Affirmative action: A conversation with Chris Squire of Yes

Since 1968, English prog-rock outfit Yes has had dozens of songs become cornerstones of classic rock, songs like “Yours Is No Disgrace,” “Roundabout” and “Owner of a Lonely Heart” are just a few that come to mind.

While the band — bassist Chris Squire, guitarist Steve Howe, drummer Alan White, keyboardist Oliver Wakeman and vocalist Benoit David — is putting the finishing touches on “Fly From Here,” its first album in 10 years, fans can expect just songs from the previous 40 years when Yes touches down at Penn’s Peak in Jim Thorpe Wednesday, March 30.

“On this particular tour, we’re not doing anything from the (new) album mainly because it isn’t all finished,” Squire told the Weekender recently from a tour stop in New Orleans. “It won’t be finished until the end of April. We’re not really at that level yet where we can play anything live — you’ll have to wait for the summer for that; Styx will be with us, and it’ll kick off July 4.”

“Fly From Here” is also the first album that will feature David, who originally stepped in when longtime vocalist Jon Anderson was diagnosed with acute respiratory failure in 2008. David was named permanent vocalist in 2009.

“He’s been very well accepted,” Squire said. “Most of the fans now seem to be behind him, they like him, it’s going well. He’s done a lot of singing, of course, on the new album, and he’s doing very well with that, too.”

Since he and Anderson formed the band in 1968, Squire has been the only constant member of Yes.

“Well, Yes has had a reputation of being a revolving door of having had many personnel changes over the years,” he said, chuckling. “It takes a while of touring and writing together for things to start really feeling solid. I definitely feel we’re at that stage, so everything is going in the right direction.”

Squire has seen those lineup changes as one reason Yes has lasted for more than 40 years.

“Obviously talent is involved in it, but also a large degree of luck is involved as well,” he said. “Most marriages don’t last 40 years, and the band is always getting a refresher course, I guess, when we get new members in with new ideas, et cetera.”

But for “Fly From Here’s” title track, Yes actually looked to the past: The band started working on the song in 1980.

“We just now kind of put it into the shape we wanted to do,” Squire shared. “It started as a six-minute song, but now we’ve turned it into a 20-plus minute piece of music that’s kind of going to be the pivotal track on the album.”

Roger Dean will design the cover. The artist, who began working with Yes on 1971’s “Fragile,” revolutionized album covers as art, something that has changed since the advent of CDs and digital music.

“Obviously, the physical size of the music package became shrunk, and the more intricate artwork becomes miniature-sized and isn’t as impressive as it used to be on a 12-inch cover,” Squire said. “I’m sure Roger is aware of these practices, presumably you make a slightly different kind of art for a smaller package, but I think we’ll definitely release the album on vinyl as well.”

Squire spoke candidly about his relationship with former bandmate Anderson, who is currently on an acoustic tour billed “An Acoustic Evening with Jon Anderson (The Voice of Yes).”

“We always exchange Christmas cards,” Squire began with a hearty laugh, “but I haven’t spoken to him recently. I don’t have any problem with communicating with him. I believe he’s doing very well and is a lot more recovered from his respiratory problems he was having, so that’s good news.

“It wouldn’t be out of the question that we would do something with him again in the future, but we’ve got to get at least another year and promote this new album before we turn to any special guesting from Jon — but it’s not impossible to happen.”

Originally published in the Weekender on March 23, 2011.
Chris Squire passed away on June 27, 2015.

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