Hi Billy … could you please tell me what other YESsongs you will be playing on the UK tour apart from the two albums … looking forward to the Glasgow concert .. cheers
Billy: Oh, great, well, definitely all of Drama, all of Fragile and then, as I understand it, you know, Starship Trooper, Siberian Khatru, and there’s a couple that are going to be a surprise…
Hi Billy! Is it just the tracks from Fragile and Drama being performed in Newcastle or are there now extra tracks as the support band are now not playing.
Billy: We start rehearsals on the 14th, so we’ll make those decisions then.
Hi Billy. Will you be using Chris’s bass with the built in effects that he used on Drama?
Billy: That bass was destroyed in some sort of weather incident with YES on the road in America, not too long ago, when the stage blew apart because of the winds and the truss rods and the lighting rig and all that kind of stuff that hangs overhead came down and fell right into Chris’ bass station where all his basses were. He lost that bass, unfortunately. It got completely destroyed. I loved playing Chris’ basses for fun when we were hanging out, you know, but I have my own preferences with what basses I play. I love Spector basses, they play great and have a fantastic tone. Stuart Spector built me a custom one-of-a-kind 8 String which I use for ‘Going For The One’ and a few other songs. He made me that bass in 1987. Been with them ever since. As for the effects… Line 6 pedal boards are what I use to create those flanges and whatnot, I’ve got those sounds well dialed in.
If you had 100% of your own choices, what would be your personal “dream” YES setlist? And would it differ, at all, from the perspective of you being a fan in the audience vs actually playing it with the band? And, if so, why? (Also I just wanted to say that I cannot think of anyone in the world who could have picked up Chris’ torch and run with it as well as you have. Many kudos and keep up the great work. I’m very much looking forward to more YES…live and studio. Viva la YES!!)
Billy: I’m a fan of the entire catalogue of work and I don’t know if any of the YES fans out there have looked, but they might be interested to see what my take of something like that would be with, via my band Circa that I have with Tony Kaye. We actually have a new album coming out on July 8th on Frontiers Records. When Circa was originally formed, Tony Kaye, myself, Alan White and Jimmy Haun were the band. We played a two hour set and we played our new album, the first album we made. And then we needed to fill up another 45 minutes to an hour for the back end of the set. So I came up with this crazy idea that we do this YES montage. Because of the YES affiliation it was obvious we were going to do some YES music but rather then just play songs, I arranged this piece of music called ‘The Chronological Journey’ which starts from the very first YES album and goes all the way up through 2000. It’s loaded with all of the cool instrumental hooks that we all know and love, and weaved it’s way from 1967 to 2000. All the iconic riffs… no vocals, just instrumental… it’s smoking!!
It’s on the Circa Live DVD which you can find out there. And also, for anyone just wanting to preview it, there’s clips online if you type in ‘Circa Chronological Journey’ on YouTube, you’ll find your way to this piece. We performed it at the Baja Prog festival, Rosfest and some other venues when we toured. Everyone tripped out! Every time we turned a corner into a new piece of music, there were smiles and applause. I tried to tap into that side of the YES fans. And once they realised what was happening, they were expecting the next album and so when you get to ‘Arriving UFO’ they’re were just tripping out, you know! All those pieces of music that have never really been touched on in a long time. So that would be my vision of what to do, but I am merely a man… so what can I tell you… Far be it from me to dictate what the YES set list will be! CIRCA played all the iconic riffs from each track starting from the first YES album all the way to the end and we played it non-stop, it was 40 minutes long and those who saw it got really flipped out, loved it and anyone who discovers it online these days just trips out on it too because it’s a very good representation of the whole thing. So I would love to put a set together that really shows the entire legacy of YES in that regard. I don’t know if that’ll ever happen, playing with YES. I would highly recommend something like that, because I think it would be super-interesting for the fans. We’ll have to see if my Jedi mind trick powers have any affect on one of these tours, perhaps we can do it (laughs). “This IS the set list you’re looking for”.
Billy, I have been a YES fan since 1975. I have heard certain songs and albums countless times both live, and on the radio (as well as my own digital copies). It would be refreshing to see the band play the newer material live. For instance, a Talk/Ladder album entirety show would be really awesome. Can You Imagine? 🙂
Billy: It’s funny that we’re saying a “newer” album from 1994! I’m up for playing anything YES and I know it all, so I’m not intimidated on any level to go for anything. So any music that is presented, I’m interested in playing and I love it all. I had the pleasure of playing with the band on the ‘Talk’ tour and played ‘Talk’ live with the band which only happened once, and I’m honoured to be able to say I was there and it was fantastic. Chris suggested we do a double bass thing for the beginning of “Endless Dream” and I will never forget doing it… Not many can say they’ve done something like that – a testament to our friendship. When I joined in ’96 and toured with the band, we played the other YES music, the “classic” stuff as it’s described. That said, I’m into it all.
Can we get a rundown of the gear you will be using on this tour?
Billy: I answered part of this in a previous question but here it is… I endorse Spector basses as I mentioned earlier. I love those instruments, I always have. I’ve been with them since ’88 or ’89 when they first approached me to get involved with the company and Stuart [Spector, founder of Spector basses] built me this incredible eight string bass that’s a one of a kind. I play it with YES on ‘Going For The One’ and a couple of other things and so I’ll be bringing out my Spector basses with me.
For all the effects, the distortions, the choruses, delays and whatnot I use a Pod Line 6 XT Live pedal board, which is kind of an old school model at this stage, but all my sounds have been dialled in forever, so I just stick with it. A lot of it was modelled after what Chris had done, because I was a fan of those sounds… to the point where when he would come over he’d just say “Can we just plug into yours?”
For amplifiers, I use Tech21 which are smoking amps and I just recently joined up with those guys so I’ll be bringing those out on the road this time and they’re fantastic! That combination of stuff is really how I do my thing and the sounds are just smoking. When the sounds are right it makes the playing easier and it all comes together.
What song, while playing Chris’s bass lines, do you consider to be the most fun to play?
Billy: Well we haven’t got there yet… When we do ‘Gates of Delirium’ then I’ll be able to say “There you go!” ’cause for me that’s the ultimate Chris Squire bass work-out. It’s ‘Gates of Delirium’, it’s incredible. That said, you know, I really have always been a huge fan of the band and a big part of why I was drawn to the band and will always remain so was Chris’ compositions and his playing on all the stuff. I love everything about his whole sound. All of it. Obviously the keys, the guitars, the vocals, but there was something about Chris’ compositions within the pieces that made it extremely special for me. And so to be able to play any of those is just an honour and something amazing and something I never thought I’d be doing, that’s for sure! Obviously Chris had another plan in mind, but I just loved playing all of those parts !!
Hi Billy, wondering if in the learning of the material that you marvel as to how these lines flow – to my naïve ears, Chris had the ability to just surprise me as so original
Billy: As I mentioned before in the previous answer, it’s all about the compositions and what Chris came up with and the amazing thought that goes into these basslines. That said, I learned all these at such an early age, when I was in my bass playing youth, if you will, trying to get my own chops together and how to do things, that I’ve become so close to them and how they’re composed that none of it really surprises me. I didn’t have to figure it out or anything, I kind of already know them. So doing this is a very comfortable world to be in and I think Chris knew that I had that in my DNA.
Billy, what YES song is the most challenging and exhilarating for you to play?
Billy: That’s interesting. They’re all very challenging because there’s so many notes flying all over the place and this is the kind of band where if you get a note wrong and you get a look from one of the other guys (laughs) so you can’t just fake it so to speak. So I try very hard to stay on point through the entire 100% of the night, were all human and make mistakes from time to time but, I’d rather not if I can help it. That said, the ‘Tempus Fugit’ bassline is just a blast, it’s just very quick and the bassline is moving all over the place. And then on top of it, you’re singing this other rhythmical element so you have to compartmentalise your mind from playing the bass and then singing the song and just sort of, you know, zen into it and go for it. So that’s probably the most challenging one to put it all together on.
Billy, are you finding yourself stepping out of Chris’ shadow and starting to spread your own wings?
Billy: Chris’ shadow or perhaps spirit is a better description will forever loom – and rightfully so – and, you know, I loved the guy and it should remain so. With that said, I do feel with this coming Euro/UK tour, that I’ve crossed a sort of threshold. The last tour was very difficult thing emotionally to deal with (although I wasn’t perhaps showing it as much as feeling it, no one wants to watch a concert with one guy looking sad all night). There was also a lot on my plate with playing, singing, performing etc…, so my mind was was in a very different place, one I’d never imagined experiencing in my life. That said I started finding my own towards the end of that tour, but going into this new cycle of touring, I feel much more relaxed about it all.
It still makes me very sad that we’ve lost Chris, I get waves of that sadness when I listen to the music to learn it, thinking of what an influence he was on me and also his friendship. But after those thoughts subside, I remember his smile and laughter, which we did a lot of… laughing together. I imagine him saying, “Don’t be sad, go for it!” – which is what he wanted me to do. And so I shall for as long as the band needs me.
A big part of feeling more comfortable in those shoes now is the fact that the fans have been incredible, supportive and loving towards my doing what I am doing for/with YES. I am so thankful for them being there and can’t say it enough, I thank the fanbase for rallying around the entire band at this time and supporting the band. The amazing reception that I’ve been given by these people is fuel for the engine. So with all that said I feel more comfortable in Yes now heading into this next phase than I did on the last tour, where I wasn’t sure if it was even going to work with me playing/singing with the band. I knew I could do the job in full, I just wasn’t sure if the fan base would accept it. Squire and I spoke of this and he assured me they would and it seems he was spot on. I am grateful for that because I only want YES to thrive going forward. There is a strong desire from the fans for it to go forward. So that combination is making me feel much more at ease this time around.
Do you have any interesting stories about “The More We Live – Let Go” (from UNION)? I love this song; the various textures, the lead and backing vocals and the message.
Billy: It was the first song that Chris and I ever wrote together, so I always remember that, and Chris did too, as being a pretty special unique situation. To get together, not really knowing each other that well at that stage and exposing yourself musically is always an interesting thing because you’re really putting it all out there when you’re writing music, it’s a very revealing process. You never know… it could go well, it could go bad. In the case of “The More We Live” it went so exceptionally well, so much so that we both looked at each other when we were done and said, “We need to do more of this!” And that’s what really sparked our writing relationship/friendship and we wanted to continue to work together on a deeper level. I’m very proud with how it came out. One funny story was… The bass part lol, O dear the bass part… a very simple one in fact. When we did the demo (which is the master basically, less Rabin and JA, you can hear it on the Conspiracy CD too) I played the bass at home, when Chris came over to work on it I said “you need to play the bass part” to which he replied “I like what you did, leave it”. So we left it. Fast forward to the session on Union, Eddie Offord was asked to come in to “produce” (even though reality was that track was already produced by Squire and myself). Eddie was on Chris to replace my bass part. I didn’t mind at all that notion, I’d tried to get him to do it before. Chris was having none of it. Everyday we worked in studio Eddie would say “Fishy… come on man, play the damn bass part”. Chris would point at me and say… “Billy’s already played it and I like it, we’re leaving it”. This went on FOR DAYS lol…. Tony Kaye and I still laugh about those sessions and that ongoing discussion during the recordings. At the end of the day I would have been honored for Chris to replay it and call it his own, as it turns out I was even more honored when he refused because he like what I did. To hang in studio with Offord, Squire, Kaye, White, Anderson (although when JA recorded it was just me and him, that’s a whole other story lol) was incredible, at that time I was very new into the fold and watching the dynamics between these guys was like a behind the scenes look at Disneyland, imagine looking at the Pirates Of The Caribbean from the other side, very different POV and a very unique experience indeed, one I will never forget !!
Will you guys be coming back to the States to perform Drama? Your UK setlist is one we’d really like to see back here.
Billy: I’ve been hearing that from a lot of people and I’m into playing whatever the band wants to play. I keep hearing rumours from fans (which is how I get most of my intel lol) that we’re going to play ‘Tales from Topographic Oceans’ and ‘Drama’, so, you know, I’m the last one to know! So I’ll let you know what we’re playing when we get there. A fan posted a link to Cruise To The Edge 2017…so I guess we’re doing that too !!
Happy birthday. Will you be coming to Philadelphia? The real start of YES in the USA
Billy: Thanks for the ‘Happy Birthday’, that’s very kind of you. I would imagine Philly will be on the list, it’s a definite spot that YES is well known for being in and I’ve been there several times with the band myself. I love going there and would certainly love to see it happen again. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for the Summer Tour…
Billy, would you as a solo artist or YES ever consider writing songs for a new album, tour the new songs playing all of them live, let them solidify and evolve, then record a studio release of the new songs?
Billy: Well, it’s a novel idea and in a perfect world that would be how you would do it, because then you could see what’s working and what isn’t. But the problem is that you have thousands of people there at the show and only a handful are willing to put the time in to figure out what you’re playing. Most people want to have a familiarity with it before the concert so that they can identify with what they’re about to hear. Also, quite frankly, on a business level, the album promotes the tour and those two things go hand in hand, and it’s very important. Music is music, but there’s a business to this which can’t be ignored and that’s just the way things have always been and the way things continue to be, If this band was a bit more like The Grateful Dead, you could play six hours and you could slide things in here and there. But this band has always been known for coming out and doing a particular kind of show and if that show is related to the new album, the album’s already been made, you know. So I doubt highly you would ever see that sort of formula unfolding.
A major reason why I have followed YES all these 30+ years of my life is because I admired both the musicianship and the new sounds that came from experimentation with new albums. I was wondering what you might have in store for a possible future album/tour that might be different? Or to try something you’ve always dreamed of doing?
Billy: I’m always into making new music and I just finished the Circa record coming out on July 8th this year. I’m finishing up a World Trade album we’re making, which was a band I had many years ago and we’re now on Frontiers Records. I’ve done the Citizen Record, my solo things. I’m never at a loss for wanting to do new things. That said, YES runs at its own pace. I’m not trying to come into this situation and jump into the front seat and grab the wheel, I’m very much a team player when in bands, A team member with strong opinions musically but never the less, part of a team working as one. That said.. with regards to YES I’m along for the ride right now, so if that vehicle starts heading towards a new album, I’m obviously extremely happy and excited to contribute and do whatever the band would like me to do with it and I have a ton of ideas about things that could go on and how to do things differently while maintaining the essence of that core YES feeling. So, yeah, I’m into all of that creativity and doing new things and exploring sounds/production etc… that’s what I’m all about. I’d love to make a new YES album and I’m ready willing and able at a moments notice to do so. On a personal note…. I believe in the band so much so that I could see a huge renaissance if you will by making a great new exciting fresh YES record and then touring that record. I am always forward thinking and always project a positive path forward… for me YES has a lot more to give and I hope to be there !!
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Billy, is there any unreleased material of Chris & you that you might want to publish? if so, when?
Billy: I’ve been asked this before and the fact is that everything Chris and I wrote always found a home. There was a period before we had our first Conspiracy album out, where that wasn’t the case and we actually had 6-9 songs and you know, “What are we going to do with these?” That’s what began the concept of “Well, let’s form a band/project called Conspiracy and we can get our songs out” but after that everything we wrote – all the songs for ‘The Unknown’, all the songs we wrote for ‘Open Your EYES’, (with the exception of the title track were written at the time, despite the rumors to the contrary). All that stuff was written and placed. So no, I don’t have anything lying around with Chris and myself on it. It’s already on a record.
Will there be a new YES studio album? I saw you in Biloxi and you were phenomenal!
Billy: I certainly hope so. And as I answered earlier, I would be very excited to engage the process.
I’m a big fan of your work on ‘Open Your EYES’ and ‘The Ladder’ albums. Any chance we’ll get you see that stuff live?
Billy: You never know, stranger things have happened right ? I know right now that the band is doing this retrospective thing, going back to those previous albums, so the focus is on that. But as things progress, perhaps there’s a song or two that can come from those albums and be played as well. We’ll just have to see.
Billy, I haven’t seen you doing ‘Awaken’ yet. When playing it, what bass will you choose instead of that 3 neck beast?
Billy: I knew that question was coming ! Do I have to answer that? I’m kidding! (laughs). I would find another way to do it, even if I had to have a couple of different basses on stands. I would stick to my own instruments and just figure out a way to make that happen. Further to that, one of the conversations that I had with Chris that was very important, and he understood it and agreed and he even remarked on it was, he didn’t want me imitating him and he didn’t want me coming out there with a Rickenbacker and trying to be Chris Squire and stand on one leg, we had many laughs about it on the phone, I joked with him on the phone when we spoke on this stuff… “Please Chris, can’t I do the flamingo pose just once” (laughs). Chris wanted me to do what I do, which is what I do. So I would be looking at that song and approaching it in a new way. I have the components to make the sounds work, fretless, 8 String etc… so it’s more an ergonomic issue of how to do it… as opposed to putting on that bass because Chris did. The image of that bass on Chris is Squire and him alone !!
Hi Billy! Huge fan of you and of course YES! Personally, what is your favorite album YES? Even favorite song if you have one!? Thanks!!!
Billy: I mentioned before, I love the entire catalogue of YES music, all the different line-ups, incarnations, the ones I’ve been in, and the ones I haven’t been in, so I love it all. But if there was a favourite of mine, it would be ‘Tales’ because it’s kind of where I really started diving deep into YES. It had to do with the fact that I was living in Arizona on Lake Havasu, it was the summer of ’74 or 75 (been a while), and you know, just the whole vibe of being a kid and listening to that, playing along to it on drums at the time… and pretty damn good I must humbly say (laughs), it’s one of those special albums for me. Not to mention the fact, creatively, you know, a double album with four songs! It was just incredible, so I really look to that as my favourite album and I’d often talk to Chris about ‘Tales’ and those guys have a different perspective on it but for me it’s just a classic and I love it! So ‘Tales’ would be my favourite of all.