With the sad passing of Chris Squire as well as a new CD box set documenting the band’s legendary 1972 tour, it’s time for ye olde (and we do mean old!) editor to dig once again into his archives…
BY FRED MILLS
Ed. note: The death of Yes bassist Chris Squire a week ago, at the relatively young age of 67, came as a huge shock as I’d not heard of his recent leukemia diagnosis. As a huge Yes fan in the early days, not to mention a fan of Squire’s distinctive bass style, it was deeply distressing. I can’t say I followed the group closely after its ‘70s heyday, but I always appreciated their musical mission, and even found myself attending one of the 2004 35th anniversary concerts that brought back into the fold together the classic lineup of Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Squire, Alan White and Rick Wakeman. I subsequently reviewed it for Magnet magazine, and prior to that, had written a Yes retrospective for the Seattle Weekly on the occasion of a box set anthology that Rhino released; below I have combined the two pieces, incorporating additional interview content featuring the Flaming Lips’ Steven Drozd and Fastbacks/Young Fresh Fellows man Kurt Bloch. (Both of them were known to be, improbably enough, huge Yes fans so it seemed like it might be fun to have their perspectives—as Drozd drily noted, “Being part of the hip, underground world of the early ‘90s, the last thing you could ever admit to listening to was Yes. [But] sounds that used to seem really dorky and uncool a few years ago, start to sound cool again, you know what I mean?” Indeed I do, Mr. Drozd. Herewith find an appreciation of the just-released Yes: Progeny collection on Rhino and yet another one of my stories from the archives. Pay close attention: I’ll be jumping around quite a bit, timeline-wise. Oh, and hopefully this will serve as a sincere memorial to Chris Squire. He was a singularly unique talent and will be deeply missed. – FM
Yes has been extant in one form or another since 1969 and to commemorate this auspicious time line-age the British group is currently trekking across America on its 35th Anniversary Tour. Worth noting: at one point in the late ‘80s the group was even extant in TWO forms or another, when a Chris Squire-fronted Yes was competing in the marketplace with his then-erstwhile bandmates touring under the collective monicker Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe. But I won’t dwell upon that period, as it no doubt leaves a bad taste in some of the Yes-men’s mouth when brought up; while the Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe album is listed in the official Yes discography, material from it is conspicuously absent from Rhino’s recent 3-CD 35th Anniversary Collection.
A tangent: Roughly a year and a half ago, in 2002, I found myself revisiting my Yes-roots courtesy the Rhino box set In A Word (1969 – ) that had just been relased, an anthology tracing chronologically the band’s three-decade-plus history across five discs of hits, album classics and a handful of unreleased tracks. Now, when it comes to Yes-things, I’m no spring chicken, as the following dates gleaned from my teenage trove of ticket stubs will reveal: Monday, Nov. 22, 1971, Municipal Auditorium, Atlanta GA (Fragile tour, w/opening act Emerson Lake & Palmer); Tuesday, Oct. 3, 1972, Coliseum, Charlotte NC (Close To The Edge, w/The Eagles); Sunday, Feb. 10, 1974, Carolina Coliseum, Columbia SC (Tales From Topographic Oceans, w/John Martyn; and Sunday, Nov. 24, 1974, Coliseum, Greensboro (Relayer, w/Gryphon). Scary, huh? In addition to those shows I attended another Topographic tour date as well as at least two more from the CTTE trek.
The 2/10/74 show is particularly memorable, for not only did I get to see the great guitar master Martyn in full extemporaneous flight, I and my buddies had ingested some rather potent chocolate mescaline – you remember that, right? kinda like taking E but without, like, getting dehydrated, collapsing and dying – and at one point during a Rick Wakeman synth solo one of them turned to me, grimaced and grunted, “Them’s some lowwwww notes…” then leaned forward to puke up a most amazing Technicolor mass of amoebic goo, but politely so, under his chair.
The 10/3/72 Charlotte concert also lingers in my mind due to a random and unexpected encounter with the band. The afternoon of the show my girlfriend and I had driven to Charlotte early enough to go hang out at the nearby shopping mall, and when we were leaving and headed down the escalators to the parking garage, who should we see coming UP the escalator but Jon Anderson, Rick Wakeman and one of the band’s handlers! We excitedly bolted back up (the down) escalator just in time to catch up with them, and they were amiable enough, Anderson in particularly showing off some gifts he’d gotten for the family back home; he seemed particularly smitten with one of those colorful Playschool tiered plastic donut towers designed to teach babies how differently sized objects are supposed to be stacked. Wakeman wasn’t quite as effusive, but just the same, it was handshakes all around and they thanked us for being big enough fans to do a roadtrip to see a favorite band.
Aside #1: As a tribute to Chris Squire, the Big O Zine website has posted several top quality Yes shows as free MP3 downloads including two from ’74 and this particularly hot Close To the Edge one from ’72: MP3: Yes – Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia MD 8/13/72
Aside #2: Meanwhile, just last month Rhino got back into Yes-business in a big way with the 14-CD box set Progeny: Seven Shows from Seventy-Two which, true to its title, picks up with the Close To the Edge tour on October 31 in Toronto and proceeds to chronicle that and the subsequent Ottawa, Durham, Greensboro, Athens, Knoxville and Uniondale concerts from that fall. Now you may be thinking, “Who on earth needs seven back-to-back Yes concerts in their collection?” Yes-heads, that’s who! There’s also a 2CD (or 3-LP) “Highlights” version if you’re not one for total immersion. Rhino has done a bangup job with the release, which originates from some latterday vault-trawling that unearthed reel to reel tapes of the ’72 tour—the same tapes that were originally tapped back in the day for the 1973 triple-LP set Yessongs. For the “Highlights” release the label decided not to duplicate any of the Yessongs material so it’s essentially Yessongs Pt. 2, and from the superb sound quality and true-to-the-show mix to the performances themselves, it does indeed achieve the goal of capturing the band at a point in time when they were “firing on all cylinders.” Gems include a pristine “And You And I” recorded at Durham’s Cameron Indoor Stadium (yes, home to the Duke Blue Devils and Coach K) and a joyous “Roundabout” (a tune that I adored so much that I learned Steve Howe’s classic guitar intro). Less compelling is “Excerpts From The Six Wives of Henry VIII” but one supposes that by this point the band had no choice but to give Rick Wakeman his keyboard showcase, given that he would shortly achieve a modicum of solo stardom with the release of the aforementioned concept album. Whoah, concept albums—remember them? All in all, though, Progeny is a terrific gift for fans of the band—it’s not a bad intro, either, for novices who want to get a sense of how powerful Yes was in concert—and it also makes for a fitting musical epitaph for Chris Squire, who like his fellow bandmates was in top form in 1972.
Though a huge fan, by the late ‘70s I’d all but abandoned my Yes-love, having been fully converted to another cause courtesy Patti Smith, Television, the Ramones, the Pistols, the Clash, etc. You know the drill. Some Yes-songs I’d absorbed in the ‘80s through MTV osmosis (“Owner Of A Lonely Heart” kinda bugs me to this day, and I think Steve Howe still refuses to play it because he’d quit the band at that point), but by and large Yes-think hadn’t a part of my life for a quarter-century. Scanning through the In A Word Rhino box, however, I hear something, and that something is my inner Yes-geek calling me.
So I’ve decided to write about the box, but from a perspective of other Yes-geeks and not some omniscient critical perspective. Why rehash what aficionados and haters have already hashed many times over the years?
It’s been ages since Johnny Rotten scrawled ‘I Hate’ over a Pink Floyd teeshirt logo, clearly drawing a line in the sand. Quaint though it may seem now, the Punks-versus-Dinosaurs credo meant that a lot of Progressive Rock bands from the pre-’77 era took it on the chin from punters and critics alike.
Perhaps most unfashionable of all was Yes. The band didn’t do itself any favors by festooning its gatefold record sleeves with fantastical Roger Dean artwork and apparently commissioning Spinal Tap’s stage and costume designers for their tours. Complex, neoclassical tunes that comprised entire album sides? Please. Gimpy psychobabble songtitles like ‘The Revealing Science Of God’ or ‘Universal Garden? Fuhgeddaboutit – gimme a ‘God Save The Queen,’ a ‘White Riot’ or an ‘Orgasm Addict’! Sci-fi/New Agey album names like Tales From Topographic Oceans and Keys to Ascension? Conceptual bollocks to that, mate! And apocryphal or not, the yarn about Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman having a direct hand in getting the Sex Pistols booted from A&M Records attained deeply symbolic status among those who needed to nurture a loathing for all things Prog.
Still, Yes has had its, dare we say it, kickass moments; yours truly, who saw ‘em many times during their salad days, er, years, can testify to that. And the band, for all its labyrinthine lineup changes over the years (even – gleep! – The Buggles were Yes-men for a spell), was always made up of genuinely gifted musicians. And time, and the occasional boxed set, does heal all wounds. It can happen to me. It can happen to you.”
I decided to poll a couple of prominent Yes-fans – you may have heard of them: the Flaming Lips’ Steven Drozd and Fastbacks/Young Fresh Fellows/producer/savant Kurt Bloch – and here’s part of what they told me. [Ed. note: the full Drozd and Bloch interviews can be found at the end following the main text.]
Drozd: “Being part of the hip, underground world of the early ‘90s, the last thing you could ever admit to listening to was Yes. I had older brothers in the ‘70s and they listened to all the ‘70s stoner rock and stuff like that. And I always loved especially the era – I mean, I like all of it now – of The Yes Album, Fragile, Close to the Edge, that era, to me. It’s really beyond what they call Prog Rock. So I grew up on that stuff, really loved it, and really enjoyed it until late junior high or early high school. I went the route where I sort of discovered, like, the Psychedelic Furs and REM and those kinds of bands – what we called ‘college rock’ back then. Then you go from there and get into indie rock, and I was into Sonic Youth, the Pixies, all that stuff that people my age were into if you thought you were hip or something. And then joining the Flaming Lips was great because they were one of my favorite bands.
“So anyway, I forget where I was, maybe on tour around the summer of ’94, and I was just looking for some new inspiration. I was in this thrift store and saw Fragile on cassette. So I secretly started listening to Yes on my walkman without telling anybody about it. Wayne was the first one to actually embrace it with me, and then it turned out that Michael actually had all these old Yes records that no one knew he had! You’d be really surprised how many. When I was touring with Dave Shouse and Those Bastard Souls, for example, in 1996, the violinist, Joan Wasser, her boyfriend at the time was Jeff Buckley. Maybe six, seven, eight months before he died. So he was traveling around in the van with us, just hanging out and going show to show. I remember at one point we were drinking some Jim Beam and I said, ‘Hey, anybody wanna listen to some Yes?’ You’d get a lot of ‘No!’s and a few ‘Yes!’es. I put in Fragile, and Jeff just freaked out: ‘God man, nobody listens to this stuff anymore – I love this album!’
“Sounds that used to seem really dorky and uncool, a few years ago start to sound cool again, you know what I mean? Like, ten years ago a Rhodes piano with at tremolo and chorus pedal on it, you couldn’t do that – and now you hear it all the time and it sounds great. Another cool thing that happened was when Buffalo 66 came out a few years ago. I guess Vincent Gallo is a total Prog freak. One great part of that movie is him using that ‘Heart of the Sunrise’ riff. That turned a whole different generation of people onto that Yes stuff. I think just as things go in and out of style, the Prog stuff has come back in the last few years.”
Bloch: “About a year and a half ago I played in a Yes tribute band. With THE Alan White of Yes on drums! Alan lives in Redmond, Wash., and while you don’t see him out playing around, he’s around here [the Seattle area]. Joe Skyward, the old Posies bass player, ran into Alan, and Joe is such a huge Yes fan you can’t even talk to him about anything else. He told Alan he was working on this series of benefit concerts for music in schools, that sort of thing, and he told Alan he wanted to do a Yes tribute night. Alan said okay. And it worked out for one night, an hour’s worth of music! We did ‘Yours Is No Disgrace,’ ‘Heart of the Sunrise,’ ‘Starship Trooper,’ ‘South Side of the Sky’. Wow.
“As a teenager I had all the Pink Floyd and Zeppelin records, and then punk rock came out and everyone was, ‘Yeah, fuck that shit man! Who needs that shit! Fucking Yes, man!’ In 1977, Rick Wakeman was pretty much the figurehead of everything that punk rock hated. And he couldn’t stand those people, either, ‘loudmouths who couldn’t play’! But that was 25 years ago, and so many people now, who know anything about that, they don’t know you weren’t supposed to like the Damned and King Crimson at the same time. Now, it’s totally a non-issue. Now, people hear Pink Floyd and the go, ‘Wow, that’s great!’ Then you play the Clash and they go, ‘Wow!’ I mean, people who are 30 now were 5 when that was happening, so they don’t know.
“But honestly, I don’t think there was ever any point I didn’t listen to Yes music. Pretty much the Yes-King Crimson-Genesis triptych – even when none of them were making music I was interested in, there was never any time I didn’t listen to Topographic Oceans, for example, every now and then, or Close to the Edge, The Yes Album – pretty much all the records up to Going For The One. Never too far from a turntable. Even when getting my first bands together and playing punk rock! Even knowing that there’s people out there who’d think I was the biggest idiot if they came over and saw, you know, Fragile on the turntable! I never was that cool anyway. There was that [Johnny Rotten] dividing line – ‘I HATE’! But it was so much the case back then. Even in the early ‘80s, at a Fastbacks show up in Vancouver opening for D.O.A., one of us was wearing an AC/DC shirt and there were punk rockers in the front going, ‘Fuck you! Fuck AC/DC!’ Spitting at us! Now, it’s hard to get people to imagine that in the early ‘80s, even AC/DC was a hated band, because now they are universal. Everybody likes them!
“Yes, they are one of those bands that’s kind of defined by their material – no other band can really play those songs. Their band and their material are kind of synonymous, really. Whereas a lot of bands that have a lot more ‘regular’ songs – with Yes, it’s almost like it IS classical music, but Yes is the only orchestra capable of playing it. They were the quintessential Prog band; they really had something.”
There you have it, kids. No, dammit, it’s Yes! Not only that, it’s the Anderson-Squire-Howe-White-Wakeman lineup! Get rid of those asymmetrical hair styles. Put away your Strokes records. Don’t give the Yeah Yeah Yeahs anymore of your dough. Embrace your inner geek. It’ll only cost you 65 bucks on the current Yes-tour, not counting parking fees and refreshments.
For the April 27, 2004 stop on the band’s 35th Anniversary tour, Yes hit the Greensboro Coliseum stage at precisely 7:45pm to the first of many, many standing ovations from what appeared to be a between one-half to two-thirds full arena. The set was decorated with huge inflatable Roger Dean “sculptures” (Dean, of course, the legendary LP artist who designed so many Yes-sleeves back in the day) that were vaguely surreal, like weird underwater flora and fauna, but which still suggested Dean may have been spending too much time hanging out in the children’s floats department of a beach shop.
Me, I was sixth row center thanks to a friend’s diligence at scoring advance tix. It was great. I felt like a teenager again. Oh sure, I left the chocolate mescaline home this time, and since I had a three-hour drive home afterwards, I opted not to spark the doob I’d brought with me (screws up my night vision too much) and only sucked down a couple of glasses of wine. (Merlot. Watery at that. In a plastic cup. For five bucks. Next time I’ll smuggle in a mini-bottle.) And saying I “felt” like a teenager is slightly misleading. In my mind I definitely flashed back to fond memories of my bygone, carefree years. But it’s hard to feel like a teen when you’re surrounded by several thousand tubby, balding (or, scarily, mulleted) guys all shouting out favorite songtitles and/or songs’ subtitles (Yes-songs have lots of Yes-“passages” that get awarded their own Yes-titles), playing air guitar, air bass or, for those standing in front of Wakeman, air piano, and in general acting like they are trying to feel like teenagers again.
Where were the hot chicks, you ask? Awhile back fellow Yes fan Kurt Bloch had told me that the ratio of gals to guys at Yes concerts is probably something like 1/200, and he’s right; from what I could see, every female at the concert was attached to (and occasionally shrinking away from) one of the dorks mentioned in the preceding paragraph. Maybe they were the dorks’ sisters, I dunno. I know my wife wasn’t interested in seeing Yes. I remember there being lots of hot chicks at Yes-gigs in the ‘70s, but then, that was the ‘70s, when any big touring band, especially one from England, that came to town was a big deal. Go rent Almost Famous if you want further elaboration on similar matters. This is not a band that attracts hot chicks anymore, although bassist Chris Squire still opted for super-tight black stretchy pants that prominently displayed his dressed-to-the-left “package.”
Speaking of Squire, my pal and I noticed he still sports the same semi-shag ‘do he did in the ‘70s; from a distance you could almost mistake him for Martha Stewart. To his left, cordoned off by banks of keyboards, was Rick Wakeman, who appears to have ditched his traditional diet of cheeseburgers ‘n’ ale for healthier fare, as despite having a certain jowly-ness to him, he’s lost a lot of weight. His yellow-blonde hair is long again, too, and he always seems to have an “intense” look in his eyes, which, combined with the jowls and a beaky nose, makes him look like a young Walter Cronkite. Behind the drumkit perched Alan White: mustachio’d, balding, Jimmy Buffet’s younger brother. On the far left was guitarist Steve Howe, whose somewhat gaunt, bony facial structure 30 years ago was a tip-off: now, this bald/grey-haired, bespectacled, impossibly skinny fretboard maestro is that doddery college professor you still speak fondly of, or the old country doctor who delivered your mom and old Bossy’s calf, or a heart patient who’s been given 3 months to live. (Fun thought: if they ever film a Yes docudrama, get Billy Bob Thornton to play the Howe part.) Stage center was of course vocalist Jon Anderson, still a boffin, still fond of quirky little hand gestures (as a kid he must have either wanted to be a cowboy or a symphony conductor), still offering audiences self-conscious – but I have no doubt, totally sincere – little song intros and humble nods of appreciation at the applause. He had a shag like Squire, only shorter and he sports a kind of grayish Van Dyke on his face. I kept thinking of Bono, minus Bono’s blue glasses, crossed with Robin Williams.
Cronkite, Stewart, Bono & Thornton—now THAT is a supergroup I’d pay to see! All kidding aside (I’m not really trying to be sarcastic or mean here – everyone’s gonna get old, grey and bald some day, including me), this was, to paraphrase myself, a kickass concert. 2 ½ hours, two sets plus a 15 minute intermission to allow all the old-timers to go pee and buy watery cups of Merlot.
It kicked off with a furiously rocking “Going For The One,” Howe’s twangabilly guitar intro catching the crowd off guard. The band immediately segued into “Sweet Dreams,” also an unexpected treat, hailing all the way from 1970 and second album Time And A Word. From there Yes moved into an intriguing segment that found the timeless “I’ve Seen All Good People” (from 1970’s The Yes Album and interpolating, of course, the chess-centric “Your Move” passage) connecting with “Mind Drive,” a somewhat obscure group composition from the studio half of the 1997 double-disc Keys to Ascension, Vol. 2, and here it was obvious that one thing helping to keep the music fresh for the band is mixing up the old and the new, time-slipping in and out of Yes-dom without regard to any real or imagined baggage that may have accumulated over the years. (Translation: it wasn’t sterile or pompous, but organic and, at times, downright emotional – like a well-wrought, evenly-tempered classical concert in fact.) Somewhere in the middle of it all Howe and Wakeman engaged in a furious swapping-riffs cutting contest, one mock-glaring across the stage at the other and pretending to try to upstage each other. It was intense, and it was fun, and it brought the house down; I think even Yes was surprised at the standing ovation that erupted before the song had finished. The first set ended with a rousing “Yours Is No Disgrace,” also from TYA, and one of the group’s more full-on rockers that gave Howe plenty of room to kick out the jams, Howe-style, and to allay any fears that he might be so frail as to require roadies to assist him in leaving the stage for the break.
Second set featured a six-song acoustic portion with Wakeman’s baby grand toted out for the occasion and White coming down from his riser to tap dutifully on a tiny kit while Howe, Anderson and Squire all perched on stools and strummed guitars. Perennial workhorse hit “Roundabout” was thoroughly overhauled as a jaunty little jazz ditty, while new tune “Show Me” provided Anderson an opportunity to warble some genuinely moving lyrics (about children and the human condition) without getting too hippy-nonsequitur or new age on the crowd’s ass. Howe performed a country/bluegrass-flavored guitar instrumental while the road crew removed the piano, then the band reverted to electric Yes-guise for the remainder of the show. Soon enough the arena was knee-deep in the half-hour Prog symphony “Ritual (Nous Sommes Du Soleil)” which originally took up the entire Side 4 of 1973’s Tales From Topographic Oceans and now took up an entire cranium – mine. It kinda hurt, because every five seconds there was a new rhythmic avenue down which the band scooted, or an instrumental flourish that zinged forth unexpectedly only to give way to another player’s embellishment. But it was a good hurt, and anyway, when you go to a Yes concert you expect to be pummeled occasionally in order to be properly dazzled.
An encore of the Beatles’ “Every Little Thing” (covered by Yes on Yes – 35 years ago, in fact) and “Soon,” a melodic, gorgeous swoon of a ballad from 1974’s Relayer (originally the coda of “Gates Of Delirium,” it became an unexpected FM hit in ’75 when Atlantic extracted it and released it as a single), served to send everyone home humming contentedly. And that, as Walter Cronkite might’ve said had he attended the show, is the way it was. Yes, sir.
KURT BLOCH TALKS YES (2002)
FRED MILLS: I understand you saw Yes play in Seattle just recently. So what’s the key to Yes’ appeal after all these years?
KURT BLOCH: They’re one of those bands that’s kind of defined by their material – no other band can really play those songs. Their band and their material are kind of synonymous, really. Whereas a lot of bands that have a lot more ‘regular’ songs – with Yes, it’s almost like it IS classical music, but Yes is the only orchestra capable of playing it. They were the quintessential Prog band; they really had something. And you know they must have gone through periods of, ‘Oh, we’re so sick of playing “Starship Trooper.” We’re sick of playing “Yours Is No Disgrace,” “And You And I.”’ And it’s not a case of there not being any spontaneity. Talking to Alan White about the tribute show, the interesting thing that I learned is that there’s times in all those complex pieces that people can play whatever they want. I don’t think Steve Howe plays it the same way every night – and I know that Alan doesn’t play it the same way every night.
I’m definitely a fan of their last record, Magnification, although there is some stuff I could not really recommend [from the late 90s]! And in the late ‘80s, when that album Union came out, both of the groups [the Chris Squire-led Yes and then the Anderson-Bruford-Wakeman-Howe band] couldn’t finish their records, so somebody said, ‘Why don’t you put all of what you have together and do that! [laughing] Kinda makes you sick that at that point nobody even knew what they were doing and couldn’t even finish their own music!
My governing theory, and not just for Yes and Prog-rock, but music in general, of people that started out playing simple instruments and the first wave of electronic keyboards, is that once technology started to increase – and this happened in jazz too, among people who’d been playing acoustic instruments and then moved to electric — and the people started embracing polyphonic keyboards and stuff, it just wrecked everything. Those keyboards don’t sound like music so much. Like, a mellotron is a recording of string instruments or horns or whatever, and it doesn’t really sound like a real string section, it sounds like a keyboard. The first single-note synths sound like keyboards. They don’t try to sound like trumpets.
F: What do you think the audience was at that show you saw?
K: It was mostly older people. A few guys with their sons. Not a lot of women there! Mostly the age group 40 through 55-year old men. Some 30s-ish rocker guys – although there’s a distinction between fans of 90125 and its MTV hits and fans of, say, Duran Duran or Billy Idol. I can’t imagine a bunch of 30 year olds [who grew up on MTV] saying, ‘Yes is in town. We gotta go!’ [laughing]
F: My theory is that for the indie world at least, there’s always been that lingering feeling that Johnny Rotten was right – the I Hate Pink Floyd teeshirt – and that it should always be the punks versus the dinosaurs, so to speak.
K: Certainly I was right there! I had all the Pink Floyd and Zeppelin records, and then punk rock came out and everyone was, ‘Yeah, fuck that shit man! Who needs that shit! Fucking Yes, man!’ In 1977, Rick Wakeman was pretty much the figurehead of everything that punk rock hated. And he couldn’t stand those people, either, ‘loudmouths who couldn’t play’! [laughs]
But that was 25 years ago, and so many people now, who know anything about that, they don’t know you weren’t supposed to like the Damned and King Crimson at the same time. Now, it’s totally a non-issue.
F: Is that it? That time and context have erased that line in the sand?
K: Well, nobody knows! Now, people hear Pink Floyd and the go, ‘Wow, that’s great!’ Then you play the Clash and they go, ‘Wow!’ [laughs] I mean, people who are 30 now were 5 when that was happening, so they don’t know. How old is Steven Drozd now?
K: Listen to the Soft Bulletin and tell me that’s not a parallel to the second Yes album! And Wayne and Jon Anderson are not that separate…. Singing in that high voice, head pointed to the sky!
F: Tell me something about your background, then, that connects you to Yes, musically speaking. Were you in a teenage Prog band before Punk?
K: No – but about a year and a half ago I did play in a Yes tribute band. With THE Alan White on drums! [laughs] Alan lives in Redmond, Wash., and while you don’t see him out playing around, he’s around here. Joe Skyward, the old Posies bass player, ran into Alan, and Joe is such a huge Yes fan you can’t even talk to him about anything else. He told Alan he was working on this series of benefit concerts for music in schools, that sort of thing, and he told Alan he wanted to do a Yes tribute night. Alan said, okay, maybe when the [current] Yes tour is done. And it worked out for one night, an hour’s worth of music. I was on guitar, and a friend of mine, Ken Speakman also played guitar – so we would each only have to learn half of the songs really well! — and a friend of Joe’s was on keyboards. The thing that made is special was Joe’s daughter was the singer – she’s 16, maybe. Just did a great job, and she could sing high. It’s very interesting to think of someone like Joe, who’s listened to Yes since he was a teenager, and then think of that poor daughter to be surrounded by people smoking pot and listening to Yes records from when she was zero years old!
We did ‘Yours Is No Disgrace,’ ‘Heart of the Sunrise,’ ‘Starship Trooper,’ ‘Southside of the Sky’ – which Alan said, ‘Oh, we can’t do that one! Yes couldn’t even play that one live!’ Because it’s super hard to do! They might have played it once in 1975, according to Alan, although they are doing it now. [laughing] Maybe we had a small effect on that, getting him to play it once, and him maybe bringing it up…
Collectively we probably practiced five times without Alan, and then twice with him. And the individual practicing was quite intense – the guitar playing is really hard. Watching Steve play the other night, he was just killing me.
F: I wonder if putting together the Rhino box set prompted the band to think about some of the obscure stuff to play…
K: It was mainly Chris Squire doing the box, but yeah, they must have gotten together to discuss what to do on the tour. And there really was a lack of hit songs in their set! They didn’t do “Starship Trooper,” “Yours Is No Disgrace,” “And You And I,” and some others, but I didn’t miss ‘em because they played all this other obscure stuff.
F: Tell me about your early impressions of Yes, your favorite albums, that sort of thing.
K: It’s hard to pick just one. I remember that “Close to the Edge” is pretty much the perfect record. Just had everything there. “Topographic Oceans” is there, “The Yes Album.” Even “Going For the One,” which was pretty much the last great Yes record. I almost didn’t buy that because “Relayer” had been so good, then they did all the solo records. I think Jon Anderson’s solo album is phenomenal!
Of course, “Going For The One,” which came next, has one of the worst album covers – if it had had a good Roger Dean cover maybe it would be less easy to pass by! — and “Tormato” takes it even a step further. And then [laughs] that’s when punk rock was raging, and I was thinking, “Well, I don’t like this record that much, and I have all this other music to listen to now, so….” [laughs]
F: Were there ever points when you fell off the bandwagon and then later regained your faith, so to speak?
K: Honestly, I don’t think there was ever any point I didn’t listen to Yes music. Pretty much the Yes-King Crimson-Genesis triptych – even when none of them were making music I was interested in, there was never any time I didn’t listen to Topographic Oceans, for example, every now and then, or Close to the Edge, The Yes Album – pretty much all the records up to Going For The One. Never too far from a turntable. Even when getting my first bands together and playing punk rock! Even knowing that there’s people out there who’d think I was the biggest idiot if they came over and saw, you know, Fragile on the turntable! I never was that cool anyway…
F: So you didn’t hide all your records when you had a party: “What a wuss!” That dividing line in the sand: 1977, “I Hate Pink Floyd.”
K: Yes, that dividing line – “I HATE!” [laughing] But it was so much the case back then. Even in the early ‘80s, at a Fastbacks show up in Vancouver opening for D.O.A., one of us was wearing an AC/DC shirt and there were punk rockers in the front going, ‘Fuck you! Fuck AC/DC!’ Spitting at us! Now, it’s hard to get people to imagine that in the early ‘80s, even AC/DC was a hated band, because now they are universal. Everybody likes them!
F: You and I were lucky enough to have magazines that covered a lot of musical bases, and there wasn’t as much stratification in the press. Creem, Trouser Press, older kids at college turning us on to stuff, import record shops…
K: It’s interesting because some of those theories might be coming back around. The Internet, you know, you can be exposed to so much more music — because you’re not going to be exposed to it on the radio – and some groups over the past couple of years have gotten to be really popular because of it. Why is this happening? Maybe people are liking good music again? But just the fact that you can go download music and listen to it and see if you like it, that’s an exciting thing for teenagers to be able to do.
F: I had Creem, they’ve got the Internet.
K: Right! But in 1985, what were your options to listen to music if you were 13? Nothing! Radio was not anything, and you had MTV – that was about it. Through the ‘90s videos were the way people got their music, and now nobody even cares about videos because there are new avenues of finding new music and listening to it.
STEVEN DROZD TALKS YES (2002)
FRED MILLS: I heard through the grapevine that you are the resident Yes geek in the Flaming Lips…
STEVEN DROZD: You came to the right guy, man! [But] being part if the hip, underground world of the early ‘90s, the last thing you could ever admit to listening to was Yes.
F: Exactly. Was it just Johnny Rotten’s “I Hate Pink Floyd” decree that set all this into stone, or…
S: Oh, I’m liking this interview already! But you know, it’s really a lot simpler than that. I had older brothers in the ‘70s and they listened to all the ‘70s stoner rock and stuff like that. And I always loved especially the era – I mean, I like all of it now – of the Yes Album, Fragile, Close to the Edge, that era, to me. It’s really beyond what they call Prog Rock. So I grew up on that stuff, really loved it, and really enjoyed it until late junior high or early high school. I went the route where I sort of discovered, like, the Psychedelic Furs and REM and those kinds of bands – what we called ‘college rock’ back then. Then you go from there and get into indie rock, and I was into Sonic Youth, the Pixies, all that stuff that people my age were into if you thought you were hip or something. And then joining the Flaming Lips was great because they were one of my favorite bands.
I guess I was just looking for some new inspiration, and I forget where I was, maybe on tour in NC, around the summer of ’94, and I was in this thrift store and saw Fragile on cassette, in one of those weird clear plastic cases. So I secretly started listening to Yes on my Walkman without telling anybody about it.
Wayne was the first one to actually embrace it with me, and then it turned out that Michael actually had all these old Yes records that no one knew he had. But I really caught some flak from guys we were on tour with and our roadies who were like these old SST guys, you know? So if it wasn’t based in punk or hardcore or heavy metal it was wussy music! So I played “Heart of the Sunrise” for Wayne – I don’t think he’d ever heard that song, and he loved that. So we all started listening to Yes and other Prog-rock stuff, like Emerson Lake & Palmer, King Crimson, stuff like that.
Interestingly enough, my very first rock concert was Yes in 1984 on the 90125 tour, at the Summit in Texas!
F: They were still vital at that point but a decline was setting in….
S: Then the Drama stuff, Trevor Horn and all that, came in, very commercial. Really, the whole last album I can listen to all the way through is Close to the Edge. I like Relayer and Tales From Topographic Oceans, even bits of Going For the One. But as far as whole records, it stops there. But I listen to 90125 sometimes now, Changes and Cinema, stuff like that every now and again. Because sounds that used to seem really dorky and uncool three years ago start to sound cool again, you know what I mean? Like, ten years ago a Rhodes piano with at tremolo and chorus pedal on it, you couldn’t do that – and now you hear it all the time and it sounds great.
F: Well, bands such as the Lips have certainly embraced that “search for the mystical chord” aesthetic that I think Yes championed…
S: This sounds really dorky, but I actually have a picture of Rick Wakeman on my keyboard that I tour around with! I’ve had it on there since 1996.
Another think I like is Steve Howe’s guitar sound, style and his playing. Especially around Fragile – that guitar part in “Southside of the Sky,” very jazzy kind of stuff. And I even try to do some Steve Howe-esque kinds of licks. Most people don’t hear it wouldn’t make that connection, but people that know me pretty well are like, ‘Yeah, you ripped off the end of “Siberian Khatru”…’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, what the hell!’
For me in my own mind, I’m not sure how to put it really, it just seems like I’ve listened to everything that I can find in the current rock world, so I wanted to go back and dig out stuff – like listening to Fragile again, the weird vocal stuff they have on “We Have Heaven.” We try to throw some of those elements into our own mix and we get a whole new thing out of it, really.
F: Do you encounter other musicians that will cop to liking Yes also?
S: Yeah, you’d be really surprised how many. When I was touring with Dave Shouse and Those Bastard Souls, for example, in 1996, the violinist, Joan Wasser, her boyfriend at the time was Jeff Buckley. Maybe six, seven, eight months before he died. So he was traveling around in the van with us, just hanging out and going show to show. I remember at one point we were drinking some Jim Beam and I said, ‘Hey, anybody wanna listen to some Yes?’ You’d get a lot of ‘No!’s and a few ‘Yes!’es. [laughs] I put in Fragile, and Jeff just freaked out: ‘God man, nobody listens to this stuff anymore – I love this album!’
And I run into people all the time: ‘Hey, you got a picture of Rick Wakeman on your keyboard, is that a joke?’ ‘No man, I got a picture of Rick on one side and Stevie Wonder on the other!’ Or say during soundcheck I’ll be playing that one piano interlude from “Southside of the Sky” and someone will come up to me and say, ‘Hey, that sounds really familiar!’
F: I have yet to discover an indie band that does any Yes covers…
S: I think we talked about covering “Yesterday and Today,” which I think is off the very first record. It’s a beautiful song. When I play that for people they’re really surprised to learn it’s Yes.
Another cool thing that happened was when [the film] Buffalo 66 came out a few years ago. I guess Vincent Gallo is a total Prog freak. One great part of that movie is him using that “Heart of the Sunrise” riff. That turned a whole different generation of people onto that Yes stuff.
I think just as things go in and out of style, the Prog stuff has come back in the last few years. A good friend of mine, Cliff, that travels with us, he’s a good drummer, and I turned him on to Yes back in ’99. He just loves that shit now – and we’re thinking of starting a Yes tribute band called Yeah. [laughs] Do the classic Roger Dean logo but as ‘Yeah.’ He’s 29, I’m 33, so we’re just young fans, comparatively, but we’re certainly enthusiastic about those records.
F: It makes a lot more sense now, with time and context… The indier than thou mentality isn’t as strong.
S: Exactly. Things are like that, and it seems that people aren’t as uptight, even from three or four years ago, as they used to be.