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04/05/2012 EXCLUSIVE: Jon Anderson interview

Date Published: 04-05-2012

Tuesday was a monumentally peculiar day anyway. Corinna and Graham drove to Exeter to do some repairs to my stepdaughter Olivia’s house, and I was left in blissful peace and quiet for most of the day. The only telephone call was from Jessica (the 14 year old schoolgirl who is rapidly becoming indispensible in the day to day running of both the CFZ and the Gonzo blog offices, and is the most efficient assistant I have ever had) telling me that her mother Helen (my housekeeper) had done her back in, and wouldn’t be coming over that day. That exchange lasted approximately two minutes, and apart from that, between 10:00am and 8.30pm I spoke to no-one at all except for my silly (but very affectionate) dog, and slightly less silly (but equally affectionate) orange cat.

No-one at all, that is, apart from Jon Anderson.

I first heard Yes when a bloke on my school bus in 1973 had a badly recorded cassette tape of 'Close to the Edge'. I was dumbstruck – I thought that there was some kind of law saying that pop songs had to be 3.5mins in length, and that there was a proscribed list of subjects that could be written about. This one took up the whole side of an elpee, had chord changes and key changes beyond the limits of my imagination, and I had absolutely no idea what it was about! I was completely hooked, and have been a devotee of the band ever since. A few years later I heard Jon Anderson’s first solo album 'Olias of Sunhillow' (coincidentally at about the same time I first read Tolkien) and even more strange and arcane vistas were opened up to me.

I owe Jon Anderson quite a debt, and intended to tell him so, but bizarrely, when our conversation started it was mostly esoteric. He asked me where I lived, and I told him that I live in a tiny village in North Devon that very few people have heard of…

Jon A: I remember when we first started we actually rented a small cottage and rehearsed near Barnstaple and we actually had a Ouija board so we got spirits to come and say hello. It was kind of bizarre.

Jon D: And did they?

Jon A: Oh yeah. There spirits are around us all the time. They are watching all the time. I think there is a movie about it, a great German movie about it, with Peter Falk

Jon D: I was listening to your new record today. It’s jolly good. I was surprised as to how many different textures there were in it.

Jon A: Which one was it exactly?

Jon D: Open. I was listening to that this morning and was struck by the idea that it is very 21st Century because it has been recorded to be sent out digitally, and it’s the sort of length that back in the old days would have sort of fallen in length between an LP and an EP and now because you don’t have those sorts of constraints because of the electronic method of delivery, it can stand on its own and it’s wonderful.

Jon A: Right. It’s just part of my DNA to sort of invest in the sort of longer pieces because it’s like a journey for me to create so when you’re working on it you’re hoping the listener is going to go through the same journey.

Jon D: Yes I went through all sorts of different head spaces with it because the moods it creates are so different.

Jon A: Yeah, that’s the idea. In some ways when you’re into the constant flow of music you want to make sure that the listener – well I’m the listener first and foremost and I want it to be entertaining for me - and at every twist and turn you just don’t want to be lolloping along and just making long-form music for the sake. You want to do it for a reason, and it just works for me so I always hope people get it, you know?

Jon D: I’ve always preferred the longer pieces you have done, both solo and with Yes to the shorter pieces. You have room to move I think there.

Jon A: Well, as I say, it is something I like doing because when I listen to the music that I really like it isn’t so much a short form music, I like longer symphonic structured things that ... something you can listen to over and over you can listen to it every month if you want, it is something that ..or every week if you like. It’s just something you get involved in, in some ways.

Jon D: I know what you mean. Something I’ve always wondered. When you set out to write something like this, do you write it in a linear fashion? Do you start at the beginning and work through to the end, or do you add different bits and bobs that you slot it?

Jon A: I generally put together – I’ve started my next one already, so I know the shape and form – more or less. I will try to find three or four major points to get to so you need the introduction, then the stanza that brings you into the song. Coming out of the song, you want a stanza bringing you back to the beginning maybe, and so on, and then a middle section which is totally a next experience and then you want to go for a longer ending that really takes you to that – you always want to climb the mountain musically and get to the really good place at the end. And then as you end, you can do it with a sharp bang or you can end with a fade into a lighter piece.

With Open there is a little bit of lightning at the end. I just wanted to finish it with a big statement. I wanted to say, well that’s Part One. You know, I’m on Part Two now.

Jon D: I thought the strings in the last movement particularly, were some of the most stirring things I have heard in years.

Jon A: Well, it’s interesting, the guy who did the orchestration, Stefan, he just lives 15 minutes away by the ocean and he does a lot of composition. He came up here to do composition and we became really good friends and I just kept talking about my feelings about music and he understood pretty much we wanted to go on this piece and now we are working on the next one.

We have got a general understanding – we like a lot of fireworks, you know we like musical structure that just gives that feeling of continuity of the music and the lyric and so he’s very good at that

Jon D: When is the next one due?

Jon A: Well we have started already and he is coming next week, he is going to work some time in Autumn, because he is busy doing a bass symphony for bass instruments, not the electric bass but the orchestral bass. Double bass. And he’s also working on some new music for a youth orchestra in Cleveland And so he is very busy this summer. But that’s good, you know. People should be busy.

Jon D: And you are on tour this summer anyway aren’t you?

Jon A: Yeah, I’m going on tour in June and July break and then coming to London and then going to Brazil so I’m pretty busy travelling and doing my solo show.

Jon D: Brazil sounds fantastic

Jon A: It's a lot of fun in Brazil. They have a different way of living in terms of their state of mind, I think in Brazil. Everybody that lives south of the equator, they love living, rather than north of the equator it’s a bit of a panic.

Jon D: The Latin American mindset is completely different

Jon A: Yeah, they live for music. They don’t live off it. In terms that I think that sometimes we seem to forget that music is for life rather than monetary gain, so what we have is monetary gain music rather than music for life.

There are a lot of incredibly talented musicians around the world that find it hard to get their music heard because the road is very narrow, as it was probably around the beginning of the 60s the road was so narrow as to what was commercially viable, and what was musically proper, and then at the beginning of the 60s we had this incredible sort of breakthrough with The Beatles and that changed the whole landscape and I think we are going to go through a similar situation in the next two or three years, maybe more, where you don’t have to be a pop star to make money or make music.

You can do it - thankfully - via the internet. It is a slow process but it still helps the musician to financially survive, and I think a lot of young musicians are going to be giving the music world a little bit if a different taste in style because, as you know, it gets sometimes a little bit bogged down, it’s got to be radio friendly, the chorus has got to be the hit, so that’s always been around, there is nothing wrong with it but it restricts the musical world shall we say. So in South America on every street corner there is a musician singing and playing for some reason. They just love making music.

Jon D: I made a film in Mexico about 14 years ago and I got completely blown away by the cultural street music there – it’s something I have just never come across before

Jon A: It’s wonderful

Jon D: And like you said, the internet is making the world a much smaller place, and it is changing the rules for everybody

Jon A: That’s the truth. It’s made everybody available. And the interesting thing is you cannot hide, and corruption is being found out, and I think that is a great thing. It’s as though the people who have been corrupting this world on many levels that we all know about are now being found out. It’s a funny and interesting thing

Jon D: It’s a very exciting time to be alive

Jon A: I agree, very wonderful

And then my alloted time-span was up, so I said my goodbyes, and put the telephone down. There are times that I very much like writing this blog. This was one of them.

Check out the Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman page at Gonzo
Check out the Anderson, Wakeman, Bruford and Howe page at Gonzo


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