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Chris Squire Discusses Classic Albums Tour And Upcoming New Music From Yes

Chris Squire
Michael Buckner, Getty Images

As Yes enters their 45th year together as a performing unit, they’re taking an extended look at a cross-section of their work over the years, with tour dates which will feature the group performing three of their classic albums — ‘The Yes Album,’ ‘Close To The Edge’ and ‘Going For The One’ in full.

With a fluid lineup that often changed with each album, bassist/vocalist Chris Squire has been the one constant presence through it all (although as he points out, drummer Alan White has been along for nearly all of the ride as well). For Squire, he saw the member turnover as a band benefit, one which he says often “refreshed the musical approach” of Yes as they prepared to make the next album.

It will be a busy year for the group as they revisit these album classics, but there’s also new music on the horizon as well. In the following conversation, Squire lets us know what we can look forward to with the upcoming tour and what he’d like to accomplish with the next Yes album.

First of all, I know this idea has been brewing for a while. How did you end up choosing these three albums?

Well, I think the reason that we chose ‘The Yes Album’ was that was the first album that brought Yes to the attention of a worldwide audience back in 1971, so that was a landmark album for us. And of course, ‘Close To The Edge’ was the first album where we attempted to do a long 20 minute piece of music, which was one side of a vinyl album as it was in those days and so that was another landmark for us in our career. And ‘Going For The One’ was an album that was the first album that we recorded outside of the U.K., so that was a whole new different experience for us. And then we thought that the slightly different shades of Yes on those three albums also complimented each other real well too.

I think the pick of ‘Going For The One’ surprised some people who might have expected you to pick something like ‘Fragile’ or ‘Relayer’ to fill that third slot instead. What was it that pushed you towards that one? It’s an interesting period for the band. That’s the first record that you produced yourselves, right?

We pretty much had co-produced everything with Eddy Offord…..not at the beginning, because we were pretty green in the studio, but from ‘The Yes Album’ onwards, we pretty much co-produced everything. And then when we went to do ‘Going For The One,’ we changed engineers to have this guy John Timperley, who was the resident engineer at the studio in Montreux on Lake Geneva where we recorded that. So the sound changed a bit for that album and from what I remember, there were quite a few heated conversations over the amount of echo that was being used by certain people who loved echo at that time and it got a bit much at times. [Laughs]

But yeah, we missed Eddy, I think and his guiding influence that he had, so you’re right, we were kind of out there with a new character at that time and also throwing in more of our own ideas as well, of course.

Did the experience of working on that album and working on your own for the first time instead of having a co-producer, did that lead you back into taking on a co-producer again for the next album, ‘Tormato?’

No, the next album we did with a different set of people and that was back in London, but we pretty much produced that one also. That album turned out pretty good, actually, I think.

I know you’ve mentioned the possibility of doing other albums on future tours. I think ‘Tormato’ would be a good one.

It would be, yeah. But I kind of suspect that we won’t do this again for a while, because probably by the time we get to our next touring cycle, we’re hoping to have a new studio album in the bag. So we’ll probably be concentrating more on promoting that in 2014. But then again, we could maybe come back to this idea after that. We’ll see.

The band has remained fairly focused on making new music in the past 20 years and tour like this does swing things in the opposite direction and it’s more of a nostalgia trip. What was the motivating factor for you to do a tour like this?

I think only because we wanted to have a theme for the tour, as we don’t have a new album out at the moment and as I said, this idea has been rolling around in our suggestion box for at least the last 15 years. It’s just that we finally got around to doing it is all.

‘The Yes Album’ was the first album to feature Steve Howe. Collaboratively, how did his addition change the songwriting process in the band?

That was another great thing about ‘The Yes Album’ for us of course, when Steve came into the band and it definitely upped our level of writing as well. Up until then it had been mainly Jon and myself who had done the writing. It was good to get somebody else in there with some fresh ideas. In a way, that’s always been Yes’ history to a large extent! Quite a few occasions when we’ve had a new band member or change in members, then we’ve done a new album with new chops and refreshed the musical approach.

Famously, you’ve been a part of every Yes lineup. What has kept you engaged in being a member of Yes when there have been so many people coming and going.

It’s really more by default than design that that situation has occurred. I think that in a lot of those instances there has been a lot of members of the band who have decided that they wanted to leave mainly to pursue solo projects and in the case of Rick Wakeman, that happened three or four times where he’d leave and come back and with Jon Anderson, that’s happened in the past that he has gone off to do solo things and then come back to the fold. We must remember also that, of course, Alan White has also been there since 1972 when he came in, so he’s been a constant compadre of mine ever since then.

He’s been there long enough that he might as well have been with you the entire time!

Yeah, he’s the new drummer since the last 40 years [Laughs]

From the albums you made in the ‘70s, it would seem like you had a lot of freedom creatively. What sort of proving ground was there with the record label to get to that point?

I think we were just lucky that we were in a time when record company executives were more open to the artist’s approach and it wasn’t so reliant upon a producer, at least not in our case anyway. So we just were lucky to be in a niche I think and especially of course, Ahmet Ertegun had signed us personally to Atlantic Records, so he liked our vision and our experimentation that we were up to. There was nobody really on our case at the record company saying that we should be doing something like this or something like that. With the Roger Dean artwork and everything playing into the image of Yes [including] the triple live album ‘Yessongs’ with the huge gatefold cover, we [also] had Ahmet’s support on all of that. It was pretty hassle-free as far as being told by the record company anything.

When you first worked with Roger Dean, did you have any sense at the time what an important relationship that was going to turn out to be?

It really just started off with ‘Fragile’ and honestly, he had already done the painting and he came for a meeting at the Atlantic Records office in London to show them his work and see if they had anyone [band-wise] that they thought might like it and the executive there at the time, Phil Carson, said, “Oh, well, we’ve got a band in the studio at the moment making an album, let’s take it down to them.” So Roger showed up at the studio and we were in the process of recording ‘Fragile’ and he showed us his artwork of various kinds and we chose what became the ‘Fragile’ sleeve. That album was very successful for us of course, so it only seemed natural to carry on with him after that on subsequent albums.

Sequencing albums for each specific album side and the time limitations that came along with that —  did you have issues making the sequencing of the ‘Close To The Edge’ album work, time-wise?

No, ‘Close To The Edge’ of course, one track does fit on the one side and then the two other tracks were on the other side, so that wasn’t a problem. Of course, it was always strange when it came to 8-track tapes. Especially, I think it was ‘Tales of Topographic Oceans’ on 8-track that was the funniest thing, because it would fade out in the middle of a song and fade back in again and when the tracks change, it was quite amusing. But no, we worked to the format that we had at the time, which was the vinyl format and a good length on a side was give or take a minute or two, 20 minutes.

I was just curious, knowing the length of that title suite, if there was any editing that had to be done to get it down to fit on the one side.

No, no. ‘Close To The Edge,’ we actually had played it from beginning to end before we recorded it in the studio. So we knew how long it was and we knew it would fit on the album fine, so we didn’t do any editing.

I look at Yes and Genesis as two bands that really stretched the limits of recording technology for the time. Do you enjoy making albums now as much as you did back then when you really had to dream harder to make things happen?

[Laughs] There was definitely more of a challenge involved, of course. With technology now these days, there are different challenges, I suppose. But of course, yeah, a lot of the things that we would take hours over, struggling to achieve, obviously can be done in seconds now. But I enjoy recording today as much as I did back then. Obviously we’ve had 20 albums and one gets a little bit used to the idea, but it’s still exciting for me.

Which album was the hardest to get down?

Oh, absolutely that was ‘Topographic Oceans,’ that took a lot of hard work. Because we were trying to achieve four sides of 20 minutes apiece and that was a lot of work. But at the end of the day, it certainly turned out to be a piece of art and also contributed to the longevity of our career as well, because I guess we established ourselves as artists who were very capable and wanted to take risks and I think that won us a lot of favor with our audience.

New music has been such an important part and focus of touring, when you had new albums to support like ‘Magnification,’ ‘Open Your Eyes,’ etc. Do you feel like you had the same proper opportunity to spread the music in that way with the touring that you did for the ‘Fly From Here’ album?

We did do the whole of the live suite from ‘Fly From Here’ and that was very enjoyable to do. In fact, that is actually our longest piece of music I think that we’d ever done. But yeah, I’m pretty sure that maybe in 2014, we may reintroduce elements of ‘Fly From Here’ into a show that we do next year. Right now [the focus will be on] ‘The Yes Album,’ ‘Close To The Edge’ and ‘Going For The One.’ [Laughs]

Steve Howe just announced his departure from Asia….

Yeah, you know what, I just got an email about that just before you called. I didn’t even read it. I just saw the headline.

Does that affect the status of Yes as far as Geoff Downes being a member?

I don’t think so. I hadn’t heard about it until just now. I guess they just decided….you know, Steve had set himself quite a hectic schedule with his work with Yes and Asia and also he goes out with his son on drums with the Steve Howe Trio, I think he calls it. So he’s had a lot on his plate, he probably just wanted to slow down a bit for some of those projects, I guess, and I guess Asia was the one that he decided to lose.

Geoff seems like he was a key part of the construction of the ‘Fly From Here’ album. Can you talk about how that idea came about to revisit that title track, which really ended up becoming the centerpiece of the album?

Yeah, that was just a track that we had demoed and played and, in fact, had played and recorded live on our 1980 tour with Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes. So when I approached Trevor, who, of course, also later on produced the ‘90125’ album and parts of the ‘Big Generator’ album, when I asked him if he wanted to work together again on a Yes album, he was up for it. The conversation just came around to, “Oh, remember that track we did back then? Maybe we should take that as a theme or a core and expand it into a classic longer form piece of Yes music.” And we both got excited about that idea as did Steve and Alan. And so that’s really the way we went with that and then part of our process, of course, Trevor persuaded me that it would be good maybe to have Geoff back in as part of the lineup, as he’d been connected with that music in the beginning and that’s really how Geoff rejoined the band.

What can you tell us about the thoughts and directional strategies that are in play when it comes to the new album that Yes is starting to think about?

Well, there are only small ideas at the moment. There’s nothing that’s been seriously rehearsed or looked at yet. We’re just starting to collect ideas now and we won’t get into the recording of a new album until at least the end of this year. So there’s quite a lot of water to go under the bridge before we get there.

Where would you personally want to go on the heels of what you did as a band on ‘Fly From Here.’

It’s exciting to know that Jon Davison has come into the band and as opposed to Benoit David, who was not a writer at all, Jon Davison is a writer, so I’m looking forward really to a collaboration with Jon, as well as the other guys of course, as a new factor in the Yes mix. So that will be I guess fairly exciting, to see what he brings to the table.

Your work with Jimmy Page was an idea that would have been really cool but unfortunately for the public, it never really got off the ground. Can you talk about that period?

I just read an article that Jimmy had done about it actually and it’s pretty much as he said. After John Bonham had passed away, Jimmy wanted to get back into playing and so we lived pretty local to each other in England at that time and so we just started knocking ideas around in the studio and I think he was happy to be playing again. We were hoping that Robert Plant might come along and join in, but it was too early for him to make a decision like that after John’s passing. That’s really why it kind of didn’t go any further, because I think we wanted to have Robert involved in it and it didn’t happen at that time.

Jimmy said that there are some multi-track recordings that exist that he’d love to see come out. Would the two of you have to do some additional work to make that happen?

Probably, yeah. There are bass tracks and drum tracks and guitar tracks, but there wasn’t much in the way of overdubs. I did quite a few vocals and harmonies, but they were somewhat rough. It was intended just really to be demos that we were making anyway. So that’s where it got to really. I know you can probably access that stuff — it’s out there on the web and you can find it, but they are just really rough mixes. How they got out there I’m not really sure, but that’s the way those things happen. So yes, if we seriously did anything with those, they’d need a little bit more work on them.

Your bass sound is so distinctive and confident in tone and a lot of times, it functions as a lead instrument in the Yes music. Can you talk about the elements as a player that helped you find that tone that we’re so familiar now?

I think it was just developing. Our second album ‘Time And A Word’ was where we first started to work with Eddy Offord [who came on board as an engineer on that album] and he and I just had a really good relationship with how he liked the way my tone was coming out of my Marshall 100-watt that I’d used ever since the beginning really and the thing that he added to that by [using] certain compression and certain settings that he liked in the studio, so we just developed it really, from ‘Time And A Word’ onwards and I suppose you could say that by the time we got to ‘Fragile’ and ‘Roundabout’ he’d really finessed the production of my bass sound.

And of course in the music, it’s really how the bass became quite featured volume-wise, because when a producer named Tony Colton mixed ‘Time And A Word’ and decided to wear a pair of headphones. The headphone output from the desk that he was listening to was very bass-light, so he was jamming these headphones on his head and he kept waving to Eddy, “I need more bass! I need more bass!” and so Eddy just kept turning the bass up for him and at some point, he said, “Yeah, that’s great.” But in actual fact, the bass was over-loud in the room, but he didn’t really realize that, because he was mixing with the headphones on. So that’s sort of in an odd way, why I was mixed so loudly on all of those albums. When the album came out, ‘Time And A Word,’ it got such good reviews from the audio magazines that I guess Eddie figured we’d carry on mixing the bass loud and the rest is history!

Next: Yes - Top 100 classic Rock Songs

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