Steve Howe from Yes talks to eGigs

on Tuesday 18 October 2011

eGigs spoke to Steve Howe from Yes the prog rock band who take to road in the UK next month in support of new album 'Fly From Here' with 8 live tour dates.

The latest studio album is the band's first in ten years with Trevor Horn back on the producer's seat. The tour will see guitarist Howe and firends perform tracks from 'Fly From Here' as well as timeless hits from albums 'Drama', 'Fragile', 'Close To The Edge' and '90125'. The band formed in 1968 with Howe joining the classic rockers two years later.

The first Yes album in 10 years, how easy was putting the album together?
I wouldn't use the word easy, nothing is easy. It wasn't easy, it changed direction a few times. Hence Oliver (Wakeman - keyboards) not completing it, and yet starting it. A bit reminiscent of 'Going for the One' (1977) actually there, where we started it with Patrick (Moraz) and finished it with Rick (Wakeman).

Be that as it may, those changes, the involvement of Trevor (Rabin) who originally had a partial involvement, and ended up being totally involved. But these things changed, were grown men we should be able to deal with it, and we did. There were a few bits of rough riding, but a lot of it was creative and constructive, and to put an album out, when we haven't done one for 10 or 20 years that hasn't got the quality that this album has, not only in the production, but in the determination to get the songs to sit and have a storyline. It's a pretty good album, and I'm happy with it.

How long did it take to create?
Not a lot longer than three months. Primarily three months with the whole band throwing their weight in and then periods after that when it was just a keyboard session for a week, or mixing for a week which we got a little bit involved in as the end of March came along. It was intense, and mostly done in Los Angeles, although it was mixed in London.

With all your other projects, how demanding was it to fit back into Yes?
Yes struggled a bit in '08 when we had a massive tour planned and Jon (Anderson) was cancelling everything, and we were really concerned about his health. After that we had given up waiting for Jon, because we'd just waited three years, and then he went through that hitch (he was diagnosed with acute respiratory failure and advised not to work for six months), that was going to make it four years of no Yes.

So, we said, "No we've got to move on" we got singer Benoit (David) and since then we've had an uphill climb, getting the band re-established with Benoit, and Oliver intially and now Geoff (Downes). It's like the usual Yes story, it's not that different, it's a case of "Yes, did that again." These are the things that a part and parcel of our lives, and we don't know why. But, it's more of an orchestra than a main members band, people come and go, sometimes at their own whim, but sometimes because their hand gets forced, or the band has an idea that isn't particularly one person's idea, but there's a feeling in the group that the group needs to move on.

You've played, 'Fly From Here' live already this year overseas, how did fans respond to it?
We were just playing 'Part One' of 'Fly From Here', because our tour only allowed and hour and half or so set, which is quite short for us. We crammed all our career pieces in, and at that time we were only up to speed with playing 'Part One', near the end of the tour we added 'Into The Storm'.

In Europe we'll be playing a much bigger selection. We'll be playing the whole of the Suite of 'Fly From Here' including the 'Overture', and also other songs from the album. We will be featuring the album much more than we have done up until now.

Will that be the whole suite back to back?
Yeah, well I'm saying yes, but I might get there and I get opposition, but most of the people I've spoken to in the band want to do that. There is always the potential that one person in the band will oppose the idea, and then we've got to reason with that. But I would hope so, yes. Somewhere in the set we'll kick into 'Overture' then we'll play the rest of the suite.

The album is very much presented in the traditional old LP style, of two halves, was that intentional?
A lot of things happen and you don't really realise. In a way you work with someone like Trevor (Horn) then things are not discussed as much as you might think. They're just put into effect. We didn't always say that we weren't going to make a sixty minute album, but it came about like that. A lot of my albums are sixty minutes, but he was happy to make it around fifty, and that way it started the album thinking. As you say with the 'Fly From Here' suite you could almost see that as side one. Then you get a shoter selection of songs, that aren't scremaing for attention but they're all quality songs. That does give it more of an album feel, than the whole sixty minute CD, nine yards digital.

Who will be in the line-up for the Fly From Here tour?
(laughs) That's a great question. The line-up for the tour is the line-up on the record. I mean we rarely change that, we could have done, but that's the way we see it. Geoff's committed, and we enjoyed playing some 'Drama' tracks with Geoff and 'Fly From Here'. The album's are quite related, Trevor and Geoff were both involved with both albums. There's also a symmetry about them which we like. Geoff Downes will be on keyboards, Alan White on drums,Benoit David on vocals, Chris Squire on bass, and yours truly on guitar.

Is there any chance of your solo or Asia material slipping into the career showcase?
Geoff has only recently rejoined Yes, and certainly had not the wisdom yet of actually doing, like Asia did when we first reformed, doing kind of career music from different bands. It does fit in quite well, but they don't want to do that yet because we're playing our material. But certainly I'll be playing 'Solitaire' from 'Fly From Here' and maybe another solo. It drives me near the edge if I don't play one.

The only tour I've done in the last five years without doing a solo guitar spot was this last one with Styx, and that was only because we were up against the wall with time. Even Benoit was saying, "please do your solo Steve", and there's also the fact it gives people a rest. I need to play solo work in Asia or Yes, because fundamentally it keeps that part of me alive.

It is part of the reason why I'm still in the band, because I've got another career in mind, maybe eventually, or similtaneously, a parrallel career to do solo work, and the fact that Yes and Asia have kept me busy for three years and that's meant I haven't done any except the Trio tour we did a couple of years back. Basically, I don't play ball with that, that's got to stop, and I do want to play solo. I'm a solo guitarist, and that means that I do want to go out and do it. I am writing new material, I am going to follow up 'Motif, Volume 1' with, surprisingly, wait for it, 'Motif, Volume 2'. I've got new material, I'm going to record it in the studio, as opposed to how I've done it before. I enjoy that side of my life, probably more than Yes or Asia, I don't want to make that seem unappreciative, but the older I've got the more I've dug in to that solo side. That's why 'Motif, Volume 1' was a very important release for me, because it pulled together that side of my life that had been spread over Yes, Asia, solo records, Trio records, and I wanted to pull it together.

Will Yes have any support acts on tour with them?
We don't have support acts, it will just be an evening of Yes. We have toured with people before like Peter Frampton, Styx, Kansas, Alan Parsons, I could go on, but they're all in the summer in America. Any other time we don't usually tour with an opening act. It cramps our time, and also cramps our stage. There's never any telling how long we'll be on stage, but it will be over two hours. I think when we do over two hours we need to have an interval, I don't get a lot of agreement about that. But, I think it makes a beautiful evening where we stop somewhere and take a break. There's certain people in Yes who don't want to do that. They're sweaty, and want to carry on being sweaty, and it's not all that easy to do it in the winter in cold venues, where you come off stage and sit in a cold dressing room. Creatively and enegy wise doing a big live set, like Yes have always done, can be aided by an interval.

Do you still pay for a seat on flights for your guitar (1964 Gibson ES175)?
Actually, that's a very sensitive area, because I've had huge rows. I don't know whether to mention Virgin Airlines, but they really used to be so nice and friendly, and then suddenly I was met by people saying, "You can't take that guitar on board. You can't do that!" Then one time they actually took it away and put it in the hold. I was furious, I freaked out at a gate at Heathrow, and I was appalled. They've since apologised and said it will never happen again, but basically there are laws and rules about taking guitars on board.

In the old days the only way you could get it on a plane was to buy a seat. I did some crazy things, they say I booked a seat for it on Concorde, but I dispute that. But, I did buy seats on many, many planes so that I could keep that guitar with me. Generally, it doesn't leave my side, but now the danger is that I'll only be playing my best guitar in the UK. (Chuckles) Which is nice for the UK, but I don't know if I can put up with the aggravation and crap that I've had to put with taking a beautiful sounding, beautiful looking instrument that I've had for 37 years or something, and some guy comes along and says, "Ay, you can't do that mate!" I'm so sick of that treatment, and I've had a piece of paper from the Musicians Union which clearly states that any musician are allowed to take the tools of the trade with them on a plane.

Now, America has suddenly got very iffy about what you could do with a guitar string. You could take a guitar string off the guitar while you're on the plane and hurt somebody with it, which you can't do because it's in a case and no idiot is going to let you take it out. Yes, I've also got a foot and I could kick you in the head. No, I'm a trained, calm, nice to be with musician. Basically, I'm so sick of that side of it, and it might mean that now I don't even take my guitar out of the country. It is a very special guitar, one of the best in the world, and I love it. I have others and they're almost as good, sorry for the long answer.

You played Glastonbury Festival back in 2003 what do you remember of the show?
I liked it, there are some great shows around the world, and that is one of them. It's slightly muddy, and it takes you out of your comfort zone, which is sometimes quite good for musicians. It's all very well demanding your comfort zone with a load of fruit in the dressing room, or brandy or something that you want to consume, but all that's nonsense. The real thing is you should go as if your life depends upon it, which it kind of does, and you should go there and play. Glastonbury does that to you, and it's great. I also played the Reading Festival a couple of years ago, and that was equally compelling. There's something that's very compelling about a place where you have to go through a little bit of agony to go there, and I don't mind, I quite like the kind of impetus. You meet other bands, when Yes goes on tour we hardly meet anybody. You go and play at Glastonbury, at Reading, and these places like High Voltage and you meet people, you're in love with people and it's quite nice you know.

Any plans for either you, Asia, or Yes to appear at festivals next year?
Things like that are not really in my pocket. I don't really decide, I could say to lots of people I want to do this or that, but I get a bit tired of doing that usually. I want to do what's right, and there's a time when you go back to places and you play them again. Like the time you go back to play the Albert Hall, that's a fantastic gig, and we don't play that all the time, and that makes it better when you do. There's something unpredictable about it, people ask, "Why are you playing here?" and it's because our agent found us a show. It's not like I called up the venue and asked if I could play there. There are a few gigs that we have personal contact with, but most of the gigs are organised by someone who works out the route of the tour.

But, yes I do love those shows, especially if you're lucky with the weather, or even sometimes when the weather is threatening we did some shows in the States. I do personally hate playing in the rain, it brings out the worst side of me because I don't like to get hit by lightning when I'm connected to my amp. I once saw a guitarist get electrocuted in Scotland and it was terrifying. He touched a microphone and was thrown ten feet across the floor. I saw it and I went, "Oh, that can happen." There are certain dangers to playing in the open air, in America you're lucky because you play in amphitheatres where they have a roof across 5,000 seats with the back open where the field is, and if it rains you're not going to get hit and you're not going to get wet. There is something about the unpredictable show, it can help you rise to the occasion.

Yes will play the following dates next month:

Tue 08 November Corn Exchange, Cambridge
Wed 09 November City Hall, Sheffield
Fri 11 November Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Sat 12 November SECC (The Armadillo & Clyde Auditorium), Glasgow
Sun 13 November Manchester O2 Apollo, Manchester
Tue 15 November Corn Exchange & Brighton Dome, Brighton
Wed 16 November Colston Hall, Bristol
Thu 17 November HMV Apollo Hammersmith, London

To buy tickets for these shows, where available, click here.

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article by: Scott Williams

published: 18/10/2011 09:11


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