Interview: A Short Conversation With Jon Anderson of YES
To talk with those who journeyed with you, in their way, as you made your way through this thing called life, well, that’s special.
Being a Yes fan, I followed much of their music as I made my uncertain way through my teens. They were unlike any other band I had heard. And they still are. So when I discovered that Audio Fidelity would reissue Close to the Edge, the enduring 1972 classic that, as Jon Anderson so eloquently puts it, “…changed the musical landscape a little at that time,” as a high-resolution Super Audio CD (SACD), I became excited.
It’s not every day that a fan can get one of their favorite albums remastered in the highest quality. It has the potential to become a whole new experience.
I sought out an opportunity to talk with one of the architects of Close to the Edge and other Yes classics, Jon Anderson. What follows is a short—and memorable—conversation I had with the writer and voice of all those songs.
Yes has been an important part of not only my life, but many others as well. Part of that is the distinctive voice that powered many of those great albums and songs. Another part of the allure is the great songs, their lyrics, and their music that you had a deep part in helping create. Let me take this moment to thank you on behalf of myself and a wealth of fans that feel the same. We’re deeply grateful for Jon Anderson.
You were a part of the original configuration of Yes that did not have Steve Howe in it. Somehow, in strange ways, that seems inconceivable. The legacy of Yes owes much to the collaborative talents of both you and Steve, lyrically and musically. How did that partnership begin, and how did it evolve?
When Steve joined the band, we became inseparable. His knowledge of the guitar was amazing to me, and it was very easy to to sing melodies and write lyrics with him at that time. We were free spirits in a way.
As time progressed, so did we. He would come to me with ideas of a song. I would help develop the songs and add my ideas. That’s how we were able to write longer format songs, like “And You and I” and “Close to the Edge.” Again, with his guitar knowledge, I would ask him to try ideas out. He would happily follow my thoughts, and there it was, ‘magical’ moments that seemed to last forever.
The Yes Album and Fragile are excellent albums. But many, myself included, have a profound love for Close to the Edge. Would you tell us what ideas went into the creation of that album?
I think, first and foremost, we had a connection to create a very large work. Steve sang to me, “…close to the edge, down by the corner…”, and I sang, “…down at the end, round by the river…”, and off we went creating the verse and chorus to the song. It was then that I thought of a sort of ‘chanting’ intro, even starting with some sound effects, like the cosmic ocean, diving into a guitar-based solo intro, then into the ‘chanting’, “a seasoned witch,” etc.
After creating the first half of the song, jumping from a verse-to-chant-to-verse-to-chant sort of thing, we needed a middle section. Again, I created a cosmic ocean of sound, and we needed a song. So Steve played me these chords, and I sang, “I get up, I get down”, and “two million people barely satisfy,” etc. Steve then remembered that he had written a song on those very same chords, which he started to sing, “in her white lace,” etc. And lo and behold, the two songs worked together. The rest of the song needed Rick’s solo building to the chant once more, and then the final verse. We all felt that we had changed the musical landscape a little at that time.
The lyrics found on Close To The Edge, Fragile, Relayer, Going For The One, Tales From Topographic Oceans, and others have motivated and thrilled many of the fans of these albums. They’re poetic, well-crafted, and seem to have deeper meaning than perhaps many of us are capable of discerning. Can you give any insights into the inspiration, creation, and meaning of a few from any of them? Favorites, perhaps? Even key lines.
‘A seasoned witch could call you’ etc, (your inner voice, ‘guardian angel’..will help erase all your fears and doubts’
‘Rearrange your liver to the solid mental grace’..( Evolve your physical world to a more spiritual one)..
OK??..just a couple of lines…I’ve even thought about writing a whole paper on the meanings of some of of my way out lyrics, but now I think,.”mmmm, not really”. But it is fun to remember what I was thinking,
‘Dawn of Light’…..’Dawn of Thought’..was all about the development of the human consciousness, and how we came from the ocean, etc, and learned to fly, all in metaphors. It’s always a lot of fun to write this way, then look back and think, “oh!!! that’s what I was trying to say!”
Personally, I love “Wonderous Stories”. What was the inspiration for it?
Seeing a very young Deborah and Damion asleep in the early morning before I went to the studio, I sang the song in my head all the way to the studio in Montreux, Switzerland, where we recorded ‘Going for the One’. By the time the guys came, I had the song finished. It revolves around being told how wonderful life truly is by my spirit ‘Teacher’.
There are few Yes albums that I do not revere as much as others. Those include releases without you in them. Despite the absence of Rick Wakeman, I have a deep love for Relayer. I also deeply appreciate the whole of Going for the One. Do you have any Yes albums that you value over others?
Fragile, Close to the Edge, Tales from Topographic Oceans, Relayer, Going for the One, especially “Awaken” [from that album], 90125, Talk, Magnification. All of them were very worthwhile creations.
Your first solo album, the brilliant Olias of Sunhillow, showed Yes fans that there were facets of the band that could be enjoyed outside the confines of Yes. Even so, it is difficult to escape the majesty of the Yes sound. Could Olias of Sunhillow have been a Yes album?
Not really. I was very committed to this idea of ‘solo’, creating a work by myself. Like going to a musical university and learning about my potential.
I have followed and enjoyed your work outside of Yes, including your collaborations with Vangelis, as well as your film contributions (“Loved by the Son” with Tangerine Dream). All of your solo albums after Olias of Sunhillow take on various musical styles. Do you have a side that you particularly enjoy exploring musically?
I always feel the need for adventure when I create an album. That’s why they are all so different.
I understand the sequel to Olias of Sunhillow is underway, with you playing all instruments? Can you tell us about this album?
Again, it was just like going to school every day, and being guided by ‘spirit’ to make this enormous musical project come to life. It drove me a bit crazy, but in the end, it was amazing to me that it worked so well.
You seem to have a deeply spiritual life. Can you elaborate on your use to help you to live day to day?
We are all spiritual beings. Some people take it as part of the devotion of life, I believe that is why we live, to find the Divine in our everyday being through good thoughts, actions, and meditation or prayer. Like most people, I try to live this way everyday. Not always easy to do, but it’s a wonderful way of living this life journey.
Your Three Ships Christmas collection is an essential for my holiday enjoyment. Did you record other standards that didn’t make the cut for the LP?
Not really. I wanted to try something different, like the jungle making music, and songs for spirits, it was such a fun album to do. Maybe one day I will sing the carols I sang at school.
Will there be a time that you re-record popular Yes classics, perhaps with Rick Wakeman?
Maybe some acoustic versions for fun. Rick and I already perform those songs on the live albums.
Will there ever be a chance at reconciliation with Yes that could result in a new tour, perhaps even a new Yes album?
I would love that to happen!
Are you aware of the reissue of Close to the Edge in the audiophile format SACD coming from Audio Fidelity?
Yes, very cool!
I assume that by now you have heard the SACD version of Close To The Edge. Being a creator of those notes and words, did the remastered product reproduce what you intended the music to sound like? Having said that, is there a favorite issue of the album that you feel brings out the way you desired it to sound? That could be original LP issue, subsequent remasters, and this recent SACD remaster.
Close to the Edge is still a wonderful experience for me, both to listen to and remember how it came together…Steve sang the phrase ‘close to the edge, round by the corner,’ to me one day, and then I sang , ‘down at the edge, round by the river’. I had just finished reading ‘Siddartha’, by Herman Hess and off we went. We kept interweaving those lines all through the song, never wanting to repeat lyrics, just part of the never-ending quest to be unique. Same with the music.
Remixing an album seems to be a new trend. Do you feel that Fragile, Close To The Edge, Going For The One, or any other YES albums would greatly benefit from such a process. I would like to point to the recent remixes by Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree) of the first two Emerson, Lake & Palmer albums, as well as some Jethro Tull albums (Thick As A Brick, and Aqua Lung) for reference. Those remixes really recreate the albums in stunning new ways. I cannot help but wonder what such processes could do for a YES classic.
Tales from Topographic would be great, and “Gates of Delirium” They were never mixed as well as they should have been..
It has recently been announced that Audio Fidelity is remastering Going For The One in SACD. I can’t tell you how many of us are excited about that. Which YES album should follow, or, better, which albums do you feel should be considered for SACD remastering?
All of them! I’m very happy with Audio Fidelity! A fantastic company of people.
It will be presented in stereo, however many love a multi-channel effect. If such technology were available to you back when your albums were created, would Yes have widely availed themselves of it?
I’ve always wanted to record in surround sound, still do.
Assuming that you have heard the DVD-Audio multi-channel of Fragile released some years ago by Rhino Records, do you have any thoughts on how it made the album sound?
Not really. I just remember that great feeling I had at Advision Studios when we recorded it.
Have you heard the SACD version of Close to the Edge that was mentioned earlier? If so, what are your thoughts on it?
I don’t have it, sorry.
What is next for Jon Anderson? Musically? Spiritually? Professionally? Have you ever considered writing a book detailing your YES years? I’d be fascinated by such a book.
I’m slowly working on a number of projects. All of them are taking their own good time to be finished. The next 10 years will be a wealth of ideas coming through…just waiting for the doors to open..
As for the book, yes, I’m working on that as well. As for evolving musically, I don’t know any other way, just keep working with people from around the world…spiritual songs, songs of search for truth, symphonic music, dreams, operas,.children’s musicals. You name it, I’m trying to achieve it.
OPEN is a signal to where I want to be heading. Even a pop song would be fun…you never know!!!!!
Thank you for your time. I cannot tell you what a pleasure it was to communicate with one of the greats. Thanks again for your immeasurable impact on my recognition of beauty in song and lyric.
If the thought of hearing Close to the Edge in great clarity appeals to you, Audio Fidelity will release the intended SACD version on January 22.