2014 marks half a century of Steve Howe‘s professional career as a musician, during which he has helped shape the foundations of progressive rock with seminal act Yes. His essential guitar work on the likes on the albums: Fragile, Close to the Edge, Relayer and Going For The One mark him as one of the most influential guitarists of the 20th century. In the early eighties, Steve Howe was one of the founding members of supergroup Asia, with whom he recorded seven studio and one live album, up until 2013 when he decided to fully dedicate to Yes.
Alongsdie playing in these bands, Steve Howe pursued a solo career which resulted in 21 studio releases, but over the course of time he was a part of many other projects including Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, GTR and Explorer’s Club and has worked with Queen, Lou Reed, The Dregs, Fish and Dream Theater, among many others.
Howe recently completed work on Yes‘ 21st studio album entitled Heaven and Earth, planned for the release on 7th of July in UK and 8th of July in North America. The band has just completed their second annual Cruise to the Edge festival and are set to tour Europe in late April, May and June, where they will perform The Yes Album, Close to the Edge and Going for the One in their entireties. Yes will embark on the US tour on July 8th where they will perform the Fragile and Close to the Edge albums, along with the selection of the band’s greatest hits and songs from the new album.
Prog Sphere talked with Steve Howe about Heaven and Earth, tour and progressive rock.
Prog Sphere: The new Yes album is called Heaven and Earth and is due on the 8th of July. What can you tell me about the creative process of the record? How long it took you to complete the song structures?
Steve Howe: That’s a pretty hard one to answer briefly. We took a long time to collaborate and to share some ideas and I wanted that to be a longer process. I didn’t want to start the work by just going in like we did on Magnification – just walking in the studio and saying “What have you got?.” It wastes studio time, costs a lot of money and it’s not the right place to always start writing. It took us over two months to record the whole thing as well which but I wouldn’t say it was at all detrimental. We wasted too much time in the past rather than recording and so this time we cut to the chase and did it more efficiently. We still wasted time, of course, but we managed to cram in the appropriate amount of work in the available time.
What is the concept of Heaven and Earth?
It’s not strictly speaking a concept record but the basic idea of heaven and earth came about from some different title ideas which we presented to Roger Dean, who mistakenly one day called it Heaven And Earth and we started talking about how it was such a strong idea – how Earth is a physical place, it’s about measurement and distance, it’s about speed, it’s about weight, gravity and all the things that science loves to document and accurately record, and then Heaven is something that’s more free-willing. You could call it religion if you wanted to but for a lot of people it isn’t religion, it’s a spirituality with our religion and heaven is a possible place we might go, we might never go, you don’t know. In other words it’s all about imagination and the unknown. I think these two things are great parallels, like Yin and Yang, right and wrong, good and bad – it’s a whole mix of those extremes, where on one side you have heaven which is pure fantasy, on the other side you have earth which is pure physical.
Comparing with the previous album Fly From Here where does Heaven and Earth stand?
It’s hard to say where it stands as we’ve just done it but it’s a different sort of album. We didn’t set out to try and copy some seventies album, we went in and took what we had and tried to make it as fresh as possible. I hope it’s quite surprising in how different it is but it certainly isn’t just another chilled out record. It’s attempting to be its own person.
[READ PROG SPHERE'S INTERVIEW WITH YES' ALAN WHITE HERE]
Heaven and Earth is a first studio release by Yes featuring new singer Jon Davison, who replaced Benoit David. Creatively speaking, what did he bring to the new songs?
He brought an enormous amount. Not only for two years has he been wowing audiences with his own – not that saying he sounds just like Jon Anderson which is complete nonsense, he sounds like Jon Davison and it just so happens that he can get so on top of these songs in their original keys and he’s his own person. So he did the same thing on this record; he brought a lot of material much like just like Trevor Horn did when we did Fly From Here which was like a revisition of Drama but this time we got Jon Davison in where he was collaborating with everybody, he had some of his own songs, we had some of ours. It’s quite a good mix of different stuff but there’s no doubt he’s not shy to step forward with his own songs. They are weighty and they are very original and they fit perfectly into the Yes story so it’s all good news.
For the purpose of recording Heaven and Earth you worked with famed producer Roy Thomas Baker with whom you previously collaborated for the cancelled Paris sessions. How was it to work with him again some 25 years later? What was his input to the new album like?
Those aren’t easy questions to answer – Roy had his own usual way of sometimes being not as verbal as we expected and at other times he was quite forceful in other ways in that he got what he needed to do to be done. So it’s a mixture – you can’t say that he painted everything red which he didn’t, he added his approach very subtley and very gradually into the recordings; he got things the way he wanted. He had nothing to do with our previous relationship at all which we all had virtually forgotten about anyway so it was really like a pretty fresh new start and didn’t have a lot of “back story” if you like.
Fly From Here‘s center-piece was the self-titled 24-minute epic. Does the new album contain any epics? Considering the album title, it definitely opens space for featuring a large piece or multiple large pieces of music?
I don’t think a prog rock epic has to be long, Tempus Fugit in a way is a pretty short song and that’s a sort of prog epic in a way – I don’t think epic tends to mean long but we didn’t go out of our way to join together songs or to simulate a perpetual need for Yes to have huge pieces of music, but we would definitely not try to do anything dangerously commercial because I think that would rubbish Yes’ reputation when we play into the hands of commerciality. I think that this “heaven and earth” is kind of in the middle of those two predicaments – we’re not going put of our way to extend, elaborate or create a huge monster but at the same time I hope, I’m not absolutely sure, but hope we’ve steered away from being commercial, but Roy is quite a commercial style producer. But we honestly didn’t want to, or feel the need to make tracks… Well we have tracks over ten minutes!
How much did your writing approach change over the course of time considering all the line-up changes within the band? In particular, how did it reflect on your creative chemistry speaking of the changes on the position of a vocalist?
It didn’t change – no, I wouldn’t let anything change what I do. Collaboration is a different element to change; it’s about ways you put things together so I think it’s a happy marriage and Jon’s come in with really great material which Benoit couldn’t do but what Trevor Horn did with Fly From Here and Drama and Jon Anderson always did when he was collaborating with me.
In support of the new album, you will embark on the North American tour performing Fragile and Close to the Edge in its entireties, plus an encore featuring the band’s greatest hits and material from Heaven and Earth. There is a large chunk of material there, do you see it as a challenge to play these classics 40 years on?
Having something I like doing – obviously it’s a challenge – and if it isn’t a challenge it wouldn’t be at all interesting, so it is a challenge in a positive way but it’s putting together things that I like very much and then getting on with my life – getting on with playing these tunes which are not only very important to our audience but they’re important to us. But as you said, we’re including a short set from the new album in the new show as the album is out on July 8th so it will be quite exciting to be able to play something from it wrapped up in all the other material.
Do you think that progressive rock today has potential to achieve the same success as those albums from the genre’s golden era in 1970′s?
Well… The seventies were the seventies you know, the seventies are never going to come back but the way that prog can be integrated into all kinds of music whether it’s in jazz to classical, the effect that prog can have on all music is the same as that prog is in effect of taking in lots of other music.
Check Yes on the world tour in 2014. The dates for both European and North American tour are as follows:
Yes 2014 European Tour:
04/29 Oxford, New Theatre
04/30 Southend on Sea, Cliffs Pavilion
05/02 Glasgow, Clyde Auditorium
05/03 Newcastle upon Tyne, Newcastle City Hall
05/04 Birmingham, Symphony Hall
05/06 Leicester, De Montfort Hall
05/07 Sheffield, Sheffield City Hall
05/08 London, Royal Albert Hall
05/10 Manchester, O2 Apollo Manchester
05/11 Bristol, Hippodrome
05/13 Paris, Le Grand Rex
05/14 Zürich, Volkshaus Zürich
05/16 Monaco, Opera Garnier
05/17 Padova, Palageox
05/18 Milan, Teatro della Luna
05/20 Luxembourg, Rockhal Club
05/21 Brussels, Ancienne Belgique
05/22 Tilburg, Poppodium 013
05/26 Mainz, Phoenixhalle
05/27 Berlin, Admiralspalast
05/28 Leipzig, Haus Auensee
05/30 Prague, Congress Centre
05/31 Bratislava, NTC
06/02 Warsaw, Sala Kongresowa
06/04 Aarhus, Train
06/05 Oslo, Sentrum Scene
Yes 2014 North American Tour:
Tue 7/8 Boston, MA Blue Hills Bank Pavilion
Wed 7/9 New York, NY Radio City Music Hall
Fri 7/11 Wallingford, CT Toyota Oakdale Theatre
Sat 7/12 Westbury, NY NYCB Theatre at Westbury
Sun 7/13 Newport, RI Newport Yachting Center
Tue 7/15 Washington, DC Warner Theatre
Wed 7/16 Hampton, NH Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom
Fri 7/18 Salamanca, NY Seneca Allegany Casino
Sat 7/19 Philadelphia, PA Tower Theater
Sun 7/20 Munhall, PA Carnegie Music Hall
Tue 7/22 Rochester Hills, MI Meadow Brook
Wed 7/23 Northfield, OH Hard Rock Live Northfield Park
Fri 7/25 Madison, WI Overture Hall
Sat 7/26 Chicago, IL Copernicus Center
Mon 7/28 Nashville, TN Ryman Auditorium
Tue 7/29 Louisville, KY Louisville Palace
Wed 7/30 Atlanta, GA Symphony Hall
Fri 8/1 Hollywood, FL Seminole Hard Rock Live
Sat 8/2 St. Petersburg, FL Mahaffey Theater
Sun 8/3 Orlando, FL Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre
Tue 8/5 Houston, TX Bayou Music Center
Wed 8/6 Grand Prairie, TX Verizon Theatre at Grand Prairie
Thu 8/7 Kansas City, MO Arvest Bank Theatre at The Midland
Sat 8/9 Denver, CO Paramount Theatre
Sun 8/10 TBA TBA
Tue 8/12 Mesa, AZ Ikeda Theatre at Mesa Arts Center
Wed 8/13 Albuquerque, NM Legends Theater at Route 66 Casino
Fri 8/15 Las Vegas, NV The Joint at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
Sat 8/16 Anaheim, CA City National Grove of Anaheim
Mon 8/18 San Diego, CA Humphrey’s Concerts By the Bay
Tue 8/19 San Jose, CA City National Civic
Thu 8/21 Tulalip, WA Tulalip Amphitheatre
Fri 8/22 Grand Ronde, OR Spirit Mountain Casino
Sat 8/23 Lincoln, CA Thunder Valley Casino Resort
Sun 8/24 Los Angeles, CA Greek Theatre