Interview: Yes' Trevor Rabin talks name changes, new Yes film, current tour and more

The band plays Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall on October 11.

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click to enlarge Trevor Rabin, who plays Ruth Eckerd Hall on October 11, 2017. - Anil Prasad (Creative Commons — (CC BY-ND 3.0))
Anil Prasad (Creative Commons — (CC BY-ND 3.0))
Trevor Rabin, who plays Ruth Eckerd Hall on October 11, 2017.

Trevor Rabin had some might big shoes to fill upon his joining forces with veteran prog rock giants Yes, but he didn’t see it that way.

The South African-born multi-instrumentalist and composer had already enjoyed his own fair share of the limelight while fronting successful South African pop group Rabbitt and then becoming a highly sought-after session musician thanks to his musical virtuosity and versatility. With the idea of beginning brand new band called Cinema in the early 1980s with some fresh new material he’d composed, Rabin connected with Yes’s rhythm section to help out with the project while the future of their renown band was a little up in the air. Slowly, as other Yes members joined the fold, including its distinctive lead vocalist Jon Anderson, a new version of Yes was christened and their first project evolved into their 1983 smash album, 90125 which included the band’s no. 1 single “Owner Of A Lonely Heart,” which equally enthralled and surprised longtime Yes fans and attracted a whole new fan base to the band thanks to the single becoming a hit on R&B and dance charts and receiving heavy airplay on MTV.

Rabin remained with the band until 1985 1994 when his desire to stay within the normal confines of a touring rock and roll band waned and instead decided to take the route of film score composer and conductor. With more than 50 film scores to his credit, Rabin, in conjunction with Anderson and longtime Yes keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman joined forces and formed ARW, a Yes offshoot whose name stood for the first letter of each member’s surname. The band has toured to great acclaim and fanfare for the better part of the year and even kicked off its tour in Florida in October 2016 and included a triumphant stop at Clearwater’s Ruth Eckerd Hall.

Yes, These Guys Still Have It: ARW takes to Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater — 10.07.16

Because of great demand, Rabin's version of Yes has decided to loop around again and bring its dynamic soundscapes to the same venue. After a slight change to their moniker (the band is now officially known as Yes featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman), the band feels like it is sounding better than ever.

I recently spoke with guitarist and composer Trevor Rabin as the band was gearing up for another set of tour dates. Having spoken just as the unknown peril of Hurricane Irma was still unknown, Rabin, in his laid back and caring manner, seemed genuinely concerned about the well-being and the safety of the area and of Florida as a whole. What follows is the charming and delightful chat I had with Trevor whose musical prowess is matched only by his warm, friendly manner and his infectious sense of humor.

YES featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, Rick Wakeman
Wed. Oct. 11, 8 p.m. $73.75-$189.
Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 McMullen Booth Rd., Clearwater.

Last year, when the band was preparing to come to the area, I spoke to keyboardist Rick Wakeman in advance of the ARW tour beginning. Now, a year later, can you tell me how the tour has been?

I think what’s happened with the band is that it’s really kind of settled in as I like to call it. It gone from, even as early as the [last] Clearwater show, we were very happy with where we were going but it’s really kind of a well-oiled machine now and I think you’ll find a very big difference to the band; it’s extremely tight and basically, it’s a lot better. We’ve got different sets, different productions and a couple of new songs which we put into it and some new stylistic things. I think it’s a vastly improved show.

With so much music to choose from, how is the set list conceived? Do you each have a say in which songs get played? How does it change from one leg of the tour to the next?

Well we kind of go from what we feel we really have to do, like “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and “Roundabout” and then outside of just those two, it comes down to what we really like playing and those get put aside and then the ones we call the disposable ones we’ll see if we want to change those then once we’ve kind of allocated and we play the show, we’ll get it in process because the show is three hours and with, ‘You can’t do that’ and ‘What do you throw out now,’ so the three of us choose the material and we discuss it and debate which would be the good ones to do and once we do that, we rehearse it and the deciding comes up to everything because of time and also ‘Ok, we’ve got these repeated and this one or that one, we can’t do both and if we do one, we can do that instead of the other, etc.,’ so I think that really puts it in a nutshell of how we go about choosing.

It’s got to be hard with so many great songs to choose from.

It really is hard because, also what comes into the flow of the show and while a song we want to do, we’ll play it and we’ll see how it sounds and it might sound better than another song but the other song fits in better so it’s a harder decision but I think it’s worked out well. I think we like the show and we change it up a little bit but not too much.

Speaking of change, last time you played here, you were going under the name ARW. And now, I see it’s been changed to Yes featuring John Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman. Was that just to add clarity to who you are and which band was coming to town for people who might not have been aware?

Yeah, I think the clarity thing was an important thing but we still add who’s in the band because there’s another band with other members of Yes. Frankly, I didn’t care what it was called…I was quite happy with leaving it as ARW but a lot of fans were saying, ‘Why aren’t you calling yourselves Yes? You’re playing Yes stuff and you’re three guys from significant times with the band!’ and its management and promotion and everyone felt it would be a better thing to do. Fans would be happier doing it that way and I think the clarity became an issue.

But the funny thing is that it might look like it was a business decision but, in my view, we were doing fine as ARW as far as, you know, we’re not doing big arenas anymore…you know, things level off and you carry on as you’s an old band but I think we’re playing better than ever. But just from the social media, there seemed to be an interest in wanting us to call ourselves Yes. I was a proponent of not caring one way or the other.

You’re just happy to play the music and not so concerned with the name the group is going by.

Yeah, it’s kind of weird for me because having been involved and then I left the band and since then I’ve done fifty films and going out live and playing again was something I wanted to do and it just turned out that, this thing with Rick and Jon, we’d been talking about it for a while and Rick and I have always wanted to go off and since we’d once performed [together], we’d never gone out and done it again. And that’s really, to put it quite simply, that’s where it all stems from. I think Jon feels quite strongly about the name. You know his view is we’re playing better than ever and why are we going under another name when we’ve got 16, or whatever it is, albums that basically we’re involved in, in some way, on all of them.

Well, many people are very happy to have you back and doing what you’re doing, myself included.

Thank you…it’s really a lot of fun.

It really shows and it comes through that you’re definitely having fun. During the show here last year, it was very evident that you all were having fun which I think is really important.

I think that’s the key.

Speaking from your own perspective, in the way your former band Cinema came to cross paths with the 1980s lineup of Yes and how that morphed together, what do you feel you brought to this band that had already been around for so long? What did you bring to this band that made it unique or different?

I think essentially what it was is that, I was obviously familiar with Yes but I was involved in doing other things. Yes wasn’t something that was on my radar particularly although I remember liking one of Rick’s solo albums and had that years and years ago but, in music history, yes, but I didn’t really buy the albums so when I got together with the band, I had material that record companies wanted me to record and they said, ‘why don’t you do it with Chris (Squire) and Alan (White) which ironically aren’t with us anymore and sadly, Chris is gone.

And we started off just doing it, the three of us, and then we brought it (keyboardist) Tony Kaye and I was gonna be the singer and then the record company got quite excited because I had basically written a solo album and that was the material we kind of grabbed and used and that’s what became 90125. And then, at some point, the suggestion was ‘why don’t you try Jon on it?’ and Jon was interested and he came and sang on a track and it sounded great and I remember saying. 'I don’t know if I should be insulted or excited,' but I think I’m more excited about having Jon in the band singing so incredibly than being fired as the singer.

And as it turned out, I still sang on the album because of the keys and things that were done and Jon was the one who said, 'No, I don’t want to do that...we should keep that,' and it was a really good atmosphere which people didn’t understand at first and thought that Jon and I were at loggerheads with each other but that really wasn’t the case. There was definitely a learning curve but I guess, in a convoluted way, I’m saying that because I came to the band without a view of even being the band Yes.

I was just working with a rhythm section from Yes and then we were starting a new band so when it came to the thing of ‘Oh, we’re gonna call it Yes,’ I was actually dead against it. I was like it doesn’t even sound like Yes; why don’t we keep the name Cinema which was what we were gonna call the band and then through various things, people and fans wanting us to be called Yes, and the record company and promoters wanting us to call it Yes, it went that way. So I think there was really very little influence on me as to kind of having a vow to the old stuff because it wasn’t part of the equation in the beginning but I was very happy. I remember Chris Squire saying to me 'Look, I’m just gonna give you some of the albums…see what you like and if there’s anything you wanna do, it’s totally up to you to re-approach it once you know the songs, you can completely do whatever you want with the guitar parts.’ So, that made it very comfortable and inviting.

I don’t think there was any kind of pressure on me personally I didn’t feel any pressure about replacing anybody and it only became relevant when I starting doing interviews after the album and people said, ‘How does it feel to be the third guitarist in Yes?’ and to be honest I just always thought I was the first guitarist in Cinema, just to put things in perspective.

That was very kind of Chris to bring those albums to you and to be so flexible in asking what you wanted to play and what interested you. Was there a particular piece of music or song that you gravitated towards early on that you really wanted to play?

I liked doing things like “Yours Is No Disgrace” and I still like doing “And You And I.” Yeah, I think that could have been the ones I liked most. I enjoyed doing “Starship Trooper” for a while but I’m kind of sick of it. {Rabin excuses himself to briefly take another call and I hear him say ‘I’ll call you right back’ before returning to our chat. ‘That was Jon calling’ he laughs before continuing with his response}. Yeah, so I think Chris always had the ulterior motive. He was a very charmingly calculating like ‘Yeah, so here’s the songs we like and, oh, by the way, these are the ones we have to do!’

Everyone always has fond, kind stories to share about Chris Squire. Is that true for you too?

Oh yeah, we got on. We really became really strong mates. There’s a lot of pictures of us being socially together and just cracking up so we were good mates. We’d laugh together lots and I had a great time with Chris.

Looking ahead, what’s in this future for his band and this lineup? Are there any more tours, is there going to be any recorded music, will there maybe be a live album from these tours you’ve done?

We have a DVD that we shot in Manchester…a DVD, or whatever you want to call it, a film, DVD, YouTube…I don’t know what you would call it… (laughs) which, when I get off this tour, I’ll finish mixing and that’s coming out quite soon but we’re not sure when because I’ve got to finish it before we start  scheduling that and I have some work to do because I’m mixing it in 5.1 which is sort of complex. But then, we’re looking at, we’re not sure but we’re still talking about what to do for the 50th anniversary of the band next year

And any more solo projects for you? More films to score maybe?

I’ll still be doing film and I’m about halfway through a new solo album which I’m quite excited about. There’s no titles yet but there’s about five or six songs I’m really excited about. There’s another five that are written that I still have to do but I really look forward to putting that out and I’ll work on some film projects coming up and so, I’m busy! My wife says, ‘When are you gonna retire?,’ and I say well, when one foot’s in the grave and the other is on a podium conducting a new song.

Is she anxious for you to take a break?

Well, it’s been kind of relentless. And, I am, to be honest, with films I was lucky enough to be able to get to a certain point and I can now kind of choose the movies I want to do and I can turn down the ones I don’t want to do. Rather than, you know, when you’re starting, you do everything in trying to get somewhere, so I’m happy to be in a position where I can try to choose films not to do as well as those to do. I don’t think I’ll ever get back to a time when I’m doing six films a year. It’s relentless and it’s too much. It half killed me and then I went down to four movies a year and then my agent was very unhappy. They don’t care if they kill you…there’s other composers that will come along. And now I’m down to doing three at the most which ends up giving me a little more choice.

And then, with the band, if a movie project comes along, I don’t want it to get in the way of what we’re doing. You know, I thought we’d do a tour and we’d have some fun and then I’d get back into the film thing because I was always pretty firmly stuck in doing that and, after 50 films, it becomes very much what you do especially in the 12 years or whatever it was. I just starting enjoying this so much I didn’t really have a desire to, you know, nothing came along that made me say, ‘Oh, I’ve gotta do that’ or go to Jon and Rick and say, ‘Hey listen can we take a little time off I’ve got this thing to do,’ but we are naturally taking a break after this to get on with the film thing from Manchester and I wanna finish my solo thing but I don’t think much is gonna stop this from going

You’d said you’d been off the road for a while and that you wanted to come back. What was it that drew you back and what made you miss it enough to want to come back?

That was a key element. I mean, clearly, obviously, I play guitar and piano and bass and various other things, even tuba and a bit of trumpet, and I play on my scores but the thing I did most was write and conduct which I love doing and then it even got to a point where with the movies, I was doing so many, and the agents make you paranoid: ‘I can’t do that, it’s too much to do,’ then they say, ‘Yeah, but if you don’t do that, you’re gonna lose X and Y,” and making you paranoid. But I got so used to doing this and I thought, even though I’m playing on this stuff, it’s not quite the same as getting up and playing every night and at some point, I really want to do that. And then I thought, after about three years of doing film, and after eight years, after we starting talking about this, I was saying ‘Oh yeah, I’d love to do it, but unfortunately I’ve got this commitment and that commitment,’ and then eventually there was a hole in there and we decided to go ahead and then when that happened, the desire of playing really excited me and I got to thinking that would do it for a while and I just love it so much. I don’t want to get in the position where I’ve stopped doing movies long enough where they forget about me.

I don’t think that’s gonna happen…I don’t think anyone’s gonna forget about you.

Aw, thanks (laughs)

As far as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and your induction into it, firstly congratulations on the honor. Just want to get your thoughts on that means and what that type of accolade means personally.

Um…you know, and I know it’s a lot of cliché but, it’s really nice and I’m very happy for it to have happened, but I think my son’s more excited than I am. I mean he’s in a really great band and he’s doing really well as a producer; he’s in a band called Grouplove (note: the band is currently on an arena tour supporting American rock band Imagine Dragons). I think he was more excited than I was. He was sort of setting me up on how to dress and things I was really like ‘I just want to go there any play!’ but the thing that gets me most about the Hall of Fame thing, personally, was that it was so fucking long! It was like five hours and I was thinking ‘God! This thing is incredibly boring!’ and what it is to get it all done. Obviously they’ve cut it down in the end to make it, you know, I hope, I haven’t actually watched it but I hope they made it something a little more entertaining but I have to say it was really tiring. And you know it’s much deeper and lots of reason for that but, specifically, that night, it was excruciating.

Well, it’s well deserved. You certainly deserve to be recognized for all the great work you’ve done.

Thank you so much.

About The Author

Gabe Echazabal

I was born on a Sunday Morning.I soon received The Gift of loving music.Through music, I Found A Reason for living.It was when I discovered rock and roll that I Was Beginning To See The Light.Because through music, I'm Set Free.It's always helped me keep my Head Held High.When I started dancing to that fine, fine...
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