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Jon Anderson on Creating ‘World Studio’ via Internet With Fans Around the Globe for New Album

Jon Anderson
Robin Kauffman

Former Yes singer Jon Anderson isn’t letting his 2008 health scare, or a disharmonious breakup with the legendary band he helped found over 40 years ago, stop him from making music in a variety of different creative settings.

We caught up the singer to discuss the unconventional creative process of his latest record, ‘Survival & Other Stories,’ and found him full of interesting views on a variety of subjects:

Your lyrics seem cosmic, very spiritual, how do you translate everyday life experiences, like buying sneakers or having to fix something in the house, into your music.

Oh, I’m just a natural person. I go to the store, I shop every other day, I cook, I meet people. I’m just a regular person, really. I just like to write songs about searching for truths, and understanding the world, and nature, and everything that surrounds us. I just sing about that, really — not TOO cosmic, really, I just use words in sort of a different way sometimes. But the themes are very strong about getting rid of corruption and living beyond war, things like that. I think everybody wants the same thing, which is peace on earth and a better way of living for everybody in the world. You can’t have 5, 10% of the world enjoying the wealth and the rest of the people out there starving, not really having a good life. Everybody should be sharing the wealth. So, if that’s cosmic, that’s what it is.

So, you collaborated with fans from across the world on this record?

I put an advert on my website asking for musicians to send me one minute of their music to a special address. Then, when I checked through the music, I picked out all the good people who were really talented, and sent them e-mails, saying ‘now, send me a couple of songs, music, backing tracks, ideas. Don’t send me melodies, cause that’s what I do, I write melodies and lyrics.’ I got so many answers and I still get them every day. I get new songs sent to me all the time. It’s like opening up this pandora’s box of music. This is the first of many albums from people sending me music, and me writing songs and lyrics, meeting new people via the the Internet. It’s a new studio, the world studio.

That seems very forward-thinking.

I’ve always been [wanting] to do the next best thing with my music and technology and working in better studios, and eventually working in my own studio on a computer. Everything is more interconnected, you know?

And each song is with a different person?

The first song is with Jamie Dunlap, ‘New New World,’ and he does music for ‘South Park.’ We had a friend who knew somebody who knew somebody, he started sending me MP3s of ideas, and we started writing. We’ve written four or five songs now. The second song, ‘Understanding Truth,’ that was [with] a young kid I met in North Holland, who plays beautiful guitar. He sent me that guitar track, I sang right away, and it was a beautiful idea and that’s what happens. From then on, there are songs from people in Australia, people on the East coast, one guy from Canada, so it’s a combination of working with different people … it was kind of exciting.

Did you use the music from them, or re-record the songs with your own band?

No, it’s their music, they created the demo, and most of the time it was damn near perfect. Sometimes they would say, “OK, we loved the song that you sent back, and now I want to add more hand drums,” or “I want to take away the strings.” I let them do what they wanted to do, they would produce the music and that’s the way it worked. Sometimes, they would send me the files, and I would mix everything in my studio.

That’s amazing, because it all sounds very much of one piece, not from different sources.

It could be because of my voice, that sort of sticks it all together.

Do you think of it as kind of a musical quilt, then?

Yeah, I think that’s a good idea. Every song that I do, is sort of a connection of the people who write the music and myself coming up with an idea for the melody and lyric. Eventually, it becomes a part of my life, so it’s who I am at this moment in time. It’s a good way to create music, there’s so many great musicians out there. I think a lot of people will love the album.”

So, on your current tour, it’s just you and an acoustic guitar, right?

Yeah, it works better for me at this moment. You know, I spent 35 years with a band. You tour with bands, and you think, OK it was great when I’m 30, 40, but now, you know, I’m 67, I don’t want to tour with bands. I’m able to do a very good show doing a solo concert with a guitar, and a dulcimer and a piano. I entertain people, people love the show. That’s what I like to do. I’ve been doing it about five, six years now when I do this solo show. I travel all over the world. I’m going to Brazil later in the year; I’ve got a concert in Vancouver in a couple of weeks. So, I get around, you know? I’m singing with orchestras now, too, which is different than singing with bands. I’m just happy to continue the adventure.

Will you be making more records with Rick Wakeman?

Well, I think we’ll do another, or two, because we’re connected, we’re good friends. We’ve got a live version of the songs coming out in September, and then we’re touring the East Coast in October and November. So, we talked about, next year we could do a tour of Europe in the springtime maybe, we’ll see what happens.

Did you enjoy having your song featured on that Kanye West tune ‘Dark Fantasy’?

I thought it was great! He got in touch with me, and I said, “Yeah, I’d love for you to use it,” cause you know, you get a lot of people interested in, “Who’s that singing?” or you know, people getting in touch with who I am. It’s spreading the word, really.

So, as long as it’s properly credited and paid for, you have no problem with sampling?

No, not at all!

So, we’re glad to hear that you are once again in great health.

Excellent, yes, I’m very happy, I went through a bad year, you know? Everybody does. Most people in the world get sick — I got sick in a one year period and I’m happy and healthy now.

Was your health scare part of the reason you’re no longer working with Yes?

I think it was a combination, you know? They wanted to keep on touring, and I was sick and couldn’t tour. So, they got probably upset, and thought, “No, we want to tour,” and they got someone else to sing. And you say, well … OK, at the time, you know, it was, “Why didn’t they wait until I got healthy?” I believe you find out who your friends are when you get sick. You know, it just happens that’s what they wanted to do.

You’ve also been doing shows with orchestras across the world. How does that work?

Yeah, you send the music ahead, it’s in the computer, so you just send them files and say, “This is the music I’ll be doing,” and the orchestra practices, you go and sing and it’s perfect.

Are classical musicians better than rock musicians, in technical terms?

That’s a hard one. It’s just different, different strokes, really. Cause, you know, when you listen to a full orchestra playing your music it’s just unbelievable. They read notes, it’s hard to explain, they’re very fast and very quick and incredibly talented people.

Who are your favorite classic rockers?

I love Mahavishnu Orchestra, I loved obviously Zeppelin in their heyday, and the Who, of course. Gosh, there’s so many but those are the people that really inspired me at the time.

Are there any artists you’d particularly like to work with?

Oh, it’s a list as long as your arm, I’d love to sing with Stevie Wonder, for example.

Are you a fan of any modern bands?

I work with young people from School of Rock for the last five years, so there’s a lot of young talent out there. Young bands, I haven’t heard so many great things, but there are bands that do good stuff. Some of Radiohead, now and again. You hear a good song every week, but it’s all sort of commercial pop music. I don’t hear an album of new music, shall we say, an album of incredibly new music. There are a lot of young people who send me their music and it’s damn good, but they haven’t had a break into the mainstream yet.

Do you think the album format is essential to rock music?

Oh, gosh yeah! [It's] a series of songs, it’s how of how you are in that space of time, it’s a magical experience. You go out and buy an album, it’ll last a lifetime if you love it.

Is the title of ‘Survival & Other Stories’ tied into your recent health scare?

Well, there’s a couple of songs about that, and there’s a couple about Afghanistan and the corruption of the world. There’s one song about the oil billionaires that screw this planet to death, and there’s songs about other things

We’ve touched on these themes, what can a person reading this article do, to make the world better?

Just dream a better world. Your world is your world, you can change your world right now. Just dream a better world and know that you are in God’s light, you are one with the infinite, your soul is everlasting and God is love, and God is all that is … See, we live in a beautiful illusion, the true world is within, the power of love, the power of the divine, and how you can spread your light — let it shine, let it shine!

Listen to Jon Anderson Perform ‘New New World’ from ‘Survival & Other Stories’

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