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Jon Anderson

Interviewed by Lorraine Kay
Interview with Jon Anderson from 2006

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 3 at

You just returned from a tour in Japan, how was that tour?
Well we had a great time touring. Wherever I go there are Yes fans and fans of the music I did with Vangelis. They were very intimate shows, about three or four hundred people each show, Tokyo was about a 1,000. They have lovely theaters over there and people are so polite, so wonderful.
MSJ: Do you prefer the smaller venues?
Well, I like performing in general. It's just a very challenging idea to do it by myself, and to do a one-man show. But that's part of life - you should challenge yourself.
MSJ: Besides the one-man show what other challenges do you have coming up in the near future?
This year I'm actually working with Rick Wakeman and doing some concerts up in Canada and the UK. And then next year who knows what will happen and probably in a couple of years we'll get Yes going again for three years. So you have all these different kind of possibilities going around. I feel very blessed in my work.
MSJ: I am sure the fans feel blessed that you are still wanting to play for them and that there is the possibility for Yes to do another tour.
Oh yeah, the group is like a bunch of brothers. We all go through different experiences. To keep together all the time is impossible. After five or six or seven years of it there's always this need to have a break and do other things from everybody. And then we get back together again for another 7 or 8 years. And that's how it works.
MSJ: I know you have explored all kinds of music and some of it does not lend itself to the Yes format, so you surely want to be out playing these other types of music and having these other experiences?
Yes, I am very interested in experience and adventure in music. I just sent out a CD today to a company about a musical that I've worked on for years, so I've got many different ideas.
MSJ: The last time you and I talked you spoke about an acoustic guitar group you met at the NAMM show in Anaheim and that you were going to record with them. Did that come to fruition?
Yes, they are actually performing the guitar concerto, the first movement on the fourth of May up in San Jose with the California Symphony. They are called the California Guitar Trio. And then they will be performing with Rick and me in Quebec. They are actually performing at the festival the same time as we are so they will get up and do "Heart of the Sunrise," "Long Distance Runaround" and the first movement of the guitar concerto we've been working on. We have three movements done now so we're on the fourth movement. It will take awhile because we are all doing different things.
MSJ: Are they based down here in Southern California?
Generally, yeah, but there's one guy from Japan and one guy from Belgium and the other guy is from Idaho. But mostly we work out of L.A.
MSJ: Now, about your new DVD Tour of the Universe how did you come up with the concept of the title?
The initial idea was to film my one-man show that I have been doing. When I take the show on the road I have a screen I'm projecting images on pertaining to the songs with animation and various things, but I thought it would be good to record the show, so I used a blue screen when I was at XM studios in Washington D.C. I recorded the show in front of about 60 people in their studio and then I sent the film footage to London to Robert Grafalo and the Graphics Picture Company. I sent him ideas on each song as to what I would like to see visually and explained the songs lyrically. Then he came up with these beautiful experiences - very, very right on the money for me. He sent them back to me about three, maybe four months later. After seeing them I was just sort of sitting there with a big grin on my face because he really captured every song perfectly. And that was the DVD - basically.
MSJ: This was a totally solo live concert?
MSJ: I noticed there was other instrumentation other than you. Was the other instrumentation playing during the live concert or dubbed in later?
What I use is a midi guitar. And the midi guitar triggers five different keyboards - small rack mount keyboards. So I have five pedals in front of me and each pedal is a sound that can be bass, percussion, orchestral or whatever. So each song has five different sounds. And I have a little switch on the guitar that changes for each song, and volume controls on top of the guitar. So I perform along with the midi guitar and sort of rhythm tracks that we have connected to the whole midi experience, you see?
MSJ: The midi guitar, is that the backpack kind of guitar on the DVD?
Yes, it is a backpack guitar with a scroll from a viola and violin to make it look kind of snazzy. The backpack is very lightweight as well and it is very comfortable. It also sounds beautiful. I am very surprised how beautiful it sounds.
MSJ: Was that guitar custom made for you?
Yes, I made it myself, with a company around the corner in Nipomo. It's called L. R. Baggs. They actually create the midi pickup for guitars. Initially there was a company out of Canada that created the midi guitar, but the guitar was so heavy for me I transferred the insides of the guitar, (the pickup and all the electronics of it) and transferred it into a backpacker. With the help of this guy called Bo and L. R. Baggs.
MSJ: So now you can travel pretty light, because with that you are able to make the backpack guitar sound like any guitar or any instrument?
Oh yeah, it's the midi electronics that are inside the guitar. It's great. I bought two more last week so if one breaks I have another one.
MSJ: One of the songs on the DVD that really stood out for me was "State of Independence." The faster pace and time lapsed images along side your image on the walls and signs like a big television was so different from nearly all the other songs. It was a "state of independence."
Yeah, yeah, that was good fun.
MSJ: In addition to the contrast of images that song has a whole lot more happening musically. Was that all midi triggered by your foot pedals?
Yes, it works on a trigger. As soon as I start playing the midi guitar the rhythm starts in the background. So then I am playing along with it and then I bring in other certain sounds as I'm playing by stepping on another food pedal. It's very delicate, and takes perfect timing. Then while I'm vocalizing my tech at the side of the stage has a sampler and brings in other parts here and there.
MSJ: Throughout the concert you played other instruments in addition to the backpack midi guitar. On "First Song," (the very first song you ever wrote), and "Nous Sommes Du Soleil" you played alone on a nylon string guitar, what is your preference?
It is a Martin guitar.
MSJ: You also surprised us with a tune on the harp entitled "Harping."
Yes, I love playing harp. I play harp at least two or three times a month. I sit down and just start playing. I have two harps. I just do it more for meditation. Just to relax.
MSJ: You played "Set Sail," "Who Could Imagine?" and "The Revealing Science of God" on the piano - those were very nice. Between the harp and the different guitars and then the piano you really mixed it up and kept the concert interesting.
Yes, a few changes for sure. I modify things and come up with new songs every so often. And now the show is developing so that this year I can do a whole new show. By the end of this year I'll record a new DVD of a totally new show. That's why it's an experience that should keep growing.
MSJ: I noticed that on the DVD there were a lot of war images.
It's because the songs were about war.
MSJ: But was there a message you were trying to get across?
I think I sang it. I did a show with Yes about three years ago in San Francisco, and got everybody to sing "War! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing! Say it again." War is truly not good for us and eventually we'll come to realize that. But you have got to see it for what it is to know and understand that it isn't good for us eventually and try to kick it out of our human experience.
MSJ: I thought it was such a contrast from the other songs with the birds singing and other beautiful images.
Well you know "Yours is no disgrace" is all about Vietnam and people who have gone to war and that it is not a disgrace to have gone through that experience. When people came back from Vietnam they were crucified. And a lot of people never recovered. And it wasn't a good war and it wasn't a healthy experience, but you cannot be blamed for that, so "yours is no disgrace."
MSJ: Who are the kids backing you up on various songs?
There is one group from Sherman Oaks and one group from London. They sang on various parts. You can see them on the screen on the DVD. The Sherman Oaks kids I've known them on and off for about six or seven years.
MSJ: Even though this is a one-man show, you have one impressive guest appearance - Rick Wakeman on "Show me." Were those images projected so that the studio audience could see them or were they added later?
He filmed and recorded the song for me last spring.
MSJ: How did you pick the songs that were on this DVD?
Some of the new songs are based on a project that I am sort of slowly discovering over the next two or three years. I've written about five or six other songs this year - now I have about a dozen songs for next year. For the next five or six years I want to put together about four or five DVDs of new songs plus old Yes songs and songs of Vangelis that I've never actually done before and songs of Yes that I've never recorded before, which should be nice to do. Right now I'm doing about five or six new songs in the show that weren't on the DVD. So the show is now nearly two hours long - it's crazy. I'm trying to hold it down though. I'll change a few songs and bring a new song or two in.
MSJ: Will you record these at XM as well?
No, I'm going to do it here at home. I have my studio all ready to do it.
MSJ: Will you have an audience like you did at XM?
No, No. I'm actually going to try to do it on the Internet LIVE.
MSJ: How was the XM studio audience selected?
People from XM studios and friends of friends.
MSJ: The DVD has two special features that are very different from most music DVDs - The Golden Mean and Golden Music. Besides the special features with teaching from Dr. Ron Knott and concert pianist Roy Howat you interspersed comments of your own between songs. Obviously this is something that is important to you right now. What can you tell me about that?
It's very simple. Everything is interconnected. The Golden Mean has been around since the beginning of our understanding of life. It's something that I started to get to know about in the last five years. It is sacred geometry. To me it's connecting to inter-dimensional life. I think there's more and more to learn about it, because it's never ending. And music is part of that understanding. That's why we enjoy music so much, because it touches our inner consciousness. And then when we hear birds singing - a lot of the beautiful bird songs that you hear are a part of the golden mean structure. Composers started to realize that it was more of a mathematical structure and so musicians would compose basically all about mathematics, Stravinsky, and many other ones. It's amazing how interconnected we are with nature. Because the Golden Mean is the function of the geometry of nature, if you like. And that's why when we hear birds singing these beautiful melodies we always feel good, you know. And that's the way it is. When you hear a good song with a good melody it's a connection, a connecting thing with the Divine. Which is the nature that surrounds us.
MSJ: What about when you hear something that isn't so melodic or structured?
It is still part of the Golden Mean structure it's just a diverse side of it. Just like anything. Most of life is a wonderful experience. But the darker side of life is something that we as humans seem to enjoy hearing about and that is why it is all over CNN and that's why we have wars and things like that but that's not all that life is.
MSJ: As I said, these features are not something that is usually found on a DVD. Were the special features something that you decided to add to the DVD after it was taped or was it always planned to be a part of it?
The Golden Mean info was always part of the DVD from the start.
MSJ: So, bottom line: were all the songs performed during the live XM concert included on the DVD? Was anything left on the cutting room floor?
No, the DVD is exactly as the concert was. We filmed that a year and a half ago.
MSJ: So what is up next for Jon Anderson?
I'm going on holiday now for a month. But when I get back from holiday, around mid-summer, I'll start recording more new stuff.
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