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Progressive Rock Interviews

Yes

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview With Yes' Billy Sherwood from 1999


MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: The Early Years Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

How has the current tour been going?
It's been going really, really well. We're playing a lot of the new music from the new album. The fans are digging it a lot, hearing new music after all these years. The Open Your Eyes tour was sort of a 30 years best of tour. It's always more intriguing to hear new music being played.
MSJ: What do you see your role as on Yes albums, and does that differ from your role in the band live?
It's pretty much the same. I play guitar. Steve's obviously there as well. You know, working togethet now closer than we have in the past, if you will, because the new album was created very much live in the studio. So, while he was doing something, I was doing the other side of the coin, and vice versa. Now that that's kind of been established after these years, we're just moving forward, working together. I see my role as part of the team, really. I'm not looking to make every three-pointer out there, but I'll take a few if they come my way. All the Yes albums that I listened to, and I was a big fan of the band always, always had multiple layers going on. Then, when I would go see them live, although it was always fantastic, I would miss certain elements that were on the album. So, when I got a chance to tour with the band on the Talk tour in '94, I said to Trevor at that point, "Do you mind if I cover this, that or the other?" He said, "No, we never had the chance to do that, so please." Working with the other lineup with Steve, it's kind of the same scenario, where Steve did a lot of multilayering stuff in the early stuff, as well. So, I get an opportunity to cover that stuff. Then, on the new album, we just sort of approached it a bit more like we would do live. I think it's kind of a fuller sound.
MSJ: What would you say is your favorite Yes song to play live?
That's a tough one. It just depends on the mood of the evening, but often times, I really space out and just enjoy playing "Awaken", cause it was always one of my faves growing up. To be able to be a part of it, actually playing it, is very, very cool.
MSJ: Turn of the Century" seemed an obvious inclusion for this tour, yet you didn't do it. Was it considered?
We talked about it, and it was like there's so much of the new album we really want to play. We started with, "We've got to play this from the new album. OK, we need the long piece, so we're gonna do 'Awaken'. 'Perpetual Change' would be cool. 'We've got to have some '80's stuff in there", where "Hearts" and "Owner..." came in, and "Cinema". We found ourselves running out of time, basically, and it was kind of like, let's do this. It was just a bit too obvious to do "Turn of the Century" at the turn of the century. I think that was just something that fell by the wayside.
MSJ: At times your stage presence almost makes you seem to be a bit awestruck playing with some of your musical heroes. Is that an accurate reading of it?
I've worked with a lot of great musicians because I've produced a lot of other albums, as well. I love working with great musicians, and I'm always intrigued and awed by watching people play who play really well. If that translates in terms of standing there at some points watching Alan play a killer drum fill, yeah, definitely. These are some of my favorite musicians around. There's moments where I'm watching it as a fan, almost. Then there's moments where I'm more involved with it as a performer. So, I've kind of got both feelings going on there.
MSJ: You look like you are really enjoying yourself up there.
It's a great time. They're great people. I've become friends with them over the ten years that I've been involved on the outlying stuff, and now being much more in the band. It's just a great bunch of musicians, a great bunch of guys. Everyone wants to be at the top of their game, which is really good. As a musician, you want to try to be your best. So, to be surrounded by people who are also trying to achieve the best that they can do just kind of brings your level of playing up.
MSJ: At the Milwaukee show Jon said something about The Ladder being a great way to finish up. He was referring to finishing up the millenium, not the band's career, right?
This band has had an incredibly rich history, highs and lows, turbulence and calm. I think that within the unit now, as long as I've been involved in it, as a member of the band, anyway, it's a very cohesive, functioning, high-morale unit right now. I see it going on, and I think Jon does, too. I think what he was basically saying was that it's a nice way to enter the new millenium. There's an energy going on, and everyone's trying to play at the top of their game. Also, the important factor behind the scenes is when we're done gigging, we all hang out and we're friends. In the past, I know Yes history has been kind of topsy turvy, and I don't know if everyone was the best of friends, although they were tight. I think that this particular lineup has a really good time hanging out together, laughing and eating together, being on the planes, trains and automobiles together, going through some major adventures in South America and all over the world. It brings you tighter together, and the morale is high.
MSJ: What are the future plans for Yes?
I know we're set to tour here until 2000 something. Beyond that, I think that we're going to make another album. I'm not sure when. I'm not sure how or where. I think we're definitely going to make another album, which will probably spark a whole new tour. Along the way, if Yes has a hit that brings it back on the radar as strong as it has been in the past, here and there, that would be a good thing. If it doesn't, we're not really concerned with that and just want to keep making good music that we enjoy, and, hopefully, the fans enjoy, and keep it going.
MSJ: Are there plans to release anything from the new album as a single?
I don't know. They've released radio singles, if you will, but nothing in terms of singles that you can buy in the stores.
MSJ: How have efforts been going to get the band "on the radar" now?
It's a tough cookie to crack, because you're in a world of Britney Spears and Puff Daddy and along comes Yes, which a lot of people tend to put into a category that they might define as something older rather than something newer. When the reality is if you give things a chance, they can become just as new as anything else. I'm a firm believer that anything is possible, adn I joined this band with the utmost optimism, and trying to grab onto something that is musically intriguing, but also, maybe, commercially viable, without really sitting down to write those kind of hit songs. We did what we did, and I think that somewhere in there is some really good radio tracks. Whether radio bites it or not is anyone's guess.
MSJ: When you did "Hearts" live, you pulled it off with a dramatic flair and a metallic edge at times. Is that harder edged prog something that we might see more of from the band in the future?
Well, I'm a bit younger than the other guys. I'm no spring chicken, but I'm a bit younger, and I come from the more rock and roll, gutsy roots. So, when I play that song, I try to put a bit of guts into it. I think that there's elements on the new album that were headed in that direction, but then got tapered off. They took a left turn into progville. I don't know if we're ever consciously going to try to do anything metal or heavy, but Yes gets heavy, that's OK with me. If you can find a healthy blend, and keep it sounding Yes, you can pretty much do anything in this band. One of the things musically that I always enjoyed about the band is that it always took strange turns in its career. One minute it was an album with four songs on it, Tales from Topographic Oceans, then you had Fragile with shorter kinds of songs, to Big Generator which was more kind of metalesque. So, any time the music can shift, but still keep the Yes integrity about it, I think it is a good thing.
MSJ: On Open Your Eyes, Igor is listed as a side musician. He is officially a member of the band now, isn't he?
What happened was Open Your Eyes, Rick Wakeman left before we started working on that album. I had produced the Keys to Ascension stuff with the guys. After that record, Rick split and Steve went back to England. Jon went to Hawaii. Yes wasn't really sure what was going on with itself. Having finished Keys to Ascension in my studio, I was pretty much inspired working with Yes. I kind of grabbed the ball and said to Chris, "Why don't you and I start writing some songs and we'll see what happens. Who knows where they'll go, but let's just start writing some songs." In the process, we sent Jon "Universal Garden" and "Wonderlove" and "New State of Mind". He really liked it and said, "I'd love to sing on this stuff". I said, "We're just messing around", but we sent him a slave. He sang his stuff in Hawaii, and I got it back and it was sounding a bit Yeslike.. I played the stuff for Alan in Seattle. Alan really dug it. He came down and replaced all the drum tracks. Then all of a sudden it had that flavor even more. At which point I said, "Let's send Steve some stuff and see if he's interested." He got on the ball and came down to my studio and worked on some stuff. In the process of kind of playing a lot of guitar on that record, there was no keyboard player around. So, I was filling and doing as best job as I thought I could do just kind of coloring up the tracks with keyboards. We had finished the album pretty much, and I was in the mixing stages, when the talk of touring came about, and putting together this new Yes. I said, "I'm not going to play keyboards live. I really want to play guitar." So, Jon pulled out a tape of a keyboard player, Igor Khoroshev, this young guy who sent him a tape years ago. We found it really, really impressive, so we invited him over to our studio. He came in, and set up his keyboards. It was very funny, cause he set up his keyboards and played live, in the room, as we kind of let Tales From Topographic Oceans roll. He jammed along with it, note for note. It was like, if you can play that, you can play anything. As I was mixing in the final stages, we had him do a couple of overdubs. He did a hammond solo on "Fortune Seller" that came out great, and he played on a couple of tracks, but by then the album as pretty much done. I had already mixed 7 songs, and we already had a release date scheduled, and we had a tour coming up. We couldn't really dive back in to the keyboard world and open up every track for him to play on. After that process, then touring that album, we became friends, and he became musically cohesive with the band. We knew, let's just go write an album with the six of us and see what happens, and we came up with The Ladder. That's kind of how he got involved with it. Although he was an additional keyboard player on Open Your Eyes, that was where he came in to the picture. Steve Porcaro was also an additional keyboard player on that record, as well. So, there was multiple colors gonig on, but Igor has definitely proved himself to be an amazing musician, songwriter and singer - very much an asset to the band. I hope he stays around. He's a big fan of the whole history of Yes. So, he's not jaded about whether he was in it then or not in it then. He's just very much into representing the picture as best as he can, which is very good.
MSJ: Sales of The Ladder on the web seem to be much better than in the stores. What do you see as the reason for that?
I think that the Yes fans that have grown up with the band have also grown up in the age of computers and also the internet, and we have a great group of guys working on our website and keeping people informed of what's happening. One of the things that we started talking about was let's do a little pre-release, if you will, online and see what happens. It really had a pretty good response. That is a testament to the fact that the fans are very internet savvy and computer savvy. I don't know if other bands are into the internet and getting things going, but I'm just grateful that our fans are pretty computer savvy, and have a grasp on what's going on on the internet, know how to find their way around. That directly reflects on the sales because now days you can just sit in your living room and sift through every album that was ever made, order it, and it will be there two days later. I think the marketplace is moving towards that more and more. Record stores, I don't think they're gonna go away, but I think there's definitely something happening. You can find things on the internet that you can't find in stores. A perfect example is my father was a big band musician in the `30`s, `40`s and `50`s - made a bunch of albums that were really cool. When I was a kid, they were vinyl, but they were so scratchy I couldn't get past listening to the (makes a scratching record sound -- editor), but now that the internet is available and CD's, I go online and look for Bobby Sherwood. I show up that there are all these CD's available that aren't in the stores, but are available online. So, I've been catching up with my Dad's history there. That's a perfect example of being able to be accessible to more music and more things online, because it's just a huge database of information.
MSJ: Since you were a Yes fan a long time before becoming a member of the band, from that perspective, what is your favorite Yes album?
I can remember going through phases when I was growing up where Relayer was all I listened to forever. Then, as I got older, and they kept going on and going on, Big Generator came out, and that lived in my car for a year. So, it's hard to pin down what was my favorite because I love it all. It would be very difficult to pin it down to just one record.
MSJ: What would you see as your musical influences?
I listen to all kinds of stuff from Weather Report to Weezer. I could listen to Jobim one day and Silverchair the next. I try to keep my musical library as optimistically open-minded as possible, and take in as much music as I can because there's something to be learned from every corner of the music. Influences come from all over the place and, hopefully, get mixed into something that's original. In terms of guitar player inspiration, it's really hard to even get into it. The obvious, Gilmour, Jeff Beck to the more eclectic McLaughlin, Jobim even. His guitar style to me was so unique and outstanding even though he didn't do blazing solos. His approach to guitar was really something that I enjoyed. Quite frankly, my dad was an amazing guitar player. He was a big inspiration to me, as well. The list is a mile long. I've had teh opportunity to work with a lot of great guitar players on a lot of these tribute records that I did, Albert Lee, Steve Lukather, Paul Gilbert, Stanley Jordan, all different kinds of players from all over the place. Every time I've ever had the opportunity to work with people like that, I've always just sort of put the microscope on while they're playing. See if I can strategically pick up on something that I might be able to use later. It all goes into the big pile of inspiration for me.
MSJ: Do you ever see yourself doing anything under the World Trade name again?
Well, we had the first record. Then, ages later, we put out a second record, Euphoria. Then, I was working on a third album for World Trade, and it actually became my first solo album, which is called The Big Peace, and that's out and available now - probably easier to find online than in stores. So, my intention was for that to become World Trade 3 in the beginning. As I was writing the record, and starting to work on it, I'd call Bruce or I'd call Guy and they'd be kind of busy in their own worlds. Guy is now playing keyboards with The Doobie Brothers, and Bruce has been doing albums and producing people. We've remained really good friends, but in terms of sheer time and being able to get together, it's never really happened. So, I found myself at my studio writing music, just me and Jay Schellen, the drummer from the second World Trade album, and as we started finishing it, Jay and I were talking about it, and it just was becoming a bit more obvious that this was really a solo project rather than another World Trade album. So, let's save the World Trade album for when we all get together instead of calling it World Trade, you know. I'm very happy with the way the solo album came out. It's really artsy and eclectic and very mus-o kind of oriented stuff, and the Yes fans who've got it have been coming up to me and really, really raving on it. If you like World Trade, you'll definitely dig the solo album.
MSJ: How are you going to be celebrating the big New Year?
I'm going to be celebrating it in my jacuzzi in my back yard of this new house that I bought a year ago and haven't seen yet. My wife tells me it's fantastic. Although I'm kind of bummed out, because I would really have enjoyed playing for some people on New Years eve, there's part of me that's thinking finally I get a chance to go home and relax, because we've about to go do Europe and Japan and Australia. It's rare that I get to go home these days, and I really do kind of miss just being at home with my wife and my cats. I'm actually looking forward to doing nothing but sitting in the jacuzzi. When the clock strikes twelve, I just hope all the power stays on from the Y2K thing.
MSJ: What's been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
The biggest Spinal Tap moment was definitely in Poland when were playing a live radio broadcast and within the first three minutes of the set all of the power went out. It was out for fifteen or twenty minutes. It was very funny because usually whenever there is a dilemmma like that, people sort it out really quickly, which gives Alan White a chance to do a drum solo, because there is no power, so it's an acoustic drum solo. The power went out. Alan immediately kicked into gear, and I started realizing that this wasn't going to get fixed very quickly. So, I left the stage and was standing at the edge of the stage, then everybody else left. Alan was there just beating the hell out of the drums for a good five minutes. I started thinking, "this really is going to take a little bit longer than this. How long can he go?" So, I'm looking at my watch and looking at him. He's doing these radical fills and these great rolls. Finally it just kind of ended in a dut, dut, dut, dut, dut.....dut. He put the sticks down and ran off the stage. We stood around for about ten or fifteen minutes waiting for the power to come back on. That was definitely the funniest live Spinal Tap moment I've ever experienced.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought?
I just bought it, as we're speaking, it was Toad the Wet Sprocket. I really like those guys a lot. So, I just went out and bought their greatest hits record. Really good band, great vocals, great parts, great chords. Really simple pop stuff, but I really like it a lot.
MSJ: What was the last concert you attended?
I think it was King Crimson, Thrak tour. It was killer! I was just blown away. Pat Mastelotto, who's a friend of mine, and Bruford doing double drum stuff, where it's these intense rhythms, where one guy is a dotted eighth note away from the other guy the whole time, and it just holds and stays that way. It's mind blowing. I love the Grateful Dead, and the two drummers thing, but they just kind of groove together, the Grateful Dead. Where with Pat and Bill, they're really working out where each other isn't - so that they can play there, and it's pretty intense.
You'll find concert pics of this artist in the Music Street Journal members area.
 
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