Interview: Jon Anderson (Yes, Jon and Vangelis, solo)

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HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: April 2012. We had the great honour to talk with a legendary singer and songwriter: Jon Anderson. He is the original vocalist of YES, with whom had a 40-year career. He has also collaborated with keyboards pioneer, Vangelis and many others. During the last years he has a very active and successful solo career. He sings the song “Limitless” in Marco Sabiu’s new album “Audio Ergo Sum”. Some months ago he released a 21-minute solo single, called “Open”; he did the album “The Living Tree” and toured with former bandmate Rick Wakeman and his latest solo full-length album is called “Survival & Other Stories”. Read below the very interesting things he told us:


I guess your collaboration with renown Italian composer/producer Marco Sabiu for “Limitless Lives” was very spontaneous and without any prior planning. Am I right?

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That’s right, Theodore. Marco sent me the music and in about an hour I had written the melody and the lyrics. He came up with the title, “Limitless” and I thought that has a very good energy, because we are limitless human beings. So, it was a very wonderful song to sing.


Were you familiar with Marco Sabiu’s songwriting?

No. A friend of mine Alessandro de Rosa, got in touch with Marco. Marco was finishing an album. They know each other very well, so he just mentioned my name. It was a very easy thing to happen. You know, music is very open. I love singing with different people and I am very excited to think of anybody, as long as music is good, ofcourse.


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Can you tell us the lyrical concept of “Open” and how difficult was its writing process?

Oh Gosh, yeah! “Open” was a wonderful experience for me and I think towards the end of the song I’m singing “we’re so connected to God, that is our right to be free. It is our right to have a beautiful life. God gave us right in order to have a world where there is no war, no damnation, no corruption etc”. And I have always been thinking about this. The lyrics that come to me for this piece of music have a lot of importance for me. I think I wrote the lyrics in two days.


Are you satisfied with the feedback you got so far for “Survival & Other Stories” album?

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I had wonderful, wonderful reviews. I didn’t see a bad review. Maybe my PR people don’t send me bad reviews. I didn’t see any bad reviews. When you have people experiencing good feeling while write music, that’s why you write music. You create music with hope to reach some real life. It is selling really well. As you know the album was made after the experience I had three years ago, when I nearly died. I had a feeling to being born again as a singer. I’m singing as good I have ever sung and I feel very excited about the songs that I did.


Was it more liberating for you that in “Survival & Other Stories” you had the total control of the music without being in a band and compromising?

Well, after 40 years with YES, I have a change of direction. I must say I was very lucky that in the‘70s I met Vangelis.


I’ll ask you later about this..

So, he gave me the freedom and understanding that music is free. You don’t have to know the people all the time and I have to say that. With Marco I worked with a people I didn’t meet. I worked with him on the Internet. Now people can send me their music and if I like the music, I would write the melody, lyrics and harmonies and send them back to them. If I like the music they send me, I would be happy to sing it.


How was it like to be again in the studio with Rick Wakeman for “The Living Tree” album?

We did this on the Internet. I was touring in America, he could send me music and I could sing it in the hotel room, on my laptop and send it back to him. I was composing my numbers on “The Living Tree” while I was on that tour. It was a wonderful experience, because it was very different to write music in a hotel room. Rick could send me music, I could listen to it, it was pure music and then I would write the melody and the lyrics and send them back to him. The only time we were together, was in our tour, last year. It was the first time we could sing these songs together on stage. That was a wonderful thing.


Will you do more touring with Rick in the near future?

Yeah, I spoke with him yesterday. He sent me some new music about a new project this summer, and we talked about touring next year. You never know what you are going to do. At that time, I came and sang with him. I never got this.


Do you have happy memories from your collaboration with Vangelis? Do you wish you have done more albums together?

Of course! You know, we did 4 albums together and every year I hope he will send me some new music to sing. He changed his direction ofcourse, people change, but Vangelis is my mentor. He is one the greatest musicians of the last 100 years, for me. He was the first keyboard player. The original man, you know. So, when I was singing with him, it was like being in heaven.


In 1984 you collaborated with one of my heroes, John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin bassist/keyboardist) for “Scream for Help” soundtrack. How was that experience?

Again, John Paul sent me the music. I was actually in New York at that time working, so I entered the studio and sung the song for him. I sang it the way he wanted. He is such a gentleman and I was very happy to sing for him. I met him in London where he mixed the song, and it was great to work with him. He’s a good man.


Do you like today the “Tales from Topographic Oceans” album?

I looove “Tales from Topographic” because of two things: when it was released it didn’t go down very well with people. Some critics and people from the record company didn’t like it because they like what plays on the radio. I was always saying “There are so many people who create music for the radio, I just make music for the music”. It was very upset to me, but 25 years later we performed “The Revealing Science of God”, the first movement and “Ritual” on tour in 2001-2 with orchestra. It was amazing to me that the music was still so good! I was very scared to play the music for my wife, I didn’t think she would like it and she told me that “Revealing” from “Topographic..” is one of her favourite pieces of music ever. So, I was very-very happy.


Are you proud of your cover to Paul Simon’s “America”? I think it is one of the best covers ever recorded!

I really love that recording. We used to do it onstage in every show and now when I do my solo shows I still do “America” because two years ago I became an American citizen. I married an American girl and I’m lucky to be with her. She’s a beautiful girl and she saved my life when I nearly died, you know. I’m an American citizen now. When I’m onstage, I think “America”. It’s one of the most beautiful songs I’ve done.


Spiritualism has always been a part of your life. What was the most important thing you discovered through spiritualism?

God is free. You don’t have to pay money to go to heaven. And we are infinite human beings. We are limitless. Our souls are forever. You ‘ll live your love once in heaven. When we say “heaven”, it’s just another dimension for us, it’s just another place. And we will meet all the people who have died: our mothers, our fathers, our children’s fathers and mothers. We will always live. You will never lose contact with people you love..


George Harrison (The Beatles guitarist) was one of the first musicians who adopted those ideas. Had you ever met him or discussed with him about these things?

I shook his hand but I couldn’t speak, because he’s George Harrison. When you meet George Harrison, what do you have to say?


You have recorded with many great musicians and bands. Is there anyone you’d like to work with and hasn’t happened yet?

I’m trying to work with a great drummer, called Jack DeJohnette. He’s one of the great drummers. I’m going to see him in two weeks time to talk to him about a project together. There are many musicians I would love to work with. There are too many. Eventually, I worked with people that I most wanted to work with. I have dreams to work with certain people, if it happens I would be very happy about it.


You should try to make it happen.

Sometimes you knock on the door and then you knock on the door and then nothing is happening. I ‘ve tried so many times to contact certain people and I think “No. It will happen when it happens”. My mantra is “it will happen when it happens”. I sent a message to Vangelis last year “Please, please Vangelis, I love you!! Please let me sing another song together. Just one. Please.” You can play this all over the radio. You know, I love him.


And he didn’t answer..

He didn’t answer me. No.


Do you think now that you’re not a member of a popular band like YES, it’s easier to understand the reasons behind Bill Bruford’s retirement from today’s music?

I think Bill has always been a great musician and great thinker. He would have some reason for retiring. Some musicians they keep playing forever, until they die. Others decide “Ok, I had enough” and that was what Bill decided. Sometimes it’s difficult to play music when the pressure is to make pop music, to make for money first. I don’t make music for money, I always made music for music. For the love of music. And if the money comes, I’ m so thankful. All you have to do is not to try make money, not to try make money, not to try make money. I would have been in prison for what for.


What kind of music are you listening at the moment?

Honestly, I love Sibelius. Yesterday, I listened to the violin concerto of Sibelius. I love Stravinsky, I love Mozart. I love Ethiopian music very much. All different kinds. I don’t listen to the pop radio. But when I listen to some song I like, I say “I wish I would write that song”.


Is it true that YES came to Greece in late ‘70s for a concert but it was cancelled because there were only two hundred fans in the stadium?

Probably (laughs). I didn’t get there because I was in Paris and I was about to get the plane and the manager rang me and told me “There are problems with the tickets. Problems with the tickets. Don’t come!” I said “Ok, ok”.


How do you see today the collapse of the major recording companies? Do you think it’s a kind of justice for their greed all these years?

I think so. I think it becomes like ketchup.  I think music for them is just like ketchup for selling burgers. Music is so wonderful, so powerful and it shouldn’t be just for money. Record companies would be more caring about the musicians and the artists and they should be together. But it became just money, money, money. And what happened is that the music industry don’t want dimensional music, don’t want the other kinds of music, they want pop music. You should be a pop star, otherwise you are not going to sell anything. And then music becomes like life: boring, boring and boring..There is so much great music now with the Internet. There are so many great young musicians that I work with, and they are so talented and so excited that the next 10 years of music, there will be incredible. The end of the recording company domination is a very good phenomenon for music.


Which was the best show you’ve been as a fan?

Oh, Gosh! Oh, Gosh! Oh, Gosh! I saw Paul Simon in “Graceland” (1986), which was unbelievable. I saw Bruce Springsteen when he did “Born in the U.S.A” . That was in Philadelphia. Amazing. In 1963, in April, me and my brother went to see The Beatles when they became famous.


In which town? In London?

Just north of Liverpool, in a place called Southport. They had just released the song “Love Me Do” and me and my brother on the motorbike went to see The Beatles and that was just amazing. I saw Jimi Hendrix in an small club in Munich in 1967 and he had just released “Hey Joe”. He was playing onstage with Experience. Unbelievable!! Afterwards, we went into a party of a friend of mine and Jimi Hendrix was there and he was very quiet guy, you know. I was sitting on the floor, because I was a very quite person then, I was very shy, and he came over to me and sat next to me and he evolved a joint. We smoked a joint together. I think it was a dream: to smoke a joint with Jimi Hendrix!


Have you ever thought to do some covers to famous songs with a guitarist for example, as Mick Jagger covered Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” with Jeff Beck?

Maybe no (laughs). My voice isn’t good enough for covering others’ songs.


You can re-arrange them as you did in “America”.

I did one now. Which is you e-mail address?


(I was spelling it)

I’m sending you a song I did for my son. He kept singing to me a song from Radiohead.


Which song?

(Ed: He’s singing) “Rain down, rain down on me/ From a great height/ From a greeeaaaat heeiight”


“Paranoid Android”! Will you release it?

No. I’m sending to you. I call the song “Rain Down”.


You should release it, even free through your site. You have nothing to lose. Maybe you will become known to a younger audience who doesn’t know about you life and your career. When Oasis disbanded, they had booked some more shows to play and there wasn’t any other band available to replace them, and finally Deep Purple replaced Oasis at Oasis’ festival dates as a headliner!!! And thousands of fans and members of the other bands in these indie festivals discovered Deep Purple music and went and took photos with them!! Try it! Release it through your site.

I’ll send it to my webmaster today.


Tomorrow it will be in all the Radiohead fansites! Do you like Radiohead?

I think they are very funny. And the good thing is that every song is totally different. Hear the song (Ed: His cover is playing in the background)


Who musician was a revelation for you the first time you saw him? Many describe the shock when they saw John Bonham (Led Zeppelin drummer)..

The best band ever: Mahavishnu Orchestra. John McLaughlin, Billy Cobham. Oh my God!! We saw their first show because we were on the same bill. YES, Mahavishnu Orchestra and The Kinks.


You are very lucky that you have lived all these experiences, you have met all these people and you have done all this music.

I know I’m a lucky man and I’m very thankful for what I do and send my love to the people of Greece and don’t worry about the money. Everything we live now is more important than money and everything will be fine.


How possible is to see you playing in Greece?

I would come tomorrow. If you would ask a promoter, I would come for two shows tomorrow. I would get on the plane, thank you very much. I love Greece.


A huge “THANK YOU” to Mr Jon Anderson and to Billy James for his help!

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