No coasting after supergroup success
By Moira E. McLaughlin
Friday, March 9, 2012
Jon Anderson was the high-pitched voice behind Yes, the progressive 1970s rock band known for long, complex songs that twisted and turned in and out of keys and melodic ideas. With the release of "Open," a symphonic rock opus in four movements, Anderson hasn't strayed far from those musical roots.
Bandmates "called me Napoleon because I was the driving force to get [the band] to do long pieces of music and large-scale ideas," says Anderson, 67 (who also happens to be well under 6 feet tall).
"Open," released in October as a digital download, is a theatrical, new age-y work with thick, sweeping arrangements that swell and contract and swell again. It's reminiscent of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, with which Anderson has performed. The lyrics meander poetically, and Anderson's impressive tenor is strong, if a little gravely, as he sings, "Forever taken to the place of understanding / in reaching forward standing higher than the stars / within without the framework of that simple meeting."
"It's like a musical journey," he says.
"Open" surely lacks some of the quintessential Yes sounds - Chris Squire's funky bass line, Rick Wakeman's Hammond organ and Steve Howe's sometimes dirty, sometimes pretty guitar tones - but Anderson's music has always been about long, creative works with a decidedly spiritual bent.
"A lot of writers are good at singing songs about love and loved ones and love lost, and they use that as part of their path. I just use my understanding of the search for a deeper spiritual life," he says.
When Anderson and Squire founded Yes in 1968, Anderson thought the band would survive for two or three years. Instead, Yes released almost two dozen albums and became known for such songs as "Roundabout," a nearly nine-minute masterpiece of musicianship and ideas, and "I've Seen All Good People," a sweet ballad with tight harmonies that turns into a musical romp halfway through.
In 2008, however, Anderson had serious health issues, and the band replaced him with Benoit David. "You find out who your friends are when you're sick," Anderson says. "I'm sad and a bit frustrated, but you gotta live. You gotta move on."
Anderson is no stranger to solo work and since leaving the band has worked on a variety of projects, including an album with Wakeman. But he has always remained true to his musical roots and true to himself.
"Music isn't just for money. Music isn't just to be a pop star. Music is the incredible vehicle to change your life," he says.
Anderson is now on a solo tour, performing acoustic sets that include his own work and music from his years with Yes. He hopes to release his 15th solo album later this year and hasn't written off a possible Yes reunion, especially, he says, if they make it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
"Life is an adventure," Anderson says. "I'm still going through this amazing adventure in music and . . . it's exhilarating."