Billy T. Bilibio
Hi Geoff, hello from Brazil! What do you know or like about Brazilian music? We love Yes in Brazil!!
I have to own up that I am not familiar with much Brazilian music. What I do know is, that from what I’ve heard in my limited capacity, it appears to be very rhythm-based, and hence can lend itself to some complex syncopation using many different types of percussion instruments, as well as also being innovative in many types of dance rhythms. The music of Jobim is of course well renowned and respected all over the world. But I look forward to exploring much more of your music on my current trip to South America.
Hi Geoff, as a child, what made you want to pursue a career in music? Was there a “light bulb moment”?
All members of my family were very musical, so I was exposed to music from an early age. My mother was an accomplished pianist and my father a church organist, so I’d often hear him practicing his parts at home (on piano) in preparation for the Sunday services. It was therefore as if music was part of my DNA. So there was no what you might refer to as a ‘light bulb’ moment – more like the dimmer switchers being gradually turned up as I became more and more aware. But, it was there right from the beginning.
Hello! In recent Q&A, Mr. Alan White said “The Buggles kept popping their heads in the studio where we were working.” Is it true? 🙂 I would like to know more stories. What did you think when you met Yes for the first time?
Sort of…we were managed by the same company, and often bumped into each other in the management offices. It was suggested we should offer Yes one of our songs to record, and they seemed very receptive to this. As Jon and Rick weren’t involved at that time, we went in to rehearsal studio together with the other guys and started to craft together some of the songs which eventually appeared on Drama. We got along really well together, and so it was a gradual and natural collaboration.
Hi Geoff, I was very interested to learn that The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” was at least partially inspired by the sci-fi story “The Sound Sweep” by JG Ballard, which depicts a mute boy who vacuums up stray bits of music in a world virtually devoid of song. What a fascinating concept to work with in “The Age of Plastic” album. It seems to me that “Machine Messiah” from the “Drama” album has a similar ambivalent and cautionary attitude towards technology. Interestingly, the two ex-members of Yes that you replaced in 1980, Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman, also did works which focused on some of the drawbacks to technology. For instance, Jon did a song called “Cage of Freedom” for the soundtrack to Giorgio Moroder’s restoration of the film “Metropolis” and Rick Wakeman did a concept album based on Aldous Huxley’s novel “1984.” Interesting that you all seem to be writing music about the potential pitfall of technology at the same time! I wonder if you could say a little bit about how “Machine Messiah” came about and what you were trying to get at. I certainly think the song holds up alongside some of Yes’s best works.
Well, you are correct that many of Trevor’s lyrics were inspired by some of the sci-fi writers, particularly J.G. Ballard. The whole idea of the Buggles was the use of technology in an art form. Hence, we tried to use synthesizers, studio gadgets, etc. to create these fake effects to parallel conventional music. The Polythene Symphonia at the end of Video Killed The Radio Star is one example. Our contributions to the Drama album were an extension of this in many ways. Machine Messiah started out quite pop, but then was developed and I suppose ‘Yes-ified’ when we got together in the studio with Chris, Steve & Alan.
What inspired the opening to “Into the Lens” from Drama? That whole album is incredible…. Saw you performing at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1980 in the round. Great memories!
Trevor and I had the basic song written under the title ‘I Am A Camera’ which we presented to the band as a possible track to work on when we teamed up. I’m pretty sure they had been working on some other stuff also, and we effectively combined their rhythmic intro piece which they’d been putting together with our song. So you hear the frantic syncopated part at the front (their bit), which then sinks into the first verse (our bit). PS The Maple Leaf Gardens show was the 1st one we played live together – pretty scary. A baptism of fire!
I saw the Drama Tour and you performed Fly From Here and Go Through This. Since the Drama album was rather short in length, how did those two songs not get recorded and added to Drama?
We actually started a version of Fly From Here as part of the Drama sessions. It’s not that we didn’t think it was worthy of the album, more to do with time constraints getting the whole thing together, particularly when Eddie Offord left the project mid-stream. Of course, that was why we felt we had unfinished business with that specific piece and resurrected it 30 years on. Regarding Go Through This, it came a little later around the time of the tour, maybe during rehearsals and so we were packing the set out as much as we could with original material.
Hi Geoff, I have always wondered how the Drama-line up came to a close, what happened back then, and why you decided to break up? Drama is a great Yes album in my book, so why end something good?
I guess there was a certain resistance by many of the die-hard Yes fans to these ‘pop guys’ joining their revered and mighty progressive rock band. But reality was, both Trevor and myself were big Yes fans. Our direction in pop was more out of making a living, experimenting in the studio and having fun, rather than making some great musical statement. Our real hearts lay in more serious music. However, when we hit the stage with Yes it was tougher for Trevor (than it was for me) replacing Jon Anderson, as obviously there had only ever been the one vocalist beforehand. I think by the time we toured the UK, everyone felt that whilst we had made a great album, it was all not coming across so well live. Hence, we made a collective decision to disperse after that tour.
Maarten van Valen
Geoff..any specific reason why your keyboard setup onstage currently makes you not face the audience directly?
When you’re playing a big multi-keyboard rig, it’s really a toss up of whether the audience sees the front of you (head only) or the back. I feel it is more relevant to observe the keyboards and notes I’m playing, rather than being stuck behind a pile of synthesizers seeing my head bobbing around. I suppose it’s a bit like a church organist up there in the gantry – you only ever really see his back. That said, the onstage cameras and projection visuals help to give something of a 360-degree angle of what’s happening on the stage, so people can actually see my face.
What are the iPads used for in your rig? I use iMini, and I really enjoy the sounds you created for it, especially the leads.
Actually, right now on stage I use them mainly for musical cues and some scored notation. It’s also handy to have them up for set lists etc. But I do use them offstage for some other real musical apps such as Garage Band, Anamoog, Jammit and many others. It’s so mind-blowing how technology has provided us with these intuitive items to assist us in our creative skills, and that they continue to help us expand out our ideas musically. Personally, I embrace all the latest devices whole-heartedly. Steve Jobs was a God!
Geoff what do you think about the keyboard technology today compared to in the 80s?
Having always been something of a self-confessed tech-head, I have closely followed development of keyboard technology in particular. I always made sure I was one of the first guys to get the latest gadget, be it a Fairlight, Synclavier, Emu, Prophet or whatever. (Lucky I could afford it at the time!) But there’s no doubt being at the front end of all this helped me create my own style of playing, and developing original sounds at the cutting edge before they became readily available. The Workstations that started to appear in the late 80’s early 90’s were I felt a retrograde step in that sense, as it took away much of the experimentation associated with the earlier analogue synths. I felt in many ways this halted the progress, and gave a ‘fast-food’ option to keyboard players. That said though, in more recent times it’s been really exciting to see the breakthrough of computer software simulating many of the older synths and also creating some fantastic new and innovative textures and sounds.
Janean Michelle Freeman
Geoff, you are certainly a musician’s musician. You’ve maintained an incredible career, both inside and outside the studio. Many of us draw inspiration from your talent and achievements. These days, what do you find most rewarding about your work? (By the way, I enjoyed hearing and meeting you in Louisville. I look forward to seeing you again in Indianapolis!)
Hi, thank you for your kind comments. I guess in my case, it’s kind of a luxury to be able to split one’s time up between the studio and live. And I have to say that I thoroughly enjoy both aspects for different reasons. The studio side really allows you to stretch out on your musical ideas and creativity, whereas, I see playing live as recreating what was done in the studio and a much more instant experience. It is really great to interact with the fans, and bring your music out in front of the people who genuinely appreciate it. So…see you again in Indianapolis!
Hi Geoff ! two questions : 1. Did you miss the old Hammond C3 in Yes songs ? 2. Which is your favourite keyboard (synth, sampler, whatever) on which you always return to enjoy playing/performing? Keep it up with the BAND !!!
Well yes of course, in an ideal world I would take the kind of rig I used to transport around in the early 80s. To be honest though, this is no longer practical and would be a monumental pain in the butt to set up every night. I do have a Hammond SK1 in my rig right now, which is pretty good at getting the sound simulations of the old organs. Of course, nothing can ever replace a C3; in the same way nothing can ever fully replicate an acoustic piano. I don’t have a particular favourite keyboard/synth, but what I can tell you is the more knobs the better!
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What do you use for the Mellotron sounds?
How the Hell do you pronounce your avatar? Looks more like the name of a Welsh railway station to me! OK – Mellotron. I generally use M-Tron, which is the G Media keyboard software plug-in. I find this produces many of the characteristics of the old instrument. Some times I combine this with sample strings or voices to smooth it all out, as it can get a bit gritty. Of course, the early Yes albums are covered with Mellotron parts, so it is important I try to get these sounds as close as possible to the originals, particularly as we are focusing on the 3 retro album show at the moment.
Rohan Edward Baboolal
Do you think that you will always stay with the “big rig” keyboard setups or can you see a time in the future where you will downsize?
Also, what are your recollections of working with the Fairlight CMI?
I’m always reasonably acceptable to change, and in fact with Asia in the 90’s I used a one or two master keyboard rig with the brains (modules) in a big tower-type rack off-stage. It is eminently possible now to create a very powerful rig with the use of a couple of MacBook Pros and keyboard software. However, there is safety in numbers, and from experience when things go down live (as they often do), it’s useful to have a couple of backups if only to cover the more fundamental parts such as piano or organ. The CMI was a groundbreaking device I used on many of my recordings in the 80’s. Whilst it didn’t fare so well live from a reliability standpoint, it was an amazing instrument – the 1st digital mellotron!
Hey, Geoff, been a fan for many years, saw you and John Payne on the 2003 Asia Across America tour and this past October on the XXX tour, but have yet to see you play live with Yes. Are there any particular Yes albums or songs that you feel aren’t given enough credit by the fans or the band and also, as far as the next Yes album is concerned are there any plans to do another 20+ minute epic suite like what was done with Fly From Here and are you going to be contributing to the writing of the next album? One more thing, more vocoder… along with more cowbell!
OK – that’s a pretty involved question! Regarding older Yes songs, it’s amazing when you go through the entire catalogue, how many great songs there are and why it would be impossible to play all of these live. Would take you over a week! But yes, whilst we are currently focusing on the 70’s Yes, there was some great music came out in all chapters of the band’s existence to my mind. Personal favourite is “Changes” from 90125. There are some plans afoot for another album although the logistics of this have yet to be determined. It would be great to have a full collaborative effort particularly with Jon Davison, and I’m confident it would turn out very well. Of course, there is always the possibility (certainty) of longer epic pieces – it is Yes after all! Finally….Vocoder = Yes, Cowbell = In great moderation!
Read previous #askYES Q&As here.