Interview: Jon Anderson

Jon Anderson is, quite literally, the voice of Yes, the band whose albums The Yes Album, Fragile, and Close To The Edge are amongst the most beloved of the progressive rock genre. Songs from this era co-written by Anderson include “Roundabout”, “Yours Is No Disgrace”, “I’ve Seen All Good People”, “Heart Of The Sunrise”, and many others. His first solo album was 1976’s Olias of Sunhillow, and he sang on Yes’ 1983 runaway hit “Owner of a Lonely Heart”. Anderson also had a long-running collaboration with Vangelis of Chariots of Fire fame.

Anderson recovered from an episode of acute respiratory failure in 2008, returning to performing solo shows in 2009. He has a new album called Survival & Other Stories which will be released in mid-June, 2011. The following interview was conducted by email, with answers received on June 2, 2011.

(Robin Kauffman photo)

Jeff Moehlis: I’ve been enjoying your new album Survival & Other Stories. The packaging says, “4 years ago I put an ad on my website: ‘Musicians Wanted… Send me your music'”. Could you explain how this seemingly simple request grew into this album?

Jon Anderson: There are so many talented people out there creating so much diversity in music, so it really was amazing to get in touch with all these musicians.. and as time went on I realized I had enough songs for 3 albums, and it was time to release ‘Survival’….so much more music to come..

JM: The credits for the songs on the new album list you for “Song/lyrics”, and others for “Music”. Could you clarify the contributions from the others, for example did they provide the initial musical ideas, should they be viewed as co-writers, did they perform on the album, etc?

JA: Yes they performed in their own studios around the world, and sent me basic music that inspired me to sing a melody and lyric, then we spoke about production, most of the time the production was well on course..

JM: The liner notes for the new album say “Making music is easy… it’s the business that’s hard.” How have you maintained your general positivity in the face of business and creative struggles, criticism, problems with bandmates, and the such?

JA: Just a belief in my destiny to write interesting and great music, and have a free spirit without all the trappings of thinking I was a superstar, I know what I am, and I am very thankful…..

JM: If it’s OK, I have some questions about the past. First, I really like the arrangement of Richie Havens’ “No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed” on the Yes album Time and a Word, which includes music from the movie The Big Country. How did this come together?

JA: I was always interested in molding different kinds of music together, like ‘morphing’… I am a big fan of Richie Havens, so the song was a perfect one to try…and I love the Music from the classic western ‘The Big Country’ by Elmer Bernstein…. it worked great on stage….

JM: The conventional wisdom is that the first truly classic Yes album was The Yes Album. Could you reflect on this album?

JA: It was the first time we got away from London, we went to a farm house in Devon, that Steve eventually bought, it was a good time to be a band, no record company begging for a ‘hit’ so we went to work on new ideas of music, I was writing and thinking so much about ‘structure’, and the guys listened, and things just got better and better…

JM: Could you describe, from your perspective, the musical evolution over the next Yes albums Fragile, Close To The Edge, and Tales from Topographic Oceans?

JA: It was always important to not be a ‘one hit wonder’ that was my mantra… to sustain the band you needed a dedicated audience that would follow you on whatever you tried, simply because we were ‘honest’ about our music, we might have made some mistakes, but that’s life , it happens..we were not perfect at all…, but in the long run, YES music is in a class of it’s own, it is unique to itself, and fans honor that, and understand it…….., …

JM: I’m probably in the minority, but my favorite Yes album is Relayer. I’m particularly fond of “The Gates of Delirium”. How did this song
come together?

JA: It started by me learning then playing the whole idea on piano to the guys, it must have sounded very bad, but they understood what I was trying to explain, and thank the Gods they got it, I was determined to create a very dark work, like the ugliest ‘war’ of energy, then have the light come through at the end.. the ‘truth’… it was a hard recording experience, and didn’t sound really great until we performed it on stage, ‘then’ it became a master work… very wild crazy, sad, then inspiring…

JM: Many of the classic Yes albums were produced by Yes and Eddie Offord. How would you characterize what Eddie brought to the music?

JA: Eddie ‘bless him’ was amazing for the band, he brought ‘light and love’ a real hippie, and in his time a great engineer………

JM: Yes had an interesting and successful change of direction with 90125. What were your goals at this point, and were they met?

JA: I just went along for the ride, it was already going to be a hit album, the record company were going to spend a fortune to make sure, the record is a classic rock/stylish/new wave energy, and it still works today… very special times, and lots of fun being a superduperstar…for 10 mins..

JM: How did it come about that contributed to “Prince Rupert Awakes” with King Crimson, “So Long Ago, So Clear” with Vangelis, and “In High Places” with Mike Oldfield?

JA: they asked me to sing and I did, very simple…

JM: You worked with Vangelis many more times after this. Can you reflect on your collaborations with him?

JA: He is a wonderful Brother and futurist, a great musician, unique to sing with, our work was effortless……. it was fun, and magic… I love him so much…… he was my mentor, and he truly appreciated my talents…

JM: What advice would you give to an aspiring songwriter / musician?

JA: Never give up…. keep practising, music will always give you a life… a special life.. be true to your dreams…

JM: What are your plans, musical or otherwise, for the near future?

JA: Keep creating, fulfilling my dreams, and tour as a solo artist and sing with Youth Orchestras around the world, and a zillion other things………

JM: Do you have any plans to tour again with Yes? 

JA: Not really……….

JM: Do you want to set the record straight on anything about your music, career, or life?

JA: not really, I’m just happy to be alive and healthy and in a good creative zone….. and in love with my wife Janee….

JM: Where are you responding from?

JA: my kitchen table in our home in beautiful central California, watching the basketball finals… life is good….


One comment for “Interview: Jon Anderson”

  1. hi jon, i am a long time Yes fan, and i’d just like to say, your voice is the voice of Yes. i just came upon this and the interview with tony kaye late last night, although both interviews took place in june and august of 2011 respectively. your work with Yes, whether if it was the late 60’s-to-early 70’s lineup, or the 70’s to the 1980 lineup, or the 90125 and big generator lineup, your voice gave the group it’s identity. without this distinguishing beacon, i couldn’t imagine what Yes would’ve been like, but definitely not nearly as good or as historic as they are. good luck with the current things you are doing. -a fan.- james dartouzos- easton,penna,

    Posted by james dartouzos | September 4, 2012, 10:29 pm

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