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A few interviews rescued from a recently discovered stash of dusty 3.5" floppy disks . . .

Interview Transcript - Joe Elliott - May 1999

I sense that even from the beginning, you always had a sense of determination and a confident self-belief that you would make it?

“Well you’ve got to be like that haven’t you, otherwise there’s not much fucking point it starting really. That’s my theory. But yeah, when we were like 17, 18, 19 years old, we were saying ‘We’re going to be massive man’. I’m sure that in fairness, everybody that starts off in a band probably has to think like that, otherwise what’s the point? But in fairness, we were one of the lucky ones that actually managed to practise what we preached in the early days. We always had that big attitude, so it was, you know, whatever you need to make it, to get a band to become that successful, rather than some of these people that accidentally get big, and then they don’t realise how they’ve done it. It always was a thing in our minds that this is what we need to do to achieve this amount of success.”

Apart from your internal attitude, how did that confidence manifest itself?

“We did do a lot of silly things. I remember once me and Pete Willis, we actually had to walk back from the rehearsal room, and it was about a five-mile walk. What we’d have would be not a great deal of money, and it was a case of like ‘We’ll go and get a pint and four straws and walk home’ or not have a drink and walk home. I remember walking past Sheffield City Hall and it was eleven, eleven-thirty at night, and I chalked on the wall ‘Def Leppard will play here in 1980’, and this was in 1979 when I did this, and lo and behold we did and we sold it out. Again, that’s one of them, if you put enough bets on, one of your horses is going to win.”

The idea of Def Leppard supporting The Nolans in those early days is pretty unusual.

“Well, technically I think we did actually. It was the Sheffield show in 1979 and we were one of six or seven different acts that were on, and with us being the new local act, they gave us the opening spot. The headlining act was the Nolans. We didn’t get to meet them. In fact we didn’t actually get to see them as far as I’m aware. We turned up and played at three in the afternoon, and we were gone by four, and they were on about nine, with a fucking juggling act and you know, on it between.”

With all debut albums, artists are trying to achieve perfection. So what are your thoughts now about ‘On Through The Night’s production?

“It doesn’t really exist. The shame about the first album was that we didn’t really have anybody that actually pushed us. We had somebody who harnessed what we had, and put it down on tape. Tom Allom is a very, very, very nice guy and I haven’t got a bad word to say about Tom but I guess his method of production is more a case of like suggesting the odd harmony, and not so much pushing your performance. So consequently when we came to dot the first album, like so many bands before us and after us, we’d been playing these songs live for maybe eighteen months or so. We knew them off by heart and chances are that we would have been reluctant to change them that much. At the same time, we had the backing tracks done for all eleven songs in a day and then we spent three weeks completely screwing it up by overdubbing way too much bullshit. We took all the rawness away from it and the polish that we did get was the wrong kind of polish for our liking. Specifically I remember there’s one bit where Pete Willis insisted on a three-part guitar thing and it didn’t have that Queen sound to it, it just sounded like somebody who had too much time on their hands. We should have spent more time on the vocals, more time on a few other things. In fairness it was our first time in a studio with a real producer. We’d done the EP and we’d done that on us own but we had three weeks let loose in Ringo Starr’s house, which had previously been Lennon’s place, where he’d done the video for ‘Imagine’. So there we were, and I drew the long straw and got Lennon’s bedroom and that was more of a vibe. It was like wow! It was three weeks of debauchery, girls, vodka, you name it. So we were a little ripped when we recorded that record. Consequently to me it only sounds good when I’m in the same state. So I don’t really listen to it much. I know that there’s a lot of NWOBHM fans that’ll go ‘It’s the best thing they’ve ever done’, when plainly it’s not.”

Then came those accusations of the band “selling out” for the American dollar. Can you remember how that all started?

“Geoff Barton, bless his cotton socks. He didn’t like the corporate-ness that he reckoned we embraced so strongly, which is bullshit. What happened was, the first time Barton came up to see us, he wouldn’t come anywhere near us for months and months and months, and I kept writing letters, and saying ‘Why don’t you come up and watch us?’. It was only once I sent a copy of the EP down to him and he heard it, and he went ‘Oh alright this isn’t actually bad at all’. He got a train, him and Ross Halfin, a train up to Sheffield. I picked them up at the station in my works van, and they came to my mum and dad’s house, and me mum made ham sandwiches, coffee and tea and this stuff for them. It was all very amateur and friendly. Then of course he comes to see us seven months later when the albums done, and we’re doing Sheffield Top Rank. He’s then met by some record company people who check him into a hotel and he gets room service, and there's a bottle of champagne in the dressing room or something, and he looks at this as some evil thing. To me this was like what everybody does. It was like a natural progression from expecting them to go back to my Mum and Dad’s for some more ham sandwiches. It’s like we’re going to do a gig, do an interview afterwards, and you’re going to be put up in some nice hotel instead of some bed and breakfast above a railway station. And he didn’t like that. He thought that we’d become whores to the industry, which was not true at all. All we did was embrace the industry for what it is. I mean I’ve said this a million times since, and I’ll say it to the day I’ll die, I don’t understand the mentality of people that don’t embrace being signed to major label. So, the whole selling out to America, yeah, we had an American manager. So we went with them because these guys managed Ted Nugent, The Scorpions and Aerosmith and all these great big bands. We saw ourselves as if we could get on the roster with these kind of acts, and we can get on tour with these kind of bands then it’s foothold into the American market. Every other band wanted to do the same thing. I think they hated the fact that we were supposedly the first of these new British bands to go over there. In fact we actually followed Maiden three months after they had first been, and nobody said a word about them going.”

Mind you Joe, the release of the single ‘Hello America’ can’t have helped that image? 

“Yeah, but that was written in 1978 by a kid that had never left Sheffield. That was like ambition that lyric. It was just total ambition. I knew America via the TV. But we were naive enough not to give a shit. Otherwise we wouldn’t have written a lyric like that. We didn’t know that at the time, but at the same time had we have known we would have been arrogant enough to say ‘Fuck em’.”

And then of course you came back and got a bit of a pasting at Reading?

“It’s bollocks and again, the whole Reading thing got blown way out of proportion. Of course we got canned and people picked up on that but so did every other act. Every band on there got something thrown at them because the people were just throwing it, not necessarily at that specific artist. I mean Girl had it during the day. I remember that and the headliners after us had it as well. It was the in thing at muddy festivals to throw bottles of piss, and somebody is going to throw them at the band. We actually went down really well at Reading, but there was just an isolated couple of dozen that believed what they had read. I mean, yeah, we were a bit pissed off that people were throwing stuff at us, but it was literally a very small minority. It wasn’t like 40,000 of them.”

And around this time Pete Willis left the band. Do you think he was a victim of the band’s success?

“Pete left mid-way through the album. It was the day before the world cup final in 1982. It was June 2nd or something like that. The album didn’t come out until the January. So he’d been gone six months by the time it came out. It was just inevitable that it was going to happen. He was unfortunately more attached to his bottle of brandy than his guitar, and it started showing in his playing and in his attitude. We didn’t mind so much live. Pete was the one who would go completely berserk after a gig, you know, get bollocksed, make a fool of himself, set off fire extinguishers, and all this kind of stuff. We must have warned him a hundred times, one more and you’re out, because he always took it a little too far. It was costing the band money because he couldn’t afford to pay for all the mending of a broken door or TV set. I know he owed us money at the end of the European tour. It was ridiculous really. So when he started doing it in the studio, Mutt was going ‘Look I can’t deal with this anymore’, and we didn’t want to jeopardise our relationship with Mutt. We were all really pissed off with Pete at the time. It’s like ‘You know what, fuck him, he’s out of here’ and so he was. So we fired him. In fairness, he has said since that he was quite relieved, because he was finding it all a little too much. It wasn’t necessarily the direction he was wanting to go in. Pete had drifted away from wanting to be in a band. He wanted to rule the roost, but didn’t have the fucking talent to back that ego up. So Phil Collen came in and was much more of a team player, and he was the only one that we wanted.”

Def Leppard have always had the image of being a band of brothers.  It must have hit you doubly hard when you lost Steve Clarke.

“It was awful, it really was. I can’t say that it wasn’t something that we hadn’t seen coming, but it was one of those situations where it was hard to bawl the guy out, because he was such a nice guy. You can slam someone against a wall and go ‘Why don’t you just fucking stop’, but you don’t know the whole thing that’s going on. Whilst we were mates, as close as we were, once you’re in your own hotel room, everybody is their own person. Whether they want to dress up in women’s clothing, stick a needle in their arm, or drink themselves to sleep, that’s something that unless you’ve got secret walls you can’t tell what they’re doing. With Steve, he just drank himself to sleep. I guess he had a problem with the adrenaline rush. Also, he had always had a drink problem, always, even when he was eighteen. I remember a party for Pete Willis’ birthday one night, and there was snow on the ground, and me and Steve had been drinking vodka and oranges all night. I remember he puked up, and it was pure blood that came up- the snow was red not orange. That was when he was eighteen, and when you see things like that you worry about it, but at the age of eighteen you don’t think that it’s anything that’s going to be permanent. But he just got progressively worse, and it got really bad after the ‘Hysteria’ tour. I mean, as we were making the ‘Adrenalize’ album, he was like just incapable of doing anything at all. Towards the end of 1990, in September, we had to just say ‘this just isn’t working, why don’t you just take six months off, we will do what we can on our own, and you can just put your bits on afterwards.’ We had most of the songs written. Unfortunately he never made the six months because he died in the January. It was awful when he wasn’t there, it was not great when he was, and after he died you go through a million different emotions; guilt, anger, if only I could have done a bit more to help him, coupled with if only he had tried a bit harder himself. We had been to AA meetings with him. I even played family member with him in Dublin, which really took it out on me. He just wasn’t responding to anything. It was like he had given up. It was really awful and a lesson. When I got the phone call when Rick lost his arm, that was like a massive shock, that wasn’t on the agenda. But when I got the phone call that Steve had died, I wasn’t surprised. Upset but not surprised.”

 

Interview Transcript - Rick Wakeman 1999

The Yes purists will argue that ‘Close to the Edge’ and ‘Fragile’ the most productive times for Yes. Is that an assessment that you agree with?

"'Close To The Edge' and 'Fragile' were the most creative two albums. The next closest to a creative album was ‘Tormato’, which had great, great music, but suffered from dreadful production. It was a case of too many engineers and producers being involved and it was a tragedy. I’ve always had a desire to get hold of the master tapes, and for Atlantic to say ‘There you go, go ahead and re-mix it’. It was compressed to death, and it is a shame because there are some cracking tracks on there like ‘Arriving UFO’. ‘Going For the One’ wasn’t a bad album either. But ‘Fragile’ and ‘Close to the Edge’ were the epitome, followed by ‘GFTO’ and ‘Tormato’ in the play-offs only and failed through a bad engineering and production."

Was ‘Tormato’ harder to write?

"No. We had a plethora of good music, songs and good themes floating around. What was wrong was that everybody had different views on how it was going to be mixed and how it was going to be done. So we had six or seven engineers throughout the whole session, and so many hands on the faders, which was absolutely ridiculous. So it just ended up being compressed to death. Yes always compressed anyway, but this was just compressed to death. All the light and shade in the music which was there when we were recording was lost. If the tapes could be re-mastered it would be a cracking album."

Would you say that was similar to ‘Union’?

"‘Union’ was a joke. Union was not a Yes album. I never class Union as a Yes album. What happened was that the two bands, ABWH and Yes, combined. Yes were in the middle of an album, and we'd just started on our album. We were getting the tour together and the record company said 'Look we desperately need and album out, we’ll get a producer in to finish it off and knit it.' And all he did was get all his friends in to play on it. All the things that I had done just were reworked on the sequencer. I actually don’t class it as a Yes album. Certainly I know that Trevor Rabin and some of the other guys feel the same. I don’t even own one at home. When they gave me my copy, I just put it on in the car, and I actually threw it out the window. I just think it is the most disgraceful thing ever. It was counteracted by the fact that the ‘Union’ tour was the best Yes tour ever. It was fantastic. As far as I was concerned it was just he epitome of what a Yes tour should be. It was fantastic. So the ‘Union’ tour unbelievable, and the Union album I don’t want to class as a Yes album."

Certainly there was an extensive list of alternative musicians on the album's credits.

"Well the only person who isn’t on it is my Granny. I don’t even recognise anything that I played on there at all. Nothing at all. They picked a guy to produce it, or so-called produce it who basically claimed that he had a load of credentials that he never had. It was stupid."

Another album that has always divided opinion was Topographic Oceans, which is a record that you've been critical of in the past.

"I thought that ‘Topographic Oceans’ had some good things on it, enough for a single album. The situation would never have arisen in the days of CD’s. But it was a classic example of having enough music for maybe two and a half sides, so you either edit it down to like two sides or add to it. There was an incredible amount of padding. Virtually one side was a jam that we worked on afterwards and that for me was not Yes music."

And you had the "farmyard" set up in a corner of the studio?

"Yes there was. We had haystacks. What happened was that myself, Jon and Alan wanted to record at the Manor, which is out in the country. Steve and Chris wanted to do it all in London. So we had a compromise. We recorded in London, but made the studio look like the country. My keyboard had to be repaired three times because of the earwigs, worms and all sorts of things that had crawled into it out of the haystacks. There was also an electric cow with moveable udders. So yes, it is absolutely true."

The 80s version of the band had a completely diferent approach to the legacy that had been built the decade before. Givne you weren't with the band at that time, what are your thoughts on that period?

"I think that it ranks as one of the most important periods of Yes. I know I wasn’t playing on it. If it hadn’t happened there wouldn’t be a Yes today. It would have died. Whatever the purists might say or think what Yes should be, and what the line-up should be, the fact of life is that I feel when Steve left I thought it was the right move that they did to bring in a guitarist who was totally different. You don’t bring in someone who is exactly the same, you bring in someone who adds something and changes something. They had to do something different. I know that ‘90125’ was recorded under the name of Cinema originally, and it wasn’t a Yes album until Jon came back as singer and it became ‘90125’. The fact of life is that that album, which was a monster, monster success there wouldn’t be here today because financially it would have collapsed- whilst perhaps some people may not think that it was Yes should be. Financially they were in dire straits. ‘Drama’ had been a total disaster. So that kept Yes alive. Tracks on ‘Big Generator’ and  ‘90125’, which were the two albums of that era, like Changes and ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’ kept Yes alive. So I think they are really important. I played both of those tracks on stages of the Union tour and they are great fun to play. I often say to some people who are really die-hard fans of what they call the definitive Yes line up, ‘Well just think that there is a lot of music that you wouldn’t have heard in the late eighties and nineties from Yes or ABWH had it not been for that. I am a great fan of that period because it saved the band."

The Anderson Bruford Wakeman & Howe album was another creative phase, but it always seemed too brief. 

"It was, and the tragedy was that the second album which became- well it was tossed away and there was a lot of other stuff that was tossed away as well which was tragic. A lot of stuff. It is a great shame that the second ABWH album was never made. In one respect the ‘Union’ tour and the combining of the two bands I wouldn’t have missed for the world. But it culminated recording wise in the appalling ‘Union’ album and no second ABWH album. Because I felt that the first ABWH album was a stepping stone I felt that I could feel that something was going to come from that. There was some good stuff on there and I felt that something was really going to happen. But of course it never did."

How about the studio tracks on ‘Keys to Ascension’, were you happy with those?

"No. Not really. I thought that the playing was good and everyone was playing very well, but I thought the quality of writing was poor. I felt that we had got things round the wrong way. I thought we were trying to do too much and felt that Yes needed a break away from itself- and this is my personal view- to go and get experiences and come back. And the strength of Yes was always Jon’s strong melody, and in the classic days of ‘Close to the Edge’, ‘Fragile’ and even ‘Tormato’ and ‘Going for the One’ was melody. We wrote the songs for the lyrics most of the time around the melody. Everything was written around the great melody. On ‘Keys’ there was too much music for my liking made of lots of rhythmic things and then Jon having to put something over the top. It just ended up made up of a lot of chanting. Jon is excellent at that, and that is an important weapon to have in your armoury and it is great, but there was just too much of it. I listen to both those studio albums and there are no great sweeping Yes melodies that make the band for me what it was. So to that extent I felt that the band needed time to go away, work with other people and do different things and then come back with new ideas. Rather than just keep trundling around, which is why I left the second time."

I read somewhere that you weren’t happy with the mix on the second ‘Keys’ studio album . . .

"Well, the mix was fine, but it wasn’t the original mix. What happened was that the original mix was done- and mastered I hasten to add- because I’ve got a copy, was actually quite good. When the album finally came out, by that time I’d left, and I spoke to Castle Records and said ‘Can I hear it- I’d like to hear a cut?’. And they fobbed me off, continually fobbed me off, so I sensed something was wrong. And basically what had happened was that I think the guys had got the hump because I’d left, and gone back into the studio, completely re-mixed it and got rid of a load of stuff that was from the original. When I got on to Castle about this they said’ Oh no, there has only ever been the one’. So I said ‘Well, do you want to hear the original one?’, and they went very quiet because they knew exactly what had happened. In theory I could have injunction the album because it was not what I has signed for. But I’m not into all that. If you want to play petty games and want to be like that then that’s fine by me. We carry on."

Can you ever envisage a time that you return to Yes, or do you now consider that firmly part of your past? 

"Oh absolutely. I love the band dearly and I have a great deal of respect for the guys, and I really do think the absolute world of them. There was some really stupid things said and done over when I left the last time, and I just thought I don’t want to get into slanging matches. I had a lovely time, I love the band dearly. I really, really do, but no, I don’t want to work with them anymore. I had some great times and I just want to leave it at that. I think that the band needs to take some time out away from each other and maybe come back in two or three years time, when everyone has had some more experiences working with other people. And start with Jon’s sweeping melodies and make another great Yes album. That’s the only way I can see it being done."

You once said that you always thought there would be a Yes, that in a hundred years time there would be Yes with different people in it- almost like an everlasting orchestra.

"Yes I did at that time, but I’m not convinced now. I think it is in danger of digging it’s own grave by not running itself properly. And to that I’m just as much to blame in all the time that I was with it. The major problem with Yes is that it doesn’t matter who the five members are, it appears to be unmanageable. I think all of us would admit that. It was unmanageable when I was in it, and was when I wasn’t in it. It becomes purely and unmanageable band and it is its own worst enemy. It should be financially up there with all of the big boys, but it’s not. And that is very much down to the mistakes that I, the rest of the guys and anybody else who has ever been a member of Yes has ever made. With the possible exception of Trevor who had his head screwed on. But it is just an unmanageable band. That is not a criticism, it’s just a fact of life."

 

Interview Transcript - Steve Howe 1999

I imagine that there are always pressures, both internal and external, when writing a new album. How is work progressing for the next record [The Ladder] ?

“Well, the new Yes album is going great. I mean we have been recording since February 1st and we are just about to wrap up the mixing. Our biggest disappointment was also our biggest excitement is that we met Bruce Fairbairn last August when we were touring through Vancouver. Then we came back here in November to do a rehearsal which Bruce didn’t attend a great deal of. But then when we came back in January, Bruce came to the rehearsals and really dug his heels in about which songs out of the fifteen we had which he liked. So Bruce started to offer us a tremendously in-depth style of production which started right from the rehearsal and carried through until his death on Sunday night. Right out of the blue, Bruce Fairbairn died, and we don’t known the cause at the moment. We were left to believe that our greatest new alliance is over before it’s begun, which is quite scary. Bruce Fairbairn offered us an incredibly in-depth, healing production which brought the band together and he was a catalyst, and the chemistry to bring peace and harmony to the band. So we’re going to miss him so much we can’t tell you. Tragedy struck us and we are just having to finish up a few mixes without Bruce, but with Mike Plotnikoff who has been Bruce’s engineer. So tragedy has struck us here in Vancouver and the world is now shaking a bit. Although producers are very behind the scenes, Bruce was very much like that as a producer. He wasn’t a flamboyant ‘Can I get my face in the picture’ sort of thing. Very much a backroom guy, very dedicated, very musical, very experienced, and had tremendous success with everything from Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Kiss, Cranberries, he’s done the whole gambit. He was about to do Bon Jovi. So we’re pretty screwed up about that, but in the light that he left us, we are following in the tradition of a concert that he left us to work around. He brought this band together in a way that probably nobody else could have done. There are only a few people who could have that effect on a staunch rock band called Yes who have become set in our ways and become overly stylistic and determined to do their own thing. We needed someone to come in and say ‘Wake up and brighten up a bit’ and Bruce did all these things and we are going to miss him terribly. So that is really where the Yes album is. It’s due out in September, and we are going to be touring America in August/September and coming to Europe in October doing about 20 dates in Europe which will include England. We are hoping to wrap this year up by touring and coming back to Europe to see if what we did last time is a build towards what we are going to do this time. We certainly feel that Yes has been around the houses many, many times and doesn’t always get it right. We decided that we had to get it right, it was too important now to leave.”

Are there any musical comparisons or any similarities with any albums that you've recorded in the past?

“Well it’s not, because we haven’t worked with someone like Bruce for a very long time, so it’s totally different. So we’ve had people ask us if it’s like ‘Fragile’ or ‘Close to the Edge’, the thing is that there is music on here that is created in the style of that. Certainly we haven’t gone back, Bruce didn’t want us to go back, but we took good elements along with us and certainly his approach to getting the sounds right in the band has been a big part of making us feel close in the way that our sounds fit together. But the way he has helped us pick the material has meant that this is an album with no ‘filler’ on it and no real let downs as far as what the dramatic style of Yes is. It was about collaboration and until we got that collaboration back together, we would always have people songs played by the band. Instead now, we have band songs played by the band.

If anything has given me confidence, apart from the results we’re getting, it’s mainly the construction of the music being done in the style of the cross-writing of the seventies, which really stopped after the ‘Drama’ album.”

There have been so many phases of the band . . .

“We want to say this is a new phase, because it’s a pretty new band, with Igor and Billy in the band, instead of us wondering if they are going to be productive and if they are the right people, they become the right people. But, yes I am avoiding saying that it is like any other album that we have ever done because it isn’t like any other album.”

In the same way that ‘Union’ was like any album you had ever done?

“Or ever wanted to do! [laughs]. But ‘Union’ had so many people and so many people that it was a totally lost cause. The same with ‘Open Your Eyes’ and ‘Talk’, so the last three albums have been totally written off for one reason or another. I’m not writing them off in the sense that they were dreadfully played or conceived, but they certainly were dreadful Yes albums [laughs]. They may have been great albums in themselves, but not by the criteria that I understand that Yes fans and myself as a Yes member want to be proud of our music. You can include ‘Big Generator’ in that too. I’m not on that so I shouldn’t really speak, but also ‘Talk’, I’m not on that so I shouldn’t really speak. I must say Yes has been a mess. Yes has been a mess as far as a recording act due to different production directions, due to lack of focus on really what the key to Yes songs are. I must say that now it is much more a case of collaborations that saying ‘Let’s do one of Chris’ or Steve’s songs’. Yes don’t rise to the occasion when we do somebody’s songs- nothing happens. We just plough them on just like ‘Open Your Eyes’ and ‘Union’, we just sort of play songs. ‘Union’ was attempted to be constructed in a traditional fashion. Jonathon Elias did try that but it didn’t sound like we had tried, and it didn’t sound like he knew what the hell we were trying to do there, because every record that doesn’t sound like the group want it to is wrong.”

I guess the thing with ‘Union’ was that it was effectively two albums in one?

“Well yes it should have really been A.B.W.H and should have been worked on. The other token tracks were from the other ‘real’ Yes and some of them were good. ‘Miracle of Life’ was extremely good, but you can’t judge an album by the material, you judge an album by what it sounds like. Those last records I mentioned were a mess compared to what we have done before and what I think we are doing here. We have seen all the mistakes, we have made them endlessly. A lot of them were to do with confused thinking about management. I haven’t mentioned ‘Keys To Ascension One’ and Keys To Ascension Two’, because basically I am not ashamed of those records. I think they’re quite good. ‘Keys’ studio is something that put us back on the map in a way with our fans. It was more traditional, and did have some big tracks again, which is what we are doing on this album. We’ve got some pretty chunky nine and ten minute tracks. We’ve got a lot to make up. I remember a Yes fan said to me a many years ago that it would take a few good albums to put Yes back on the map! I love that kind of criticism, I am very open to it and I give it out a fair bit myself because Yes has made some dramatic mistakes and we don’t want to make them any more. But that is not to say this is perfect or anything. It is different, solid and very well crafted for a change. There is a lot of craft on this album, and the production and construction. It is all about craft, and hopefully this is going to be very pleasing record for Yes fans.”

In a sense this has therefore been a pleasant album to make in comparison to let’s say ‘Tormato’ or ‘Topographic Oceans’?

“Well, by comparison ‘Tormato’ and ‘Topographic Oceans’ were heaven compared to what we experienced when we tried to make records in the late eighties and nineties. It’s been much more difficult and much less authentic, for whatever reason that is. I would blame the eighties American thinking of Yes primarily. I still go around saying that we make the best records when we make them in England. There just is a need for us to be much more of a Brit band instead of an edgy L.A based English band. So I suppose that I’m just really set in my ways and convinced in what I think is right about Yes. But that is what all Yes members believe. So you’re talking to someone who believes that he knows what is right for Yes, but I can only effect that to a fifth sometimes. Sometimes I’ll ram my opinions down their throats and it gets to be like a half. But it’s not really about that very much, it’s much more about collaboration of thought. Also, when Jon and I have got an idea and we believe in it, it’s very powerful. And it’s the same with Chris and Alan, or Billy and Igor. Once you’ve got a team in the ideas then you’ve got strength. One person’s idea really doesn’t matter in this band, but once it’s a group opinion then it does. But we really trying to re-invent Yes in those elements, but we’re not stupid enough to want to try and re-invent the music. But the music is new, it reflects most probably in that I will be prouder than any of the other Yes albums that we’ve made recently.”

I was reading an interview with Rick Wakeman in which he said he was unhappy that his keyboards had been taken out of the mix on Keys To Ascension 2?

“Well if you spend two days on a record instead of two months, I don’t think that you can be very happy with it. Rick gave us an abysmal amount of time to make that record. I think two days is by no means an under-estimation. We spent five weeks making just the studio tracks and Rick gave us two days. Rick’s opinions about Yes are very distorted with his waxing and waning of what he thinks about this band. I mean all I know is that he’s not prepared to give us any time and not prepared to go on tour. Those two things show a complete lack of dedication to Yes. So in fact Rick doesn’t matter. Rick may have mattered and we may have wanted him to matter. We’ve tried a lot to convince him that the things we try and do with Yes have to be done and that they are right. So when it came to 1997 and Rick refused the third tour we had booked, then it was over. Over with a capital ‘O’. So what he thinks is over too, because he can either get on the boat and row, or don’t bother coming. And I’ve got to the stage where I say don’t bother coming. Those mixes were done collectively, on the studio tracks. So you know, if you want to make something good, be there. It’s great advice. If you care about something, be there. If he wanted to be there on the mix, boy, we would have been thrilled you know, but he wasn’t even there at the recording. He was only there at two days over-dubbing. So I would say that his opinions were justifiable in relation to his contribution. So he’d better put that into his pipe and smoke it. I mean it’s all very well knocking something, but if you haven’t given an ounce worth of effort to it. In fact Rick’s keyboards don’t suffer at all on that record. We think it is a fairly group orientated balance and we worked very hard on ‘Keys 2’ studio in a lot clearer environment that we did ‘Keys 1’ studio. So all in all much more successful and pleasing result for our fans was ‘Keys 2’. Some things I’ll really get on board and bury, other things I’ll definitely say very strong things about it that have led us to be able to make better records now. Certainly because of albums like ‘Open Your Eyes’ which was like ‘Union’ and ‘Talk’ and ‘Big Generator’. The record was made with the wrong thinking from the very word go. We didn’t have time to finish that record, it wasn’t our record, we didn’t write it together. Jon and I were asked to embellish a record and then put our name on it. We were not proper contributors to that record, so we thought it was fair justice that it didn’t sell. So thank you fans, thank you a lot for not buying it. That means more to me than anything else. By not buying it, Yes fans are giving their opinion, and I want that, you know, thanks a lot for not buying it that’s all I can say! But I’d much rather be saying that I’m pleased that they are buying something that they like, so, that’s our goal with this record. That we are not floundering and making the same mistakes we’ve made so often before. And Bruce Fairbairn had been a very big part of bringing that reality to us, and shaking us up- Jon, me and every one of us, all had a shake. That shake made us realise that there is only one opinion that is important, and that is the group opinion, and we are here finishing it because Bruce gave us so much direction, and we believe that we can complete this in the style that Bruce Fairbairn wanted. Also for his memory and for his further recognition as a great producer. But positive front, the touring is looking good, we want to get back to Europe in October and generally there is a lot of machinery that seems to be going along with this. Jon and I have happily said to ourselves quite a lot- and I’ve reminded Jon of this a few times- is that don’t worry about whether the record company can sell the record, don’t worry if the promotion is right, if we have the right record out and the right music, then we have a different machinery working with us. That is the real machinery of real excitement created by a very real record that is not full of production options, its just full of good production for us. So that’s going to be a major triumph to get that appreciation back for Yes. The only way that can happen is with the right music, and if we have it now then I think it will be a growing and developing period for Yes. If we are wrong, then let us be wrong and don’t buy it. Please don’t buy our record if it’s no good [laughs]. I sound like Bill Bruford – Bill would say the same thing ‘Don’t buy our record if you don’t like it’. And of course they won’t, and that is the evidence of the sales of ‘Open Your Eyes’, ‘Union’, ‘Talk’ and to some extent ‘Big Generator’ and other records that I shouldn’t really comment on. It’s a long story.”

‘Topographic Oceans’ has always courted a mix press and caused heated debate. What are your thoughts on that album some 26 years after it was recorded and released?

“Well every time I read an article about Yes, I can tell whether the writer has heard ‘Topographic Oceans’ or merely read anything everybody has said about ‘Topographic Oceans’. The clichés about that record are forever predominant. But what I would say about that record is that if we hadn’t gone to those lengths we would have fallen apart, because the band was about adventurism and about finding challenges for Yes to do. If we had done records with songs on it every time we would have lost that dream of doing large statements, which is what Yes has done ever since ‘Close To The Edge’. Well really since ‘Roundabout’, which was the first ten minute song as far as I know, although there might have some on ‘Time and a Word’ which is an album that I adore although I wasn’t on. So everybody loves slagging ‘Topographic Oceans’. The only thing was that not only did it sell the same as all our other fan based seventies albums, it picked up sales and then picked up credibility. Unfortunately the mass and general media never saw this, but the fans came back to ‘Topographic Oceans’ and started voting it their number one album and voting it the most explorative album Yes ever made. It has some beautiful moments such as ‘The Leaves of Green’. We played side one last year and people went ‘Oh I see, and I understand why ‘Topographic’ is so big’. So I am a complete believer in ‘Topographic’ and nobody has ever been able to change my mind. It is a great album that we made. I’m not saying that all of them were great, but I’m saying that one is great and it is the one everyone loves to knock. And Rick said some absolute bullshit about it. The opportunities and freedom that Rick was given on that record surpassed any other album that he had, but he didn’t seem to want to rise to the occasion. We enchanted him like a snake charmer and brought Rick out of his basket for that record. We inspired him. Jon filled him with potential of possibilities, and all he can ever do is slag it, and that it the cliché about ‘Topographic’. I don’t think that it is worthy of those aggressions. Side 3 is one of the weirdest things that we ever did, but we are not a pop band, and we were even too commercial for Bill Bruford [laughs]. If you’re too commercial for Bill and you are making music like ‘Close to the Edge’! Let’s get some reality in this you know.

I am a complete suppresser of doubts about ‘Topographic Oceans’ and I was the one trying to say to Rick at the time ‘Don’t believe them, just stick by it. We’ve been slagged before we’ll be slagged again’. But the whole thing went to heart. Rick left the band. ‘Topographic Oceans’ was to blame, weren’t Steve and Jon awful for writing this huge piece, weren’t we horrible for forcing it down their throats? NO. We had no other music to play, there was no other direction. The other band members didn’t write any songs. Jon and I had a complete concept, we put it on the table and said ‘This is where we think Yes should go’ and the fans got behind it. So for me the album was a total success [laughs]. Contrary to lots of other people opinions.”

Well, this is the good thing is about Yes fans is that they all have cast iron views. I've always thought Tormato has always been an underrated recording.

“Yeah, that was an album that I slagged a lot. But I came back, listened to it on CD and realised that it has a lot of musicality and has a different style once again. ‘Tormato’ was not a ‘Close to the Edge’ or ‘Going for the One’, but it was a ‘Tormato’. It was a very individual record with different styles to it. With a jazzy approach here and there, and electronic here and there. Then of course we contradicted that and go to ‘Madrigal’ which has harpsichord and Spanish guitar. So Yes were rising to the occasion.”

There is an orchestral analogy that's been made suggesting that band members may come and go but that the band remains bigger than any one member.

 “Well ‘Union’ was a bizarre story, and I don’t wasn’t to go there again. The rivalry and spotlight stealing that went on at certain points of that tour were nothing to do with Yes. So, Yes could re-invent itself again, and it will do through need and necessity. It doesn’t do it through just fashion or ‘There’s a nice keyboard player let’s have him’ or ‘He’s got nice legs’. We’ve really got Igor, who is really more integrated than people might think. Igor’s holds that position. So yes, I mean I am not the guy who is going to say ‘This is our greatest record and we are going to stay together forever’. I don’t actually say those things, although I feel very excited about the record and feel very hopeful that it fulfils. As far as the way this band stays together is completely unknown. We would hope and like to think that this is the line up that is like the seventies line up that can weather many years of musical changes and we hope that this is that line up. But certainly I always see Chris, Jon and I as a key, if not immovable element that exists in Yes that has been a stronghold. Because you’ve either got Chris and me writing, or Jon and me writing and you have the collective idea of all of us writing. So I would say that writing is partly the key to us staying together because if that works out, everybody is happy with the music.”

 

Interview Transcript - Michael Kamen 1999

Interview originally carried out for Record Buyer magazine in 1999. First of many re-discovered on a batch of 3.5" floppy disks that I'll be posting here over the coming months!


How did you get involved in “The Wall” project?

“I owe this major life change to Bob Ezrin, who is still a dear friend and who I see as often as possible. So it’s not a life change that I blame him for, but he is responsible. He was producing the Wall, and I was working with Bob in New York, and we had plans to do all sorts of projects together in New York. One day he came to me and said “I can’t do that, I’ve gotta go to London for six months or a year even”. And I said “What! To do what?” and he said that he had been asked to produce Pink Floyd. I said “Pink Floyd, are they still together?” [laughs]. Cos the last I had seen was Dark Side of the Moon. I was absent the day they were making wonderful records and releasing them [laughs]. I really, seriously, did not know that they were still together. And Bob started talking to me about this project, “The Wall” and how happy he was to do it, and how it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. How he had met with Roger, this incredible genius and Dave Gilmour who was the most incredible guitarist and wonderful man. How he knew Rick and Nick, and was getting along with Steve O’Rourke, and he opened up this image of a world to me that sounded really good. But it was not for several months later, when he came back to New York and asked me if I could do the orchestrations for six or eight songs on the record, that he was actually able to say, “Well, this is what we are doing”. I remember I went up to his house in Toronto for some reason, and he played them for me the first time, and he left me alone with them for a while. I remember hearing “Mother”, and thinking, “Wow, there’s a lot of room there for an orchestra. Then he played Comfortably Numb, and I flipped out. because it was so, so beautiful. Even in that un-mixed and unfinished state, but it was a great, great picture of what this thing could be. By that time they had made some of the record and done basic tracks, and they might have been overdubbed, but not with the right vocal or with all the acoustic guitar layers. A lot of the layers were missing, and I was being asked to add layers. I didn’t have as great a free hand as I have just had with Metallica. But then, Pink Floyd and Metallica are very different.”

Were you left alone with it, or did you have a lot of interplay with the band?

“I had no interplay with the band, until in fact the day of the recording in NY, when Rick Wright came by. Everybody else was very busy. They trusted Ezrin who had it under control and found this guy in New York to do it for them. Bob was, as always, was very influential and not dictatorial, although he can be! [laughs]. But he wasn’t to me, and we collaborated on making the right arrangements for the songs. He is very clever and taught me what I do. So I am very happy to work with him and take his advice. I don’t remember doing any of the keyboards.”

Did a lot of the material have to be cut in order to fit it on to the 2LP format?

“Floyd were pushing the edge of the curve for technology, which they always do. Who you really need to talk to is James Guthrie, whose entire life has remained “The Wall”, since he first started to cut the album. He just finished mixing the DVD, so it’s how many years later? I don’t know, but he is still working on it. James would give you all the technical details. Miraculously and happily I was not party to them until I had to be later, when we were doing the album of the film, with the recording and re-recording for the film.”

I seem to recall that there was a lot of additional work needed for the film?

“There were big changes, yes. There were extra bit and changes to the orchestration, much of it had to be re-performed I think, and some of it had to be seen to be played with big brass bands and things like that. There were some great scenes when we went the British Horticultural Society, some hall near Victoria. And you have to remember that I was a New Yorker, so I was a tourist of the highest ilk. There I was finding my way around London, looking for this insane place, where they had kitted out the hall to look like a big concert. And there was the set, the band, and people in costume all over. And Roger kept on grabbing me and going “Don’t go in there” and Dave would say, “The skinheads are here”. There was some East London skinhead contingent that had been hired to play the Nazi’s –the bad guys. And they were great, because they were sitting there in the bleachers waiting for their turn to go on, and these guys who had this image of tough, rough, Aryan nation stuff, all in these costumes that made them even more scary. And these skinheads were picking lint of each others costumes, like wonderful chimpanzees tending and cleaning each other. They were into their role like Disney employees.”

Were you involved in the live production of the original tour?

“No. For that they used the tapes and I was busy in New York, I think actually writing a ballet score in Milan, when that was going on for La Scala which was really fun. I would periodically speak to Bob, who would tell me these incredible stories. I would say, “Well what do you want on this one?” and he’d say, “Well this is when the wall is going up, and there will be sound effects of helicopters flying into it!” And I would say “Will you just shut up, and tell me if you want it loud or soft, oboes or flutes?” He’d be like “ You don’t understand, there’s going to be this plane flying over, and this teacher on top of the wall”. I was like “Are you fucking crazy? What are you talking about?” And it sounded like somebody’s pipe dream, like something that I would have come up with when I was like twelve! All this stuff that sounded bizarre and fantastic. I didn’t get the point. I understood the point of several of the songs that I had worked on. But I did not, no, except for maybe one rough mix that Bob played me get what anything else was. In that sense, when I finally when to a show at the Nassau coliseum, I was totally overwhelmed. In addition to being as sick as a dog and jet lagged beyond belief. It was like I had taken acid, I was tripping. I went to the coliseum, and there was this incredible display of genius and sound that I had never heard before. Remember, I had played in rock and roll bands as late as 1974, with Bowie in stadiums, but I nor nobody else had seen anything like that show. Bowie was proudly proclaiming his first theatrical efforts, and shortly after he did it, Jagger came in with his own theatrical efforts for the Stones. So clearly in was in motion that vogue, but not until Roger made and architectural realisation of his dreams did that come to fruition. And it was magnificent; there is no question about it. My respect for the piece was very profound.”

What do recall about working with Roger Waters for the concert in Berlin in 1990?

“There were a lot of the same ingredients used in order to match visuals. They had developed a syncing system so that the band could be in time with the visual. And it was some of the same effects tracks that were being used, so the old tapes had to be carted out- again a job for James Guthrie [laughs]. And sort out some of the ingredients that were necessary for a live stage show, or to borrow the tapes from the old live stage shows. We recorded the orchestra again because we needed, for one reason or another, to have different versions of the orchestration for Berlin. And it was very much part of Rogers idea to have an orchestra on stage, behind the wall. So there were some changes, and I worked with the great East Berlin orchestra, who I subsequently went back to and worked with on a movie score, and I just found out are no longer in business. But we recorded in this incredible hall and performed live with augmented tape. So it was at least, as involved a production as the original, plus of course you had international cameras and television.”

There were a few glitches on the night, which seemed to be related to a problem with the power?

“I think in Germany there has always been a problem with power [laughs]. And that was the element of that concert that was memorable, and not necessarily electrical! [laughs]. Roger was on a power rush and he was entitled to it, I mean he was strutting his stuff and dancing on Hitler’s bunker. So fuck me, if that doesn’t deserve a little gloating. We were all gloating and Roger was the one who was actually doing it, so more power to him.”

There was also talk of guitarist Snowy White having to re-record some his parts at 2.00am in preparation for the live LP?

“There were technical glitches, but that was to be expected with something that ambitious. I think that, for the record, the replacements were very, very small, and had more to do with getting some of the singers happy with their performance, than it did with getting a technical fix on the band or a bass drum blowing up! [laughs]. I think it was an artistic decision, which is often done. I just found out that even in the states where there are major union rules to obey when you are making a classical orchestra recording- I am just about to record my symphony in Washington D.C- and there is something called a ‘real session’, and something called a ‘patch session’. As they recognise that performance is the goal, but you sometimes want to clean up little bits. So they make that possible. So in the case of a show like “The Wall”, a few hours spent just patching it up is just about right.”

You were of course the producer for The Final Cut album. That was obviously the beginning of the end for that Pink Floyd line-up. Did you enjoy that experience?

“I loved it. It had changed my life by that time. I had been asked by Roger, luckily for me, Bob Ezrin has a very volatile ego, and Ezrin and the band, I think maybe specifically Roger, but it could easily have been any of them just decided “Let’s just get that guy in New York”. By that time we had met. I was out in LA when they mixed it, so they were able to call me by name- although I was probably still ‘The New York guy’. You know, it was like “Let’s bring him to do the patch up, and some orchestra stuff we need anyway. And I came to England, ostensibly for a very short time to meet with them and see what the situation was, and I stayed instead of 3 days, about a week, and then instead of going away for a week and coming back for a week, I went away 2 or 3 weeks and then back for a month. Then back again. You know, Pink Floyd never do anything in less than a very long period of time. And when they invited me for a small period of time, I should have known better! But I was nieve, and was really, really happy to be doing that work. I enjoyed the nature of what they were doing, and enjoyed how they did it. It was frankly mostly with Roger, and I had never met anybody like him. I think it is fair to say, that love him of leave him, he is unique, and at that time I really loved him.”

But it’s no secret that the band were on the stage of disintegrating at that point . . .

“Well, it was a secret to me. There was no prevailing wind that said Pink Floyd were on the way out. They were at a very tricky stage in the project that had been of long duration, and it really was Roger’s baby. And Roger nursed it, fought for it, cuddled it and protected it. Maybe too much, or maybe excusable. But at the time, Pink Floyd as a band, didn’t have a great deal to do, as a band. Dave Gilmour was part of it, and he was in attendance at any of the creative sessions. But a lot of the work was from Roger. He was adding bits and making the songs that he had always intended to put in the show, and adding them to the film. What it did, essentially was call up a whole host of associations for him, and he went back to his original idea, and expanded on it, and that became the Final Cut album. By which time, I was thoroughly ingrained. I had finally bit the bullet and said, “OK, I guess I’m not staying here for a week or a month, I’ll rent a place in England.” My wife is English, and the kids family is partially here. So I brought the two kids, one of which was in school, the other two years old, originally for three months. That is what I originally believed. It’s seventeen years later and we are all still here.”

It’s a wonderfully dark album, especially with the brass sections . . .

“Well The Final Cut owes its gestation to, I wonder whether Roger will agree with this, but it seems to me that this is what happened. He was involved in the ethic and the ethos of “The Wall” as if it were being created again, and in fact it was. And it brought out all the emotion that had originally spawned “The Wall”, and it was a well that was not dry. Roger is filled with passion about what he feels, and coincidentally or maybe divinely, Margaret Thatcher decided to be Hitler and started the Falklands war. And it fed right into the jugular of what Roger was into, and he started writing one song, after another song, after another. Reviving things that he remembered having come up with originally for “The Wall” and saying well, this is for this album. And we supposedly working on a soundtrack for “The Wall”, but it was very clear that the creative work was being devoted to new work, and it was in very many ways an outpouring and overhang from “The Wall”. But it was very much a more personal statement about what was going on at that time with Thatcher, Galtieri and all of the unbelievable world leaders who were allegedly leading and failing miserably. And I was raised in a very left wing politically motivated American family in New York. I know that Roger and I spent 2 or 3 hours every morning talking about these bizarre political realities in a spirit of kinship, and then we would go into the next room to make a record, and it would continue. The dialogue became part of the music, and the dialogue was very political in those days. The album is even called Requiem for the post war dream. That was very emotional, and caused Roger to write what I think are some of his greatest songs. I think the Final Cut has gems on it that are brilliant compositions.”

I think it remains a vastly underrated album . . . 

“Well the album wasn’t as successful as “The Wall”, nor could it possibly have been. Even if it was hot shit rock’n’roll, with Another Brick In The Wall Part 8. There are fantastic songs on that record, and wonderful political feelings placed in a very broad rock n roll context by a band that had an audience. And Roger was being very angst ridden, because it was a very angst ridden subject. Tensions did flare, but they always do. I think what happened to Pink Floyd happened later, and it was not from that period. It was certain that Roger was seizing control of the ship, but it was his ship to seize control of. Dave Gilmour was generous, creative and present and I love him to this day. I see him more often than I see Roger, who I have barely seen since the Wall in 1990.”

You also worked with Roger on The Pros And Cons Of Hitchhiking. What do remember from those sessions?

“I think it took a year, like everything. Roger continued to write, he was like on a straight run of creative juice. We were having a great time together, and he envisioned this project that had been originated around the time of “The Wall”. He presented “The Pros and Cons” and “The Wall” to Pink Floyd chose “The Wall”. So the projects had been in gestation around the same time. He was enjoying the heyday of “The Wall” which had not ended. The film was underway, then we had the “Final Cut”, so we were concentrating on making the album of the film, which turned out to be an album of an album of the film. And then very quickly into the “Pros and Cons”. And again in was just me and Roger, and it was clear at that point that this was a solo album. And that was what he wanted to do, and it seemed that he would get the “soloness” out of his system with that. It suited me to continue working with him, and continue living in England. The kids were already in school by then, and we moved into this incredible house, which I love to this day, but I can’t live in any more, because Jimmy Page owns it! The “Pros and Cons” introduced me to somebody that I went on to work with for many, many years, and who I admire to this day, Eric Clapton. Eric and I became really good friends as of Rogers tour. I met him through that album and have loved him every since.”

What was your role in the tour that followed?

“I did the band arrangements, I guess you would call it MD. But I was piano player, I might have even played oboe, I can’t remember. The tour was great. We had an incredible band of musicians and singers. The visual thing was pretty far out, and it was a major event to mount, and when you are in the middle of it, it seems that the whole world is focused on you. The opportunity to work with Eric led me to finally understand what it was to be a good piano player in a rock and roll band. It was the first time that I found myself playing when I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing. I wasn’t trying to lead the band, I wasn’t trying to conduct or suggest a flute, trumpet, violin, bass, or drum part. I was just playing along and listening to Eric Clapton. It was like, “fuck me”, that’s the way to do it!  And everybody used to come up to me and say “Hey, the piano sounded great tonight”, and I would be like “Oh, did it?” Suddenly I felt like Alec Guinness who gave a speech when he received and Oscar and he said ‘Well, it’s wonderful to get an award for what I have been doing all these years, which is absolutely nothing!’”

The Pros and Cons certainly had that distinctive Waters style about it

“Well, he was always a surprise to me, and continues to be a surprise to me, but it is a surprise that is filled with admiration. At that point, I was there simply to help, and add my enthusiasm and creativity to it, if I could. And I think I did. I sure liked it. I remember flipping out for the lyrics, which I thought were incredible. I never like the song “The Pro’s and Cons of Hitch Hiking”, which I kind of suggested as a joke. Roger was saying, “We need a hit single”, and I said how about [adopts grand voice], “These Are the Pros and Cons of hitch hiking”. And he went “Yeah, that’s it”, and started singing it. I was like “No, wait, you can’t sing that!” [laughs]. Many years later, when I was writing  “Everything I Do, I Do It For You” with Bryan Adams and Mutt Lange by mistake. I had written the song twenty-five years ago, and did the score for the Robin Hood movie. Then they brought Bryan in, and he added a lyric to it. But I didn’t have anything to do with making the record. I did then a movie called “The Three Musketeers”, and decided to invite in Bryan and Mutt Lange, to see if we could do on purpose what we had done by accident. And we wrote a song called “All For Love”, and Bryan, Mutt and I were in the same room at the same time, writing the same song, and it was cool. We finished writing it, and it was cool, we all felt fine about it, and then, when we were talking finally about lyrics, Mutt said “Didn’t the Three Musketeers have an expression, and can we use that?” And I said, “Yeah, it’s ‘All for one’”. And Mutt said “Wow, all for one. I can't see them dropping their draws for that in Kansas!” And for me “These Are the Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking”, didn’t really seem to do it for me! [Laughs]. But at that time I didn’t know enough to say “I don’t see them dropping their drawers for that in Kansas City!” [Laughs]. So we went ahead and did it.”

How about Amused to Death?

“Well by that time, I had gotten busy on my own, and was always happy to help. Roger came to be with some charts. Pat Leonard produced the album. I didn’t have much to do with it. It was interesting to be back in the fold, and see from a distance what the intensity of it was. And frankly, I didn’t have the time for it.”

Roger does take his time between albums, but always has a strong concept.

“Well, he knows what he is doing. And it is more power to him, always. And he takes it by the horns. The more power sometimes didn’t do him any favours.”

And how about working with Dave Gilmour and the rest of the band on the Division Bell?

“Well, as I said, Dave and I have remained close friends, we see each other all the time. So that was just like, “Oh, we are working on an album and not going to dinner? Ok, we’ll work on the album and then go to dinner.” That was very much as normal.”

Do they work differently from Roger?

“They are very relaxed and less anal about it. But at the end of the day, everybody focuses with ultimate precision, like a laser guided bomb. It’s just not as intense around David, not as burdonsome or serious. It’s not frightening. And when I worked on that last album with Roger, and since I hadn't worked with him for a few years, it was amazing and amusing to see how tense the atmosphere was, compared to anybody’s project, let alone Dave Gilmour’s, who is a very relaxed character.”

 

 

An Interview With Colin Edwin - July 2011

The Ex-Wise Heads

The Ex-Wise Heads is a collaboration between Porcupine Tree’s Colin Edwin and the former member of Henry Cow, Geoff Leigh. They have released a number of carefully crafted albums and their latest, Schemata, was released earlier this year. In this interview, Colin explains the motivations and experiences behind the project as well as revealing plans for the band to perform live later this year, and confirms he’s also working on a number of other solo projects.

 The musical style of the Ex-Wise Heads is very different from your work with Porcupine Tree and includes African sounds and influences. Is exploring that side of your musical interests away from Porcupine Tree important?

Colin Edwin: “Yeah, kind of. It sort of grew out of two things. One was travelling a lot in North Africa and I wasn’t really a fan of the music until I went there. So I heard it in situ if you like. There was also a kind of vogue for world music going back a few years and it became popular but I never really got into it. But when you’re in a place and you hear it in the context that it comes from, there’s something a lot more powerful. I discovered a lot of these African recording artists and they are much more interesting to see for real than they ever are on record because the records tend to be watered down a little bit or perhaps kind of Westernized a little bit. And that’s been going on for years. I was just reading a thing about Bob Marley actually and they were talking about how Catch A Fire, the first Bob Marley album, made a conscious decision to rock it up a bit for a western audience.”

Yeah, I guess there’s a conscious effort to water down the true sound for a Western audience. So how long did you spend in Africa?

“Well, I went to Morocco for basically a whole summer, a three-month period about ten or twelve years ago and I’ve been back a couple of times. The first time I was out there, I picked up this instrument called a guimbri which is a North African bass instrument. It has three strings and is basically like a box with a kind of broom handle thing and it has got a very unusual sound. I guess I was drawn to it because of playing the bass. I picked one up and I brought it home, and at the time I was living in Brighton on the South coast. I had no idea how to tune it or how it was going to work. I discovered that because of the climate being very different here than in Morocco, when I got back to damp old England, I couldn’t get the strings to any kind of tension to actually play on it. Just by a complete fluke, I discovered a shop called Adaptatrap in Brighton, which is still there, and they specialise in instruments from all over the world. I took it in there and it just so happened that at the time Geoff Leigh was sharing a house with the guy who ran the shop. He’d just come back from Belgium and one of the things that he’d been doing whilst living in Belgium was playing with these Moroccan musicians. So he actually rang me up and said ‘I head that you’ve got a giumbri, do you fancy having a play together?’ And it was great. I didn’t know anything about the music really and I’d just picked up some. I was lucky enough that when I picked it up, I had a recording Walkman with me so I recorded the guy that I bought it off playing the open strings so that I knew what to tune it to. So I went from having an instrument that I couldn’t play at all to having somebody who could come and show me what it was all about. He’s a bit of a connoisseur of the Gnawa music. So we started playing and jamming together and I was very taken with the fact that Geoff had lots of different flutes, various sounds and other things that he liked to do. So I used to enjoy going round to his place and we used to play a couple of times a week. To motivate ourselves, we decided to get a gig and we got a couple of gigs in Brighton, just local things, we got a percussionist and we started recording and it’s all grown from there really.”

Yet it’s not just the African elements as there’s also an ambient vibe to it which makes it unique.

“I guess that’s just another shared interest area that Geoff and I have. We start off with some common ground and some stuff that we both like and it’s just grown from that. But he’s always been into using delays, reverbs and textural stuff as well. The way we used to do stuff was very much about playing together and just making it all happen live and then gradually, with technology the way it is and the fact that I’ve been away a lot with Porcupine Tree, it was impossible to get together and play with any kind of frequency. So we ended up using technology as a way around that if you like.”

So how was your latest album Schemata written? Given your time constraints I’d imagine that it was a more structured approach rather than the music coming out of jam sessions.

“Yeah, what we used to do was exactly that. We’d get together in a room and jam. Then the band went from being a trio to becoming a duo, just me and Geoff as we found it difficult to have a percussionist that we could get on a regular basis and all the rest of it. I’m not really a soloist on the bass guitar so I don’t consider myself as having that kind of role. I’m a supportive bass player. So I see myself as creating things for Geoff to improvise over. So it would often be the case that I would have a rhythmic idea or a bass line idea. I would develop that to such a point that I would be comfortable enough for Geoff to come down and play with what I’d done, over the top. It was basically improvising or maybe coming up with some things that he had which would fit what I’d done and then it’s a case of spending time with the digital editing really and perhaps revisiting it when we’ve got a basic form and maybe doing some more improvisation over the top. Sometimes it might become the case where he would use a particular instrument, like one of his flutes or a Zither that he’s got which has a very distinctive sound. I might think that it would sound good with a particular bass or my double bass and I kind of put things together like that. So it’s a bit more of a patchwork way of working and it means that we have four or five different ideas on the go at the same time and flit between them. But it’s nice to do that as well. It’s the flexibility of working with computers which has kind of offered us that. In the beginning we were very traditional in that we would rehearse something and then record it and now we have a completely different approach going. But I think it has worked for the last few records, so we’re probably going to stick with that.”

Given that, how long has the album taken to write and record?

“Well the recording is sort of ongoing, so we would have a session together and maybe kick things off or I’d have some ideas that he’d come down and do. And then I’d just work on them in whatever spare time that I had. In the past we were having to work with the recording in mind, whereas this time we didn’t have to think about that, we just thought about whether we had any ideas that were worth working on [laughs]. So actually it took a lot longer. There were actually a couple of things that were done a few years ago that didn’t make the last record that I didn’t quite want to give up on. I met an Indian influenced guitarist called Rajan Spolia and I got him down for a couple of sessions and recorded him and really liked what he had done and couldn’t find a space for what he had done on the last record but I had kept everything and built a piece around what he’d done and kind of developed that idea a bit further. So I guess I had been working on it since the last album and a couple of pieces since before that. So that’s a good few years but of course in between I’ve been around the world with Porcupine Tree a couple of times.”

Although you did some gigs in the early days of the band, you’ve not really returned to playing the material live. Is that something that you’re hoping to return to?

“Actually that’s a very timely question because we’ve had a couple of offers to go and play live and the last couple of weeks we’ve actually been rehearsing together which is something that we haven’t done for a while. So fingers crossed there is a gig in Ukraine in August and Burning Shed are doing a ten year anniversary tour and they’ve asked us to do one or maybe two of those shows. I’m not sure how many we are going to do, but that’s not until October. So that’s actually given us the motivation to think about going out and doing it live again. There are a lot of possibilities with the music and we might have a sort of expandable line up if that’s possible. Though initially we’re going to try and do it as just the two of us and a laptop. I did have reservations about doing that and using programmed beats and all the rest of it but then I thought ‘Well really the band is me and Geoff’ so whoever else we get is only ever going to be a guest in those circumstances anyway as we’re the driving due if you like. It’s great to have other voices and all the rest of it but I like the idea that we can do something very self-contained and very straight forward. Geoff, being the way he is, I’m totally confident that when we take the stuff and do it live, it’s still going to be interesting because he does all sorts of crazy stuff live, so it’s not going to be like we are just going to be playing to a backing tape. There’s obviously going to be that part to it but I think that there is enough improvisation and enough that we can do to make it special and hopefully different enough from the record.”

I know when the Ex-Wise Heads first formed, you had a number of gigs apart from Porcupine Tree, as well as teaching, presumably to make ends meet. Given the success of Porcupine Tree, has that enabled you to make music without any external pressures?

“To be honest I’ve never been any good at making commercial music. You have to do what interests you. If you have to do something else for money then that’s another subject. It’s sort of weird in that it’s a mistake as well to second guess what people would like. Obviously there are commercial song writers and people who are very good at that but even with Porcupine Tree, I guess you can look at it and from any angle it’s successful and there are a million reasons why it probably shouldn’t be because there are lots of long song forms, but somehow or other we’ve managed to get an audience. I think that is the key to it, developing or nurturing an audience that you can build on. Sometimes people find that audience and sometimes they don’t but I think what will guarantee you not to find an audience is pretending to be something that you’re not. So I’d say that I honestly have a genuine interest in a lot of the elements that we use in Ex-Wise Heads, so if it comes to collaborating with other people, that’s what’s going to draw me to it. The thing about self expression is that you’ll do it anyway, you know what I mean? You’re not thinking about commercial things when you’re doing it. I mean Ex Wise Heads is not commercial and I think that you’re right, there is an audience for it but I don’t think that we’ve quite reached it yet. But I’ve found a curious thing in that the longer, more drawn out and less commercial pieces seem to be the ones that draw people in a bit more. It was a bit of an experiment but a couple of years ago, we did a vinyl release and that has been reissued on CD [the superb Celestial Disclosures] a little while back with an extra track. The whole point was that we had an invitation from this label to do a vinyl, so Geoff had some really good ideas which we developed and the idea was to have one piece per side of the vinyl. We ended up throwing in all the kinds of things that we do. So there are some very long ambient sections, some very rhythmic sections, I played some double bass and Geoff did some crazy stuff. The funny thing is that that release had more interest than any of the other albums. So it’s weird in that the thing that I thought would just be a bit of a curiosity and perhaps wouldn’t interest anybody has been the one that people write to me about, the one people ask me about and the one that has been selling more consistently than any of the others. So maybe there is a message in there.”

The other thing that strikes me about the music on all the Ex-Wise Heads releases is that it’s very evocative music and you could easily it appearing as a soundtrack to a movie . . .

“Yes, I’d love to think that there would be a film director out there that would pick up on our stuff. But yes I can see that and we’ve always had an interest in atmospherics. Maybe I should write to some of my favourite film directors [laughs] but that’s often the way things work. I like to think that there is a cinematic element to our music. I’ve always thought of our albums as a journey and I know that I’ve said this before in relation to other stuff but the music that interests me on an album basis tends to be the stuff that draws you in and that often has a kind of filmic element to it. You’ll watch a movie from beginning to end and I like to think of an album as being the same sort of thing. You won’t just watch your favourite scenes if you put a movie on.”

I guess it’s also great to get a prolonged break from Porcupine Tree to recharge given the length of the last album cycle in recording and promoting The Incident?

“We did a lot of work for The Incident. We spent the best part of two years touring. We’d actually talked about having time off before and it think 2008 was supposed to be a year off but we ended up going to lots of places where we hadn’t been before, like Russia, Australia and I think Mexico and a few other places. So what started off with the best of intentions as being a bit of time off ended up being just another year of touring. So it’s important to do other stuff, as on tour you’re so in each others pockets as you’re living together day to day and seeing everybody day to day and it’s good to give each other some space. Not to say that we didn’t enjoy the Royal Albert Hall but we were all really looking forward to the finish as I think that there’s only so much time to spend together that’s healthy, especially when you are playing the same repertoire as well. People think it’s a holiday but it’s quite hard work.”

So what is the timeframe before Porcupine Tree start thinking about working on the next album?

“We haven’t really set anything. We finished with the Albert Hall in October which was the definite finish and the sort of vague idea was to get together around a year later. We haven’t really discussed anything yet but we’re probably going to get together in September or October. Obviously we’ll have to write the album first so there’s quite a lot of work to do before we go out on the road again. But I would imagine that if we start work on the record at the end of the year, with a bit of luck we’ll have it out for spring I suppose but there is no firm plan yet. The music business is seasonal in the sense that you can’t put an album out at Christmas time because you’re competing with all the Greatest Hits compilations, so generally you have to have things out in the spring time or the autumn and that seems to be the way it works. So if we start work on it in the autumn then we’re not going to have it out until the springtime anyway.”

Have you any other plans for any other solo musical projects for the rest of the year?

“Yes, well I’ve been continuously writing solo stuff although I haven’t yet got a plan. You tend to need something that unifies all the different elements and I haven’t quite got that yet but I’ve been working on various ideas. I have actually been collaborating with an Italian musician called Eraldo Bernocchi and I guess we’re about half way through an album together, with a drummer and a keyboard player involved as well. The idea is to do a live band but we’re still doing the recording at the moment and it’s interesting stuff. There are elements of metal, elements of dub and it’s quite heavy in places. It’s instrumental but it is something that I feel would be quite good live and that’s the focus that we have with it and there are no vocals at the moment. It should be quite an interesting line up. It’s me on bass, Eraldo Bernocchi on guitar and electronics, we have a drummer from Hungary called Balázs Pándi who is in a band called Merzbow and does lots of very noisy stuff, and there’s a keyboard player from America called Jamie Saft who does all kinds of things, if you go to his website he’s done very quiet piano stuff, he’s done lots of stuff with John Zorn. So we’re in the process of getting that together and it’s something that I started off earlier this year. We’ve wanted to work together for a long time, myself and Eraldo. You never really know when you work with someone for the first time if it’s going to work but I’ve been over to Italy quite a few times to work on some stuff and it seems to be coming together quite quickly, so fingers crossed we’ll have an album out late this year or early next year.”