topographic Oceans], and they played it really well. I just thought, “If we’re gonna work together, I’m very interested in long-form. I just don’t want to do a bunch of songs.” We agreed this was the way to go. I just started sending him some recordings that I had made that I really liked and I thought they would be good to delve into. By the time I’d sent him the first bit, it was twenty minutes of music already.
When Roine sent the music back to me, he really developed the musical concepts. It was very progressive music, or “progressive rock.” I was really excited and I sent him more and more over a period of a year, and we co-created over the internet. It’s an easy way of working. He was receptive to any changes that I wanted.
You’ve collaborated on songs with your fans over the internet.
True. If someone sends me music and I sing it, and [I think] it’s different for me, I’m excited. And the other person is usually like, “Oh man, this is cool!” And we create a friendship. That’s the way the world turns, for the moment.
The fact Translantic learned “The Revealing Science of God (Dance of the Dawn),” of all things, that must have been flattering to you. That’s a complicated and long piece of music.
I wanted to challenge them a bit and they were willing to try it! And I really appreciated it. It was worthwhile to try that. I was exhausted by the end of the day.
It sounds like the guys who play on the album are Yes fans, and the album sounds Yes-like, as opposed to some of your other solo albums like Deseo and The Promise Ring.
That’s true. It’s natural to work with people who are like-minded. The bass player is a big fan of Chris, and that’s great. I’m a fan of Chris’s bass playing too!
But we would work on it and then take a break – I would go on tour, or he would go on tour with [former Genesis guitarist] Steve Hackett, and then we’d come back to the project, fresh. We took our time, we wanted to make sure we did ourselves proud. The album has the energy of Yes.
And people ask me, “What do you think of Yes [today]?” I, honestly, never left Yes. Because Yes has been my life. The band itself are doing what they want to do. I can’t tell them what to do, because it’s not my band. They’ve got the name, but I’ve got the state of mind about what true “Yes music” should sound like, and to me, or any fan of Yes, they’re going to love this album, because it does have the right feeling.
I love that there’s still bands playing progressive music, it’s not really promoted much in the mainstream today.
I was surprised, there’s a lot of people still enjoying what you would call “progressive rock” music.
I did Deseo because I was very excited about Latin American music, and The Promise Ring because I was walking down the street here in San Luis Obispo, and I heard this band playing in a pub and I sat there all night listening, and we became friends and the next week I was recording them. Now, I’m working with a Middle Eastern ensemble here at the local university, they have a 20 piece Middle Eastern band and singers and I’m working with them already, because I’ve been writing Middle Eastern music for a year with a friend from San Francisco. Things happen!
When will that come out?
I don’t know, I think we’re going to perform it next summer, locally, but the record might come out the year after. I’ve been writing music since two thousand and whatever, I have hours of songs and lyrics and stories and music and symphonies. I’ve got to figure out how to get it out to the world.
Tell me about your recent tour with Jean-Luc Ponty.
That was amazing! Jean Luc-Ponty is a master, a maestro at the violin. And the musicians he works with are the best in the world. these guys are ridiculously good musicians and such wonderful people.
Is there unfinished business there? Will you do more with him in the future?
We talked about touring next year and doing more shows, and we’re looking for a project to work together on. We want to tour Europe and the Far East with this ensemble, because the band is really great. But it’ll happen when it happens and we’ll continue this beautiful relationship.
Quite a few years ago I was chatting with you, and you told me that you were starting a new project with Rick Wakeman and Trevor Rabin, and now it’s finally happening!
Yes, and now tickets are on sale [for our tour], so we’ve got to get our act together!
You and Rick always seem to be doing stuff, but Trevor seems to have a lower profile. Is that because he is busy with film and TV scores?
He did thirty scores in fifteen years. This guy’s a demon! He has done so many great film scores, he’s become such an incredible composer. He turned down a few serious scores this year to do this tour, including an Oliver Stone film.
I go and see him once a year. I was just waiting for him to say that he wants to tour. And then to see if Rick’s available. In the next few years we have to see what we want to do; [maybe] go around the world and make some great music and obviously do some great new songs. Our music has still survived after all this time.
Rick and Trevor were only in the band at the same time for a brief tour in 1991; I’m guessing they both are game to play songs from the other one’s era?
Yes, that’s the idea: to push the Yes music into the 21st century and redesign it and make it work for us. Like I did with Jean-Luc, I did “Long Distance Runaround” as an Indian raga. I wasn’t trying to be Yes; that was then and this is now.
Are you going to play songs from Invention of Knowledge, or anything from your respective solo careers?
No, because we’re already chock a block with ideas. Invention of Knowledge, we’ll probably perform that next spring. We’ll see how many people enjoy the album, and how many people want to see us perform in Sweden, because Roine is Swedish. Maybe we’ll do some shows in America next summer. We don’t know yet.
Have you guys decided on the rest of the band for the Anderson Rabin Wakeman tour?
Yep, and we start rehearsing the first week of August. I’m going to see Trevor next week and we’re going to talk about what songs we want to do.
Who’s in the band?
I can’t say just yet.
I’m sure it’s occurred to you that this situation – with you starting a new band with ex-Yes members, while Yes is still a working band – is kind of similar to what happened in the late ’80s, when you started Anderson Bruford Wakeman & Howe, and then all four of you ended up rejoining Yes after an album and tour. I know you have an Anderson Rabin Wakeman tour booked, but what are the chances of that happening?
Very hard to say. Life is a strange sort of event. Sometimes you expect things to happen, and they don’t. Sometimes, things that you don’t expect, do happen.
I was always under the impression that it was Chris who didn’t want you back in the band. I imagine Alan White would certainly be amicable to you returning to the band…
… And probably same with Steve Howe. It doesn’t feel like either of those two guys would object to having you back in Yes. Have you spoken to them recently?
No. the whole procession of events that happened before I got sick was: something really bad happened, it wasn’t the guys in the band, it was management at that time, they did a terrible thing, it sort of poisoned the band. [Then] I got sick. I don’t know what happened, maybe it was psychological. I got really badly ill for a whole year, and they decided to carry on without me. But at that time, I just wanted to survive my illness and become well, which did take quite a long time, and luckily, my wife Janie was my nurse, my doctor, my everything, and she saved my life. I came out of that, and the only thing I wanted to do was get back in the studio and compose ideas and music. I didn’t have the strength to go on tour, and the band had already gone on tour [without me] anyway. That’s what they wanted to do, that wasn’t my idea of Yes, the kind of music they recorded. Definitely not my idea of what I would be doing with Yes.
The future is more exciting, and it always has been for me. I’ve always been grateful for having had those years with Chris; me and Chris were sort of the main guys in the band. And there was a time when we didn’t connect. That’s called “life.” Thank God I was able to connect with him before he passed away, and we love each other, and I think about him so much, so what can you do?
So you got to make your peace with him before he passed.
You betcha! On a very sacred level. It was amazing. I thanked him for everything, and he did the same.
Finally, what’s your take on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? You’ve been on the ballot, and with Rush and Genesis being inducted in recent years, it seems like they’ve warmed up to progressive rock.
It’s very simple: it’ll happen when it happens. That’s my mantra. I was never that interested in the concept. I actually performed there, they have a great theater, I got a tour of the museum, and the guy who runs it pointed to a corner on the third floor, there was nothing there, and he said, “That’s reserved for Yes.” I said, “Cool, man!” If it happens, great. If it doesn’t, great. Everything happens in its own good time.