Q&A: Before Clearwater concert, Former Yes frontman Jon Anderson says his old band's new album is 'not my cup of tea'

He's at the Cap on April 10.

click to enlarge Jon Anderson - PHOTO BY DEBORAH ANDERSON
Photo by Deborah Anderson
Jon Anderson
Jon Anderson, once at the helm of Yes, seems to like Billie Eilish more than the new Yes album without him featured.

“Not my cup of tea,” he expressed, regarding The Quest. Soon after, he told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay that Eilish's "Saturday Night Live" performance was "magnificent."

The 77-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee was diagnosed with acute respiratory failure in 2008, right before Yes’ 40th anniversary tour, and had to be replaced—at the time, temporarily—by Benoît David. As it turned out, original members Chris Squire, Steve Howe, and Alan White liked working with David so much, they basically kept him onboard and never asked Jon to rejoin.

Almost 15 years later, there are new members all around. Due to health issues of his own, Benoît was replaced by a different Jon—surnamed Davison, and Squire succumbed to cancer in 2015. But Anderson and his angelic, unmistakable voice carries on nonetheless, and those faithful to the OG Yes can’t get enough of him.

In 2019, he released 1000 Hands: Chapter One, a record he abandoned back in the ‘90s. Along with producer Michael Franklin, Anderson cleaned it up, got a stacked lineup of musicians to play on it, and once again, managed to not make a record that sounded pathetically nostalgic to the Yes days (sorry, but Yes's Quest does). Sure, 1000 Hands sounds more modern than what Jon is used to, but when you’re interested in younger artists like Billie Eilish and Alfie Templeman, you have a whole new set of influence, and much more need to, as Mike Love once put it, “fuck with the formula.”

Three years after 1000 Hands, Anderson is going on tour with his friend, Paul Green’s Rock Academy, and stops at Clearwater’s Bilheimer Capitol Theatre next Sunday, April 10. The show was originally set for July of 2020, and was announced during the month-or-so Florida spent in lockdown. CL got the opportunity to chat with Anderson about his favorite young artists, the next chapters of 1000 Hands, and his thoughts on spirituality.

Get our interview with Jon Anderson of Yes below.
Thanks for taking the time to do this with me, Jon. It’s really a thrill and an honor to be talking to you.

Thank you so much!

How's your wife doing? I heard she was sick recently.

Yeah, she's doing really, really good. Thanks for asking. Appreciate it.

Sure thing, glad to hear it. So, on this tour, you’re going to be with the Paul Green Rock Academy. What drove you to specifically pick that academy?

Well, I actually met Paul Green 20 years ago. Yes was doing a show in Philadelphia, and after the show, I came backstage stage, and there were these young kids with t-shirts saying “School of Rock.” I said, “Who are these kids?” And there was Paul Green, and he said, “Well, they're my kids,” and there were about 20 of them. And he said, “We make music and we’re teaching each other how to make music. Would you like to come and work with them?” And I said, “Eh, I don’t think so.”

So, about a month later, he sent me a recording of them performing “Heart Of The Sunrise,” which is an incredibly difficult piece of music that Yes created in 1971, and it was amazing. So, I got back to Paul and said, “Hey, these kids are good! I didn't realize they were so good.” So, me and my wife went to Philadelphia and worked with the kids, went on tour, did some shows in Albany, Pittsburgh, and New York, and it was a great, fun experience for me and my wife. And so, Paul Green sold the company, School of Rock, then the movie came out with Jack Black, and the School of Rocks are everywhere now, as a sort of association.
So last year, Paul gave me a call and said, “I've just created the Academy of Rock, and I've got a bunch of kids. Would you like to do some shows?” So last August, I said "OK," and we went out, me and Jane went out with his kids and we just had the best, best time. But instead of just doing Yes music, I decided like, why don't we do mash-ups? So we could do, David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” which goes into “Long Distance Runaround,” which is a Yes song. And then, we did a famous Zeppelin song, *hums opening riff to “Kashmir”* whatever that’s called. I can’t remember what it’s called.

“Kashmir.”

“Kashmir,” which goes into “Starship Trooper.” And then, we did an Eminem song which went to another Yes song. So, it was a lot of fun, you know, just to do a great, great show. So Paul said, “Would you be interested this year,” and I said, “Hell, let's get on the road.” We're going to do five shows in April, and then some summer shows in Canada, and then up in the New York area and in Chicago. So I said to Paul, “Why don't we do ‘Close To The Edge?’” Because they're capable! It’s not like we’re going to do some short songs in rock n’ roll. No, we're gonna do "Close To The Edge.” And he said, “Let's do it.” So, they just finished rehearsing it two days ago, and they really got it together, so it’s very exciting for me to go on tour with the kids in April, and we're going to be performing “And You and I,” “Close To The Edge,” obviously “Roundabout,” “Long Distance Runaround,” plus these other songs that people know.

You were talking about how the kids will be doing “Close To The Edge” and “And You and I.” Are you gonna throw in Close To The Edge’s third and final track in there, “Siberian Khatru?”

Not this time!

Aw.

We're gonna be doing… what are we doing? Well, I know what we're doing, I’ve got a list. We like doing “Yours Is No Disgrace” and uh, what are the other songs? I’ve got a list somewhere, I’ve gotta practice! *laughs* Oh man, whoo! We do “Long Distance Runaround,” “And You and I,” we do a couple of songs from the album I recorded in Orlando, which was 1000 Hands, so we do “Where Does Music Come From” and another couple of songs from the album. So it's a good two hours of solid music, believe me.

Let me tell you, the 1000 Hands tour was inarguably one of the best shows I ever saw, and I wanted to ask you about that album. The lineup was insanely stacked. You had guys from Yes on there, Robby Steinhardt, and  the late Chick Corea. Was there anybody that you wanted to get for the album that you just couldn’t?

Well, Michael Franklin, who produced it in Orlando, he already knew all these people. I did say to him, “Do you know Billy Cobham?” He said, “Yeah, I’ve got his phone number.” And we got Billy Cobham to play on it, one of my favorite drummers of all time, and it was just a magnificent event for me, both musically and spiritually in a way, because it meeting all the people that you really grew up with, really great musicians here, there, and everywhere on that album. And it's just a special album for me. I’m so happy you liked the show, very much.

Yeah, that reggae version you did of "Long Distance Runaround" was insane. Almost better than the one on Fragile.

Sure.


With part one of 1000 Hands out, are you still thinking about doing parts two and three to create the trilogy?

We've actually gone through most of the songs for two. We’re just negotiating some ideas to record with a full orchestra, so that's going on at the moment, but most of the songs are really locked in. And as for another one after that, I'll let you know!

Awesome. In the meantime, I’d like to go back a little bit. You did a song with Tangerine Dream back in the ‘80s for the movie "Legend," but a lot of people didn't know until recently that beside Tangerine Dream’s soundtrack, there was also an orchestral score made available. Did you have any involvement with that?

No, no. I was just lucky enough to meet with the director of that movie [Ridley Scott]. I met him in a pub in London. We had a beer, and he said “I really like your voice. Would you mind singing in the film?” I said, “Who's doing the music?” He said, “Tangerine Dream.” I said, “I know them, they’re German. Yeah, the German guys.” So, they sent me the music, I sang it, and that was it. Then, I never heard back when they were gonna do an orchestral version at all. I haven't heard it either.

I asked Rick Wakeman this same question a couple months back. Have you heard the current lineup of Yes’ new album The Quest yet?

I heard a couple of tracks…and then I just said, “OK, well, that's that.”

Ha!

Not my cup of tea. That's what you say in England when you’re not sure about something. “Not my cuppa tea, mate.”

That's funny. So let's see, the age old question, and I'm kind of paraphrasing one of your more recent songs here ["WDMCF"], but where do your lyrics come from?

It's a very spontaneous event, really. When I was working early with Yes, I’d come to the band with ideas for the songs, and roughly ideas of lyrics, but by the time I was singing it, I was sort of making up the lyric as I went along. And then, I started reading a lot. I started reading “The Lord of the Rings,” and this is 1970. I was reading “The Lord of the Rings” and other sort of science fiction books and things, and things leaning towards spiritualism. If you like that, there's one called “The Finding of the Third Eye” by Vera Stanley Alder, which is a beautiful book.

And you know, we are connected spiritually to everything, as we should know, so you start putting it in your lyrics. That's the idea of what I do: In a subtle way, I speak about my spiritual awakening, if you like. One of the songs that I did just a couple of years ago says that “we are everyone.” We all collectively everyone on this planet. That's why we're all going through such heartache with the Ukrainian situation. You look at them because they're us, and vice versa.

It's just horrible what's going on over there.

Yeah, and it's not gonna get any better at the moment. I just put up a video, a friend of mine reminded me I'd written a song 10 years ago with him, “Compassion.” And he said “please Jon, can you make a video and put it on Facebook?” And I said… “OK? Sure. I can do that.” So it came up on Facebook today. And there’s always somebody who’s gonna say, “Why did you put all this online? You know, why don’t you just get on with your rock and roll?” There's always a critic ‘round the corner!

No doubt. I know we're running a little short on time, so I’ve got two more questions for you. You always hype up the idea of young people getting into music. Are there any currently young artists that you enjoy listening to?

Well, three years ago, I found…I'm very bad at remembering people's names, but I’ll remember it in a minute. But he’s a young English guy. Gosh, I should remember his name. But there's always young, amazing people! I'm a big, big fan, me and my wife Jane love "American Yodel." I call it "American Yodel" actually, rather than "American Idol."

Oh! [That’s what you meant]

Yeah, some of these people that come on just make me cry because they’re so good! I really love…oh, gosh, the one with the green hair. What’s her name?

Billie Eilish?

Yes, she was on "Saturday Night Live!" about two weeks ago. Unbelievable! And I've never really listened much to her songs. I hear them on the radio a little bit, but to see her perform on SNL? You should see it, it really was magnificent. She starts off with a very slow energy, and a brother's doing a nice guitar. Then all of a sudden, they're like Nirvana. Incredible!

I'm trying to think of the guy's name. It’s terrible that I forgot it. Oh, my God!

By chance, is it Alfie Templeman?

No, but he’s good! Wait a minute…damn! Why can I not remember his name? He's 27, he got Grammys galore last year and the year before.


Not Harry Styles?

No. I have your number, I’m gonna call you back as soon as I remember it. (Ten minutes later, Jon actually called me back to inform me that the guy he was thinking of was Jacob Collier, and something along the lines of how his name came up during an orchestral session Jon did recently.)

Okay, awesome.

Yeah, because I watched him perform, and he writes for orchestra. And he does everything in his little room in his house, like I do. I have a little cottage full of instruments. I just live here, and he does the same. He does incredible vocalization and it’s quite unbelievable what he does. And he’s a cute guy, you know? Him and his three or four people he always worked with. I’ll remember his name, and then I'll call you back.

Right on. On that note, my last question for you also relates to young artists. What advice would you have to offer to them about getting into the music business?

Well, it's not so much getting into the business, but the thing that I say to them is practice, practice and then, practice.

That's all it takes, huh?

That's all it takes! I was in a band when I was 12 called The Little Jon Skiffle Band. And then, by the time I was 17, I was in a band called The Warriors with my brother. And you never think that you're going to be famous. The last thing you think is all you need is money from the fans! *laughs*

About The Author

Josh Bradley

Josh Bradley is Creative Loafing Tampa's resident live music freak. He started freelancing with the paper in 2020 at the age of 18, and has since covered, announced, and previewed numerous live shows in Tampa Bay, even as the live music industry continues to get back on its feet.
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