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A Conversation With Jon Anderson

Jon Anderson

For four decades Jon Anderson has been most closely associated with Yes, one of Prog rock’s most enduring acts. Besides his prolific work as a vocalist, Anderson has scored a ballet and performed on albums by a various array of artists including Kitaro, Mike Oldfield and Vangelis.

In the spring of 2008 Anderson endured a lengthy illness brought on by a serious asthma attack that left him unable to sing for six months. Undeterred, Anderson continued to paint and meditate while recovering.

Anderson is now singing again while performing in concert whenever possible. His creative spirit still burns as he continues to create interesting and inventive new music for old and new audiences.

Despite a busy schedule, Anderson has joined forces with several other famous musicians as an instructor at Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp. The camp is an opportunity for Anderson to give back something to an entirely new generation of musicians.

[ad#rightpost]Rob Levy: Are you surprised that forty years on Yes are still seen as a revered and relevant band?

Jon Anderson: I’m happily surprised and blessed and on every level thankful that people all over the world, wherever I travel there are pockets of Yes fanatics. I love what we’ve done and what we’ve achieved musically. So it’s a great feeling to get to a state of mind where you realize that what you’ve done is being listened to by young people as well as the fans that still love the music. The young people are tuning into and realizing that it is really accessible music.

RL: You are currently involved with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp. How did you become involved with that?

JA: I met David Fishof, who created it, many years ago in Brazil. I was working with him on a tour with Alice Cooper and James Taylor. We were down there for a week or two and we talked. I was very interested in doing a Yes camp for a long weekend. We’d get bands to come and we’d do seven hours and I’d do a barbecue and stuff. Of course, the rest of the guys thought I was crazy as they usually do. When David decided to do it I did his first one in New York and then another one in LA and then another one in New York. Then last year I was very ill and couldn’t do very much. This year he called me and said they would be doing Hollywood and asked me if I wanted to come down. I said I would love to.

RL: What do you do at the camps?

JA: You walk around like the Big Cheese and try to make them perform better as a band. Because all of the musicians have just met and you have ten separate bands and ten separate artists sort of trying to control them and make them understand the balance of sound, volume and stage presence and things like that. You spend a good afternoon with them and then in the evening we start doing performances. We do a recording and a DVD and get t-shirts.

RL: How long does each camp last?

JA: Six to eight days, seven days. I do two days. It’s a lot of fun because the people are very interested in what you have got to say. You do find these people who are very talented anyway and you say “Don’t over play just play what you can play. Don’t try to impress too much. Just enjoy playing what you play and turn the bass down.”

RL: Do you interact with the other teachers? Do you ever talk smack with Meat Loaf?

JA: Yeah. It’s like a game. You get people saying “Well, how’s the band?” and you say “Well, not so good.’ But you know inside they are very good. But they’re going to wipe the floor okay. It’s a lot of fun. It’s like a holiday for these people. You know a lot of them are professional people, doctors, lawyers and businessmen. We even had a Congressman come one time. He loves coming every now and again. We‘ve had a couple of DJs come.

RL: How have you been feeling lately?

Jon Anderson with guitar

JA: A lot better. I’ve started singing again in February and March of this year. I didn’t sing for six months, which was a bit of a trip. But I did a lot of painting, which was kind of nice. A lot of meditating and generally recuperating. I did a short tour, just me and my wife and a guitar. We just toured Europe where I played once a week. It is very nice to actually tour like that because I used to go on tour with Yes and it was like an endless stream of playing, hotel, airport, playing, hotel, airport. After a while you don’t know where you are. Exhausted after three weeks you just wanted to just lie down somewhere. But you carry on because people are coming to see you and they paid to see the show so you keep it going. After so many years of doing that you know my body just can’t do it. So I said to the guys I’d love to tour but I can’t tour on a crazy level. But they just wanted to tour the way they want to tour and I said okay, if that is what you want to do.

RL: You’ve worked over the years with tons of people. Is there anyone you’d like to work with?

JA: There are so many. I keep bumping into Herbie Hancock and we talk about doing something. Which is more spontaneous music. Where I just make up the song and lyrics. It’s an art in itself. I’m sort of blessed with equipment now. With a lot of songs I do 70% of the words at home on the first take.

That’s what I used to do with Vangelis years ago when I would do first takes with him and then he would just go and edit and sort of produce. Then I would come in and sort of realize what I was trying to sing and just sing it. It was like we’d do a song every couple of hours and then have lunch and dinner. Within a week we’d have an album. It was more fun, that sort of getting down to construction, which was what basically I did with Yes. Where we were into structure and form and the usual Yes music.

Jon Anderson and Vangelis
Jon Anderson and Vangelis

RL: What was it like working with Vangelis?

JA: Well it was amazing. He was a one-man band. He could play a symphony every ten minutes. He’d just sit down and write a symphony in as long as it would take to play it. He was one of the first people to put together what became midi keyboards. He’d have five keyboards with five pedals and then he’d have about six echo units all linked together to create this incredible echo reverb. Some of his early work is unbelievable for one man to be able to do that.

So when I met him in Paris I fell in love with him like a brother, like a mentor. He taught me about music on many levels. When he got a studio in London I would go over to the studio and spend a couple of hours there and sing three or four songs spontaneously on first take. That’s what we made albums with. They were always the first take because we didn’t want to get him to try and learn a song and structure it like a normal studio. I think that’s why the music of Jon and Vangelis is very unique because it was very very much what it is.

RL: What was it like working with Mike Oldfield?

JA: I just went in and sang songs for him. He was very well organized as a producer. He’d sort of get people to come in and say “This is what I need you to sing, thank you, goodbye.” That’s how he worked. I never heard the finished thing until the album came out.

Sometimes you work with people because it’s like a friendship thing. I worked with Kitaro because it was a fun thing to do. We traveled over to the Far East and worked together. Then we toured a little bit.

RL: With the fantasy camps what is the best advice you pass onto your students?

JA: Have fun! Don’t take it all seriously. Experiencing the joys of life and the joys of music go hand in hand.

RL: Finally, do you remember where you were when you learned that “Owner of A Lonely Heart” went to number one?

JA: I was on holiday in Barbados getting ready for a tour. Someone rang me up and said it was number one. And I said cool! I was lying in my hammock.

Jon Anderson continues to record new music and tour. For more information, visit his official site. For information on the Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp visit their official site.

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