Jon Anderson is, quite literally, the voice of Yes, the band whose albums “The Yes Album,” “Fragile” and “Close to the Edge” are among the most beloved of 1970s progressive rock. Songs from this era co-written by Anderson include “Roundabout,” “Yours Is No Disgrace,” “I’ve Seen All Good People,” “Heart of the Sunrise” and many others. He also sang on Yes’ 1983 runaway hit “Owner of a Lonely Heart.”
Anderson also had a long-running collaboration with Vangelis of “Chariots of Fire” fame. Anderson’s first solo album was 1976’s “Olias of Sunhillow,” and his new solo album called “1000 Hands” came out in March of this year.
He talked to Noozhawk about the upcoming show and why he now calls Central California home.
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Jeff Moehlis: I’ve been enjoying your new album “1000 Hands,” which I understand has an interesting history. Could you tell us how that album came together?
Jon Anderson: Basically, I started the album in 1990, Christmastime, at Big Bear, which is southeast of L.A., up in the mountains at a ski resort. I just invited some friends up to finish some songs I’d been writing with a friend of mine, Brian Chatton. I had a great time. It was a wonderful experience writing songs and being away from the world up there in the mountains. I just knew that the music was pretty good.
By the time the new year came in, 1991, I had obligations to go on tour with a friend of mine, Kitaro, the Japanese composer, and then I went on to perform live with Yes, and I just left the tapes in my garage for 26 years [laughs]. Crazy as it sounds, that’s what happened.
Then this producer got in touch with me, Michael Franklin, who lives in Orlando, and he said, “Look, that album that you were going to make, what happened to it?” I said, “Well, the tapes are in the garage,” and he said, “Send them to me. Let’s see what they sound like.” And it sounded very, very cool, very happening.
And he was able to ask different people to play on the album — Chick Corea, the great jazz musician, and the great drummer Billy Cobham, Ian Anderson plays on the album. He even got Steve Howe to play on the last song, and it already had Chris Squire and Alan White on three songs from 1991. The album sort of blossomed when he put all these wonderful musicians on it. Thankfully, my voice sounded exactly the same as it did 30 years ago [laughs]. That’s what happens when you live a happy life.
JM: My favorite song on the album is “Ramalama.” Can you tell us a bit about that song?
JA: That actually came from a series of pieces of music that I do every morning, like a vocal exercise sort of idea. I’ve got a dozen of these songs from over the last couple of years. I just like the idea of waking up, I have breakfast and then I go into my studio and I start doing chanting and vocalizing. It’s sort of based on the pygmies in West Africa — when they go out foraging in the morning and throughout the day, they sing at the same time. I saw this beautiful movie about them, and I just adopted that idea.
Musicians are like bees — we go from pollen to pollen, from flower to flower to learn. So these vocalization things came along, and one of them was “Ramalama.” Michael Franklin did a very good production of it. Another one that’s on the album is “Where Does Music Come From” [WDMCF], and again Michael Franklin on a plane to China put all the music together [laughs]. Modern equipment and modern technology.
JM: Looking at the setlist for your current tour, I see that you’re doing a lot of Yes songs. Is it still fun for you to revisit those songs?
JA: Oh yeah. There’s no question in my mind. I have an eight-piece band, and we can sound like a full orchestra, or we can sound like a big band, or we can sound like an R&B band, a rock band, any kind of band. When we were doing “Yours Is No Disgrace,” which is a classic Yes piece, we get the brass section in the middle helping the guitar solo — it just blew my mind. I was able to orchestrate the whole evening, so I have more sounds available to me.
One of the classic songs we’re doing is “Wonderous Stories.” It sounds like a totally different piece of music, but it works so beautifully, just making it more surreal if you like. Then we do a classic version of “Starship Trooper,” leading into a piece of music from my solo album “Olias of Sunhillow” called “Solid Space.” Everybody started dancing and waving and cheering — it was fantastic.
With an eight-piece band that can play and sound like a full orchestra and a big band, you can actually mold them into making Yes songs sound a little bit like 21st century music. I know it sounds crazy, but I’ve always wanted to expand certain songs into bigger sounding projects. And even the opposite, to make songs very acoustic and folk style. So I’m very happy about the band I’m working with. They’re really wonderful people, and they’re from all over the world, actually. It’s pretty amazing.
JM: I know that you live on the Central Coast. What inspired you to make the move here?
JA: Very simple — my beautiful wife, Janee, who I met some 27 years ago in Los Angeles. I fell in love with her when I first met her, and she’s the most wonderful thing that’s happened in my life. And she just happened to have a sister who lived in San Luis Obispo with her husband, who is a professor at Cal Poly. So we would go out to San Luis Obispo every month, or maybe once every couple of months, just to see them and spend a weekend with them. And I fell in love with San Luis Obispo and the energy there. It’s a college town, and it’s got a very youthful energy about it. And I saw this police car pushing an old VW bus. He was pushing it to try to get it going, and I thought, “A police car pushing his car trying to get it going — I could live here.”
I could go on and on, but I won’t. But people who might be reading this, please come to the show in Ojai, because it’s going to be tremendous, and it’s just going to be a wonderful night out. So come out and see the show.
— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his website, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.