Fans of progressive rock staple YES, have suffered through myriad line-up changes due to health issues, death, and personal issues. Whatever the case may be, the end reward has always been the same: new music and touring by YES is always good news.
The band is currently knee-deep on their ‘Classic Tales Of Yes’ that finds the band revisiting some lesser-known but equally compelling YES tracks. What started in Bethlehem, PA, towards the end of September will carry on until the first week of November in Riverside, CA.
The current line-up is original member Steve Howe (guitars, vocals), along with mainstays and longtime members Geoff Downes (keyboards), Jon Davison (vocals, acoustic guitar), Billy Sherwood (bass guitar, vocals), and new (er) member Jay Schellen (drums). Together, they will be also supporting YES’ latest record, ‘Mirror To The Sky,’ on InsideOut Music.
Additionally, each show will commence with a presentation by English artist and designer Roger Dean, whose striking art has been featured on classic album covers by YES and, of course, Asia (which featured Howe and Downes).
North Bay Bohemian: There were many skeptics but also many who rallied for you. What kind of pressure did you feel even though Jon Anderson had been out for some time?
Jon Davison: On day one of agreeing to join Yes, the press announcement widely spread online. Right away, there were heated discussions among Yes fans. I remember thinking there was really no need to pay attention to it all. I was more concerned with getting my voice trained up and fit to go onstage and give the music everything I could give. That’s really the only “pressure” worth applying. Such discipline transforms into motivation, whereas the pressure you referred to can only be limiting.
North Bay Bohemian: Your newest album is a massive leap from the ‘Heaven & Earth’ LP. What made this album better than ‘The Quest’ aside from possibly preparation time?
Jon Davison: Since the making of the ‘Heaven and Earth’ album, we’ve greatly evolved as a performing and writing unit, having grown from so much personal loss, inside and outside the band. We lost Chris and then Alan. Steve had an extremely tragic personal loss as well. As a result, the band has found a renewed strength, and its creative efforts are exponentially expanding toward greater heights of productivity.
‘The Quest’ was a rewarding experience for us, but to a large degree, one of uncertainty. Because it was created during the Pandemic—which was such an incredibly strange time – it meant not being able to convene much and only writing remotely. There was a lot of file sharing from our respective places of isolation.
Nonetheless, the process was successful and it therefore gave us the confidence and momentum to then leap into the creation of our latest album, ‘Mirror to the Sky.’ Whenever I listen to it, I can smile and hear that we were truly inspired. I feel we possess a renewed sense of appreciation for being in a band and having the ability to express ourselves creatively.
North Bay Bohemian: You have written songs with Howe, Sherwood, Squire (RIP), White (RIP), and Downes. Does any particular member make the songwriting process easier?
Jon Davison: As a true Yes fan, I can say all the varying writing processes with different members past and present have all been fulfilling in their own unique ways. It’s thrilling just to be invited to the creative table with those you have deeply admired. I also love the challenge of taking on another’s musical style which is so unique to that of the others, and finding a voice or character in that style. For example, the mood and shades of Geoff’s writing are very different to that of Steve’s, yet as the lead vocalist, I’m the common denominator. This allows me to wear slightly different hats of compositional approach. I really enjoy having that challenge of creative diversity.
North Bay Bohemian: Were all the current members of YES involved in this year’s ‘Classic Tales Of Yes’ setlist?
Jon Davison: What generally happens is Steve will first propose an outline of a set which we can all then help tweak. For the longest time he’s had a heartfelt desire of doing a ‘Tales of Topographic Oceans’ medley. He played a massive role in the conception of the four-song double album and therefore wanted to find a way of portraying much of its musical essence without taking up too much of the show. The rest of us wholeheartedly decided to take on this endeavor and help realize his vision. Currently on tour, the medley has really been a fun experience to share with so many surprised and delighted fans.
As well, we all voted on what new songs we should perform from our latest studio effort, ‘Mirror to the Sky.’ I also suggested we do “Turn of the Century” which is one I had missed singing since it last appeared in a set in 2014.
North Bay Bohemian: Any songs you particularly enjoy playing / singing live more than others from the classic YES years? What about songs from the last three studio records?
Jon Davison: It’s been a real rush to perform the new material and witness just how supportive audiences are. Then of course, I love singing all the classics as well. As I mentioned earlier, “Turn of the Century” is one that is so rewarding to sing. I’ve also been enjoying singing and playing guitar on, “Time and a Word,” which is from the 60’s album of the same name.
North Bay Bohemian: How do you cope with the long travel days and 22 hours you’re not playing?
Jon Davison: It can all feel quite grueling a lot of the time. The secret for me is to stay engaged in diversions which help for a time to escape the pressures of tour life. Hopefully to this end I can enjoy watching inspirational or often humorous films or series. Lots of rest is vital, as is moderate exercise to help boost the immune system. Then at other times, I feel inspired from performing and so desire to create music. I actually work in GarageBand on my iPad, which means I can create music during the long hours of riding in the back of a car or van.
It’s a mad life, I realize. Although it can also be one of excitement and adventure. I reckon, once a road dog always a road dog.
YES plays The Meritage Spa & Resort located 875 Bordeaux Way in Napa. Live Presentation and Art Gallery outside at 850 Bordeaux Way. Tickets can be bought in advance at www.bluenotejazz.com/napa/shows starting at $69 for Bronze seating and topping out at $244 for the YES VIP Tour Package – Gold Ticket. Doors open at 5:30pm and the show starts at 7pm. Ages 8+ are welcome. No babes in arms.