Yes Bassist Billy Sherwood Remembers Chris Squire: Interview
Yes bassist Billy Sherwood brings his Citizen character back for a second album, Citizen: In the Next Life, which finds the traveler continuing his journey through time and space, inhabiting the worlds and individual circumstances of a variety of historical figures and moments in time.
Whether it’s Adolf Hitler in the closing days of World War II or the Impressionist painter Claude Monet, physicist Stephen Hawking, sheriff Wyatt Earp or even his late bandmate Chris Squire, Sherwood’s Citizen paints a vivid historical path for the listener to travel.
Sherwood tells UCR it was complicated coming up with the initial idea. “"I’m not really a concept-album guy," he says. "Most of the cool concepts have been taken in life already by other people doing other things. But I came up with this idea of this wandering soul. It’s allowed me to be able to write about things that interest me in history, and there’s no end to that.”
The characters and their stories helped inspire the songs, and, in some cases, current events fed back into the content development. With "Sophia," it was a lyrical idea that pushed the musical feeling forward. “I had been watching the news and I’m very much into A.I. and what’s happening on that front," he explains.
Watching TV, he saw a story about how Saudi Arabia made a robot named Sophia a citizen of its country. ”I thought that was incredibly interesting," Sherwood says. "So I immediately was writing the lyrics, and then I put this sort of melancholy love song feeling thing to the backing track. It’s kind of a cautious tale of love."
The album wraps with a tribute to Sherwood's late Yes bandmate Squire. “He played on the first track of the first record, and we lost him shortly after that," he recalls. “I thought that reflecting on his famous bass solo from the ‘80s, where he did ‘Amazing Grace,’ would be kind of obvious enough. Then the thought occurred to me to just sing that one little portion of the lyric and switch the lyrics around to reflect it as the citizen characters that we lost and sort of embody Chris in there without saying ‘Chris Squire.'"
Squire's dedication to Yes carried the band forward through obstacles over the decades. That's something Sherwood readily acknowledges. “Chris was the only guy who was never out of Yes," he notes. "He was there from tip to tail. Here’s a guy whose legacy is epic, and maybe any other rock star wouldn’t want to tamper with that. But here’s a guy who, in the final throes, looks at me and says, 'Take this and promise me that you’ll keep this going.'"
Sherwood calls the moment “heartbreaking.” “I knew what Yes meant to Chris, but in that moment, it really was amplified," he recalls. "It’s like, This is an amazing gesture from this guy. The fact that he trusted me to be able to do that with the band and for him ... Chris was all about the music. He was a full-on musician all the way to the end.”
This summer’s Royal Affair tour finds Sherwood doing double duty with both Yes and Asia. He says he relishes the ongoing opportunity to dig further into the legendary Yes catalog. The new set list covers some interesting corners of the group’s legacy.
Watch Yes Perform 'The Gates of Delirium'
“Playing ‘Gates of Delirium’ is a complete mind-blower for me," Sherwood explains. "When I was a kid learning how to play bass and getting my chops together, I would play along to Yes records. The hardest one to try to play to was always ‘Gates of Delirium.’ My goal was to play it from tip to tail without stopping, and often times I’d just have to stop and go, “God, how did this guy do this? This is intense.'"
Sherwood says he even dropped musical hints to the other members of Yes along the way. “I would show up at soundcheck when I took Chris’ place, and I would start playing little chunks of the bass line of [songs from] Relayer," he laughs. "Steve [Howe] would just kind of look at me and grin and say, ‘Not yet.' And I would go, ‘Well, any time you’re ready, I’m ready.’ We slowly started getting the thought in our heads that we could tackle this. We’ve [now] been playing it every night. It’s a challenge, but we’ve been nailing it.”
Even when he’s touring, Sherwood is thinking ahead. He has a Christmas prog album featuring a number of special guests on the way. There's also a tribute to Emerson, Lake and Palmer he's working on.
“I’ve got a mobile studio with me that I carry around, so I get a lot of work done, even while I’m on the road," he says. "But when I get home, I am looking forward to taking a day or two off, to just chill. And then see where life takes us at that point. There’s plans for Yes to do more next year. And there’s some talks of Asia doing more things. I think it’s going to become busier sooner than I thought.”