Interview with JON ANDERSON (YES)

August 2005


“Gooood!” was the word that sounded too often during this conversation – in the personal exchanges that had to be left off. One cannot help but share Jon Anderson’s positive attitude to life, and can it be not so when the band that crystal-chord singer fronts is called YES? Well, on the verge of the European leg of Anderson’s solo tour, Tour Of The Universe – Work In Progress, we didn’t talk about the group: Jon’s solo work is no less interesting – and all too different from what YES are doing. His one-man shows are very special events, very intimate, uplifting and spiritual; there, the veteran comes off as a down-to-earth man, an image contrasting the common perspective of Jon. It was too short a dialogue, yet it also bears Anderson’s spellbinding personality.

– Jon, many people think of you as a ‘pixie’ type, like Marc Bolan, while I’ve always maintained that you’re a rocker. The "Song Of Seven" album has a rock feel about it, “Roundabout” rocks too. So do you create rock, environmental music – or mental music?

It’s just adventurous music. Rock is fantastic, but I also like folk and all sorts of music. With YES, in the beginning we played pop music – THE BEATLES, Frank Zappa, THE BEACH BOYS – and it was an extention of that experience, where you’re going to do rock music but adventurous, not basic, working from the structure, like symphonic structure, where a lot is going on, and instrumentation, so we expanded on that, we expanded our musical thinking. Then I did that with my solo work and my work with Vangelis, doing different things, writing for dance theater, working with Kitaro and others – it’s all experiments in music.

– Well, you still can be compared to Elvis: both of you worked as lorry drivers.

Oh yeah! Thanks to working as a lorry driver, I found “The Cavern”. I was driving in Liverpool delivering sugar and flowers, and then I drove around the corner and saw “The Cavern” where THE BEATLES started… and about six years later I was playing there!

– Your name’s been mentioned when I talked to Ian Wallace, Clem Clempson, Paul Gurvitz

Yeah, I worked with them all! I’m a Gypsy! A musical Gypsy!

– What about your work with THE GUN?

Very interesting – because we did two great shows when I got the band a gig to play with THE WHO, just to get the exposure, but the guys in THE GUN hated me for that and they fired me!

– Before THE GUN, you played with THE WARRIORS together with your brother. Everybody knows where you are but where’s Tony Anderson?

Tony lives in the south of England now, he became a minister. But before, he was in the band – you remember that band that did the song “Black Is Black”? (Sings.) “I want my baby back…” He went to join the Spanish band [LOS BRAVOS] for a year, but he’s changed direction and became interested in helping people and growing up with his family and became a priest.

– Back to you, what material that you do at your shows people know better – YES songs or your solo work?

I think mostly YES, because YES is very very famous in the world. We sold thirty-five million records, and as a solo artist I didn’t sell that many records – maybe four million – but it’s my solo work. And now I’m doing the one-man show where I sing and play and talk about my music, I have a projection and animation with me that’s very creative. I have a DVD available now of this show, it’s just been released in Europe – a very interesting DVD.

– Now you’re doing everything yourself but you said many times that you were late to master an instrument.

Yeah, I didn’t really start until I was twenty-seven, twenty-eight when I started playing piano and guitar at home, but it was very lame at the start, and then I met Vangelis who was a mentor for me. I used to watch what he played and how he played, then I got home and tried to be a ‘sort of Vangelis’. It’s impossible but I was trying to imitate his work and learn more about technology – and now I have a very beautiful studio, I have some very fine equipment so I can compose every day, some symphony or some other music. Over the years you grow into your own style.

JA3– Still, on "Olias Of Sunhillow", way back in 1976, you already played everything yourself.

I’m doing the “Return Of Olias” now, for the next four years, and the first disc will come out next summer, it will be the first part of the five-disc project, and I’m doing it myself.

– How do you feel alone on-stage? In YES, you have beautiful vocal harmonies, and now there’s no this safety net.

Well, I have some equipment so that when I’m singing I can have harmonies with it and I have a MIDI guitar which gives me rhythm sounds so I feel comfortable. Alone on-stage, I get along with the audience and my wife is there, so I feel very good.

– Now, you’re telling stories at your shows, and Rick Wakeman does the same. Have you ever thought about doing something together? I mean an evening of music and spoken word.

Yes, we thought about doing something next spring, and I think we will.

– You’re both great storytellers, although you, maybe, not as talkative as Rick!

No, he’d never stop! (Laughs.) He’s funny, I must say, he’s very funny.

– You have a wonderful sense of humor. Why doesn’t it project in your music?

Oh, I sometimes would love to write crazy silly music, funny music, but it’s very hard, it’s a very difficult thing to pull off.

– New songs that you play on the tour, and unreleased songs that you perform, like “Richard” from the Paris sessions – will they be released in some form?

Yes, there’ll be a release with music from the live show, with the song “Richard”, an acoustic version of “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” and a couple of other ones.

– Don’t you find it strange that people mostly know you for “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” which, in my eyes, is not typical Jon Anderson song?

No, it’s nornal because it became a number one pop song. YES had two big hits, “Roundabout” and “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”, and that’s what the majority of people know you for. But your fans, they understand who you are, they know what you’ve been doing, they know the creative process, so I’m pretty happy about that.

JA4– But where does your heart belong when you play – in “Roundabout” or “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”?

I enjoy doing them very much. You always want to sing it good, you always want to do a good version.

– Where does the idea of ethnic albums – “Deseo”, “Toltec”, “The Promise Ring” – come from?

It’s experiments, you know, like an adventure. I did a two-hour piece of music from China that will come out probably next year, it was something I wanted to do for a long time. I wanted to work in China ten years ago but it was hard with all this work with YES and stuff, so I decided to wait but I still do a lot of experimenting.

– Recently, I listened to your “Chagall” project…

Aha! My favourite! I want to do it with projection and animation and talking about my life with [Marc] Chagall, thoughts about what I did with him, and the songs that I wrote for him.

– What did enchant you in Chagall’s paintings?

I think I didn’t know of his work until I met him. When I met him, I went into his house, and he showed me his paitings, and I was stunned by his way of thinking. He was ninety years old but he was thinking like a nine-year old boy! He was like a child! His paintings were very very innocent. He had an amazing life: he travelled all over the world and created some beautiful art. I became friends with him in the south of France [Jon lived there, near Chagall, – DME] for five years, that’s why I wrote this music. Initially, I wrote a dance piece with two songs and sang it to him, and then I wanted to make it into a big musical. Which I did.

– Chagall’s works are rooted in Judaism…

Yes, he was a Hassidic Jew!

– …though they’re not religious, and you recently had a go at religion, in “Buddha Song”.

It’s a song that happened. I was driving around listening to this Christian station here, and I was thinking, “Why don’t they sing about Buddha? Why don’t they sing about Mohammed?” So I decided to write a song about everybody.

JA2– Where does your spirituality come from?

I think we all have the same spirituality deep inside and we grow to learn more about it all the time, and we try very hard to become better people as we grow. We search all the time for the truth. We learn more about the world and we can’t have thoughts like, “We are better than them” or “They are not good enough for God”. This is very bad way of thinking, you know?

– I guess you put in nicely in a song that I love very much, “Soon”, that both you and Steve Howe perform live. What’s so special in this song to you?

It’s a very difficult song that you’re singing to God and say, “Come over here. What’s happened? You know we want some light”, we’re asking the Divine to show some light in this world, as we need a reason to be here. And, of course, over the years I have more light every day.

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