Yes, Benoit David and the making of Fly From Here
Yes are no strangers to change, but the latest line-up modulations and the album Fly away from here – their first in 10 years and the most successful for almost twice as long – seems to have driven a faction of fans and online commentators into delirium. There has been heated debate over whether the band can make it through the absence of Jon Anderson, the move (or return) to a bright, modern sound by Trevor Horn with Geoff Downes replacing Oliver Wakeman, and the introduction by French-Canadian singer Benoît David, formerly singer of the Yes Close To The Edge tribute band.
Mild-mannered Benedict politely points out that he’s been in the band for over three years and 200 gigs now, while Geoff Downes is equally accommodating, despite – or perhaps because of – a recent online spat with a program forum. “HAS Fly away from here split the fans? he says. “To a certain extent. We’ve had a lot of very good feedback, and others are happy to be less complimentary. The majority of the fans are still very behind us. It’s good that they appreciate Benoit as a singer now. He’s made a difference, and it’s an album where he’s the main man, so it helps the way people perceive the band. Hopefully we can move on. Alright, I had a little fight with a few fans, but it was all fun! In the end, they appreciate me giving an overview of the situation and the album.
“Listen,” Chris Squire sighs, “there will always be your diehard Jon Anderson fans. There will be happy people and people who will complain. But Benoît did really well and it was good to make an album, because it was frustrating for me not to release new material for 10 years. There were various circumstances that led to this, but getting down to business and finishing one – fans surely see that’s a very healthy thing.
These “various circumstances” of course, previously reported in Program, involved Anderson becoming seriously ill and a 2008 tour being cancelled. (Anderson tells me he’s now “totally” fine. “Everyone goes through that shit, you know?” he said. “I’m so lucky I’m not in the hospital. I did , and I don’t want to. So I’m writing more music and it’s all a new experience now. I’m taking more drugs than ever – but they’re to keep me alive. It’s a joke…”) Squire said endured the brunt of criticism from those unfortunate few who paint him in the “breadhead” corner (as opposed to Team Anderson’s “spirituality” corner), but he is a terse character who asserts that he is a major force for keep Yes alive.
“I’ve never had such a long gap between two albums,” he says. “And part of the reason for playing live, the joy is having something new to present. People appreciate that. I’ve always said: I’m not a big fan of legend peddling, where you’re still playing some hit albums that you had 40 years ago.
During Yes’ summer tour of the United States (on most shows they were paired with Styx), some – if not all – of Fly away from here has been presented. “We were time-limited,” admits Squire. “But for the [imminent] European shows, we will add many more. “Making this 20-minute piece in its entirety,” muses Downes, “will be quite a challenge.” The spectacularly rising sequel that dominates the album began life as a shorter song, which first appeared during the Drama time. (A version appeared on the live album Tthe word is alive, and another appeared on the reissue of Buggles Adventures in modern recording). Large chunks of it are credited to Horn/Downes, though arguably the quirky Steve Howe bumpy section is what elevates it from pastiche to pean. And that’s it Drama era to which band members frequently refer when discussing the current state of affairs. With Horn and Downes back in the fold, there are also echoes of 90125 and big generator. Fear not, though: these aren’t all Linn’s random, ridiculously loud drum hits. Instead, Fly away from here sees Horn allowing musicians to do what they do best (Howe is in particularly good shape), while wrapping it all in a pristine, spotless studio shine like only himself (and his trusted crew, whom the band likes to credit ) may. The result is an album that, while never emulating, or even pretending to emulate, the euphoria and astral experimentalism of 70s Yes, tips a hat to the accessible and enduring 80s Yes. booming. The group came back from the quasi-coma at the time with a sound of robots joy which, on the contrary, seems stranger now than it was then. Fly away from here sweeps away from this template, with the titular centerpiece moving through welcome passages of grandeur, melancholy, and fleeting spells of humanized beauty. It’s also sly and daring, flashily reminiscent of the genre-hopping and contempt for “the done thing” of the 10cc heyday.
“There’s a lot more richness, a sense of healing, a calm,” Steve Howe suggests, “as opposed to the frantic search for some of our 70s heritage. Yet Trevor is very aware of our past. , and he was fighting for something on this record that was not just a good use of sound and our material, but to stand up against our history, which I think it is. It’s serene. It has more beauty in the sense that it is given time to be beautiful. It’s not urgent; it’s not cramped. It’s not overly arranged or lined; there is air in it. What all great things do. If you take a break from the music, it makes you wonder what’s going to happen next. It’s better to play too much together. Sure, we’re good at it, but sometimes we tried to leave things out here. I think we have our hands on it again. »
Does Yes’s music transcend the personal?
“It wasn’t easy to quit working with Oliver,” says Howe. “He didn’t do anything wrong and we loved him. But something happened with Geoff and it seemed like a band, with an added dynamic, which Benoît noticed right away. What if you believe other people believe the same thing, so even if they don’t always go about it the same way you do, you’ll get to the same point. And hopefully a lot easier than this sentence just did it!
Everyone does not hesitate to applaud the über-producer Horn. “Well, of course, he’s very experienced in producing records!” laughs Squire. “He knows what he likes, but leaves it up to his team to go so far. The germ of the Fly away from here song was written in the early 80s, and when I asked Trevor if he wanted to get involved in the production, we started talking about this song. We had never done a real studio recording. The conversation shifted to: should we do the same thing or try to extend it to long-term classic work on the Yes? “We had never reached a level of finesse of these themes during the Drama era,” says Downes. “It has evolved now. With Trevor, you get the high-tech side of things, but you still have the musicality of those guys. Yes is always something unlike anything else, because of these original drives. I think it’s really a Yes album, but without Jon.
Drummer Alan White, who I just heard a few words about a cracking transatlantic line with because he’s about to jump on a plane, says, “It was interesting to do something like a concept piece again, where everything fits together, with good themes and scenarios. I’m very happy with it. Geoff has always been a big part of the group around Drama. And since some of us have played together for 40 years – I’m only 39 myself – we tend to understand where it might go next, what to expect, how it should feel. Asked if we can expect the whole of Tales of the Topographical Oceans during European shows, he first wonders if I’m not joking (I wonder too) then laughs: “There will be old and new. We are all proud of what we have done over the years. Some songs we play because we can’t live without them. I remember one show where we tried not to play Roundabout and it wasn’t pretty.
Downes also acknowledges that, as impressive as the new work is, Yes’ past work isn’t easily dismissed. “Obviously we’re aware that Yes has a 20-album history, so we’ll be looking at a lot of that material as well. But expect a big dose of Fly away from here. It will be a solid evening of Yes music. With such a rich catalog of epic pieces, it is very difficult to choose. But that being said…” “There might be a surprise or two,” Howe reveals. “It’s dangerous to be predictable. We will show that we, like our fans, care about repertoire. I am happy Lonely (his solo track) is on the album, because it shows how I write and play guitar now. But the arrangements on Fly away from here demonstrate what the group is good at; what happens when we put our music together. This is what Yes has always been. If things aren’t surprising, maybe they shouldn’t be there!
But what makes Yes Yes? After all those revolving doors and musical chairs, when wouldn’t a Yes album be a Yes album?
“Of course, there are die-hards for some members,” Howe continues. “But the most dominant are the diehards in the group, no matter who’s in it.”
“Yes is a style of music that reinvents itself from time to time,” says Downes. “It takes its own course, changes direction, with a lot of people involved.”
Squire, who has completed an album with Steve Hackett under the working name Squackett (as well as a guest on Hackett’s new solo album), hinted that there could be another Yes album in a fairly similar vein. soon. To that, Howe said, “I think that’s pretty ridiculous. When I think of the accumulation of small and big ideas that it took to make this one, I don’t see how Chris says that! Until, say, 2013, there is no chance.
Yes could it last forever?
“Well,” White laughs, harangued to board his flight, “sometimes it feels like it is…”
This article originally appeared in issue 20 of Program Magazine.