Legendary progressive-rock band YES will be releasing their newest album, “The Quest,” on October 1st via InsideOutMusic. You can check out our review of the album here.
“The Quest” contains 11 songs and continues to live up to their reputation as a band who can blend well-crafted guitar, vocal melodies, and stellar musicianship with sheer expertise. It is an album that flourishes with instrumentation and reflects the talented musicianship of Steve Howe on guitar, Alan White on drums, Geoff Downes on keyboardist, Jon Davison on vocals, Billy Sherwood on bass.
One listen to “The Ice Bridge,” with its shimmering soundscapes and the multi-layered melodrama of “A Living Island,” it is clear that this is YES‘s most musically extravagant and daring release so far. With a never-ending stream of ingenious riffs and propulsive rhythms underpinning the whole explosive enterprise, this is an album that will raise the bar for the entire prog-rock genre.
Alan White‘s powerful drumming and percussion abilities have profoundly influenced the band’s signature sound as well as impacted nearly half a century of musicians and progressive rock music. Not many bands or artists can leave a lasting impression and legacy as he has done in YES.
Correspondent Robert Cavuoto spoke to Alan about the decades of consistently delivering stellar music, how “The Quest” was recorded during COVID, and what his friend John Lennon would have thought of the song “Mystery Tour,” which pays homage to him and The Beatles. Check out their conversation transcript below, and remember that for more interviews and other daily content, make sure to follow Sonic Perspectives on Facebook, Flipboard and Twitter, and subscribe to our YouTube channel to be notified about new content we publish on a daily basis.
YES is constantly as good as you were in the 70s and 80s despite member changes. What do you think drives that solid musical consistency from decade to decade?
First of all, the music is always kept to a very high standard with YES. We always seek the perfect performance and sound in moving forward.
How important is the thematic approach and storytelling to YES as a band? You paint a beautiful musical picture in the listener’s minds, particularly with the first single, “The Ice Bridge?”
I agree! “The Ice Bridge” relates to the COVID situation in a strange way. We didn’t want to dwell on it by spending the whole album talking about it. It was pretty much a big downer for the entire world, so we wanted the songs to be more uplifting.
Is there an adventure theme running through the album, like with “The Ice Bridge,” “The Western Edge,” and “A Living Island?” Each of them is telling an adventurous story.
There is when it comes to the music. I won’t say it’s retro, but there is a reflection on some of the earlier YES tracks in certain ways. It is adventurous moving forward into the future.
Jon Davison is such a talented vocalist and gift to the band. He carries the band’s vocal history while helping it evolve and grow with each album. Kudos to him.
The band dabbles into our history within certain passages of these songs, and we always have and still do, focus on lead vocals. That combination always seems to work with our music as we are covering our whole career.
What was the writing and recording process like for “The Quest” during the COVID lockdown?
Billy Sherwood and I are both on the west coast while the rest of the guys are in Europe and England. It was impossible to get us together in the same room as it wasn’t allowed. We gave input while in the demo phase, but most of it was put together in England by Steve, Jon, and Geoff. Billy and I flew down to Los Angeles and digitally sent the working tracks of our parts to them. I recorded my part for all the tracks in about ten days in the studio with Billy.
Does spontaneity play a critical role when it comes to recording the drum parts for these elaborate songs?
Yes, I had the demos, so I knew what I was going to do when I got to the studio. I did my homework, and when I went to the studio, and was able to do what I wanted to do.
Was there ever a time where the band had to self-edit on how long the song would be?
Not really; the songs on “The Quest” are not that long. YES has always been adventurous in timing as Atlantic Records let us put an album out that was four different songs on a double album. We have never been controlled by that. Luckily, we have had record companies that don’t mind, provided we are giving a quality performance on those long songs.
With such expansive and technically challenging songs, does the band have to rehearse longer and harder to get everything down prior to a tour?
Not really with for this album. Some of the older music is more challenging. With albums like “Relayer” can be very challenging to play on stage. Playing a song is like telling a story to yourself. There are different reoccurring themes that come up in different forms once you get used to doing it and logging it into your mind in different sections.
I loved “Mystery Tour:” tell me about its creation with paying homage to The Beatles?
I used to play with John Lennon and have always been a fan of The Beatles; they were a very talented band. They deserved all the success they got. I was proud to do that song as well as play on John‘s “Imagine” album. Then following it through with a tribute to him and the band with this song.
Being friends with John Lennon, what do you think he would have thought of the song?
That’s an interesting question. I think he would have loved it due to the relevant things the song talks about and the individual members in The Beatles.
It’s a fun song that puts a smile on your; I’m sure he would have enjoyed it.
It is meant to be that way. You saw the character in him. It’s reflecting on the life of a musical entity that took over the world.
Were you star-struck when you first met John?
No, not really. I was only 20 years old, and I seemed to take it all in stride, thinking it was a step in my musical career. I just got on with it and figured I would do the best job I could.
Looking back at the opportunity to work with him, does it seem like a dream?
Funny you should say that as that is what I tell people. At the time, I didn’t realize what was going on, but after ten years, I look back and ask myself, “Did I really do all that?” [Laughing].
You have led an extraordinary career. Was working with John Lennon the highlight of your career or the icing on the cake?
It is something you can’t disregard. It was one of the biggest things I did in my career, and then joining YES! Those are a couple of things that are huge in any musician’s career. I just got on with it and did the best I could.
Any plans to tour the United States in support of “The Quest?”
We have Europe in 2022 on the books, but currently, people are going on tour only to cancel after a couple of weeks because of COVID. It’s not a great climate out there. People are touring; I just hope it doesn’t spread the virus even more.
You have been in so many iterations of YES for nearly 50 years. Is there anyone album tour or iteration of the band that resonated with you as a favorite memory?
Every album is a different era in one’s life. They are different in a certain way. I like the “Relayer” album era. That was good for the rhythm section.