Jon Anderson Interview – November 2011

Former lead singer of Yes, Jon Anderson was born on October 25 (Happy belated, Jon!), 1944 in Lancashire, England.  For roughly fifty years he has been participating in the music industry in one way or another.  It is with the progressive rock band Yes that Anderson has most often been associated with. Formed in 1969, he was with the band off and on until 2008.  Fond of experimenting and recording complex music, Anderson is a very artistic person who has gone on to paint, composed scores for films and has collaborated with other musicians like Vangelis, King Crimson, Mike Oldfield, and Bela Fleck and the Flecktones.

I remember my first Yes concert in the late 1970’s.  The fabled Montreal, Forum completely sold out within less than three hours and I was content with my standing room seats.  Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman reigned epic; and forty years later they still do.  The  Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman concert at the Theatre St. Denis this Saturday night is not to be missed; hurry a few tickets may still be available.

After playing a show the night before Orcasound was lucky enough to chat with Jon Anderson on the phone while his tour bus was on the road driving through New York.  Here is that discussion:

Ty:  Starting off, could you tell me what was going on with you about 3 years ago? (Jon Anderson had suffered a terrible case of asthma that led to acute respiratory failure) Please set the record straight a bit.

Jon:  Well, I got very sick back in 2008.  Had some very difficult health problems and had to have some operations.  I had 6 operations; one a month.  I didn’t sing very much at that time.  I did a lot of painting.  By the time 2009 came I was healthy and ready to write some music and record.  I started doing some solo shows here and there.  I carried on working and I love making music and that’s what I do.

Orcasound:  So good to have you back.

Jon:  Thank you.

Orcasound:  The last couple of years have produced three wonderful CDs.  Please tell me a bit about their development and the creative processes that spawned these CDs.

Jon:  Well, with Survival & Other Stories (released in 2010) I think I’m singing a lot about what I went through in 2008.  My life around me and the technology of the Internet.  I was working with people via the Internet.  People that got in touch with me.  Musicians from all over the world.  That’s been like opening a big Pandora’s Box.  There are so many good musicians out there.  I’m working on five different projects as we speak.  That album is a combination of the best songs from that period and then more songs coming for the next year, of course.  The next project I did was with Rick Wakeman (also a member of Yes), which was called The Living Tree (released in early 2011) and that was recorded again on the Internet.  Rick could send the music and I could send him songs back with lyrics and things.  That really came together for songs for shows rather than as an album.  We were writing songs for a series of concerts we did in the U.K. last October so we finished the tour and had enough for an album.  We put that out earlier this year and we’re touring it now.  That’s what we’re going to be performing in Montreal and Quebec City.  It’s a very joyful experience working with Rick.  He’s a very talented keyboard player and musician.  The songs are very interesting because they’re like a recital of ideas – musical ideas.  The Living Tree is all about the power of nature.  There are other songs on the album relating to soldiers in war and other songs about freedom of speech.  That’s what’s happening around the world with Occupy and the big changes in India and Egypt, so that’s very current.  Then on my birthday a piece of music called Open, which you can download on iTunes, was released.  That’s the kind of music I like to create.  It’s twenty-one minutes long; it’s an adventure in music.  It’s like the music I used to help create with Yes.  Long pieces are what I’m interested in.

Orcasound:  So much has been written about the demise of Yes.  Please fill in the blanks.  Do you envision a regrouping of the band?  Was this really a business decision or a personal decision?  Or a bit of both?

Jon:  They went on to tour without me as the lead singer.  There are three of them and it’s like a democracy.  They went on the road without really thinking about the fans.  Just about going on the road and making money, I think.  That’s one of the problems when you work with bands as it works on a backwards level and they just want to go on the road rather than create new music.  I’m interested in new music.  I’m just interested in creation.  So it was a very important time, but I’m just busy now doing a lot of different things.  The road maybe is a lot clearer for me musically and I can do what I really feel strongly about.  Music is an adventure and you should feel thankful for what you do.

Orcasound:  Are you still in touch with Steve Howe and Chris Squire?

Jon:  No, not at all.  They just decided not to keep in touch and I tried very hard to put things back together, but they weren’t interested.  You can’t keep knocking at the door.  You’ve just got to say okay, I’ve got to move on.

Orcasound:  You’ve performed several concerts in Montreal.  Do you have any thoughts about our city?

Jon:  We always love to come and play there.  I’ve always enjoyed staying there an extra couple of days and hanging around because it just is a very unique part of the world.  My wife Jane and I walk around a lot. We enjoy the shopping, the restaurants and just the energy there.  There’s something very exciting about that city.

Orcasound:  How did you get into music, Jon?  Did you study music academically?  Was it something that you just picked up?

Jon:  No, no.  I had a band in 1963 called The Warriors and we went to see The Beatles just before they became famous and we wanted to be like The Beatles, so we played at The Cavern in Liverpool.  I just kept being a musician from when I was 17.  I left school when I was 14 and worked at a local farm.  I know what it’s like to work hard.  To become a musician was like an incredible dream coming true.  Fifty years later it’s still amazing.

Orcasound:  How do you avoid plateaus in music?  How do you keep it fresh and alive?

Jon:  I sing every day.  Especially when I’m at home and in the studio.  Singing the ideas.  I have so many ideas musically that I let flow.  I think my voice just keeps up with it.  I’m very blessed.  My voice is very clear.  Very strong.

Orcasound:  What can we expect to hear at the Theatre St. Denis show on Saturday night?

Jon:  It will be an entertaining evening.  We will be doing Yes songs that we love singing and performing.  Of course, new songs from the album The Living Tree.  And Rick likes to tell his jokes and that’s part of the show.

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