January 14, 2010

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A chat with Chris Squire
Prog-rock band Yes now in fifth decade
By Michael Witthaus music@hippopress.com

Though Yes has experienced many changes over the band’s 40-plus years together, one constant is Chris Squire, the bassist who formed the progressive rock band with singer Jon Anderson in 1968. These days, Anderson is gone due to his battle with respiratory problems, replaced by former Yes cover band singer Benoit David. Rick Wakeman is gone, also due to health concerns; his son Oliver is now on keyboards. 

But Squire, guitarist Steve Howe and longtime drummer Alan White (who took over for Bill Bruford in 1972, shortly before the band recorded Close to the Edge) continue Yes’s synth-rich orchestral sound into the band’s fifth decade. Squire spoke to The Hippo recently from his home in London.

What can fans expect this time out from the band?
We’re doing a short tour of the East Coast. We just played Europe in the fall running up to the Christmas period. We refined the show quite a bit and we added some new songs to it in Europe. We wanted to come back to the States and give people a tour with a really polished set. That’s kind of the ambition on this one.

How did you develop your very unique bass-playing style?
I think I just kind of grabbed a bunch of influences from McCartney and Bill Wyman and Jack Bruce. They’re all different kind of players. Of course I was a big Who fan when I was 15, so Entwistle was a big influence on me, and I think I just grabbed a bit from all of them and I just … formed it into a style of my own, using them all as influences. I guess I just came up with a more melodic approach to the way I play bass. I had training when I was younger in church choir music, so I kind of understood a lot about the relationship between the top-line vocal and the bass movement and stuff from that influence. So all those things combined, and you end up getting me.

Do you personally take notice of newer music trends and do you have any newer performers that you’ve noticed that you like?
I do, but the funny thing is when I start quoting them I realize they’re not as young as I think they are. I mean I’m a big Chili Peppers fan — I think they’re a fabulous band. I’m a big Foo Fighters fan, I know Taylor the drummer pretty well as a friend, but I just like what they do. I recently went to see the reformed No Doubt band in concert and they’re just fabulous to watch. So, you know, I check in with what’s going on but there again those three bands I just mentioned aren’t that new anymore. I guess the Chili Peppers have been going for at least 25 years already.

In the early eighties, your sound changed significantly with 90125, which resulted in the biggest commercial success of the band. Are you a little bemused by fans that, when they think of Yes, think of MTV and “Owner of a Lonely Heart?” 
We had great a second wave. The eighties influx happened to coordinate itself with the rise of MTV. On 90125, we had three or four videos from that album. So we became re-associated with that after being more associated with the longer prog-rocky, more note-y kind of songs of the ’70s. But then in the eighties, it was mainly because Trevor Rabin became the guitar player. He brought a more simple, bluesy side of Yes to the fore with his being involved as a member. It was a great time for me. I’d spent the whole seventies playing rather complicated things, and it was a good lesson for me to learn how to do things in a simpler way back in the eighties. Of course, there was also a lot of other creativity going around that time as regards to sounds with the advent of sampling and the synthesizers becoming more sophisticated. So all the time the band was progressing in one way or another.

“Owner of a Lonely Heart” is one of the most sampled songs ever.
Yeah, it is. It’s ironic because when we first made it we were being the pioneers of that sound in a way. We were sampling James Brown to use on “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” So it’s pretty much double sample.

Let’s talk about the new configuration of the band. You have a new lead singer, Benoit David.
The first time we went out was November of 2008, so it’s been just over a year. That’s working out real well for us, and he’s become better and better.  That’s one of the reasons we wanted to do this tour, to show people the state of the nation, if you like.

So how did you find him? I’ve heard this story but wanted to hear you tell it.
Actually a buddy of mine, I was in my apartment in London and he took me in my computer office room and said check this out on YouTube. He pulled it up and I was kind of going, oh, what’s that show from? And he said no, that’s not Yes, it’s this other band called “Close to the Edge” from Montreal in Canada. I did a double take because I assumed he just found some obscure Yes live footage. There was a clone of me, and a clone of Steve Howe, as well as Benoit, sounding amazingly like Jon Anderson. I just knew at that time that if I ever needed someone to fill in for Jon, that would be the guy. As it came to pass, you know, Jon became ill and we needed to carry on working without him. So Benoit came in.

And the relationship has worked so well, there’s discussion I’ve heard that you’re planning on, after this tour ends later on this year, going into the studio and making a new record as Yes with Benoit as part of the band. Can you tell me about that?
Yeah, that’s exactly right. I think it’s been so long since we’ve done a studio album. The last one was in 2001.  Unfortunately it was released on Sept. 11, 2001, so it didn’t get a lot of press. That album, Magnification, was a good Yes album and got great reviews eventually. But it’s been that long since we’ve done something new. So this is nine years later. We deserve to do something new. I think [new keyboard player] Oliver Wakeman and Benoit will bring a new freshness to what we come up with.

Are some of the songs the songs that you referred to playing in Europe destined for the album?
Oh, no. I’m just saying we added a different repertoire of Yes material that we hadn’t been previously playing in the States. That will make this tour more interesting to people who maybe saw some of the shows that we did last summer with Asia opening for us. This is a much better show right now. 

Have you written material for this record? 
Yeah — we swapped CDs and all that. In fact, this is the month when I’m going through all the different ideas, trying to hook one up with another to find out what we’ve got. But I think between Steve, Alan and some ideas from the new guys that we’ve got quite a few things to work on.

I want to talk about kind of a legendary group that you were with which never put anything out — XYX, with Jimmy Page. Given the completist trends these days, what’s the possibility of XYZ tracks being heard by fans?
Well, you know, it was only four tracks and that’s a fact. One of the tracks called (“Can You Imagine”) that I wrote was actually on the Magnification album. Of course it didn’t have Jimmy Page playing on it, but it had orchestral arrangements. That was one of the songs we did. There was another song that Jimmy, Alan White and myself did that sort of showed up on the Firm album and I think it may have been called “Fortune Hunter” with Paul Rogers singing it. It was a different version — the vocal had never been written for that song, so it was an instrumental. But Jimmy used that with The Firm. Then there’s two other tracks, both of which I think I wrote, which have never surfaced, but maybe one day could.

Plenty of fans would love that.
Those demos are available if you dig deep enough on the ’net, you can find them.

Ah, so my last words with Chris Squire are “Search the Internet, and you will find it.”
You will — but I can’t promise it to be of any great quality. I think it somehow got snuck out of the studio and has been copied and recopied. You could find the full repertoire. I think there was another song called “I Believe I Tried” which is one of the demos. Search and ye may find!


Yes
When: Thursday, Feb. 4, at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Capitol Center for the Performing Arts, 44 S. Main St. in Concord, 225-1111
Tickets: $25 to $335 (meet-and-greet package)