This interview has been edited for clarity purposes.
Jon Anderson was the one who said: “Music is our spiritual connection to the soul”. Anderson has been proving it like nobody else with each release of his. “Olias of Sunhillow” and “Song Of Seven”. Or beautiful bead skating on mirrored surface – “Private Collection” recorded with Vangelis. Somehow, Jon Anderson doesn’t only find the way to his soul but also, reaches his listeners.
Anderson, who has been on stage since the late 60s never really stopped working. His recent LP – ““1000 Hands:Chapter One” came out in 2019 and he’s still full of ideas.
In the interview for Boston Hassle we sit down with Jon Anderson discussing the production side of Yes Records, lyricism, conceptual albums, performing with School Of Rock, Jon’s collaboration with Vangelis and solo-creativity.
HASSLE: You’re going on solo-tour right now. It would include the material from different eras of Yes, your solo-releases as well as some re-worked and re-arranged songs. What played the crucial role for your choice of songs with this tour?
ANDERSON: We just have a good time making music. These teenagers are very-very good. You can ask them to play anything, really and they’d surprise you! They sent me “Heart Of The Sunrise” last week – sounds amazing. So we said, “Okay! Why don’t we do some mash-ups?” I asked them to play a Led Zeppelin song and an INXS song and then mix them together with Yes-song. We’ll see how it goes in the rehearsal.
HASSLE: Teenagers accompanying you is obviously something new. In a recent years, you played some acoustic tours talking to your fans, sharing your stories and answering some questions. What pushes you to step from stadium-size shows?
ANDERSON: Well, I played with School Of Rock twenty years ago. And then they made a movie called “School of Rock.” The guy who runs it, Paul Green, we’ve been friends forever. He called me last year saying, “Do you wanna go on the road with the Academy of Rock?” and I said, “Yeah!” So we did some rehearsals and nobody toured last year. We said, “Maybe next spring?” So here we are in summer (laughter). We’re gonna be touring it! We’d rehearse on Friday. And then, we’ll do a show on Tuesday…Really, really good!
HASSLE: In one of your interviews you’ve been talking a lot about the production side of things a lot. All these tape manipulations, recording with the limited number of tracks were before the invention of multi-track recordings. How do you think it affected the architecture of your writing Yes?
ANDERSON: Well, in some ways I was always asking: “More tracks, please!” We had 16 track [recording] and then we had 24 tracs and then 48 track. The music of Yes is very-very special because it was very-very inventive, working with Chris Squire, Steve [Howe] and Rick [Wakeman] and everybody! Peter Banks and Tony Keye. All the people that played in Yes were very, very, influential to me, musically. Then I met Vangelis and it was more influential on me. Now, I’m in my 77th year and I’m getting really good (laughs). The music is very interesting now to me. This last year, I was able to do very interesting music. For me, music is like a dream sequence now. It’s not a song-a song-a song. This constant energy, very organic in a way. I think people would like [the new material]. People who knew who I am. People who understand [that] I’m still searching for the right words and the right music at the time. The right words and the music. It would be fun!
HASSLE: Recently released “1000 (thousand) Hands: Chapter One” was recorded about 30 years ago. Have you been working on the second chapter recently?
ANDERSON: The new music is the continuation of Olias [of Sunhillow]. And I was already doing Chapter Two. I started last year and it’s nearly finished for the release sometime late this year or on New Years’ Day or…I don’t know. All my life I’ve been waiting to do this kind of music which is where I’m playing more spontaneously. Then, a few years ago I found Jacob Collier. Jacob Collier! Oh my God! He’s so amazing! You look around and there are so many musicians in this world. Young people creating very interesting music. So that’s why I’m going out with 25 teenagers next week (laughter)! Getting their energy and seeing what they like.
HASSLE: As soon as you mentioned Vangelis – it’s interesting to talk about your collaboration. Vangelis has always been spontaneous with his writing, bringing you to a different place. Do you think you reached organics initially or it took some time for you?
ANDERSON: For me, it was just very-very exciting to be with Yes, working on structure: this and this and that section. Three days later we still were working on that. Then I would go to Vangelis and we’d write three songs. Every time we got together, we wrote three or four songs. That’s why we became friends. For me, it was like working with a mentor, because he has such musical knowledge and is quite brilliant and he’s a very sweet man!
HASSLE: A lot of the process in Yes in the 70s was set with discussions you had having a scratch of idea. What these discussions were like?
ANDERSON: More or less, I had ideas, so when I wanted to try something different, I’d speak to Steve and we’d write some songs. There was a time when we were writing very close and we started thinking about “Close To The Edge,” the idea of a song that he started, I developed, then I added another piece and he added another piece…And before you knew it, you had half an hour of music. Then you’d translate this to Chris obviously, and Bill and Rick at that time. It was like “We have this piece and that piece…What would come next?” Rick would play something and then Chris would play something. I sat in the middle of everybody, because I couldn’t play anything, but they would be just perfect! I’d sing ideas for them and they’d play them, trying different work on the idea. When they were learning that section, I’d be thinking about the next section. It’s just the way I was and the way I am musically. I’m always very excited to work on something new, something different.
HASSLE: At the same time, there was a moment – starting with “Tales from Topographic Oceans,” when conceptual dimension has added to your formula of writing. How much has it affected you personally?
ANDERSON: Now I’m more spontaneous in my ideas. But I can easily…I’ve been working this morning on the music I wrote 12 years ago. It was a long piece of music. But it’s like a painting. Some days you’re painting quick and some days you’re painting slow.
HASSLE: “1000 Hands” started when you got back to the recordings you did 30 years ago. You finished them and released in 2019. Working on some of your old material, what makes you to get back to some of these recordings and how it feels to do it now?
ANDERSON: Computers got them all! Actually, I got a new computer, a Mac Mini. Other Mac was so big. I went through all my music and everything for the last 25 years and I have about six hours of songs and music, and I’m not sure what to do with it. I’m not sure what to do with it at all (laughter). But I’m slowly understanding why I wrote that piece of music, did I write that, why I wrote this. So, I have to decide how to put it into the world. I [will] put something on my Facebook for free. But the record-companies, I don’t think they understand it very much. I can’t really work with them because I’d rather find a different world of creating and releasing music. I have to figure this out.
HASSLE: And of course, these days you can be an independent artist getting enough to live and releasing your material on your own.
ANDERSON: It’s up to the individual artist to find the way to project his work. That’s what I’m doing. Slowly but surely.
HASSLE: You always credited “Song Of Seven” as an important record for your becoming a composer. But at that point, you’ve already achieved the success as an author and co-author of many of Yes-songs. What was so special about your work on “Song Of Seven”?
ANDERSON: Oh gosh, yeah! When I listen to it now, I didn’t listen to it for 27 years. I was very surprised and it seems very nice. The lyrics are very interesting and the music is good. The album sounds very fresh. It doesn’t sound like it was made in any specific place or time.
HASSLE: You’re one of these rare cases when a lyricist could be either conceptualist and create beautiful pieces with the one storyline like “Olias of Sunhillow,” or explore different themes with separate songs as with “Roundabout”, “Parallels”, “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”, How different is your work in these two cases, when it goes to writing?
ANDERSON: Well, it just happens (laughs). I can’t pinpoint “I’m gonna write this way now!” – I just start writing. I’ve been writing this morning. Something very much about nature and what’s happening in the world at times. “Song Of Seven” was like an animation. At that period I was having fun making music. I didn’t mean, “Oh, it’s gonna be on radio! And this is gonna be a great hit record!” No-no-no! Cause you never know. [Except that] “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” was going to be a hit, because it was a hit-sounding song. In general writing is still a mystery to me. What I write about and what I sing about are very much the same when I first started with Yes. I’m singing about survival, just listen to this song, “Survival” (laughter). It’s a good song! Lyrically as well! I’m just enjoying life! I have a beautiful wife. I have some great beautiful children, some grandchildren. Now I’m going on tour with 25 teenagers. What could go wrong? (laughs)
HASSLE: Do you feel the necessity to write, create all the time or are there some days when it didn’t go the way it should?
ANDERSON: Every day!
HASSLE: Every day?
ANDERSON: Everyday is a creation! Maybe after I’d go shopping or something. But every day I’m in my studio. I go surfing everyday. I just love creating! I’m still discovering. I think I have another 25 years and I want to create a very special surround sound and 3D without glasses – really great visuals and art. All those kinds of things!
HASSLE: All the releases of yours, all the collaborations united with your constant desire to achieve a certain quality of sound. When did you started using studio not as an instrument?
ANDERSON: I think, probably in the 70s, mid 70s. I used to have a tape-recorder. I wrote songs with the tape-recorder. I had a small studio in my home. Then I did “Olias Of Sunhillow.” It was going to school, teaching myself how to play instruments. I’m surrounded by the instruments here in the studio and I still do the same thing. I haven’t changed very much, just being adventurous.
HASSLE: Back in the days you had lots lyrics where you used different symbols. “Roundabout,” despite the history behind this song, it’s still quite a strong symbol. How much of a self-searching is involved in your current writing? In comparison with back then.
ANDERSON: I think, I’m still the same person, writing better. I have a whole big stack of writing. I have a big box full of writing and I can’t read them cause this is too much (laughs). You just spend all the time writing, writing, writing and eventually I find a time to be able to remember why I’m thinking about this now or this what I’m thinking about now. I write it now, I put it away. I have another one here and another one here. I have lots of paperwork (laughs). I’m writing a lot of things! Writing all the time – just enjoying life.
Photo credits: Deborah Anderson