Lately, Chris Squire has been on the crest of the wave. Not that this bear of man ever slowed down yet 2011 brought a new album from YES, a band he formed back in 1968 and still leads, and 2012 saw the release of "A Life Within A Day", a highly anticipated result of SQUACKETT, his collaboration with the fellow art traveler Steve Hackett. And there’s more projects in the works. We linked up on a hot day when the bass giant was gearing up for another concert trek but he generously took his time to talk about recent events and existence in general.
– Chris, judging by your photos, you and Steve have struck a real friendship. How much did it inform the music of your album?
I guess you know the story of how this came about, that Steve originally played on my “Swiss Choir” album, right? Obviously, the friendship was a very important element of the situation. We have already had become very good friends, so it was easy to work with Steve during (the work on) the album and, of course, with Roger King who was involved as a keyboard player and producer. So it went very easily along, with no pressure, and it was very easy for us to write music together. And it was a pleasurable thing. I can’t really say more than that. We had a good time making it.
– Was that a plan from the very beginning to do a song-based album as opposed to a typical prog one that many expected from such collaboration?
Ah no, there was no plan. It’s just we liked songs of each other and I was playing on some of those already – Steve game them to me to play some bass on – and after awhile, we just realised that we were making an album, in a way, together. And we agreed to carry on in that direction so it just evolved, really, into, as you said before, a friendship and also a musical journey.
– Not so many people pay attention but you have interesting harmonies in YES, while Steve likes vocal harmonies and also plays a harmony guitar. And there are quite notable harmonies on “A Life Within A Day”. So how important those harmonies are to you?
It’s a strange thing but, when we first met, in 2007, I thought Steve was a guitar player. I did not know that this guy was actually a good singer. I realized that after he played me his demos of songs, and the good thing that happened was that after we started singing together and doing harmonies together it sounded very good. And once again, thanks to Roger King for his production of the vocals. So yes, the harmonies are important.
– Did Steve realize that you were also a singer?
I think so, yes. (Laughs.) I think he was aware of my singing in YES, yeah.
– I haven’t listened to “Fish Out Of Water” for a long time and somehow I remembered it as purely instrumental. But recently, I gave it a new spin only to rediscover it was a vocal album…
Yeah, both – both instrumental and vocal.
– That goes to show that people mostly see your instrumental prowess. So how important are vocal harmonies for YES?
In the beginning of YES, the idea for the band was to be very strong instrumentally and also strong vocally. We started off in that style and then eventually we developed YES to become a vocal band as well as instrumental band. Really, everything I’ve ever been involved with has both of those elements, I think.
– I like your last album very much but found it a bit unexpected: there’s a pop side to it. While most prog bands seem to be static, you’re progressing all the time.
Well, I hope so. I’m glad you like “Fly From Here”. I like the album; everybody was happy with it when we finished recording. It’s been pretty successful, so it was definitely a project worth doing.
– Is this happiness a vital part of any project you’re involved with?
It’s not always achievable – you know, sometimes music can be difficult and can strain relationships but it can also bring people closer together. So obviously you hope it’s going to be more on the positive side…
– Calling yourselves YES, you have to be on the positive side!
Yeah, exactly, we have to try. But not every album I’ve been involved with has been perfectly happy but most of it has been a good ride.
– Speaking of inner feelings, why almost everybody in YES has been releasing solo albums year after year and you took a long gap between “Fish” and “Swiss Choir”? Does it mean you were so satisfied with your work with YES that you didn’t venture off solo?
I have been involved with other projects outside of YES – you know I had CONSPIRACY with Billy Sherwood – and I liked working with other people, like Steve Hackett. You know I’m not so concerned about whether to do solo records, with nobody else, so that’s the way it’s carried on.
– In 1975-1976 each of YES’ members including Patrick Moraz had a solo record out. While analyzing, with those albums in mind, each musician’s contribution to the band, I realized that YES were you. Would you agree that you’re the axis of the group?
Well, I don’t know. It’s no a plan, really, that I’ve had, and the reason why I’ve been always in YES is only because other people left. (Laughs.) And sometimes they would come back: Jon Anderson, Rick Wakeman and Steve Howe all left and came back, left and came back. So I’ve just been there the whole time, so it’s just the way the history has been.
– Still, those albums sound quite different from YES, but listening to your records, I hear that it’s you who is the YES. So again: are you the YES mastermind?
Thank you very much for that compliment. But I don’t think so, it’s not a plan of mine to be the mastermind. It’s just that, as I said, I’ve just been there the whole time, and obviously my influence is strong on YES. And as you know there’ve been different keyboard players, different guitar players and two drummers as well. Let’s not forget that Alan White has been in YES from 1972, he’s been for forty years also with me! And people forget about that. (Laughs.)
– In the beginning of our conversation, you used the word “strong”, and physically, you’re just killing your bass, you play very muscular bass.
– So do you work out to be able to fight with your instrument?
(Laughs.) I do actually go to gym to train three times a week, yeah! But I don’t know if that translates into fighting with my instrument. I think it’s just a plan to try and stay healthy.
– Your bass style reminds me of Freddie King’s on guitar.
It’s an interesting comparison. I’ve never heard that before.
– Then, which comparison you’re used to be hearing?
Oh well… Um… Different people have different ideas: people compare me to Jimi Hendrix in some ways. I used to like Jimi Hendrix’s bass playing very much (laughing) so I’m sure I borrowed some ideas of his for the bass. But then again, I had many great influences in my career, like Paul McCartney and Bill Wyman and, of course, the late great John Entwistle and Jack Bruce – all these people have been great influences on me. And of course, all the members of YES that have been coming and leaving and coming back: I’ve learnt from all those musicians a lot, too, from their influences onto YES which has given YES maybe a different look every time we changed somebody. So that’s been a big learning curve for me.
– Was the biggest one from Alan White, your partner in rhythm section?
Yes, of course, my relationship with Alan is very good and we have learnt a lot from each other, I’m sure.
– What’s more interesting for you: to play a melodic line on bass or use it as a rhythm instrument?
I don’t consciously think about how much percentage is this and how much percentage is that. I don’t decide before I do a piece of music whether this one should be more melodic or this should be more rhythmic, I just start to play it and think of a good way around the song. And maybe some songs come out more rhythmically and others more with melody.
– And how interesting from this point of view was XYZ where you played with Alan White and Jimmy Page?
That never did get to fruition, unfortunately. It was a good idea, and I guess we would have gone further with that if Robert Plant had been interested in it but at the time I think he was very sad that John Bonham had died and he didn’t really want to become involved in something (else) so quickly. That’s what I understood from Jimmy anyway. But it could have been really good.
– But you could be the singer!
Well, we made some demos and I was the singer but I don’t think we wanted to really do a three-piece band. We wanted it to be a four-piece and it would have been better like that.
– How did you meet Jimmy Page?
You know I can’t exactly remember the first time I met him but during the Seventies, in England, we were always at the same “Melody Maker” and “New Musical Express” awards lunches, so probably it was one of those. And, of course, also both LED ZEPPELIN and YES were Atlantic Records bands, so maybe I met him in the office. (Laughs.)
– What’s the reason behind the recent surge in your activity? You reformed THE SYN, you started experimenting once more with YES, you formed SQUACKETT…
I think it may seem so because everything has sort of come out at the same time or quite close to the same time. We spent 2010 and 2011 making the “Fly From Here” album, which was great to work with Trevor Horn again as producer as well on that. And then the SQUACKETT album had been finished already before that, two years ago but it took a while for us to find the right record company that we wanted to work with to service the record that’s just come out. So it seems like I’m doing a lot at one time but actually I’m not. And yes, YES is back on the road and doing a new tour – in fact, I’m leaving next Tuesday for Toronto to start the US summer tour with PROCOL HARUM. That is going to be a lot of fun because we have a new singer now, Jon Davison.
– Who is different from Jon Anderson!
Well, he’s not so different, he has a similar kind of voice, these high vocals. We’ve already been in Australia and Indonesia and Japan with him, and he did a great job. So I’m looking forward to the tour.
– Are you especially looking for singers with similar voices?
Oh yeah. It just makes sense because the singer has to honor the old material.
– But you took a different direction with “Drama”!
“Drama” was a good album. In the last couple of years we’ve been playing tracks from that album. I think that the “Drama” album actually has some of Steve Howe’s best guitar playing on it, so it’s a pleasure to play that material with him now on stage because he still plays really, really well – probably, better. And, of course, it was an interesting time for us and the first time that Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn were performing with us. So there’s a lot of good memories from that time.
– Is Geoff your current keyboard player?
Yeah, yeah, he is, and it’s going very well.
– Back to your album with Hackett, how did you record it? You live on different sides of Atlantic.
No, I was living in London at the time. Now I live between the two countries but mostly in America.
– Recently, you took part in a “Prog Collective” project and SUPERTRAMP tribute album. Was it all down Billy Sherwood?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, of course, yeah. (A cute child comes up and kisses Chris.) Here’s my little girl, she’s three and a half years-old.
– My boy is five.
A lot of fun, aren’t they?
– To say the least!
(To his daughter) Daddy’s doing an interview. (Laughs.)
– If the family calls, the last question: what’s next after the tour – a new SQUACKETT album, perhaps?
We are looking at the offers to do some live SQUACKETT shows at some time: I’m not sure exactly whether it will be September, October, November or December – some time in there. Nothing definite yet, we just have that space available. Also Steve and I will probably have no problem to do another one record but it wouldn’t be this year or next year. Maybe, 2014.