Original Yes Vocalist Jon Anderson

“You always think your voice will never end, of course,” observes Jon Anderson, the unmistakable alto tenor fronting indelible Yes classics like “Roundabout,” “And You And I,” “Going for the One,” and “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” to name but a scant few of their progressive gems. About 5 years ago, Anderson’s golden voice was threatened with a health scare, but after a necessary recovery period, his singing voice is back, and stronger than ever. I can attest to that fact, having seen Anderson perform an exhilarating set accompanied only by keyboardist Rick Wakeman at New York City’s Concert Hall on October 24, 2011.

While he no longer fronts Yes, Anderson, 69, remains an undeterred spirit, forging ahead with many of his own projects, including solo tours on both land and sea, as well as putting the finishing touches on 60 minutes of new music he’s considering releasing in app form. A longtime fan of surround sound — to date, his favorite surround mix is one of the live versions of “Awaken” — Anderson says he’s especially looking forward to hearing the high-resolution 5.1 mix Steven Wilson recently did on Blu-ray for Yes’ 1972 far-reaching classic, Close to the Edge (spoiler alert: it’s mind-expandingly amazing).

Here, Anderson and I discuss why Yes music endures, the thought of Yes getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and a possible new surround venture (or two). “There’s a constant flow of musical energy, and I’ve got to keep on keeping on,” he says. Who are we to say No?

Mike Mettler: You always put forth a positive vibe, no matter what’s been going on with you and around you. What do you attribute that to?

Jon Anderson: Well, there’s no point in slowing down. [chuckles] I’m very thankful for the success of my career and the potential of doing more of what I’ve done with the great musicians in Yes, as well as with artists like Vangelis and Kitaro. I worked for so many years with very, very talented people in Yes, and we were able to create music I couldn’t even dream of doing on my own. Because I was working with such talented musicians, I looked at creating longer forms of music with Steve [Howe], Richard [Rick Wakeman], Bill [Bruford], Chris [Squire], and Alan [White]. I pushed them along to do those longform pieces. Because I just felt, “Hey, the mountain is there; let’s climb it.”

Mettler: You were the musical director of how a lot of those multitiered songs unfolded.

Anderson: Yeah, I had the vision of where we were going with “And You And I,” “Close to the Edge,” and “Starship Trooper.” I just had these visions of music that was diving and striving. I’d listen to Chris playing his bass lines, and I’d say, “Hey Chris, can you play that again, and change key? And Steve, can you play what he’s playing on guitar? And Rick, can you double him? And then can we go do this part, and let’s add a break now, and…” It was a wonderful experience to be the center of this whirlwind of musical energy.

Mettler: Yes is on the ballot to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next year. Is there any particular reason why more people are keying into your music now?

Anderson: A lot of people keep telling me the music we did has become very fashionable for younger people. They always seem to like listening to ’70s music. And Yes music is not like anything else you can imagine. It was never created as radio music. It was always created as stage music. So it’s a very exciting time. We’ll have to see how things evolve.

We’ll know in December if [getting into the Hall of Fame] is the real deal. I feel very, very good about it. There’s no time like the present for that to happen. It’s a good feeling.

Mettler: One of the best ways to listen to your solo music and to Yes music is on vinyl. Considering how Yes music was composed, a careful listener should discover something new each time. What do you think about the vinyl format? We seem to miss so much depth of composition in the digital form.

Anderson: What’s missing from digital music is the vinyl energy, the vinyl sound. The music we put out there now, in whatever form, has to sound more real. It’s interesting to me, because I’m still working on longform pieces. I’m still very much in an adventurous state of mind and trying to figure out how the music I’m doing can reach people. I’m not interested in working with record companies. I might even use an app as the new delivery platform for people to go to and hear new musical experiences.

Mettler: The 21-minute solo song you put out digitally, “Open,” really takes the us on a journey — a journey I hope we can take on vinyl someday, by the way.

Anderson: Oh, I totally agree. I’m looking into doing that. When we did those longform pieces in the ’70s, and later in the ’90s, the idea was to take the listener somewhere new. Music is a journey, and no matter what, whenever you put it on — whether it’s a day later or a month later — it should take you somewhere totally different every time. I feel that way when I listen to Sibelius and Stravinsky. Symphonic music takes me to that place. When I toured with Yes in the ’70s, I listened to Sibelius over and over and over. So whenever I play it now, I’m back in that world and that time. My spirit is very high.

Mettler: We’ve talked about surround sound before. You still prefer that format, don’t you?

Anderson: I listen to music all of the time in surround, especially in my studio. I think music is around us all of the time anyway, and maybe more concerts should be mixed that way. I’ve been to a number of concerts that have been ruined by a poor stereo mix, because the drums overpower the songs. If the live mixer is way back in the room, he just can’t hear it the way the people upfront do. You get those drums in the chest, and it hurts.

Mettler: Steven Wilson has figured out a way to make live quad sound fantastic on his solo tours.

Anderson: Hmmm… I’m going on a tour soon, and maybe I should be doing my live sound the way Steven does it live. I’ll have to reach out to him for ideas.

Mettler: I’d be happy to put you in touch with him. Before I do that, tell me what Yes album you’d like Steven to mix in surround next.

Anderson: Let me think about that for a minute. [slight pause] If we can get him the original 24-track recordings, I’d love him to remix Tales from Topographic Oceans. This has to happen!

Jon Anderson photo by Deborah Anderson

Leslie Shapiro's picture
Yes was one of the most influential bands for me, as a musician and a recording engineer trying to gain an understanding the complexities of creating their masterpieces. I auditioned for college with a Rick Wakeman keyboard piece (Excerpts from The Six Wives of Henry VIII) and treasure meeting and chatting the Jon Anderson at a XM event years ago. Thinning down my possessions for an upcoming move, I came across all my Yes sheet music, and although I haven't touched a keyboard or piano in years, I packed it all up again, just in case. Loved reading every word of this! Thanks for keeping Yes and Jon Anderson in the minds of our readers!