Friday, July 1, 2011

An EXCLUSIVE Interview with CHRIS SQUIRE from YES!

By Stephen SPAZ Schnee

In one form or another, Yes has been creating music for over four decades. In the late ‘60s, they were an underground band with a unique sound, but it wasn’t until the early ‘70s that the band achieved massive worldwide success. Perhaps more than any other band from that era, Yes wrote the Progressive Rock rulebook and every Prog band that followed in their wake took inspiration from them.

When Punk came along in the late ‘70s and attempted to destroy the popularity of bands like Yes, the headstrong Progsters may have lost the attention and adulation of the always-fickle press, they never lost the dedication of their fanbase. Even when vocalist Jon Anderson and keyboardist Rick Wakeman left the fold, the band bounced back in 1980 with the album Drama featuring vocalist Trevor Horn and keyboardist Geoff Downes (both of Synthpop duo The Buggles) in their place. While the band disintegrated shortly after that, they weren’t gone long before a new line-up emerged with their most successful album yet, the Trevor Horn-produced 90125, which included the massive hit “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”.
Since then, the band have continued to evolve with slightly different line-ups and fresh, new approaches to their sound. In 2008, Jon Anderson experienced respiratory issues and the band’s touring plans were put on ice. After realizing that they may not be able to tour with Anderson, a replacement was sought and vocalist Benoit David, formerly of Yes tribute band Close To The Edge, fit the bill.
With the line-up of bassist Chris Squire, guitarist Steve Howe, drummer Alan White, vocalist Benoit David and keyboardist Oliver Wakeman (son of Rick), the band entered the studio with producer Trevor Horn and began work on their first studio album in 10 years, Fly From Here. Soon after recording began, Wakeman left the band and was replaced by Geoff Downes. While this line-up was practically a recreation of the Drama-era version of the band, many fans were expecting an album that picked up where that album left off. But Fly From Here is certainly no carbon copy of that album. Instead, this project takes elements from all periods of Yes’ career and creates a fresh and exciting new beast altogether. It is most definitely a Yes album and contains all the elements that fans have come to love, but it’s also an album that stands well on its own and has the potential to attract a new generation of listeners. Simply put, Fly From Here is their best album in years.
Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to catch up with Chris Squire, who was kind enough to discuss the new album and so much more…

SPAZ: Fly From Here is just about ready to drop. How are you feeling about the album and Yes’ musical journey thus far?
CHRIS SQUIRE: Feeling very good. We’re all extremely happy about how the album turned out. All the interviews I’ve done with people who have heard it, they’ve all been very positive. So, everything seems good.

SPAZ: Fly From Here is the first studio album in 10 years. What inspired the band to record the album now, as opposed to getting things together a few years ago?
CHRIS: Yeah, our last studio album was in 2001, the Magnification album, which was with an orchestra. After that was released, we spent the next two or three years pretty much going around, promoting it with various orchestras, in different parts of the world. So, a couple of years go by quite easily like that. Then Jon Anderson started to have problems with his respiratory system and his voice, so we laid low for awhile to see how that would all pan out. We were planning to go back on the road when he felt good in 2008. Just before we started rehearsing for the tour, he had another attack, unfortunately, so we had to make a decision at that point to get Benoit (David, vocalist) into the band. Of course, we spent the next couple of years going on the road making sure that Benoit was the right man for the job, getting him up to speed with the whole touring experience, etc. Then we decided that it was time to do a new album, so we started working on that. By the time we got ‘round to going into the studio, it was nearly 10 years since the last one! It certainly wasn’t intentional.

SPAZ: The album has that classic Yes sound, yet is also very much a modern-sounding album.
CHRIS: When you say ‘modern’, you mean sonically?
SPAZ: Yes, sonically, which is probably due to Trevor’s production, but the album does not sound ‘dated’ at all. It sounds completely new and fresh, musically.
CHRIS: Yeah.
SPAZ: Did you purposely try to fit the best of both worlds into the album, or did this all fall together organically?
CHRIS: I think more organic. Usually, in my experience, the outcome of any album is a combination of all the people involved in making it, starting, obviously with the music and singing. But then it goes beyond that because we were working with Trevor again and he has his own team of people that he’s been working with. He’s very current with modern recording techniques. So we definitely wanted to make the music itself be organic and we definitely wanted to play everything as opposed to having machines building the tracks up, which of course, is common place more than not these days. We wanted to get the element of a real band playing. We added the benefit of modern equipment to that as well. It does come out feeling like a modern sounding record and Trevor’s team did a great job at that.

SPAZ: Geoff Downes was a late addition to the line-up. Did it take much convincing to get him involved with the project?
CHRIS: Not really. It was a late decision. We’d already started making the album. Oliver Wakeman (keyboardist) was involved. It just came to a certain point when Trevor Horn decided that he did want to be involved in the production of the WHOLE album… Originally, we were just going to be working on the one song with him, but that seemed to go so well that we carried on doing more with Trevor. He said “If that’s the case, I think you guys will make a better record with Geoff.” Not that there’s anything wrong with Oliver Wakeman’s playing at all. He just thought the flavor that Geoff brings with his style and his keyboard sounds was going to help us to make a better record. I’ve always enjoyed working with Geoff, so we agreed to go and do it that way.

SPAZ: Your vocal turn on “The Man You Always Wanted Me To Be” is amazing. How did you come about doing that track and why not sing lead on more of the album’s tracks?
CHRIS: That tune is the one song that I actually completely wrote 100%. When I was in London in 2007, I was doing a lot of writing and that was one of the songs that I wrote during that period of time. Then I made this album with Steve Hackett called The Squackett Album, which hasn’t been released yet even though it’s been finished for a year. That was one of the songs that was supposed to go on that album, but we didn’t really need it because we had plenty of other material. So I put it forward as a suggestion for the Yes album. We did do a version with Benoit singing, actually, in a higher key because that suited his voice better. But Trevor decided that it would be better if I sang it, so we went along with that.
SPAZ: That was a great decision by Trevor because, in my opinion, it’s one of the highpoints of the album.
CHRIS: Thank you very much!

SPAZ: While the album may be considered a ‘return to form’ by some fans and critics, does that sometimes frustrate you since Yes has always been a consistent band that evolves and changes over the years?
CHRIS: I don’t think it’s a question of going back. I mean, I know that I have a press quote out there about the album where I say I think the album represents some of Yes’ best qualities from the ‘70s and the ‘80s but, as you obviously agree, with a modern twist to it. I couldn’t really ask for anything more. To me, it does feel like a progression. It’s a very clean sounding record. This Swedish journalist said to me that it’s like the lightest record and, at the same time, the darkest record we’ve made. And think I kind of understand what he means by that. I think we’ve definitely achieved another notch in the Yes success belt.

SPAZ: The playing on the album is exceptional, but more importantly, it’s a beautiful piece of work from start to finish. Are you usually conscious of the atmosphere and beauty in your music while recording, or does it all seem to hit you afterwards?
CHRIS: I think it develops as it goes on. There’s no doubt that everyone was in a good frame of mind and enthusiastic. There wasn’t too much bickering… I mean, there’s always discussions… but generally, everyone had an attitude with a smile while we were making the record and it definitely seems to shine through in the end product.

SPAZ: You’ve been doing this a long time. Are there still moments when you listen to a playback and get chills?
CHRIS: Yes, there have been. With Trevor’s main engineer, Tim Weidner, who we’ve worked with before on the Magnification album… One day, when he’d been working on the balancing and the sounds on “The Man You Always Wanted Me To Be”, I walked into the studio and I thought, ‘Fuck that sounds really good!” (laughs).

SPAZ: Was it a conscious effort for Yes to pick up from where Drama left off in expanding upon and recording “We Can Fly From Here", given the return of Geoff & Trevor?
CHRIS: Obviously there’s gonna be an element of that because the return of Geoff. He does have a distinctive keyboard style. When he and Steve play with Yes, it seems to open up the possibilities more than their work with Asia.

SPAZ: Many fans are likely to find Fly From Here to be the most consistent Yes album in years. Are we likely to see this line-up return to the studio in the near future to try to capture a bit more lightning in the bottle?
CHRIS: Oh yeah, I sincerely hope so. The bigger mark the album leaves in a successful way, there’s a lot more chance where that could happen. So, it seems on track for that possibility.

SPAZ: After all of these years, you are still considered one of Rock’s greatest bass players. Is it humbling to know that so many people have been touched by the work you’ve done over the years?
CHRIS: Yeah, it’s definitely a great feeling. I do hear quite a lot from other musicians and I read articles where I’m cited as an influence and I’m very proud about that. Who wouldn’t be, really?

SPAZ: What’s next for Chris Squire and Yes?
CHRIS: We’re going to go out on the road for at least a few years to promote this album. I’ve also go plans for the Squackett album to come out, hopefully in the fall. It’s been already finished for a year, but we haven’t quite nailed down the schedule for releasing that yet. All I know is that between those things, I’m setting myself up to be quite busy.

SPAZ: What is currently spinning on your CD player?
CHRIS: A lot of bands I consider to be new aren’t really new anymore, like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, No Doubt and bands like that that I really like. The Foo Fighters have just put out a great new album and I’m a big fan of them. Sometimes, I’ll just put on the current Top 20 urban hits. You gotta like some of Rihanna’s stuff. I don’t have any prejudices: I’ll listen to classical music, straightforward Pop…. Probably like many people my age, I’m more drawn to putting the comedy channel on over the music channels. (laughs) I will put American Idol on, things like that. I just keep an open mind.

Thanks to Chris Squire

Special thanks to Jacki Feldstein, Shawn Potter, Chris Anderson and Gayland Morris


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