Jon Anderson, of Yes and Anderson Rabin Wakeman: Something Else! Interview

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Yes co-founder Jon Anderson hasn’t been a regular member of his old band since 2004, but that doesn’t mean the legendary singer-songwriter has been resting on his laurels. Instead, Anderson may be busier than ever.

He’s coming off a well-received collaboration with fusion icon Jean-Luc Ponty, and has just released another with Roine Stolt (Transatlantic, the Flower Kings) titled Invention of Knowledge. Also in the pipeline is a long-awaited partial Yes reunion with fellow alumni Rick Wakeman and Trevor Rabin. That’s to say nothing of recent projects including 2011’s Survival and Other Stories and a long-form composition in the style of his classic Yes recordings titled “Open.”

In keeping, Jon Anderson joined Preston Frazier for a Something Else! Sitdown that, predictably, covers a lot of musical ground …

PRESTON FRAZIER: You’ve have been a very busy man these past several months, I’m glad I got to catch up with you. I saw you in the Anderson Ponty Band outside of Chicago about three months ago. The show was an amazing combination of jazz and progressive rock.
JON ANDERSON: Thank you. I really enjoyed working with Jean-Luc.

PRESTON FRAZIER: That project started in 2014, though you just completed a leg of the tour this spring. Now you have released Invention of Knowledge. Tell me how you got involved with Roine Stolt.
JON ANDERSON: Roine and I had a great connection when we met on that boat prior to a prog rock tour [the Progressive Nation at Sea cruise] two years ago. We started exchanging musical ideas soon after via the internet, since I’m based out of the U.S. and he’s in Europe. I’m a musician and like to work on a lot of things at one time.

PRESTON FRAZIER: You primarily contributed the lyrics to Invention of Knowledge, tell us about how they were developed.
JON ANDERSON: Well, I have been working on a lot of lyrical ideas over the last few years, working via the internet with musicians around the world. I have used my website to share some musical ideas, and I’ve connected with some really talented people. The songs that I’ve worked on with Roine include some of those, which date back up to 10 years. I had a really good collection of songs, some of which I thought he would be interested in. Roine was an incredible source of musical energy. He would send back a song that I sent him with his touches. One of them – in fact, the first one – he added a full string section to it with my vocals. He added a wonderful musicality and a progressive rock feel to it. I was blown away and we carried on for there.

PRESTON FRAZIER: Invention of Knowledge has a wonderful progressive-rock foundation, even though your solo career encapsulates a variety of musical genres.
JON ANDERSON: Of course! Variety is the spice of life.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Guitarist Steve Howe on why he ultimately decided to focus on Yes rather than Asia, and how a chance meeting with Frank Zappa helped shape his career.]

PRESTON FRAZIER: Where you thinking, after working with Jean-Luc Ponty, that you would go a more progressive rock route?
JON ANDERSON: I’m always progressing musically. I let the music determine my path. I have been working here in California with a group of musicians who are doing middle eastern music, and I’ve been writing songs in that genre with a friend of mine from San Francisco. At the same time, I’m working with Trevor [Rabin] and Rick [Wakeman] on a project and recreating Yes music to take on tour later this year. We are writing new music, too. I’m more productive as a writer and artist than ever. I’m constantly working on songs, developing ideas. It’s easier to share ideas and reach out to people all over the world now. There are many people who are interested in developing new concepts of music, and also ways to visualize it. It’s an exciting time to be alive and creating.

PRESTON FRAZIER: I’ve saw your solo show a few years ago. It seemed like an effective way to tell your stories.
JON ANDERSON: When I was with Yes, I was sort of limited in that I was working with them around that framework. There were times when I was able to step out – for example, working with Vangelis – but when you are in a band you have constraints. Now, I’m sort of free from those constraints. I am able to expand my musical dreams, working with all kinds of musicians around the world. I had a great time with my wife Jane, traveling the world and telling my stories in the two-hour format. It was liberating, being away from the pressures of helping to manage a band.

PRESTON FRAZIER: Talk about how the music developed for Invention of Knowledge.
JON ANDERSON: I sent a number of musical ideas to Roine, and he would develop them with his keyboard player. They were able to add parts and structure to some of my orchestral ideas.

PRESTON FRAZIER: Was that keyboard player the Yes side man Tom Brislin?
JON ANDERSON: No, it was a guy who’s part of Roine’s team, and Tom Brislin is one of the guys who embellished the music.

[GIMME FIVE: Ex-Yes frontman Jon Anderson talks about the twin inspirations of Tolstoy and Vangelis, and how mountains once actually did come right out of the sky.]

PRESTON FRAZIER: The album sounds seamless.
JON ANDERSON: That’s the magic of Invention of Knowledge. It flows as a complete work. Roine is an excellent producer, and we were on the same page musically. I was blown away about how he treated certain songs with his development of my ideas, while still retaining some of the magic that I like.

PRESTON FRAZIER: The album really harkens back to the day of progressive-rock epics.
JON ANDERSON: Well, that’s part of my DNA. When I worked with Yes, I was always interested in expanding the music. The formula of verse, chorus and solo didn’t work for me. I always pushed the band to a more expansive structure. I worked with the band to develop our songs. For example the song “Perpetual Change” was initially a simple Yes song that I worked on, making the intro more intricate and developing a tight musical adventure. That’s what made Yes music work, the Ying and Yang of ideas. Steve (Howe) and Rick were able to play music I could only dream of, and let us expand our compositions as we did on Fragile, Close to the Edge and so on. I would always go into the studio with ideas for the band, and prompt the band to expand. Eighty percent of the time, it worked. When I was no longer with Yes, I was still creating that style of music. I did a project two or three years ago called “Open” – that is available on YouTube, I think – and it incorporates the expansive music and orchestration. So, when I got the opportunity to work with Roine, it was already something I was exploring. It confirmed to me it was worth doing. I worked on the project for over a year, and didn’t know if as completed until earlier this year because I was working on so many different projects. Roine continued to edit it and put together a wonderful album. I discovered even now working with ARW, this process is very effective. It helps me frame a picture in my mind of what our vision is for the final project.

PRESTON FRAZIER: Thanks for the lead in to ARW, but before we get to that are there tour plans for Anderson/Stolt?
JON ANDERSON: We talked about it, but want to see the public reaction to Invention of Knowledge. Also, I would love to perform the album with a choir. We will see what develops.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Alan White takes us into an amazing career that’s included stops with John Lennon, David Torn and Tony Levin – and, of course, Yes.]

PRESTON FRAZIER: Let’s shift gears and discuss Anderson Rabin Wakeman. The tour is booked in the U.S. and Europe. Have you started working on new music?
JON ANDERSON: Yes, we want to do something creatively new. Of course, a lot of fans want to hear us do Yes music, so we are working on songs from Talk and 90125. Rick has always wanted to work with Trevor, so we are picking out some classic Yes some and rearranging them like we did with Anderson/Ponty. I don’t know how we are doing them yet, but I can hear it in my head. We won’t have a new album per se, but we will have new pieces of music and we will figure how to release it once it’s done. We are going to put on a great show to explain why we got together. The magic of the songs will still be there. We won’t be a tribute band.

PRESTON FRAZIER: Who is going to be in your touring band for ARW?
JON ANDERSON: We have three guys locked in already. We may add another. It depends on how the show evolves.

PRESTON FRAZIER: Can you share with Something Else! who they might be?
JON ANDERSON: Not yet.

PRESTON FRAZIER: That’s a lot going on. I heard you were working with your daughter on some videos for Invention of Knowledge. These will be vignettes of songs.
JON ANDERSON: Yes, plus I’m working in new music with Trevor.

PRESTON FRAZIER: Great stuff! I also have a final question: what some albums that most influence you?
JON ANDERSON: The Beatles – every album; Stevie Wonder, Songs in the Key of Life; Jimi Hendrix, Live at Monterey; and Ravi Shakar, Live in London.

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier is a bass-playing lawyer living in Atlanta. His first Steely Dan exposure was with an eight-track cassette of 'Pretzel Logic.' He can be reached at slangofages@icloud.com; follow him on Twitter: @slangofages. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Preston Frazier
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