Alan White – YES – 01/17/2013

By Thomas S. Orwat Jr.

Prog-rock pioneers, YES will embark on a late winter/early spring tour this year that promises to be one of the most ambitious and unique tours in the band’s glorious, 40 plus year career.  The band will be performing three of their most popular albums, “The YES Album,” “Close to the Edge” and “Going for the One” in their entirely.  YES, who have sold over 13 million records in the USA alone, currently consists of classic core members Chris Squire – bass, Steve Howe -guitar, Alan White – drums, along with Geoff Downes – keyboards and vocalist, Jon Davidson.  Over their career, YES has established themselves as one of the most brilliant live bands ever.  When YES performs it’s more than a concert, it’s a musical journey.  The level of virtuoso musicianship of YES is breathtaking.  The complex and sophisticated interplay between world class musicians, Howe, Squire, White and Downes is truly stunning and unlike any other.

What follows is an exclusive interview with YES drummer, Alan White.  During this interview we discuss the upcoming YES tour, the future plans of YES and also White’s time in the John Lennon band.

RockMusicStar:  Hey Alan, I must admit, like many YES fans, that I’m very excited about your upcoming tour, in which Yes will be playing three classics albums, (“The YES album,” “Close to the Edge,” and “Going for the One”)  in their entirety.

Alan White: Yeah, it’s pretty exciting for us as well.  It’s the first time that we are doing this.  Well, many years ago we played, “ Tales from Topographic Oceans”  in its entirety.  That was a huge, long album.

RMS: I heard that Steve Howe has wanted to perform a three album set for years.  Why did you decide that it was finally time to do it?

AW:  It just seemed like the right thing to do, in this current economic climate in the concert industry.  It’s been tried by other bands to a degree, but I don’t think that any band has ever done three complete albums before.  But, that’s what we are going to do, and I guess I better get my weights out, and limber up here. (laughs)

RMS:  It does sound rather challenging both mentally and physically.  Has the band actually got together to rehearse for this tour yet?

AW:  No, not yet.  But, we know most of the numbers in our head.  It’s just a matter of doing it.  We are probably not going to do the entire set together until a week before the tour starts, when we start our rehearsals.

RMS:  Wow, it just takes a week to get all of that material down?

AW:  Oh yeah, if everybody does their homework, it will be fine.

RMS:  That’s impressive.  Do you plan on having an elaborate stage show for this upcoming tour?

AW:  Yeah, somewhat, but not super huge.  Usually, the tours that take place during this time of year, are a bit scaled back.

RMS: In addition to the tour, YES will also be performing on the “Cruise to the Edge” boat cruise commencing on March 25th.  Are you looking forward to this?  It sounds like it’s going to be a blast.

AW:  Yeah, I don’t know much about it, I just know that in the middle of our tour, we go on a cruise ship and we will be performing a few shows.  I believe that five or six bands are playing on that cruise.  So there will be music going on the whole time.

RMS:  It seems like it’s going to be a prog-rock paradise.

AW:  Oh yeah, and the prices are very affordable. It’s really a great value.  And I’m kind of looking forward to it. It’s going to be different and interesting for us.

RMS:  Do you think that this three album tour will continue on into the summer as well?

AW:  Yes, that is on the table, as we speak.  But it’s not concrete as of yet.

RMS:  YES has been touring pretty much nonstop for a quite a while now.  Have you ever thought about maybe taking some time off?

AW:  I don’t know what the hell we would do, if we weren’t touring.  We would be at home twiddling our tumbles saying, “We should be on the road.”  We really enjoy going out and entertaining, and going out playing festivals and open air shows.  It’s been part of our lives for a very long time now.

RMS:  Do you enjoy all the travelling that comes along with it as well?

AW:  Well, that kind of gets to you after a while.  Especially after you done it so many times, but you just have to find different ways of entertaining yourself.  (laughs)   Just to make it more interesting.

RMS:  It’s impressive that YES not only continues to put on incredible live performances, but the band still creates brilliant music as well.  I felt that your last studio release, “Fly from Here” was an outstanding release.  In retrospect, how do you feel about that record?

AW:  I thought it was a great project in the way that it came about.  The germ was already planned years ago with the song, “Flying from Here.”  We did that song onstage for like a week in 1981, when Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes were in the band.  And that was more like a pop song kind of thing.  But when we turned it into a more elaborate collection of songs, it became really interesting.  I think it’s a great album.

RMS:  I was happy to see that you perform quite a few songs from the album on your tour last summer.  The show that I saw at Artpark in Lewiston, NY was incredible.  You had a great response for the audience, who really appreciate the new material as well as the classics.  Also, the range of the audience in age was surprising.  There were a lot of younger people in the audience on that evening.

AW:  Yes, that is surprising nowadays to see that.  I see teenagers in the audience all of the time now, maybe they were brainwashed by their parents and grandparents. (laughs) But I think that we are playing to three different generations now.

RMS:  I think that just shows the power of the music.  There has never been a band quite like YES and there never will be.  YES music is timeless.

AW:  It’s because we took the time to learn more than three or four chords. (laughs) You can create much more interesting music that way.  Each song we do is a bit like an adventure, and a musical journey of some kind.  It makes a difference.  We do some songs that are pretty straight forward as well, but those songs have our trademark dynamics and that transcends it into another realm.  And it’s enjoyable to play those musical landscapes.

RMS:  I couldn’t agree more.  Now, just yesterday, guitarist Steve Howe announced his departure from the other band he performs in, Asia.  Did that come to a surprise to you?

AW:  You know, that’s funny because I found out about 20 minutes ago from a text that I received from Chris Squire.  But we didn’t find out until it hit the press just like everyone else.  I find it interesting, but it’s his life and it’s what he wants to do.

RMS:  While Steven was in Asia, along with keyboardist Geoff Downes, did it ever create any problems such as scheduling conflicts or anything of that nature?

AW:  Umm, …not as much as you would think.  We would just allocate a certain amount of time for Yes, and then a certain amount of time for Asia.  But there have been a few problems, but we were always able to work around that.

RMS:  YES toured with Asia a few years back.

AW:  Right, Asia was the opening band and Steve was playing in both.

RMS:  Would you ever consider having your solo band, White open for YES?  Would you be up to doing two sets?

AW: (laughs) I wouldn’t mind it.  But, for a drummer to play two full sets every night could be a bit exhausting.

RMS: YES fans would love it.

AW:  Yeah, …but, for a drummer to play two full sets every night could be a bit exhausting.

RMS:  It would be awesome.  Now about a year ago, YES replaced then vocalist Benoit David with Jon Davidson. This was allegedly due to health problems that David was having at the time.  Was Davidson originally slated to be a permanent replacement at the time or just a temp until David recovered?

AW:  No, he was brought in as a permanent member.  We just need to have one meeting with Jon to realize that he was the perfect vocalist for the band.  He really fits in very well, and he’s a great guy.

RMS:  Yeah, back to that show that saw during the summer, I was very impressed by Davidson.  He really looks the part and is an incredible vocalist.

AW:  He’s also a very good songwriter.

RMS:  Does that mean we will be seeing a new YES album coming out anytime soon?

AW:  Well, we are certainly thinking about it, but who knows.  But we do have a lot of ideas, so who knows, but it could even happen this year.  But, it will be right, when it’s right.

RMS:  With YES having such a vast catalog and with the music sales continuing to decline year after year, do you find it all difficult to get motivated to compose new music?

AW:  No, not at all.  It’s part of what we do.  You need to have an outlet for creative energy.

RMS: Now some people may not know that early in your career you worked and recorded with John Lennon and worked also with George Harrison.  What was it like working with them?

AW:  They were both just wonderful people, great guys.  John had a reputation as being a crazy type of tyrant, but he wasn’t like that at all.  He was very thoughtful of every move that he made, and all of his lyrics.  I was only 20 years old when I worked with him, John would keep telling me “Alan whatever you’re doing, keep doing it because it sounds great.” (laughs) But he gave me full reign on pretty much everything I did with him.

RMS:  It must have been a bit intimidating working with such a music legend at only 20 years of age.  In addition, what an accomplished that must have been.  Did you feel that you would never be able to top that experience?

AW:  You know at the time, I really didn’t see it that way.  I was a musician and that’s what I did.  I woke up and played music with different people. It was just another thing that I was doing, just another stepping stone in my career.

RMS:  That’s a pretty big step.

AW: (Laughs) Yeah, it wasn’t until 10 years later that I realized that it was a pretty big deal.

RMS: Yeah, it really was.  Now you were born in England, but you not reside in Seattle, Washington.  How did you end up living there?

AW:  Well, my wife is from that area, and I’m on the road so much, so it’s good because she has family there.  I use to have houses in L.A., England and Seattle.  But we consolidated and we just have the one know.  But, I really like it here.  The people are nice and the music scene is fantastic.  I do a lot of benefit shows here for charities, so I’m involved in quite a bit here.

RMS:  Do you have any plans to release anymore material with your solo band White?

AW: Funny that you should ask that.  We are currently rehearsing for a show that we are doing on January 20th.  It’s a charity show for music education in schools.  I’m on the board of directors for an organization called “Music Is Northwest.”  So we do shows and all the money goes toward that program.  Usually when budget cuts are made, music education is the first thing that it cut.  So we found a way to funnel money back into the music programs.

RMS:  That is really admirable that you are involved in that.  Someone with your talent can really make a difference.

AW:  Yeah, thanks, it does make a difference and many people appreciate it.

RMS:  Alright Alan, thank you for your time, I really enjoyed talking with you.  But before we go, I must ask the one required question.  Will we ever see YES perform with vocalist Jon Anderson again?

AW:  Well, me and Chris Squire answer that the same way.  There is a possibly, maybe down the road that we may do a show or a few special events where Jon makes an appearance or something of that nature.  You’ll have to wait and see.


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