Over a 45-year career, countless line‑up changes and famous bust-ups, Yes show no signs of slowing down as they prepare to release album number 21. We meet the godfathers of prog to get the inside story on the eagerly anticipated Heaven & Earth… Words: Paul Lester Portraits: Kevin Nixon, Dirk Goetz
You know what? The first f***ing time I heard it in order was yesterday! It sounds good, though.” It’s a sunny day in Prague, and Prog finds Chris Squire in fine fettle as he discusses the band’s 21st album, Heaven & Earth.
The bassist is the first of four Yes members to be interviewed today in the conference room of the city’s Hilton hotel. There are only four of them because Jon Davison has had to bow out, having already spoken to Prog earlier in the week on the phone; and besides, he needs to rest his voice ahead of tonight’s show as he’s still in the throes of a throat infection.
Squire has only just been sent the finished version of Heaven & Earth – with production by Roy Thomas Baker, and the final mix by Billy Sherwood – and the results, as he says, are none too shabby. A big bear of a man, all long white hair and black tracksuit bottoms with matching T-shirt, he’s in a relaxed mood, ordering a glass of wine even though it’s only lunchtime and despite the small matter of the three-hour, three-album concert – Close To The Edge, Going For The One and The Yes Album in their entirety, plus an encore of the deathlessly brilliant Roundabout – to negotiate later this evening. “Well,” Squire says of starting rather early on the Pinot Noir, “we are on the continent.”
The bassist happily acknowledges the early online reactions to Heaven & Earth, even though they have been somewhat mixed. “People all over the world are responding to it,” he says. “Some don’t like it and some love it.” The problem, as he sees it, is that they are listening to an “un-de-popped” version of the album. “It’s something to do with digital noises,” he sort of explains. On a broader level, does he agree that it’s hard to satisfy all Yes fans, with their various appetites for multipartite song suites and more concise material?
“This album’s got a bit of both,” he points out. “There are a couple of longer, more complex tracks, and there are a few that are relatively simple and song-y. It’s a good blend.” Producer Baker has described it as a tour of Yes styles – the best of Yes, as it were. “That’s nice of him,” Squire says, before admitting that Heaven & Earth almost didn’t happen at all. “I won’t say from which area, but there was some dissent about whether we should make an album at all because nobody makes any money out of them any more, and with the last one, [2011’s] Fly From Here, it ended up costing us,” he reveals. “So we were definitely a bit more cautious this time.”
Still, it was important for Yes to maintain their credentials as the last prog band out there refusing to rest on their back catalogue, never mind worries such as commercial potential and sales figures in these tough economic times for the long-playing record. That was especially the case now they have new frontman Jon Davison on board; a frontman with songwriting chops. “It was important to do an album with Jon,” Squire declares. “He’s been with us a couple of years and he’s a creative person in his own right: a tunesmith and lyricist-musician. That’s why we were convinced we should do it, to give Yes another turn of the cog. Whenever someone came in [to the band] in the 80s, they’d turn the cog and it’d be like, ‘Ah, yes, I like this!’ We’re hoping for the same reaction.”
For the rest of this huge article, PLUS an exclusive interview with Jon Davison, the untold tales of the 1979 Paris ‘Pub Sessions’, the Heaven and Earth album review and a live review, see Prog #47 in print, for Tablet on Google Play or for iPad on iTunes Newsstand.