As the original singer of YES, Jon Anderson is an artist that hardly needs an introduction. By phone, he discussed evolving with the music business, the differences between being a solo artist and a member of a band, and YES albums he would listen to today.
The music business has changed a lot since you first started. How have you had to evolve along with the music business?
It’s pretty normal for people to change and evolve. No matter what area: music, dancing, theater. We change. The music business is different now of course because of the Internet. You have to change and modify what you do with your music.
Do you find you take a different approach because of the way the music business has changed?
No. I’m still singing the same ideas I had years ago with the band. I still go on stage and sing and enjoy performing. I still sound the same as I always did. I’m still interested in longform pieces of music as well as short pieces of music. I’m just working with musicians via the Internet, so I’m able to use the Internet like a world studio.
What compelled you to write these epic, longform songs as opposed to three- or four-minute rock and roll songs?
It’s just having an adventurous mind, the idea of creating music like a journey. People sometimes want me to do that. A lot of people like to spend 10 or 15 minutes listening to the music, the musical journey. They just love it. You should never be tied to a formative three-minute pop song. Music is so much more than that.
Progressive rock is a term that gets thrown around a lot with bands like YES. Do you think it’s become more of a form or style rather than an approach to music?
There’s progression in everything: jazz, rock, folk. There’s always progression. It’s just sort of a word we use. If you look at YES music, it’s more jazz. It’s classical, swing, all kinds of folk music. It was a progression of a lot of kinds of music that created YES music, a style of music. I still follow those lines. Sometimes I’m thinking I want to rock and roll but how do I do it with a twist here or there? How do I make it different? That’s all that’s in my mind.
What are the challenges to being a solo artist as opposed to being in a band?
Being a solo artist, you can hear better. Sometimes in a band, the volume can dominate the sound of the stage. Being a solo artist, I can hear everything I do very clear. For me, the singing becomes better because I can hear what I’m doing. When you’re in a band, you’re sometimes fighting against the band to get your voice out there. You hear tapes of yourself performing and I’ve been sort of shocked at times. It’s a very different game.
Do you prefer one over the other?
I’ve been in a band for 35 years. I do solo shows, shows with orchestras, small ensembles. I like the idea of doing as many different things as I can in the next few years.
Right now, if you were going to listen to any album you’ve performed on, which one would you choose and why?
I think Fragile is one of the more innovative albums YES did, and Close to the Edge. Those are the two that stick out. Talk was a very good album. I’d listen to those albums to return to the place we were when we made these albums. The band every now and again was in a very harmonic place and made very special music. Those are the albums I’d listen to.
Are there any artists currently that are catching your attention?
There’s a band called Grouplove that I went to see last month. They’re very good. First Aid Kit, they have very good songwriting and they make great videos. There’s a lot of great energy out there.
What would you be doing if you weren’t making music?
Traveling in space. I’d be an astronaut.
Jon Anderson plays The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on 6 July.