Founded in 1968 by Jon Anderson and Chris Squire, Grammy-award winning recording artists Yes have created some of the most important and influential music in rock history. Throughout their career, Yes has been known for their esoteric lyrics, elaborate album art, live stage sets and expansive songs, such as “Roundabout,” “Close to the Edge,” “I’ve Seen All Good People” and “Owner of a Lonely Heart” – to name a few. Having sold millions of records over a four-decade career, the band has overcome a generational shift in its audience, and the departure of its most visible members at key points in its history to reach the end of the century as the definitive progressive rock band. They are currently on a world tour, playing three albums of their classic albums The Yes Album, Close To The Edge and Going For The One in their entirety.
Recently, members of Yes – singer Jon Davison, bassist Chris Squire, guitarist Steve Howe, drummer Alan White and keyboardist Geoff Downes – were interviewed by education director Jason Hanley before a live audience at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. Following the interview, the group surprised the crowd with a short set.
In this exclusive interview with Chris Squire and Alan White of Yes, the guys talk about the future of progressive rock, performing live in China, being fans of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Foo Fighters and whose idea it was to play three albums as part of the group's current tour set.
Rock Hall: What bands do you think have been influenced by Yes, and what's the future of prog rock sound like?
Chris Squire: There's lots of bands that have come up through the years after Yes, you know like, Marillion, and then Fish, their singer, broke away and did his thing, so there's always been a lot of people trying to keep the movement going. Now there seems to be a resurgence in interest from the general public in the prog rock way of doing things.
Alan White: These bands explored like we did … and it's great for music to have that around, I mean, nobody wants to play three chords forever, it's boring.
CS: Yeah, they're not even young anymore, or new, but I've always been a big [Red Hot] Chili Peppers fan. And I like the Foo Fighters a lot – apart from them being friends of mine as well. They're definitely a fantastic live act to see, so much energy and possibly even bigger in Europe than they are in the U.S., and that's great. I'm also a big fan of Gwen Stefani.
AW: I agree, I think the Foo Fighters are a prime example of a great band thats really modern, they're really exciting on stage and the [Red Hot] Chili Peppers also. I actually know their drummer well – and the other guys well – he's so good, Chad [Smith]. So, they're a prime example of an exciting show, and the kind of very modern hard hitting kind of music. [pictured above (l-r): Yes guitarist Steve Howe with singer Jon Davison performing live at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio.]
RH: Yes has toured and performed all over the world. Is there anywhere you still want to play but haven't?
CS: Yes, China. We haven't been to China, and I know there's a lot more opportunity to do that nowadays. And, of course, the more and more they become part of the commercial world there –even though they make all our products pretty much now [laughs] – the more they become part of the western sort of music, liking that kind of thing. I'm sure it would be an exciting place to go play.
AW: I agree with him about China, because I did a show there with another band. It's an incredible place, but I would also like to go to India. I know when you go there you have to scale things down to do shows, but it's a place that's sort of interested me in performing.
CS: And we've never been to Israel. I'd like to play in Israel.
RH: Who's idea was it to play three albums in their entirety in one night?
CS: Well, Steve Howe says it's his idea, but I don't specifically remember that. But I know the idea has been kicking around. Since the Nineties, people have been doing [similar] things. I noticed that Steely Dan went on tour playing two albums.
AW: But, you know, I think it's been in the back of our minds for a while because some bands go out there and play one album. Of course Yes being over the top like we always are, we're playing three albums, which is actually really satisfying, you know, playing different years of the band like that.
CS: Well, usually when we go out it's because we made a new studio album, and that becomes the focus of the tour throughout the world for a year or so. On our studio album Fly From Here in 2011, we spent a year and a half promoting that around the world. Then when we were asked if we wanted to do some shows in 2013, we realized we weren't gonna have a new album ready, so that's when the idea of "Oh, we could do this now," because we don't have a new album to promote. It was very timely really, its been a good education for all of us.