Jon Anderson on Obama, Radiohead and Yes
Possessing one of rock's most recognizable voices, former Yes lead singer Jon Anderson sounds as good today as he did when he helped form the legendary progressive rock band over four decades ago.
From his home studio in California and in anticipation of tonight's gig at the Kessler Theater with Tim DeLaughter, Anderson spoke about his solo career, his ambitions as an artist and his wish to once again be the frontman for Yes.
You've recently become an American citizen. What factors lead to that decision?
I'm a big believer in the policies of Obama. It's a crazy world when half the country doesn't believe in him. I've been in the U.S. for 25 years and I thought it was time I became a part of the change.
With so many Yes songs and a fairly large catalog of solo material, how do you decide on a set list?
Well, basically, I just sing what I like to sing. I have a good time on stage. Most of the time, the audience knows the songs because I wrote a lot of these songs many years ago with Yes. But I do some new songs and I tell stories. I want to tell people that it is good to be alive. I think it's a good show.
Your music, both solo and with Yes, features quite a bit of spirituality. Is there any one religion that you lean towards?
No, I love them all. I think all religions believe in the same God. You have to be flexible enough to understand that. You cannot deny Chinese people's right to believe in Buddha.
Yes songs like "Roundabout" are still played on the radio today, 40 years after they were first released. Why do you think the music of Yes still attracts fans of all ages?
The idea of Yes was an adventure. The music is not very easy to categorize. I always hated the term progressive rock. That was an unfortunate label to put on the band. We played very adventurous rock, adventurous music. We lead people on a different journey. It wasn't about making money or trying to be a pop star. A lot of it was creating music for music's sake. It's my world and I love making music.
Was there ever pressure from record labels to be less adventurous?
Of course, like when we made the album Tales from Topographic Oceans. The management went crazy and the record company just sort of disowned it. Fortunately, the head of that company was a wonderful man named Ahmet Ertegun, and he really fell in love with Yes. He would tell me not to worry about what people said and to keep doing what you are doing because it changes people's understanding of music when you try different things. I mean, the Beatles were adventurous right up to the end. Bands like Radiohead continue this adventurousness.
You listen to Radiohead?
On and off, yes. My son loves them and he keeps sending me songs. I love how that band records. I love what they are doing. When I was in Yes, I was always pushing the other members in more adventurous directions. I am still using that kind of energy. I just released a 20-minute piece of music called "Open." For me, it's my life's work. I want to continue making interesting music.
Besides playing music, you are also an artist. How much time do you put into painting?
I finished two paintings right before Christmas. I was thinking about doing some painting this week, or at least some sketching. Every three or four months, I put music away long enough to get some painting done.
Who are some of your favorite painters?
I am a huge fan of Jackson Pollock. I wish I could just take off my shoes and paint like Jackson Pollock. I also love Marc Chagall. I got to meet him on his 90th birthday and actually wrote a musical about his life. That will surface one day.
Early on in life, you wanted to be a soccer player. How different would your life had been if you had been successful in that sport?
Oh my God, I was just talking soccer with a friend of mine. I am a huge Manchester United fan. When I was 9 years old, I was the mascot for my hometown team. But now, I am a big fan of American football. I am a 49ers fan. I know that won't go down too well in Dallas.
Do you go to many games?
My wife and I have been to a few. We were so devastated when the Giants beat us, but at least the Giants won the Super Bowl, so we were beaten by the best team.
Is it true you were once a milk man?
Yes, I worked on a farm with my brother. We would get up every morning at 5:30. I was 10 years old and I did that until I was 14. We would deliver milk and eggs to the families that lived around us. We would get a week off in the summer and two days off for Christmas. It was a tough life. It made me a good worker.
In 2008, you had acute respiratory failure. How is your health these days?
I'm fine now, but I nearly died a couple of times. It was a very tough time for me. Several things were happening at the same time. I was having intestinal problems. Doctors weren't sure what to do and I ended up having seven or eight operations over a period of six months. But after they were all finished, I felt like I had been to Jiffy Lube and I had a much better engine.
Because of your health issues, Yes decided to tour with a replacement vocalist. Can a band still call itself Yes and not have Jon Anderson singing?
No, it's never going to be the same band. And they've just announced this week that they had to get yet another singer after the guy who replaced me became ill. I've told them that since I am healthy again that I would to get back with them. I told them that I wanted to create new music, but they don't want to do that. They just want to go on the road and make money. They don't care for the integrity of the band. I feel they have let a lot of fans down. They're just in it for the money.
Jon Anderson performs with Tim DeLaughter tonight, February 28, at the Kessler Theater.