As Billy Sherwood assembled an all-star cast for the forthcoming 2012 Cleopatra Records release The Prog Collective, he thought of an old friend: Former Yes bandmate Chris Squire. “I asked him,” Sherwood tells us, “if he wanted to sing with me – you know, come over and have some fun?”
The track, called “The Technical Divide,” also features Alan Parsons and David Sancious (Bruce Springsteen, Stanley Clarke, Peter Gabriel). Sherwood says it ended up sounding like “the Beach Boys meets Pink Floyd – with a Yes twist, of course.”
More than a decade has passed since Sherwood left Yes – in frustration, he’s said, over the band’s focus on its legacy rather than making new music. Still, his affection for Yes – and for Squire – remains unchanged by the experience. “I got a chance to join my favorite band,” he enthuses.
Sherwood appeared on Yes’ 1991 release Union, performing on “The More We Live,” a song he and Squire had written previous to the full-band sessions. The duo toured briefly together the following year as the Chris Squire Experiment (with Yes’ Alan White on drums, Toto keyboardist Steve Porcaro and guitarist Jimmy Haun, who would later play in Circa with Sherwood and White).
Sherwood then toured with Yes in support of 1994’s Talk; co-produced and mixed Yes’ Keys to Ascension and Keys to Ascension 2 projects in 1996-97; was a key creative contributor to the band’s 1997 release Open Your Eyes and played on the subsequent tour; then finally appeared on 1999’s The Ladder and the live document from a tour that followed, House of Yes.
But that wasn’t the end of the story with Sherwood and Squire, who later formed an off-shoot band called Conspiracy, issuing a self-titled release in 2000, The Unknown in 2003 and then a concert DVD in 2006. Since then, however, Sherwood has focused on producing, performing with Circa and solo projects – while Squire reassembled Yes for 2011’s Fly From Here, the band’s first album of all-original material since 2001’s Magnification.
“We kind of lost touch there for a good many years,” Sherwood says. “He moved to England, and I was doing my thing. As life happened, we weren’t working together. But I gave him a buzz, to see if he wanted to participate in this thing – and he did. It just so happened that he was getting ready to rehearse for a Yes tour and coming to LA for a few weeks.”
Through their relationship was forged, by and large, within the framework of Yes, Sherwood says the pair stayed away from talk of the past. “We just pretty much focused on what we were doing,” Sherwood says. “We didn’t have a lot of time. We mostly talked about personal stuff. He brought his wife and his daughter over, and my son was here. It was more like families getting together – and talking about what is important. We didn’t get too much into the band stuff.” The end result: A good time was had by all. “It’s always fun to work with Chris,” Sherwood says. “He’s a funny guy. We end up laughing more than working.”
Ultimately, Squire would become just one of five current and former members of Yes to appear on The Prog Collective – along with original guitarist Peter Banks (1968-70); keyboardist Geoff Downes (1980-81, 2011-present); keyboardist Tony Kaye (1968-71, 1983-94); and keyboardist Rick Wakeman (1971-74, 1976-80, sporadically between 1990-97, and 2002-04.) “I think that’s it for the Yes lineage,” Sherwood says, laughing. “We may have ended up with more members in the Collective than they have in the regular lineup now!”
Elsewhere, the album includes a track called “Laws of Nature” that features an all-star lineup of John Wetton (Asia, King Crimson, UK), Tony Levin (Peter Gabriel, King Crimson) and Jerry Goodman (Mahavishnu Orchestra, Styx, Dixie Dregs). “Wetton is a huge inspiration for me – always has been,” says Sherwood, who produced Wetton’s most recent solo release, Raised in Captivity. “Jerry Goodman – obviously, an amazing player. Levin played stick, and some great bass. To be able to play drums with Tony Levin playing bass, I was very grateful.”
Sherwood has also drawn XTC’s Colin Moulding out of a premature retirement from music – though not without some coaxing: “I’m a huge XTC fan,” Sherwood says. “When this thing came up, I sent him a message and said: ‘I’d love for you to be involved.’ He got back to me, and at first he was a little apprehensive. He said he wasn’t sure if he was right to sing this or not. I kept telling him: ‘Trust me, just give it shot.’ Eventually, he wrote me back and said: ‘I’m in it now, I’m digging it.’ By the time it was done, he was very happy.”
Other notables in the Prog Collective include Larry Fast (Peter Gabriel, Foreigner and Hall and Oates), and Steve Morse (Deep Purple, Dixie Dregs, Kansas). “I’m working with guys who I still listen to their music and say: ‘How do they do that?’” Sherwood says. “It’s quite an honor.”
The idea for the album came from Cleopatra Records label head Brian Perera, Sherwood says. “He suggested I should write it, then start building a collective around it. So now, we’re pursuing it. We finished the album, we’ve got a bunch of great people on it. And now it might be the kind of thing where we have The Prog Collective Part 1, 2, 3 and 4. They’re interested in doing more, already.”
Whatever happens with the Collective, it’s difficult not to frame Sherwood’s reunion with Squire as the biggest thing to have come out of the project. Sherwood says the duo is looking to work together again, great news for fans of Yes and their Conspiracy side project. “We kind of relit the fire of the relationship, musically,” Sherwood says. “You just never know where that could go now. We’re talking about doing more things. It’s just a matter of scheduling.”
Cleopatra has not yet set an issue date for The Prog Collective.
Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Billy Sherwood, Chris Squire and Yes. Click through the titles for complete reviews …
ONE TRACK MIND: CIRCA FEATURING YES’ BILLY SHERWOOD AND TONY KAYE, “AND SO ON” (2011): Kaye returns to the Hammond organ — the instrument he was featured on during his last album with Yes, 1994’s Talk — as Sherwood sings with an unguarded abandon while deliriously thumping away on the bass. But it’s Jimmy Bruhns, perhaps, who surprises the most – somehow combining both the modern edge of Trevor Rabin’s thundering 90125 riffs with the atmospheric intellect of Steve Howe.
YES – FLY FROM HERE (2011): This album is, in many ways, better than it has any right to be. The band even attempts something it hadn’t in decades — a multi-part thematic suite, and to great effect. As always, bassist Chris Squire and drummer Alan White are compact and versatile, expertly facilitating complicated journeys like “Fly From Here Part III: Madman at the Screens,” which switches back and forth from a crunchy stomp to soaring ambiance. And the new singer acquits himself well.
ONE TRACK MIND: BILLY SHERWOOD, “LIVING IN THE NOW” (2011): Sherwood remains more than the sum of his Yes years. Across the breadth of What Was The Question?, as on his denser concurrent efforts alongside fellow Yes alum Tony Kaye in the band Circa, Sherwood dabbles in the weird impressionism of early Genesis, and the crinkly nerve of Jeff Beck. There are layer upon layer of multi-tracked vocals, straight out of the sun-drenched school of Brian Wilson. And the offbeat yet catchy compositional verve of those unjustly forgotten prog-rockers UK. That’s not to mention the thundering improvisational references to Weather Report.
YES – IN THE PRESENT: LIVE FROM LYON (2011): There was at least one benefit to the departure of Jon Anderson from Yes in 2008: The presence of new lead singer Benoit David immediately opened the door for a rewrite of what had become a very rote setlist. David handles things as well as can be expected on the big Anderson-sung hits here — and that’s really all Chris Squire and Co. were looking for, I suppose. You get a broader sense of what he brings to Yes as it stood then, however, on a churning, metallic fever dream like “Machine Messiah.”