John Wetton, Geoff Downes + John Payne on Asia’s ‘My Own Time,’ ‘I Know How You Feel,’ others: Deep Cuts

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Founded as one of the 1980s initial supergroups, Asia made a fast start with its four-times platinum 1982 debut album.

There’s more to this group, however, than its initial Top 20 hits “Heat of the Moment” and “Only Time Will Tell.”

Two of the unit’s founders, John Wetton and Geoff Downes, join Something Else! as we dig into a handful of Asia’s lesser-known tracks — touching on songs from Asia, as well as 1983’s Alpha and last year’s anniversary project XXX, recorded with fellow originals Steve Howe and Carl Palmer.

There’s a deep cut from 2004’s Silent Nation, too, with comments from John Payne — who fronted Asia from 1992-2006 and still leads his own version of the group.

We also threw in a favorite from the Wetton/Downes duo projects …

“HERE COMES THE FEELING,” (ASIA 1982): And that feeling? Dread. Co-written by Wetton and Howe, the rousing “Here Comes the Feeling” closed Asia’s blockbuster self-titled debut — and has become a key part of the band’s more recent setlists. It remains one of the songs that lived up to the episodic inventiveness of this supergroup’s previous bands — associations that gave Asia early cache.

But between that shared history in the creation of progressive rock as former members of ELP, Yes and UK, that pair of radio-friendly hits and a nine-week run at the top of the Billboard album charts for Asia, the band became an instant pressure cooker.

“We never had the chance to develop the way that some other bands do, because we had such a huge debut,” Downes, the band’s stalwart keyboardist, tells us. “They wanted such huge success on the back of that first album. The pressure, in many ways, got to some of us. If had been the other way around, if we had some commercial success later on, it might have been a different story.”

Asia’s follow up album, 1983’s Alpha, was the last to feature all four original members until 2008’s Phoenix. Wetton would be ousted in ’83, after a descent into personal issues. Howe was gone by 1984, returning for stints in 1991-1993 and 2006–2013. Palmer would leave in 1992 to rejoin Emerson Lake and Palmer, through he too reunited with Asia in 2006.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: John Wetton examines three of his most important musical stops – Asia, King Crimson and UK – while frankly discussing how drinking nearly ruined all of it.]

“GHOST IN THE MIRROR,” (SILENT NATION, 2004): A surging mid-tempo rocker, the Billy Sherwood co-written “Ghost in the Mirror” — and, really, all of the Silent Nation project — marked a turning point for this incarnation of Asia. The album was Payne’s last before long-time partner Downes left to rejoin with Asia’s original lineup, creating a schism that led to a legal battle over the band name. Payne, who had spent some 14 years at that point leading Asia, would eventually claim the right to continue with his own version of the group.

But, more importantly musically, tracks like “Ghost” solidified the tenure of guitarist Guthrie Govan. He’d joined as a sideman on 2000’s Aura, then become an official member in time for Silent Nation. The guitarist would continue with the newly renamed “Asia Featuring John Payne” through 2009. He has also been involved with Payne’s forthcoming project, titled Americana.

“We have remained the best of friends and I’m happy to see him grow into one of the more revered players in the world,” Payne tells us. “God bless the chap. He’s so talented, an all-around musical genius. I even had John Petrucci come up to me and say: ‘Are you still playing with that freak? He’s not human.’ Both he and (long-time Asia drummer) Jay (Schellen, who initially joined during the writing sessions for Silent Nation) are like brothers to me. None of us has had a cross word, and we work equally well together in the studio as in the bar drinking! Both guys only ever take one or two takes to nail their parts.”

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Keyboardist Geoff Downes talks about Asia’s unexpected resurgence since a reunion six years ago with its gone-too-soon original lineup.]

“MY OWN TIME,” with ASIA (ALPHA, 1983): “My Own Time” — with its tough-guy subtitle “I’ll Do What I Want” — struck a chord with anyone who has suffered through romantic entanglements. “One of the most identifiable Asia songs,” Wetton tells us. “The chorus is: ‘I’m going to do what I want, and I’m going to do it when I fucking want to.’ (Laughs.) Two million American guys went: ‘Yes!'”

But Wetton, who has found himself on a far more positive tack of late, doesn’t necessarily relate to the theme anymore: “People still say to me, ‘That’s the greatest song you ever wrote.’ I go, ‘Shit, it was really, really bitter.’ Unfortunately, with Asia’s first record, there was a lot of bitterness in there. I was writing about stuff that had gone wrong romantically. Of course, there’s a lot of people who identify with that – vis-a-vis, Adele. She’s sitting in her little room, writing these venomous songs about this ghastly boyfriend who has really pissed all over her. Everybody goes: ‘Yes!’ (Laughs.) That’s what they did with Asia.”

Like all but one track on this album, “My Own Time” was written by Wetton and Downes — who were in ascension as principal collaborators as the soon-to-depart Howe contributed only a B-side composition for the single “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes.” Alpha eventually went platinum, but that was ultimately seen as a disappointment after Asia’s four-million selling debut. “The second album was pretty respectable, and we had some great songs on that album,” Downes adds, “but their expectations were such that when it didn’t quite achieve at the same level, it felt like a let down.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: ‘XXX’ builds on Asia’s long-ago arena-pop successes, adding a few notable new prog-rock elements. The results are the best thing since its platinum 1982 debut.]

“PEACE IN OUR TIME,” as ICON (ICON 3, 2009): A non-Asia song in name only, “Peace in Our Ties” features Wetton, Downes and guitarist Dave Kilminster — an alum of the 1990s-era John Wetton Band who also played with Asia spinoff Qango (with Wetton and Carl Palmer), and with Guthrie Govan.

Wetton and Downes, fresh off of the original lineup’s 2008 reunion on Phoenix, clearly had a creative head of steam built up after years apart. “Peace in Our Times,” a moving moment of anti-war sentiment, features Electric Light Orchestra cellist Hugh McDowell — who creates for a fuller, more classically inspired feel. But perhaps most distinctive of all is its overtly positive message — another signpost in Wetton’s journey toward the light after years of personal struggles.

“My stuff now tries to carry a little bit more of a positive message. I try and slip in a positive message, even at the end of a piece of bitterness,” Wetton told us. “In general, my stuff tries to carry a message of ‘carpe diem,’ ‘look for the best in things,’ ‘be optimistic” — because that’s the way I’ve had to be, particularly over the last few years, since I’ve had heart surgery. That reminds you that you’ve only got today. My life also changed completely when I stopped drinking. All of it pointed me toward a more positive outlook on life. I can’t write the way I used to. I have to write like life is for me today.”

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Quitting Asia again has given busy guitarist Steve Howe a lot more time to devote not just to Yes, but to his tandem, and deeply underrated solo career.]

“I KNOW HOW YOU FEEL,” with ASIA (XXX, 2012): An episodic, emotionally raw track from the third studio album after the 2006 reunion with the original lineup of Asia. Downes and Wetton combine for one of the most propulsive moments on XXX, as an insistent keyboard girds what becomes perhaps the album’s most committed vocal.

“I think it’s John’s favorite track on the album,” Downes tells us. “It was one of the songs that came out of our writing sessions, and it had a lot of emotion in it from the first. The way that John and myself write is very much from the heart. It’s one of my favorites on the album, too. It shows that we still have emotional and metaphysical ways of writing songs that people can relate to — that we are able to convey music that instills feelings in people.”

It also shows makes the strongest musical case yet for Asia’s reforming after so long away, even if Howe subsequently left again after a three-album run beginning in 2008. That had been the longest the original lineup had ever stayed together, but it didn’t end this new incarnation of Asia. The group added Sam Coulson, made a return to the stage at this summer’s Sweden Rock Festival and is at work on a new project to be titled Valkyrie.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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