Geoff Downes From Yes – Interview

One of my all time favorite bands is Yes, specifically the 70’s era, but I enjoyed the other eras as well. The new album “Fly From Here” is a nice combination of all the eras of Yes. Recently I got the chance to chat with current (and also former) Yes keyboard player Geoff Downes about the new album “Fly From Here” as well as the current tour with Styx.

Zoiks: Where does the new album “Fly From Here” in your opinion rank among the classic albums? Is it more in the progressive line like the old 70s or is it more…

Geoff Downes: I think it kind of pulls from all Yes periods. It’s kind of a mix. It’s faithful to some of the more traditional Yes styles, but also the more epic piece is in there, there’s so much more, not accessible, but shorter of pieces. It’s a pretty good blend of styles I suppose.

Z!: How did Benoit David end up in the band and what does he bring to the band?

GD: Benoit brings, because this is his first actual studio recording with the band, I think that he feels that it’s very much him rather than having to, which is what he’s done historically is emulate Jon Anderson’s stuff, I think that having some new material that he can actually call his own, I think is great for him I think it shows the confidence that the Yes members have got in him to have an established part in the group.

Z!: You’ve been in Yes before, you play with Steve Howe in Asia. How did you end up back in Yes for this version of the band?

GD: Well I think the talk started when Chris (Squire) was speaking to Trevor Horn about producing the next album, that was toward the end of last year. We had a song left over from the “Drama” period which we never actually completed it at the time, and Trevor and Chris thought that would be a good starting point for the album. So it really sort of came out of that, and what I think Trevor suggested to Chris if he maybe got me involved. So we did actually take it from there and got involved and I ended up doing the whole album so that’s when they asked me to rejoin the band. It was quite a very good period of time.

Z!: You have a history with Trevor Horn? What’s it like working with Trevor?

GD: It’s great. I mean I had a long period, a number of years where I didn’t really cross paths with him, but I don’t know for any other reason than we were just not sort of in the same place, and I think that in recent years we started doing quite a bit more work together, and it’s very inspiring. You know Trevor’s still got a great sense of production. He’s still very very astute with music, and I think that he’s really pushed the boat out to make this album a very special Yes album, the biggest Yes album in ten years, and it’s an absolute privilege working with Trevor.

Z!: I know you’ve only played on a couple of Yes albums, but I’ve always wondered, how do some of the more complicated Yes songs, how do they come to take shape, does it start with a guitar riff or a keyboard riff, or do they start….

GD: Yeah I mean once you know them you know them. It’s just because of emulation, the difficult part comes in the actual creation. The hard part of making an album is coming up with the parts in the first place. I mean some of them are very challenging, some of the Yes pieces are very very complex, but anything can be emulated and you can put it together that way. So they come together pretty well actually.


Z!: How much fun is it to play that keyboard solo in “Roundabout?”

GD: It’s a great moment. You’re just waiting for it to come up. You know the quiet section before, and your moment comes. Obviously it’s a fantastic, signature, iconic part of that song, and I think that Yes has actually got a lot of elements like that which is very almost commercial, catchy things that happen in the music. I think that’s what we’ve tried to establish with the new album with catchy moments that come and grab you and then something else comes in.



Z!: Outside of yourself, do you have a favorite keyboard player in Yes?

GD: Not particularly. I think the thing with Yes is every generation has made an impact, and I

think if you look at Yes history and back to the 80’s period when Tony Kaye came back, they really did change direction quite heavily once Trevor Rabin came in, but I think that everyone over the years has made a valuable contribution to Yes and I think that I couldn’t say specifically who was better than anybody else. I think it’s more a case of at the given time that’s what makes it work.

Z!: You just hit the road with Styx how is that going so far?

GD: It’s going very well. I think that it’s two very different bands, and I think that they’ve got sort of this more accessible commercial pop, not pop rock, but the more direct stuff from Styx, and then you obviously have the big, more iconic big rock epics from Yes, so it’s an interesting bill. I think that people will go away thinking ‘I enjoyed both bands for different reasons.’

Z!: What brought the two bands together?

GD: Well I think it’s one of those situations where the Styx had been going out on joint bills for quite some years, and I think that it’s something that has come together over the years. It’s a very practical way of touring rather than having one band go out on their own, Its a more natural bill. I just suppose it’s more in keeping with when the 60s happened when there were three or four bands on the same bill.

Z!: What bands or artists are you into today?

GD: Well I think that, I wouldn’t say any specific band. I listen to a lot of music, and I like to hear….I think the new Foo Fighters album is very very good. I think there’s stuff that comes through and I think it’s got a place in the music scene. I think it’s whatever gets you going is quite important.

Z!: After the tour with Styx , what do you guys have on your plate?

GD: Well I think the general plan is to put in some more dates in September with Yes as headliners. So I think it’s something that we’re looking forward to because it will give us an opportunity to play more of the new album. I think by that time we’ll be gearing up for more world touring. We’ve got Europe in November and December. So it’s gonna be building up hopefully in promotion of the new album and making people aware that Yes is still around and Yes has still got a valuable place in the music scene.

Z!: Have you played any of the songs off the new album live?

GD: Yes. Because of the duration, we only to play for eighty-five minutes, and by Yes’s standards that’s not a long time, but we tried one of the songs from the new album, which is the title track “Fly from Here,” and I think people enjoy it. I mean the album’s not out until next week so people are getting an early taste of what the album’s like, and you know it’s an album that I think we’re all very proud of.

Z!: That’s all I had thanks for taking the time to do this with us.

GD: Brilliant, thank you very much.

Bob Zerull is the Managing Editor of Zoiks! Online. He writes pop culture commentary, does interviews with bands, and reviews music and stand-up concerts. He also administers Zoiks! Online's Facebook page. Follow Bob on twitter at @bzerull. Email Bob at bob@zoiksonline.com.

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