It doesn’t happen that often any more, but I love calling an artist at their hotel when they’re staying under an alias. And while I can’t tell you the name founding Yes bassist Chris Squire was using at a recent tour stop in Tucson, I can tell you that the man has a sense of humor.
He also had plenty to talk about. Not only did the Grammy-winning progressive rock band just release their 21st studio album, "Heaven & Earth," the platinum-selling vets are in the midst of a 35-date summer tour where new lead vocalist Jon Davison is getting a chance to showcase his strength as a songwriter.
Yes (including longtime members Steve Howe, Alan White, and Geoff Downes) will play at Humphrey’s Concerts By The Bay on Monday, Aug. 18, but Squire helped us preview the show by speaking with SoundDiego about the English band that is quickly approaching its 50th year.
Scott McDonald: How are you?
Chris Squire: Very well, thank you. Things couldn’t be better.
SM: Seems like you guys are always on tour. How does it feel to be playing new songs this time around?
CS: Well, it feels great. Tour started at the beginning of July and we are doing new songs, but we’re really doing a mixture of things - a reprise of the "Close to the Edge" album that we did last year on tour, tunes from the new album, the "Fragile" album in its entirety, and a couple of encores with hits and the like.
SM: "Heaven & Earth" seems to embrace both the old and the new. Fair assessment?
CS: I think so. Jon is doing a good job, I’d say. He contributed strongly to the new album - both musically and lyrically. I was really looking forward to us being able to do an album of new material with him, so we could solidify his presence in the band. I recognized that he was a great lead vocalist when he first sang for us. But once I got to know him, and we wrote some songs together, I realized he was pretty talented in that area as well. So I suggested, really, that the new album be done in the way where I’d write a few songs with him, and Steve, Alan, and Geoff would, too. And that was the principal that we, sort of, went with. But it’s worked out well. And I’m happy about that.
SM: It sounds like Yes to me.
CS: Well, it’s got quite a bit of variety of style on it. There’s a nod to the longer-form pieces and the more complex side of Yes. But there’s also the simpler and, dare I say it, more poppy songs as well.
SM: How was it working with longtime friends of Yes like Roy Thomas Baker (production), Billy Sherwood (mixing), and Roger Dean (art)?
CS: We had worked with Roy in the late '70s, so it was great to work with him again. Alan broke his ankle the last time, so it was good to see it all the way through on this one. And Roger has been doing things with us recently, and we’re always glad to have him on board. Billy actually wasn’t supposed to be involved at first. There were a few scheduling hiccups at the end and we needed to get the album delivered on time. So we brought Billy in to help out. But it’s always about the combination of the people involved.
SM: You are the sole original member left. Does that give you any clout with the other guys?
CS: [laughs] Ha! I’d say it’s more by default instead of design. And let’s not forget that Allen White has been playing drums since 1972, so he’s been there since the very first albums. And that’s a pretty long stretch as well.
SM: What’s next?
CS: The U.S. tour ends at the end of the month and we’ll take a bit of time off. But then we’re going to take the show to New Zealand, Australia, and Japan in November. After, it’ll be time to plan the ideas for a whole new tour in 2015.
SM: When you’ve been doing it as long as you have, what continues to motivate you?
CS: I enjoy the work. And the music is moving forward. It’s sounding fresh and cohesive. And it’s always great for me to go out and play concerts of new music. I’ve just never wanted to be in a band that didn’t do that. We’ve got new lifeblood with Jon and that’s helped circulate around the whole body, really. [laughs]