Into the storm
by Anil Prasad
Copyright © 2012 Anil Prasad. All rights reserved.
"Perpetual Change” is one of Yes’ hallmark songs, but the title is also emblematic of the British prog-rockers’ history. The group has seen no fewer than 16 members pass through its ranks since forming in 1968. Its most recent shifts are the addition of new lead vocalist Benoît David, and the return of keyboardist Geoff Downes, who was last a part Yes for its 1980 album Drama and accompanying tour. What hasn’t changed is guitarist Steve Howe’s commitment and drive to raising the band’s game and reestablishing it as a force to be reckoned with decades into its career.
Yes’ latest studio disc Fly From Here has gone a long way in achieving Howe’s goal. The recording, produced by one-time band member Trevor Horn, is its biggest-selling release since the early ‘90s, having graced top-20 and top-40 charts worldwide. The album is a significant return to form for the band, with a focus on extended musical structures. Fly From Here is named after the album’s 23-minute centerpiece. It’s a six-part suite full of the epic twists and turns, extended soloing and instrumental workouts that made Yes arguably the most influential act in the history of its genre.
Howe also recently released Time, a new solo album that combines his acoustic and electric prowess with a small orchestral ensemble. Years in the making, the disc is a collaboration between Howe and producer Paul K. Joyce, a renowned British television, film and theater soundtrack composer. Howe considers Time among the most important recordings of his solo career. It’s situated in the classical universe, but in true Howe style, he embraces an eclectic aesthetic by also veering into jazz and country territory on it.
Fly From Here received a warm response from media, fans and sales charts alike. The band must be very pleased.
Oh yeah. The band’s happy with the reception and most importantly, the album, which marks a change. Ten years ago, Yes was full of moaning people saying “Oh, the label never does anything for us. We don’t get any promotion.” But I think the sense is the reception is due to the strength of the record. I think that’s something people will wake up to in terms of what’s happening in the record business. The quality and consistency of recordings affects sales. Also, you’ll notice Fly From Here is just under 50 minutes, which is a pleasing length of time. CDs that were over an hour were sometimes a huge test. With the new album, you go somewhere, get there and come back, and you’re not tired at the end. [laughs] I’m pleased with all of these factors, and that we managed to make a record we’re all happy with.
The creative process behind this album differed markedly from previous ones with Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes being involved. Describe it for me.
It’s not easy. [laughs] It’s complicated. We started with Trevor just doing the song “We Can Fly” which involved Geoff’s writing, but didn’t initially involve Geoff as a performer. In 2010, we recorded for about six weeks, of which Trevor was there for two weeks. During that period, Oliver Wakeman was involved. When Trevor went off to do other things for a month, we carried on and worked on “Into the Storm,” “Hour of Need,” “The Man You Always Wanted Me to Be,” and some other songs. When we started again in 2011, we thought about what Trevor had said, which was “Let’s expand on ‘Fly From Here.’” We couldn’t turn that down. It was too good an offer. So, Trevor came back and we started working on “Overture,” “Sad Night at the Airfield,” “Madman at the Screens,” “Bumpy Ride” and the rest. We then felt that if Trevor’s really going to do what he can do for us, he has to stay on beyond working on the “Fly From Here” suite—otherwise it will be a case of doing an album partly with him and without him.
As the axe fell, it turned out that Trevor was prepared to stay and we carried on with looking at “Hour of Need,” “The Man You Always Wanted Me To Be” and “Into the Storm” as contenders. Now, with Trevor’s involvement, we looked at “Life on a Film Set” as another track, which is the other Horn-Downes song on the album. We were very impressed with the song and loved it. We thought it was just the kind of music Yes needed to do and that agreed with Trevor. I also slipped my solo piece “Solitaire” in, which gave me a lot of pleasure. We worked on the album for another six weeks and then left Trevor to finalize mixing and do a little more messing around on production. Benoît also did another vocal section. Everything was sounding really good and we had an opportunity to state our approvals during the final mix stage.
How did the transition from Oliver Wakeman to Geoff Downes as the band’s keyboard player occur during the sessions?
It was a really surprising project. At the halfway point, we were really clinging to Oliver and saying “Look, no, no, no, Oliver’s going to be on this album. He’s in the band.” But somehow, because of the other songs we were looking at, we started to hear Geoff playing with us. Although we love Oliver and think his playing is fantastic, everything seemed to fit with Geoff. It set before we had time to make it set. We never thought we were going to make the change, but it seemed like this is what we should do. We got Geoff to agree and therefore, he played on the entire album. There are a couple of parts Oliver plays that he justly gets credit for, but those are very slight things. So, Geoff came onboard, and together with Benoît doing his first Yes recording, Trevor Horn producing, Tim Weidner and Patrick MacDougall engineering, we had the empowered Yes. That’s the rough story of how everything came together.
Tell me how Fly From Here evolved from the Drama-era Yes track and Buggles demo “We Can Fly” into a full-fledged epic suite.
We have to start with emphasizing something that I kind of regret, which is that the original song—the second part of the suite, “We Can Fly,” comes from 1980. In those days, the way we looked at songs was based on certain terms and agreements and because that song wasn’t included on Drama, it didn’t fall under certain jurisdictions, credits and splits. Basically, the song came back to us as a Geoff and Trevor song. They also thought Chris had written some lyrics near the end when there’s a trade off between guitar and vocals. So, we said “Okay, fine, Chris wrote some of that.” Then we moved into “Sad Night at the Airfield” and “Madman at the Screens.” Both of these forward-thinking tracks came into shape from Trevor and Geoff being able to play them for us. We got into the powerful acoustic intro of “Sad Night at the Airfield” and the dramatic storyline about facing the dawn alone. It’s very strong, musically. It lets me enter with a steel guitar which states there’s more to come in a pleasantly dramatic way. It’s very powerful. “We Can Fly” and “Sad Night at the Airfield” explore all sorts of different stories. You have some references that were from the Buggles’ Adventures in Modern Recording and Drama. But when we move on from there, we’re dealing with some new issues, lyrically.
When we get to “Madman at the Screens,” the whole thing gets more catastrophic. We have an explosive kind of sound, the backbeat and there’s action. There’s also a moment of tranquility and we then find ourselves going back to a more staccato, very Yes-like “Siberian Khatru” or Stravinsky construction. We’re known for doing that stuff, and we do it quite well. We’re back to our old tricks. At this point, we’ve got all these great ideas, we’re determining how people play their parts, and there’s a lot of recording. We’re also testing out different ways of recording, how we can present the songs, and working on getting a take that’s really great. Sometimes we’d redo the bass or drum parts because once you know what you’re trying to do, you’re trying to give it A-1 feel and precision. You just can’t mess around on records anymore. You can’t go out of time or tune without it being noticed. We like our records to be very good and we were aiming for quality.
After the three big Fly From Here pieces, things needed to go somewhere, or it would have had to go back. So, we went somewhere else with “Bumpy Road.” I was playing some guitar ideas and had two of them. I said to Trevor “There’s this one and another piece that’s more thematic—more of a pretty tune.” Trevor liked the oddity of “Bumpy Ride,” so the band started playing it. It was quite hilarious, because as I started to play it, I thought “We’ll never record this. But hang on, we are!” [laughs] So, there’s this breathtaking moment when I thought “I don’t know. This might work on a Steve Howe Trio record.” But suddenly, Yes clicked into gear on it. By this time, Geoff was involved and he was bouncing ideas off me. We have two versions of the “Bumpy Road” theme within the track. You get one at the start and another later that’s faster, but there are also certain parts I played slower in that one. So, I had a lot of fun. It’s a musical jungle out there on the track.
The second part of “Bumpy Ride” leads us to “We Can Fly Reprise” which is a sort of outro. It’s “hold your lighter up” time. The chorus is repeated a few times and builds. Geoff wasn’t shy about using all the tricks. What Yes did was use all of the things it’s known for. People were bashing and crashing stuff. We’ve always brought together a lot of the fundamental noises you can make on instruments in Yes. I don’t think bands did that in the ‘60s, with The Beatles being an exception. Rock was still young then, but in the ‘70s, it matured. People did weird and wonderful stuff. And that’s the sort of stuff you get at the end of Fly From Here. We were trying to milk it. We get there with the “We can fly, We can fly” part. At that point, you think the song is over, but then we hurtle back to the opening song “We Can Fly” for another couple of rounds, which gives us a chance to make a final instrumental statement. This is the stuff Yes is good at, rather than worry about “Hey, you ought to do this” or “There should be a chorus here.” The fact that we get all of our ideas out allowed us to do Close to the Edge, which I think is one of our greatest albums. It started a chain of very, very large pieces. I’m very proud to say Fly From Here is a part of that chain.
What guitars did you use across the Fly From Here suite?
At the start and throughout the piece, I’m playing my red Fender Stratocaster from the mid-‘80s. It’s a really great guitar that I’m very happy with. There are also some rich-sounding, acoustic overdubs that I mostly did on my Steve Howe Special Edition Martin MC-38 6-string and a Martin J12-16 12-string. I also play a Ramirez 1a Spanish guitar for 16 bars on “Sad Night at the Airfield,” during which I follow the vocal melody quite closely. If you listen to Alison Krauss and Union Station play, you’ll hear Jerry Douglas or Ron Block following the melody, which is very powerful. I love doing that as well. As the piece moves along, you hear me back on my Gibson ES-175, which is always going to be used. I consider it essential because it’s got a big, fat sound and the chords just sound wonderful.
You’ll hear me on a Gibson Les Paul Junior in the intro to “We Can Fly” when Benoît first comes in. The pizzicato sound I wanted sounded horrible on the Strat. It just doesn’t sound right. I can’t get my plectrum somewhere I can really bite into the strings on it. I can’t get my hands on the bridge, so it deadens the strings when I tried to play that way. The bridge is great on my Les Paul Junior. It’s near the rear pickup and provides a more consistent sound. It’s not very loud, but it’s fat. I play Fender Dual 6 Professional steel guitar on “Sad Night at the Airfield” which I can play very high. It goes up high because I added frets to its already enormous fingerboard that goes an octave above what’s usually accessible. It starts with me using a late ‘60s Electro-Harmonix Big Muff which coupled up well with my volume pedal. The combination is a good example of what makes a good sound on an acoustic guitar. Without a volume pedal, you won’t like it as much. It’s what lets you adjust to get the right sound and level of control in what you’re playing. It’s one of the most important tools I use. I was using an Ernie Ball volume pedal when I wasn’t using the Line 6 Pod XT Live, which has a built-in one. After the Fender Dual 6, we cut back to the Strat, move back to the ES-175, and at the end we’re back on the Strat. That’s the encapsulated guitar story.
Describe your overall guitar philosophy when making Fly From Here.
I did think—though not terribly consciously—about how I could maximize the way the guitar was being played, which tremendously altered how it sounds. Tight strumming; arpeggios; damping; sustain; clean, backwards and flanged sounds; modulation; and chords—these are all fundamental colors of the guitar. I wanted to demonstrate the marvelous richness of different ways of using the instrument. It’s like thinking about the many ways a solo violinist performs. When he plays in concert, he has to keep the attention of the audience. He can’t just play “ding, ding, ding” all the time. It’s the diverse usage of an instrument that starts the creative process. That’s what I think anyway. When we were playing “We Can Fly” onstage, I found it really exciting to come off a lead fill, press a button to get my rhythm sound and then go into the next section. I love all facets of guitar playing, not just lead solos. I hop between rhythm and lead. I like the whole deal. And the whole deal is about all the textures a guitar can deliver.
On the Buggles’ recordings of “We Can Fly From Here” parts one and two, as well as “Riding a Tide” which became Fly From Here’s “Life on a Film Set,” Trevor Horn had several guitar parts which you interpret on the new album. Talk about taking those original guitar parts and making them your own.
I’ve never been in a group in which somebody didn’t have a good idea for guitar. I’m very used to taking ideas onboard. If they’re fundamental and have some structure, they can be good things. There can also be some heavyweight keyboard stuff happening in Yes, so the guitar shouldn’t be just an added color. I like the guitar to be somehow integral. Having structured parts is useful. I don’t have any trouble learning anyone else’s parts. Sometimes I can elaborate on the part in a way to make it better or add an inversion that’s more interesting. I don’t think musicians should feel encumbered by playing an idea from someone else. They should welcome it, but feel free to adapt it, and that’s what I do.
Trevor might sit and strum something, although people mainly play tapes now. From there, I have to learn that part and figure it out. If I couldn’t, Trevor would show me how he played it. Quite often, even with things I composed that I captured on a Minidisc or something, I can wrestle with how to hell to play them again—not because of the notes, but because of the positioning. Sometimes it’s quite hard to recreate what you played previously. I plan to shoot more video of myself improvising so that when I want to play something I’ve improvised, I can actually both see and hear it. Just hearing things can be difficult. There’s a real value in learning something you played or improvised yourself. It allows you to bring ideas forward and amplify them. I look forward to that process when making albums. I’m methodical in how I do it. I often record acoustic guitar first on all of the songs available. I do it so I can see what I can do just with acoustic. Once I have my foot in the door with the acoustic, I’ll go to the electric and keep exploring.
I should mention that at the beginning of “Sad Night at the Airfield,” where I start with Spanish guitar, something interesting happens. Peculiarly, about 30 seconds into it, it’s actually Trevor playing guitar for about sixteen bars. I’m quite happy with that, because I think Trevor felt there would be warmth in having somebody else playing backup to me as I perform the main melody. The difference between Trevor and I is that I’m very, very careful about avoiding squeaking. Occasionally Trevor squeaks. Trevor must have felt it was integral to have that interplay. He played a Gibson acoustic he’s known to have around. I think that’s the only bit of Trevor on the album as far as I’ve noticed.
“Hour of Need” is credited entirely to you. Give me some insight into what you’re communicating with that song.
I love that question because years ago, when I was asked about lyrics, it was a really confusing thing to address. Most songs used to be a hybrid of ideas, particularly when it came to songs I wrote with Jon Anderson. My songs tend to be highly personal. When I wrote and sung the line “Close to the edge, down by the river,” I was actually living on a house on the river. Jon knew that and liked the song, but what he added to the song had nothing to do with this kind of reality and it moved the song into a more ethereal space.
As for “Hour of Need,” I’m a little uncomfortable to say it’s a kind of eco-song, but in a way, it is. It’s a song that’s stating the obvious, which needs stating more than ever, because humans miss the obvious, no matter how many times we’re told it. Last night, I was told about how some people live in caves in Manila in a similar way to how some live in shanty towns in Venezuela. I didn’t know that. People need to be aware of things to do something about them. An awareness seems to be growing, but sadly, we’re ineffective at addressing some issues. Here we are a quarter century after Live Aid and we’re still looking at the same problems. Not everything’s improving and new problems are coming up.
“Hour of Need” is about the need to understand the nature of resources humanity depends on. There’s a line about the land. I was thinking about growing good food, even though where I live, I’m only five miles from seeing a tractor towing a big tanker. I know that the tanker is full of pesticide. So, my thought is “Why don’t we look after the land we live on? What can we expect from life if we don’t?” With food, the purity, vitamins and minerals only really exist when it isn’t genetically modified or sprayed with chemicals and pesticides. We should eat food that is local and seasonal, but we don’t, because we like strawberries in December, and want other fruits and vegetables when they’re out of season. The song is saying “We’ve got to wake up.”
I’ve been vegetarian since 1972 and that changed my brain a little bit. I also mostly stopped taking pharmaceutical drugs. I use as few as humanly possible—almost none for the last 20-30 years. Going back to the song, it’s also saying “Hang on. We do owe this universe something and we should look after it.” But I also acknowledge that like the Pet Shop Boys sang in “Twentieth Century,” the truth is “sometimes the solution is worse than the problem.”
There’s a radically different version of “Hour of Need” on the Japanese edition of Fly From Here. Why was such an extended rendition included on that edition of the album and not others?
The song wasn’t cut down for other countries. First came the version that most people know as “Hour of Need”—Portuguese guitar, voice and minimal accompaniment. Then once we finished “We Can Fly” last year, Trevor commented to me and others in the band that “You could add some more instrumental moments and guitar playing.” So, I went away and thought about “Hour of Need” and how it could have a front and back.
I had a demo of the intro, which I confess is a reference to the second movement of Joaquín Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez"—one of the most beautiful pieces ever written for the guitar. It has been modified and played by so many classical guitarists. My friend Flavio Sala, a really exceptional guitarist, played some of the piece for me in my hotel room once. I started messing around with it and liked the idea of including it in the opening phrase of “Hour of Need.” While Trevor was away working on other projects, I got in the studio and explained my idea to the band. We recorded the front end and built up the structure. It goes around a couple of times. After the main song, then it goes into quite an extended version. The chords are changing in a traditional way. What happens is similar to “All Good People,” where things drop down. I used relative minors, so each time you think the song is over, it drops down to another relative minor and starts over again. So, it kept changing key. I found this quite interesting as a novel idea.
I used the ES-175 on the additional parts and played exactly what you hear on the final version. Then I put it away. Trevor heard it at one point and said “Why did you do all of this?” [laughs] I said “Well, you did encourage us to do some more instrumentals.” [laughs] He replied “Well, yeah.” At first, it didn’t seem to fit the overall album conception Trevor had in mind. He still liked “Hour of Need,” but said “I don’t know about the other version.” Of course, what happened—and I say this without attitude—is Japan usually wants an exclusive bonus track. Trevor knew there were these two versions of “Hour of Need,” and he decided “Let’s give them the extended version.” So, Japan gets the full-length version, which was an afterthought based on the original song.
What can you tell me about the making of “Into the Storm?”
It opens with me. I bring a lot of good introductions into Yes. I’ve written many, many of those, including the introduction for “Roundabout.” So, I’m an intro specialist. The song didn’t used to have that introduction. I suggested we start it that way and we stuck it on there. Then we had more of the song from the core structure that I hadn’t written. Next, what happened is we worked on the lyrics. Trevor, Chris and I were spurring it on. Trevor was spurring it on more than I, but I put in my bits when I could. The bits I put in got used a great deal. It starts with a major 7th kind of riff, but when it returns on the 7th later, it’s much more rocky and bluesy.
What is the song about?
[laughs] There are some depleting sorts of statements in it. I think it’s very light. It’s a series of in-jokes by the band. It’s a little tongue in cheek. I think it’s interesting what need drives. If you don’t have a need for something, you’re not going to bother doing it, are you? We knew we should put lyrics on this song, so we sat down and wrote them. I don’t think any of us really knows what it’s about, but it’s quite a good rock song. It wasn’t a lonely struggle with us sitting in a dark room, trying to write those lyrics. It was done in a very bright, positive sort of way. It was “Hey, let’s get some stuff on this. Oh, what have we got?” And we just expanded on it. It’s quite a good sign that we can make that happen.
Did you originally conceive the solo guitar piece “Solitaire” with the new Yes album in mind?
No, it was a solo piece I had been constructing for quite a few years. When I was doing Motif, Volume One, my first exclusively solo guitar album, I had bits of “Solitaire” floating around. I thought “I’m not going to let that go yet. It’s not ready.” I started to get it more and more ready as Fly From Here was coming along. Then I gave myself a real push. I thought “I should finish writing this after all this time.” Trevor offered the band an opportunity to have solos on the album. I was the only person who came up with one. I worked on it in between my extensive contributions to the Fly From Here sessions. When I was back in my home studio in Devon, I thought “What am I trying to do here? What have I been holding back on?” I chose to expand on the initial ideas for “Solitaire.” I worked on it for three weeks during which I created extensions of the three ideas within the piece. I wanted it to be a piece that surprises and moves forward, without going back. That was my theory. I used themes and guitar-isms to create variations that reference other styles of guitar playing from musicians I’ve come across like Tony McManus and Flavio Sala—musicians that have really turned me on. So, I’m partly referencing their playing. There’s a little bit of a sense of Villa-Lobos at the beginning of one of the later movements and I used open strings occasionally. You’ll also hear folk and flamenco parts. I love juggling these styles and that’s what “Solitaire” is partly about. The way it began and ended was also very important to me. So it starts and ends with a serious overtone and the rest is combustious, melodic, and I hope quite exciting.
What guitar did you use for “Solitaire?”
I originally was going to play it on my Ramirez 1a Spanish guitar, but I couldn’t get it to sound right. Then I went to my Martins and thought “I don’t know. It’s not for them.” So, I went to my Theo Scharpack SKD. It’s a remarkable, beautiful-sounding handmade steel-string acoustic guitar Theo built for me 1989. I used it extensively when I did my first solo tour. It’s large, got very wide spaces between the strings, and enables your hands to find all the things you want to play. I don’t always like being cramped up like on a Rickenbacker 12-string.
What qualities does a solo piece need to have to be on a Yes album?
It was a great opportunity when Yes allowed me to have “Clap” on The Yes Album. I said to the guys “You know, it’s amazing that Yes gave me this spot.” There wasn’t time to play “Clap” on the summer 2011 tour with Styx, but in general, it’s very hard for me not to play it at shows, because people quite enjoy it and expect it. It’s a very special and favored position to be able to add a piece of music to a Yes album. It’s quite a privilege and I don’t take it lightly or for granted. I enjoy being able to do it and I hope it makes me rise to the occasion. When I look at things like “Leaves of Green” from side three of Tales from Topographic Oceans, they say quite a lot about who I am. I am also competing with Yes tracks which are highly personality-filled, with very recognizable people on them. For a solo piece to work on a Yes album, it needs to be quite rounded and mature. I don’t think I could get away with anything less.
The band had quite a few new compositions ready in 2010. Why did it choose to go with so much music by Horn and Downes for Fly From Here?
That’s a good question. I want to be sensitive and not appear to be telling stories out of turn here. Undoubtedly, Trevor’s interest in working on the album increased through working with his songs. I’ve got to say that as it’s quite true. He had a high interest in working on his songs. That meant some of our songs were in the slow lane, if you like, until we got the shape of things going. But that’s not an altogether bad thing, because it brought Geoff into the group. His pianistic style is very familiar to us and there’s a brotherly sense in having him back in the band.
The other thing was Trevor’s strength of argument to say “Move over and make room for some of this material.” So, there are songs we worked on that might never be heard. There was some music from Oliver, another song by me, and some scrapings of musical concepts. I had “Into the Storm” started as a “Let’s see what we can do with this track” piece, as opposed to knowing where we were going with it, as we did with “Hour of Need” and others. Some of the other material was suffering because we didn’t know where it was going. Then Trevor came in and was tempted to say “Maybe you should look at some more stuff by Geoff and I. Maybe there’s a better balance we can strike.” So, we all seriously committed to putting aside our personal feelings and actually considering what was best for the band. We came to a band decision to make room for Trevor and Geoff’s songs and binning some of the stuff we had. I don’t think any of us have really regretted it. We were striving for quality and this is what a producer is supposed to encourage.
We also allowed Oliver to go off with his music and not keep him waiting forever, wondering if we would release it. We’re most likely not going to release anything we did with Oliver, because he’s doing that music himself and good luck to him. We’re very pleased for him to do that. If we tried to keep Oliver’s songs in the can, they would have been forever held up. There is another title of mine that was recorded by Yes that might be a future inclusion on something. I don’t know. By the time we get back to doing another album, many things might have changed.
Jon Anderson said he was working on new long-form music for Yes in 2008 that the band didn’t take an interest in. What can you tell me about those songs?
I don’t know professionally what is right to say here. What Jon did was drip-feed us a few songs and we basically turned him down and said “No, we don’t want to do those.” Then there was another time for another song and we said “No, no, no.” He then presented one other song and we said “No, no, not that one either.” We didn’t find a song we leapt on that made us feel we must rush around and suddenly record. We didn’t hear anything we thought had enough material to make us start moving. When you listen to a Yes album, you expected grounded, developed, thought-about lyrics. That’s how we look at it. We found the lyrical content of these songs to be rather ad-libbed. I don’t want to deride Jon, because this is his music. I don’t want you to think I am saying it was bad music. All I’m saying is we didn’t pick up on any of the songs or notice that there was a trilogy of songs coming at us that was part of some epic. We definitely didn’t see them like that. We saw them as demos of songs that were very loose and we didn’t know where they were going. It’s not dissimilar to when we were preparing Drama, when we thought Jon and Rick were going to come to the party, which of course they didn’t do. Jon eventually came down and played us his songs and we said “We can’t relate to that.” So, this is another version of that, really. I wish Jon luck with his music. I seriously and truthfully feel that way. But I’m not sure our mutual desire to achieve the same thing exists anymore. I think we burned it out a bit. We crossed paths and we’re not together anymore. I think there has to be some element of moving on.
Tell me about the studio setup you used to record the album.
It was reasonably consistent during the sessions. I had a situation in which there was a control room, with the studio out there. It didn’t have a lot of booths, so we put a speaker cabinet of mine in a doorway that was blocked off. That way, I was able to have my cabinet in the studio without it flooding on the drums. Next to that were the drums and the bass, which was similarly blocked out so no bass would leak into the studio. It was quite a big room. The keyboards were set up in the middle of the room.
For the guitar setup, I had the Vox AC-50 as my main amp. I used to play through it in the ’60s. I didn’t play one for many years and got one again, realizing it’s the sound I like the most with the ES-175 and most other guitars. It’s a fundamental amp to me. I didn’t go with Marshall or Fender amps, even though they’ve been part of my sound previously.
So, we’d record tracks and have overdub days. I’d usually take the Vox tops and any other tops, my Boss GT-10 effects processor and Line 6 Pod XT Live, and go in the control room and stand there and overdub. All of the acoustic guitars were recorded out in the studio with mics, headphones and all the usual things with me looking into the control room so I could have some visual contact. I also use Cakewalk Z3TA+ 2 software. I ran through it to see if there was a Close to the Edge sound I could use today. I also used it on my Fender Dual 6 Professional steel guitar, as well as to get a Big Muff sound. I knew I could go to the Line 6 Pod XT Live as well to get certain noises, so I did that quite a lot as well.
Do you typically program your own sounds on the Line 6 and in Z3TA+ 2?
I use sounds that I’ve made. I don’t ever use factory sounds, although some are quite good. I created a bank of 16 sets of sounds. I did that for both Asia and Yes. I didn’t do it for every Yes and Asia song, because I don’t always need four settings within each tune. For instance, in Asia, “Time Again” has just one guitar sound, which makes life easy. Other songs aren’t so easy, like “Yours Is No Disgrace” in which I have four settings: a clean sound for the opening; a jazzy, delay sound; a wah-wah sound; and the big lead guitar sound I use during my guitar break.
Give me a snapshot of the evolution of the guitars you used during the classic Yes days.
When I first bought the ES-175, I used to just sit looking at it, thinking “It’s such a great guitar” over and over. Of course, I used it extensively for four or five years during which I played virtually nothing else. It was the be-all and end-all for me. Then I went to America after making The Yes Album and bought a Gibson ES-5 Switchmaster, which is absolutely stunning. I was looking for another sound and the Switchmaster was lovely to play and gorgeous to look at. I also had the Gibson ES-345 Stereo guitar since 1970 and when we started making Close to the Edge, I just wanted to play that one. Then we went onto Tales from Topographic Oceans and I was again sure the ES-345 was the right guitar and I used it on side one. Next, I switched to the Gibson Les Paul Junior for sides two and three of Topographic Oceans.
By the time we got to Relayer, it was all Fender Telecaster and steel guitar. Moving to all Fender guitars was a radical change. Mind you, there’s a Gibson pickup on the Telecaster I used at the time, so there you are—there was even a little Gibson in that too. By the time we got to Tormato, I was playing my 1955 Les Paul Custom quite a bit, but I was never very happy with the sound of it. I was very happy making Drama, because I had total freedom. I went away and recorded 90 percent of the guitars on my own in a London studio and went back and presented it to the band. At first, people said “Your guitars sound too bright and treble-y.” I said “No, shut up and use them.” [laughs] Drama was over in two weeks. I put the whole album to bed in one shot, including overdubs.
I had something like 40 guitars in the studio when we were making Drama and every amp you can think of. I did the same with Asia, GTR, Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, and Union—shedloads of stuff were sent to the sessions. And then it all stopped as radical, logistical, financial, and practical things influenced the direction. We had to start doing more with less in which you don’t ship out endless amounts of stuff. The exception was Magnification, with lots of guitars going out for those sessions. Apart from that, it’s a luxury to do that now. But when I record at my home studio, everything is there and I can use anything. I can pick from 100 guitars I have and plug them into a range of things to make a noise. For Fly From Here, I whittled things down to around 12 guitars—the smallest number I felt I could send over.
I’ve heard there’s an interesting story about Chuck Berry playing your ES-175 back in 1969.
At the time, I was in a group called Bodast and our manager put on a show with The Who called The Rock Prom at the Royal Albert Hall. Bodast was opening for Chuck Berry and The Who. Bodast got to sound check and played a couple of songs. Chuck Berry then walked onstage with his guitar and came up to me and said “I don’t need you.” [laughs] I said “Oh, okay then. Fine.” And left the stage. I wasn’t offended or bothered, actually. I took it in stride. Later on, back in the dressing room, I thought “You know what? I think I’ll show him my guitar.” I took it to him and said “Chuck, can I just show you my guitar?” He said “Oh yeah.” And everyone that’s played it has said the same thing. The idea of using the combination of two .12s, .16, .26, .40 and .50 string gauges as I do is very, very strange. When people play it they go “Jesus!” I like a tight top because it really lets you get some power out of it. It’s important because I’m doing most of my important stuff on that top string. If it’s an .11 or .9, it’s just not going anywhere. So, I love the .12 on top. I’ll even use a .13 on a Martin if I’m going to country pick a lot.
So, Chuck was playing it and thought it was great. He was the first person to ever play it beside me, because I was totally possessed by the guitar. Nobody else touched it, carried or did anything with it. I’m still a bit fanatical about it, but less so. There are people I trust that help me with it, like Rick, who drives me to shows in America. He takes care of it all the time. That’s because if I was to carry it around with all the tours I do, I’d be too tired. There have been some accidents with it too. I was once coming out the door with it at the Sheraton Universal hotel in Los Angeles. I had the guitar in my right hand and was closing the door with my left. I shut the door on my hand and didn’t think I could play that night because I was in so much pain. I went to sound check and didn’t play a single note and said “I’m going to have to work on the pain.” I was convinced I wouldn’t be able to play well, but when push came to shove, I managed to get onstage and play pretty good, even though I ached. All of that occurred because I was lugging around the guitar to ensure its safety and proximity to me. Now, if I do a tour and it involves considerable flying, I do it with a Steve Howe signature ES-175 model instead.
During the 2011 Yes tour with Styx, you used Line 6 Vetta II combo amps. What was appealing about them?
In late 2006, I was at a crossroads. I was going out to play the first Asia album with the reunited original lineup and I thought “The sounds have to be the same as the album. How am I going to get things to sound the same?” I had no idea. So, I started investigating programmable amps. I had avoided this previously because I’m not a box guy. I prefer working with pedal boards. But I didn’t think I could do a great job with a traditional solution. I went to a guitar shop in Devon and someone said “Have you seen the Line 6 Variax 700 guitar? You’ll like it.” So, I sat down and played it and indeed, I instantly liked it. I called up Line 6 and got a relationship going with them straight away. I told them “This must have been built for me.” They said “We do amps too.” I was looking for a new amp and what I discovered is that with the Line 6 Vetta II, anything is possible.
I sat down with a guy named Steve Burnett who now works with Apple. He used to work at Manson Guitars, a shop in Exeter. He’s a very techie sort of guy that’s really into programming. I invited him to program the Asia sounds and that’s how the Asia tour got started for me. I had him create sounds based on songs from the first album and a few other things too. When Yes finally got their finger out in 2008 to get on tour, I was used to this new setup, so I used it for that group too. After confirming with Chris and Alan what we’d do with Benoît and Oliver on the November 2008 tour, I had Steve put together a “Yours is No Disgrace” sound with a certain amount of reverb on it. We worked through that and moved on to “Close to the Edge,” “Siberian Khatru“ and “And You and I.” I must say they’re great sounds. A lot of people say to me “You’re using Line 6! How could you?” But obviously, I’m using very high quality guitars which adds to the quality of everything. I still stomp in occasional delays and things that aren’t in the program when I want them, but it’s worked out very well and lasted me several years.
Now, I’m at a point where Line 6 can’t fully support the Vetta II amps because they don’t make them anymore. So, I’ve switched to the Line 6 Pod HD, which have been reprogrammed by Steve. We’ve done the same thing all over again as we did with the Vetta II, because we believe in quality sounds so much, that it has to be worth it. We’ve programmed all my Yes, Asia and some solo sounds into it and moved to Line 6’s new amps, which are used purely as amps. This setup makes flying around the world easier. It means I can use amps in different parts of the world and just take the Pod HD with me to ensure I get the sounds I want.
Line 6 also did something very nice, which is make me a custom Variax with a two-octave fretboard which can play almost anything, anywhere, with anybody, using any amp. It has a respectable ES-175 sound, a very good ES-335 setting, and the Les Pauls and Strats are excellent. They’ve got all the key guitars expertly modeled. If you know what you’re doing with amps and delays, and can add the subtleties you want, it’s really quite a marvelous instrument.
Geoff Downes said that he felt the classic Yes songs were being played at a slower tempo these days. Why is that happening?
That’s a good thing to notice because it’s definitely happening. I agree with Geoff. One reason it’s occurring is sheer inaccuracy related to disagreements between members on what is fast, what is slow and what the right tempo is. Geoff and Alan are obviously involved in a lot of this. I start quite a few songs too. For instance, I count in “Tempus Fugit.” That’s a unique one in which we all agreed to play it slower. When you play it as fast as the record, we almost can’t play it. I could if I was sitting down. I must have been sitting down when I recorded it. It’s not that fast, but to play it with great confidence any faster than we do would be difficult. So, I’m the main reason that one’s not faster, though I don’t think anyone else would like it too much faster anyway. I’m a bit cautious because I know when I get to my solo part, it has to sound great. I have to be on top of it and not struggling.
There are other songs like “Yours Is No Disgrace,” “Siberian Khatru” and others that are highly debated. We don’t quite understand why. We feel sometimes they’re too slow, so we say “Tomorrow night, let’s play it faster.” Then we decide to play it faster. After we do that we might say “Is it too fast now?” We’re very precious about it. There are times when I can scream because I feel the songs should really be BPMed. There are some songs like “Onwards,” in which I absolutely insist on a BPM and count it in. Alan can do BPMing on his rig too and does it sometimes, but I don’t think we do enough of it.
The one thing I would add is we’re playing a lot of classic material from the ‘70s, much of which hasn’t been performed to metronome. The tempo may vary throughout the song itself, so it isn’t fixed. So, if I was to say “Let’s play that to a click,” which is something we wouldn’t do, but if we did it as an experiment, you would find that sometimes the songs are too fast and sometimes they’re slow. That’s because what we did on the records is assemble the songs from parts. We did that on Fly From Here too. Trevor insisted that we didn’t do things at one fixed, locked tempo. If you BPMed the suite, as I have, and check the tempos and margins, sometimes there’s a difference of five to 10 BPM between one part of the suite and another. That’s understandable with that kind of piece, particularly because it’s so moody. It isn’t a song that keeps going ahead based a particular beat. It has room to stretch. But onstage, it’s a difficult problem.
I’m almost fanatical about tempos, because I believe the only time a song sounds really great is at the right tempo. If it’s at the wrong tempo, it won’t ever rise to the definition of that song. That’s why it’s nice to play things in the same key, with all the right words, in the right order. I can also drive myself mad with statements like that, because some nights I just want to get on with it and say “Let’s have fun and rock out with no pressure.”
“Siberian Khatru” starts out with a very fast part and slows down, because for whatever reason, we edited it like that together when we recorded it. I always say to the band that we’re going to play it that way live, because that’s exactly how it was originally made. Those inconsistencies have plagued us. At the same time, look at an orchestra. They have a conductor. He controls the tempo, and even though he may be very good, because he’s human, it won’t be perfect. This may seem like a strange answer, but it’s the truth.
How does the future map out for Yes and Asia?
The way Geoff and I are forging ahead is Asia will record a new album with the reunited original members from January to February 2012, and then not do anything for six months. We’re looking at Yes touring Australia and Japan in April and then touring the U.S. again in the summer. When it gets to September, Asia will come to the fore, celebrating the 30th anniversary of the first album, as well as releasing a new album. I think you’ll see a balance across 2012 that finds Yes and Asia working in discrete periods of time instead of overlapping all the time. I asked for the latter situation not to happen. The idea of continuity of projects is a positive one. I think it’s been hard for the other guys in Yes. They’ve been a bit concerned that my time in Asia is time away from Yes. But now with Geoff being in both bands as well, it’s a fait accompli. This is what we have. I’m not doing this on my own. It’s Geoff and I.
When can we expect a new Yes album from this lineup?
The next group album I work on will be the new Asia record. I think it’s a long story before we get to another Yes album. We still haven’t fulfilled the mission of playing all of Fly From Here onstage around the world yet. Once we’ve done that in 2012, Yes shakes hands and gives the time over to Asia. So, we’re really looking at 2013 before considering another Yes album.
Let’s talk about the evolution of your new solo album Time.
The album took a long time to get into shape because I’ve been busy with other things. I thought I finished it once or twice over the years, but it was never cohesive. It didn’t have continuity. Over the last four years, I worked with Paul K. Joyce, a writer, composer, keyboardist, and arranger, to rearrange things. I also started adding fresher tunes and newer ideas and we got it done. There’s no drumming on it, but it offers a full sonic picture, with lots of pulses, some percussion and an overall sense of rhythm. It’s a different musical genre and I was happy to take the time to get it right. It wasn’t an album with a deadline.
Time is my twelfth solo album, but it doesn’t sound like any of my other ones. The material is very eclectic, including music by Vivaldi, Villa-Lobos and Bach. I’m not saying I’m Julian Bream and John Williams all in one, but I’ve taken these works and interpreted them on my own terms—not so much in the music itself, but in the textures and instrumentation.
Villa-Lobos’ “Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 (Aria)” is a dramatic piece in minor that’s very powerful when sung by the voice, so I play it on steel guitar. It was inspired by the John Williams version he plays with an organist. Vivaldi’s “Concerto Grosso in D Minor Op. 3, No. 11” was something I worked on with Paul Sutin, another collaborator I previously worked with on Skyline and other albums. He wrote out the Vivaldi piece in MIDI and we went from there. We took it on and it grew and got reinvented. My son Virgil Howe wrote “Kindred Spirits” and we built the orchestrations for it to work on this album. “King’s Ransom” was written with my friend David Biglan, a writer and keyboard player that I first met when I worked with Annie Haslam on a project that didn’t evolve into anything. There are also new tracks from me, including “Orange,” which is an unusual one because I play banjo guitar on it. My other tunes are “Low,” a romantic piece I play on Spanish guitar, and “Steam Age,” which I play on folk guitar. There are two other collaborative pieces co-written with Paul Sutin titled “Apollo” and “The Explorer.” Paul K. Joyce wrote “Purification” and “The 3rd of March.” So, there was a significant collaborative element. But the most important thing I do on the record is play guitar. For the most part, I’m taking a single guitar and sound and saying “I’m going to play this entire tune and this is how I’m going to do it.” There’s one exception and that’s on “Kindred Spirits,” in which there’s an extra guitar—an acoustic, jangly thing.
Give me an overview of the guitars you used on Time.
I used my Fender Dual 6 Professional steel guitar on it. It’s a dual-neck, double six-string guitar. The front neck has a slightly fatter sound than the nearer neck. I used a setting we created for “And You and I” on the Line 6 Vetta II amp for the Villa-Lobos piece, which fit well. On “King’s Ransom,” Bach’s “Cantata No. 140 (Wachet Auf),” “Apollo,” and the romantic piece “Rose,” I’m playing a Kohno Spanish guitar. In the liner notes, I call the Kohno a “classical” guitar because I’m a bit tired of calling things “Spanish guitar.” [laughs] On “Orange,” I play a 1930s Gibson banjo-guitar, which is quite ancient and lovely. For “The Explorer,” I’m using my custom Steinberger 12-string electric that I use in Yes for playing “Awaken” and anything involving 12-string. I can’t handle working with the Rickenbacker 12-strings anymore, unfortunately. The Steinberger has the same body as the 6-string version and is wonderfully musical and possesses a slightly New Agey bell-like sound. “The Explorer” is quite a complicated piece that came from a much larger original work that we turned into a comfortable six-minute track.
On “Purification,” I’m using the ES-175 as the featured sound, with a little Martin J12-16 12-string hobbling around. “Steam Age” is the only substantial Martin appearance. I play that on a Martin MC-28. I play the ES-345 on “Kindred Spirits,” “Concerto Grosso in D Minor Op. 3, No. 11” and “The 3rd of March.” I also play a little bit of National dobro in the center of that track. I don’t know what it is about the ES-345 that makes it so special. It’s that lovely, brown walnut guitar that goes right back to Close to the Edge from 1972. I was given that guitar by Gibson to use in Yes after doing some string advertisements in England. I’ve come back to it many, many times over the years. It’s a great guitar to improvise on.
How did you go about creating the orchestrations?
What happened is all of the tracks were initially created using a fake, digital orchestra. We used digital samples and synthesizers to ensure the arrangements were perfect and that the guitar was really detailed within them. Some of the guitars were recorded in my studio in Devon, and also in Dinemec Studios in Geneva. I just sat down and recorded everything myself with a couple of mics. A lot of the orchestrations were created in Cornwall, where Paul K. Joyce lives. He did that on Pro Tools. Next, we booked a 12-person orchestra. It was a small group that included two violins, cello, viola, harp, horns, glockenspiel, and double bass. They took on the parts we created and re-did them with real instruments. That’s how we got this record to the level it’s at, which we feel is very, very high.
We went to the ends of the earth for it. We also asked Curtis Schwartz, who mixes all my records, to add his views during the mix stage. The album was co-produced by Paul K. Joyce. Paul and I were the overseers and were intent on not accepting compromise in order to make a really, really beautiful album, which I hope we’ve done. We then presented it to Warner Classics and they said they liked it. Everybody that worked on it gave it a lot of their time. It’s the same as the new Yes album. When you work your backside off, you get a better result. I’m feeling really good about the album and hopefully, it’ll open up some ears. I should say it isn’t about me trying to be a classical guitarist. It reflects my desire to continue learning in several areas, as opposed to picking a subject and going down that river all the way.
Does the orchestral ensemble have a name?
It was conducted by Paul K. Joyce, but we didn’t actually give them a name. On a lot of albums you’ll see some sort pseudo name attached to ensembles that are brought together. We could have called it “The Heritage Ensemble” or something, but we didn’t. [laughs]
Do you plan on performing material from Time live?
That’s exactly what we’re planning right now. We’re seeing if we can fit in a small run of concerts with a small orchestra in the coming months.
What’s your perspective on Magnification 10 years later?
One of the lessons we learned from Bruce Fairbairn when making The Ladder is the way you make a good record is you get ready and go into the studio with the songs already written. We blew that out with Magnification and just went in with nothing. We started compiling songs in the studio. In a way, that was a hazardous process, but it paid off here and there, but not enough. The arrangements were done after the band sessions, and although they were quite good, they took us a hell of a long time to get used to, in terms of figuring out where our music fit within them. That’s not to say that even though it was difficult, something good didn’t come out of it. Magnification is similar in some ways to Time and a Word. They’re the only two albums with orchestral work on them, and each is quite fantastic in its own way. You can be left with a few scars and sometimes it’s not even important how things sound at the end. Rather, what’s important is what happens during the making of it. I’ve gone through a second childhood in a way and find it quite hard to lose some of those more difficult experiences. Before we started Fly From Here, I looked back at the last three or four Yes albums. I was inspecting them, looking for the feeling of Yes music within those albums. I felt like there are moments in Magnification that I’m quite fond of. In the end, I realized that even though it didn’t turn out as I hoped it would, it’s not all bad. That’s for sure.
In 2002, Alan White said it was possible that Yes would do another project with an orchestra.
Perhaps he thought we’d do another one after Magnification, but at the end of that record, I don’t think any of us really wanted to make another one like that again. So, another orchestral Yes album wasn’t in the cards.
What did you make of the recent Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring Part 1 duo album by your son Dylan Howe and Will Butterworth?
I love it. I play it while driving. Will is a fantastic pianist. The ability for the two of them to interpret a piece of music that daunting as a duo is just incredible. It’s an absolute delight.
What does the future hold for The Steve Howe Trio?
I’ve been looking at some new material and feel we should slightly reinvent the trio by working with new pieces that draw from the jazz repertoire. There are quite a few things we could kick around of mine in order to make a really combustious album that breaks some of the rules we’ve already written. I think some of them could be partly focused on acoustic guitar. I don’t want to alter the kilter of the group, but expand on its possibilities. Maybe there should be some things that are a little more electronic too. We’ll have to see what happens. I reckon the trio will record something this year.
What was your involvement in the recent deluxe edition of the self-titled Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe (ABWH) album from 1989?
A deluxe edition of the ABWH album was released? Really? I’m quite disappointed because I wasn’t consulted, but am pleased it’s available. We have a new Yessongs reissue coming out as well. And the license ran out on Keys to Ascension, so someone new wants to reissue that. I warned them the video is dreadful on that one, with some very weird things happening on it. Someone also wants to release something related to 90125 and sent me an email about it. I wrote back saying “Sorry, I’m not on that one. I don’t vote on it.” [laughs] Yes has a quagmire of potential projects happening right now.
How do you look back at the ABWH album?
Some upsetting things happened in the way we made it, but I was really quite happy with the project. I remember thinking “Wow, that’s pretty interesting.” Jon came to my house in London and said “Let’s do this. Let’s put this band together.” I gave him six songs on a cassette and he walked out the door. Those songs are basically what became the album. He added to those songs. So, I have a very soft spot for the album because some of the emotional pieces are fantastic. The songs do really mean a lot to me. They are quite exciting. There are a couple of things on it I’m not even part of. Jon was ruling the roost on the project.
That album was upsetting to me only at the mix stage. I kind of hit the roof at that point thinking “Oh dear, it got mixed like other albums had during the ‘80s.” To me, that meant the amazing ability to pull out the feel. I felt “Hey, we have a band playing here and that should be reflected in the mix.” But it was cleaned up, digitized and endlessly transferred between different systems. Some of the record is very spiky and hard. I hope they’ve done something to enhance the warmth of the album.
In general, I understand you were unhappy with how your guitar parts were handled during the ABWH/Union era.
There were some very sad edits, particularly on that lovely ABWH song “Take the Water to the Mountain” that ended up on Union. That song was phenomenal. Tony Levin and I played great stuff on it and it all got edited out. Those are the kinds of things that happened. I hope the new ABWH reissue is better than what came out originally, but I wish they would have asked me before they did it, because I am a master of tapes. For instance, I have a 28-minute version of Tales from Topographic Oceans side one. You can imagine how we had to edit that down to fit on the record, which was 22 minutes long. We edited it before we overdubbed, so it doesn’t have much on it. It’s a backing track to “The Revealing Science of God.” You would only hear guitar, drums and guide vocal if I played it for you. It’s a fact of life that I have things like this. But they didn’t ask me for anything when they put out the 2003 Topographic Oceans remaster. I have a considerable amount of unreleased ABWH stuff as well. But there are so many re-releases. Yes has done that too much and it’s time to stop. But labels keep on wanting to do it.
You’ve spoken about wanting to make an album featuring Alison Krauss and Jerry Douglas. What appeals to you about those musicians?
I ran into them five years ago and said I have an idea about recording in Nashville, paying tribute to certain people that maybe involves them. They said “We might do one or two tracks with you.” I said “That’s marvelous,” but I won’t hold them to it if there’s a change on their end. I would love them to do that though. The project is still on the back burner. The appeal is that I’ve been listening to Alison Krauss for more than 10 years. I think her work with her band Union Station is marvelous. I’ve enjoyed their music so much. I love the acoustic nature of it, although she uses electric guitar. She’s great at finding songs and is a beautiful violinist, but her voice is the key to it all. She has an amazing voice. She’s multi-talented and has a career under her own control. It’s not easy to do that. It’s easy to get sucked into things and finding yourself asking “What am I doing this for?” [laughs] Hopefully, she’s not finding that and can continue commanding her own musical destiny. Having Jerry Douglas in the band was such a great move. In fact, all of the musicians that play with her are excellent. If it was appropriate to have a tie-up in which they did something on one of my albums, that would be great.
How did you end up appearing on William Shatner’s “Planet Earth” from his new album Seeking Major Tom?
It’s partly through the connection to the Cleopatra label which has done a lot of tribute albums. Billy Sherwood has produced quite a lot of them. So, they had some lead in to me. They said “We’re doing the album and would like you to be part of it.” As they always do, they showed me a list of all the other people contributing and I thought “This sounds like a great party, let’s do it.” [laughs]
I was busy on the first stages of the new Yes album in Los Angeles, but they seemed to really want my contribution. So, one weekend during Thanksgiving 2010, I managed to find an engineer named Ira Cord Rubnitz and asked him to come up to the apartment I was staying in. We just set up and recorded. I had some fixed ideas and boxes that made odd noises, but in the end, I didn’t use any of the gadgets. I just played guitar and he recorded with his mobile setup, including a Neve/Focusrite ISA 110 mic, as well as ISA One Mic Pres EQ and DI. Ira recorded using a Macbook Pro and Pro Tools, using Apogee Rosetta converters with Soft Limit, and audiophile Beyer headphones.
We got the guitar sounding really nice. I gave them two takes, one that has me playing everything the original song had on it and another in which the guitar stretches out beyond that. I’ve yet to meet William Shatner. That’s a thrill I still have ahead of me. He’s such a personality. You only have to see him and he makes you smile. He’s a marvelous actor.
How has spirituality influenced your musical output?
It’s almost like a moss that encroaches and becomes part of what you do. I had been experimenting with different approaches to meditation for some time and then in 1983 I picked transcendental meditation as the one for me. I’m still doing it. I really like it and so do a lot of other people. It’s not demanding. It’s not about a religion. It’s not about the Mahavishnu. It’s about contacting the energy of the Earth. It’s had a major, positive effect on me. I know that for sure. When I was writing before meditation, post-psychedelia, there were a lot of things I was trying to say that were quite “out there.” Jon Anderson was like that too. Sometimes we mixed my straight-ahead lyrics with his “out there” lyrics and they ended up all sounding “out there.” Sometimes Jon got credit for lyrics I wrote and vice-versa. Sometimes I got no credit and everybody thought he wrote it all. But it didn’t matter, because that’s what the Anderson/Howe team was. It’s how songs like “Awaken” and “Roundabout” happened.
I wrote a song for my fourth solo album The Grand Scheme of Things called “At the Gates of the New World” that was quite penetrating. It’s about a dream state and being kind of lost in the mist as we come to the gates of the new world. I’ve also had one or two dreams in my life that were quite profound. I still fear that an event is actually going to happen in my life. If it doesn’t, I’ll be quite relieved, but also disappointed. I could win or lose either way.
Going back to the songs, I don’t think someone is going to open up their minds to a piece that starts out by saying “This is the way it is. You should do it this way.” There are millions of interpretations of the word “spirituality,” as well as degrees of when you might need it. I think in a romantic sense, spirtuality comes through in the tunes. I also think in some more obscure way, my ambitions and hopes are reflected in the songs. I’ve written quite a few songs at this point, and I think it’s more for others—rather than having me talk about it—to see if there’s something to explore in them. If there is, it will reach them.