Gathering ’round “The Living Tree” with Jon Anderson (2011)


Given the banality of today’s mainstream music, I often wonder if a pioneering group of symphonic wizards such as Yes would ever merit the attention of a modern “A&R” rep.

Their lack of complacency and affinity for unorthodox time signatures appear to be relics of a lost epoch in which artists still had an incentive to maximize neural synapses.

In an era where conversation has been reduced to 120 characters or less and people are literally attached at the hip to their mobile devices, do listeners still have the patience to soak up the majesty of a nearly 19-minute opus such as “Close to the Edge?”

Sadly, the answer, in my opinion, is no, but not for the reasons you might think.

Record companies have so little faith in the listener’s ability to appreciate intellectual depth that they’re putting out drivel and passing it off as simply giving the masses what they want.

Of course, the only reason why the masses think they want it is because the media has them conditioned to believe so.

Amid this sea of creative inertia, plenty of amazing music is being made, and, if you go see Yes legends Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman at Kleinhans Music Hall on Oct. 26, you’re guaranteed to hear some.

I spoke with Anderson recently about his latest album and tour, and our 15-minute conversation about all things “Yes” will certainly go down as one of my highlights for 2011.

MNOD: Your latest solo album “Survival & Other Stories” was released back in April and I thought it was beautifully constructed. Where did the inspiration for that come from?

Anderson:  I hadn’t really done any recording in a while, so I used the Internet to ask any fans out there to send me samples I could incorporate into the record. As far as Rick and I go, we decided to make an album together and went through a lot of powerful experiences during the process. It’s like a new world every time I write a song, because of the positive energy we have when playing together.

MNOD: How has your songwriting evolved since your early career?

Anderson: I don’t know if it’s changed that much really. I still come up with lyrics in a very spontaneous fashion, and, with TV and 24-hour news to draw from, there are plenty of ideas around to stockpile for a later time.

MNOD:  The “Survival” album is often classified as “New Age.”  What drew you to that type of material?

Anderson: I’m not sure what that label means. I suppose you could call it “acoustic” or “easy listening,” but I don’t like to put music in a box and have it be defined by any one genre. The material is always changing and acquiring greater significance.

MNOD: When you released “The Living Tree” with Rick Wakeman, the songs were acoustic. How does your working relationship differ from that of your Yes catalog?

Anderson: I’m constantly creating and going from one extreme to another, so my approach doesn’t change that much. Of course, the sound is different without a full band, but I still start everything with an acoustic guitar.

MNOD: How have audiences responded to the new material in a live setting?

Anderson: They’ve been pretty responsive at times, but Rick and I don’t really let it affect us that much. We love performing and even Yes songs like ‘Roundabout’ and ‘Long Distance Runaround’ are given a new life on stage.

MNOD: Because of the decline of radio, do you think that touring becomes even more important when trying to get your material heard?

Anderson: I’ve never stopped wanting to tour. A lot of people say that you can’t do it forever, but I’m very fortunate to be in a position where I’ve been doing it for 50 years.  Sure, record sales are in decline and money is important, but I’m blessed to find an abundance of life in sports, children, health or whatever else I may do outside of music.  We were never a band motivated by money, so the creative aspect of our music was always out front.

MNOD: This year marks the 40th anniversary of both “The Yes Album” and “Fragile.”  How do you look back on that period in your career?

Anderson: We had a lot of amazing times. Everyone was in harmony and we had such symmetry in the band that everyone was willing to shatter boundaries. A lot of radio stations around that time wouldn’t play a song over four minutes, but we weren’t concerned with that. We wanted to expand what people thought music should be, and it was a beautiful time.

MNOD: Why do you think you and Rick work so well together after all these years?

Anderson: We’re just really good friends. He’s a very talented musician and always ready to do something new, so it takes off from there.

MNOD Are there any current bands capable of carrying the Yes torch?

Anderson: I don’t see why not. I think Radiohead is the most comparable right now due to their arrangements and alternative means of dealing with the music industry. The Internet is an incredible vehicle for artists to be discovered, and I expect a band to come along at some point that will emulate what we did when we were young.

MNOD: Who are some artists that you’re currently listening to?

Anderson: I like Radiohead, Coldplay, and Norah Jones to name a few.  I also enjoy a lot of Ethiopian music as well.

MNOD: When you look back at your entire catalog, what song would you say that you’re most proud of?

Anderson: There are so many. The songs I did with Vangelis, Awaken, You and I, Talk, and the last album Yes recorded are some that come to mind at the moment. I enjoy playing them all.


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