Dylan Howe, jazz bandleader and Yes drummer: Something Else! Interview

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Dylan Howe had already made a name for himself as a jazz bandleader and a sideman with Paul McCartney, Trevor Horn, Wilko Johnson, Nigel Godrich, the Blockheads before he hit the road with his father’s group. Now appearing as the second drummer in Yes, Dylan joined Preston Frazier to discuss his musical past, working with Steve Howe both as a solo performer and in Yes, and what’s ahead for the world’s greatest progressive rock band.

PRESTON FRAZIER: Dylan, many of our readers know you are the son of Yes Guitarist Steve Howe. Tell us about your path to music.
DYLAN HOWE: I was, as you might imagine, taken to gigs at a very young age. My earliest memory of music is seeing Yes at the Rainbow in London when I was maybe four? Exposure to that kind of kaleidoscopic sensory experience must have had a profound effect on me – and was probably the spark that ignited a lifelong love and obsession with music.

The first time I sat at a drum kit was in 1977 when Yes were recording Going for The One in Switzerland. I was 8, and Alan White sat me at his drums and showed me how to play “the beat.” You know: boom, back, boom, boom, back. I was hooked from then, I suppose. Around that time, my dad had also just got a Ludwig kit (through Alan) in his studio in our house and when we got back, I started messing around on it and jamming with my dad. Not much has changed, in a way.

PRESTON FRAZIER: Did you receive any formal training? Who was your most influential mentor on drums?
DYLAN HOWE: I’m essentially self taught. I mean, we all are in a way; you have to do all the real work yourself. But saying that, there have been a few people that have helped me a great deal, had a real effect and helped guide me. Bill Bruford has been a real support and kind of mentor to me, in a way. He first came over to give me a lesson of sorts – at my dad’s request – not long after I had first started messing around on the Ludwig kit.

I hadn’t been playing for long, and he was horrified by my posture. He soon sorted that out and kind of gave me some very important fundamentals to work on. Then, over the years, I’ve gone over to his house a few times and he’s helped with either drum stuff, confidence, how to deal with the music biz – something he’s very adept and humorous about, as you can well imagine – and also how to run a band as a leader. Valuable stuff, I must say.

I had a short course of formal lessons with top U.K. tutor Bob Armstrong – who’s now deceased, sadly. He got me into reading, how to practice and the Moeller Technique amongst other things. I work on what he showed me all the time.

PRESTON FRAZIER: What was your first band?
DYLAN HOWE: I had a band in school when I was 10 or 11, and then many from then on. We played in the school hall and other local schools, and a few clubs after a while. We played songs by U2, the Clash and Bauhaus, I seem to remember. They all came apart when I got into funk and jazz. That was the beginning of me understanding that you had to be versatile to earn your living as a musician. Most of the other guys in the band were in the thrall of being in a band that makes it – you know, gets signed etc., and they live happily ever after as the Beatles or U2. I liked that idea, but was realizing what the reality was / is – even though my most direct example [Steve Howe] was to the contrary.

PRESTON FRAZIER: You’ve played on several of Steve Howe’s albums between 1993’s The Grand Scheme of Things and 2010’s The Steve Howe Trio. What did you bring to each project?

DYLAN HOWE: Whatever was needed, really. I was learning a lot, and got better and most confident with every recording. The drums on these records were generally recorded last – I overdubbed to the finished tracks, etc. – and all in a day or so. It was a good lesson in playing to clicks and fitting in or gelling with existing tracks. The trio records were all live, in contrast.

PRESTON FRAZIER: As a leader, what was your input in the writing and arranging of your band? How did that change with Dylan Howe and the Subterraneans in 2007?
DYLAN HOWE: The initial solo albums [2003’s The Way I Hear It and 2004’s This Is It] were more set up and play, make a record in an afternoon and just get a good feel – with minimal input with the arrangements. With the two live albums [2006’s Translation: Recorded Live In Soho, Volume 1 and 2007’s Translation, Volume 2: Standards] that was changing, and I was starting to get more involved with the architecture of the music and find my feet as a bandleader.

That continued with the Stravinsky duo record and [2010’s Stravinsky: The Rite Of Spring, Part 1] reached a kind of peak with the [David] Bowie adaptations [2014’s Subterranean: New Designs on Bowie’s Berlin] – which was much more my complete vision, if you like. It was more cinematic, with me in the directors chair. Also, I gave the Blue Note kind of approach a rest and succumbed to multiple overdubbing for the first time, using the studio much more as a lab rather than camera.

PRESTON FRAZIER: How did the invitation to join Yes come about? Have you played double drums before?
DYLAN HOWE: I’ve not played in a double drums situation before. I played with quite a few percussionists on my session travels, but this was a first for me. I’d always liked the Chester Thompson / Phil Collins template – and, of course, the Motown / James Brown thing. It’s shaping up now as we get into it into something interesting; it’s a lot of fun. As for joining Yes, I’d been on standby for a while now, because Alan had been having some health issues. I’m really glad that this summer all the stars aligned, and I was able to join the guys and play some of my favorite music.

PRESTON FRAZIER: What will your role be in the concert and how have you and Alan divided the parts?
DYLAN HOWE: A little like the James Brown approach. We kind of divide, support and combine throughout the set. Alan plays a couple whilst I play percussion or add a few kit fills, then I play a couple, then we play one together – him providing the beat with me on tom fills. That sort of thing. My kit is kind of a combination of mainly Bill’s Yes kit with a little of Alan’s Drama kit – with extra toms – to the left of it.

PRESTON FRAZIER: Can you give our readers a hint of the set list? Which songs are the most challenging for you?
DYLAN HOWE: I really enjoy “South Side of the Sky” and “Yours Is No Disgrace.” Both are such seminal Bruford songs; there is so much signature stuff in there! Plus, the piano middle of South Side is always something I look forward to.

PRESTON FRAZIER: What is your future with Yes after the American tour?
DYLAN HOWE: Hope to do more next year, if possible.

PRESTON FRAZIER: To conclude, please share your Top 5 favorite albums with our readers.
DYLAN HOWE: Only 5?! OK, I’ll try – Chick Corea’s Now He Sings Now He Sobs; Miles Davis’ Live In Copenhagen 1964; Yes’ Fragile; Steely Dan’s The Royal Scam; and Joni Mitchell’s Ladies of the Canyon.

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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