Jon Anderson Q&A: “I have songs that will last me the next 30 years”

Jon Anderson, ex-Yes vocalist
(Image credit: Cathy Miller)

Another year, another addition to the sprawling studio catalogue of Jon Anderson. Now 71, few would fault the singer for slowing down, basking in the residual love for Yes, watching the royalties roll in for Owner Of A Lonely Heart. No chance. On June 24th, Anderson unveils Invention Of Knowledge: an ambitious four-part concept album recorded with Flower Kings/Transatlantic guitarist Roine Stolt, and proof of the enduring lead in his pencil. “The progression of music,” he says, “is still my heart and soul…”

You met Roine on the 2014 Progression Nation At Sea cruise, didn’t you?

Yeah. I was asked to do the cruise a couple of times, but I always deferred. Y’know, ‘What do I want to go on a boat and hear all this crazy music for?’ But eventually I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it’. I was in touch with the guy who ran Transatlantic and he said, ‘We’d love to do a show with you’. I thought, ‘Let’s just see how much they like Yes music’. So we did The Revealing, Heart of The Sunrise, Owner Of A Lonely Heart, And You And I and Roundabout. It was a great show. That’s when I met Roine. I think we were guided to be together.

How did Invention Of Knowledge come about?

The guy who ran InsideOut Records was on that boat and he got in touch and asked if I’d be interested in working with Roine on a progressive-rock type of project. So I contacted Roine, sent him some songs, and he just did the perfect production. We did everything through the Internet. I met him two years ago, and again two weeks ago for a photoshoot. We spoke over the phone a bit, but we knew what we wanted without speaking about it. I was very interested in doing long-form music: I did say that to Roine, when we started. We finished up with four strong pieces: one is 20 minutes, another is about 17 minutes, 14 and 11. The idea was to take the listener on a journey musically. And that’s what I always think about Yes music. It’s a journey.

Would you rather that people listened to the album sequentially?

It’s not up to me. But I love listening to it all the way through. I’ve got a copy in my car, for when I drive around. It’s the first album I’ve ever done that to. By the time it was [recorded], I hadn’t listened to the whole thing all the way through. So when I was able to do that, I was like, ‘Wow, this is such a trip’.

What do you like about Roine’s guitar style?

I was very surprised at how good his playing was when we did the Yes music. Having listened to him play now for a couple of years, I just love his solos, the innuendos that he plays in-between vocal parts.

Master of the guitar innuendo: Roine Stolt

Master of the guitar innuendo: Roine Stolt (Image credit: Andy Sheppard)

Is there a guiding theme to the lyrics?

The invention of our understanding of the world around us, I think. The knowledge that we glean from living. We’re going through so many avenues of change, and through the internet, we’re seeing it second-by-second all over the world. So we are not unaware of the great beauty of this planet, and of the great misery of this planet. There are so many ways to move towards a better enlightened future for everyone on the planet. Because we are all one. Like a oneness of being, if you like. If we don’t understand that, we’re lost.

At 71, is it still important that your music pushes the envelope?

More and more. I’m writing so many different, wild kinds of music all the time. The songs on Invention Of Knowledge were written ten years ago. It takes time for things to work through. I have a plethora of songs and ideas coming through that will last me through the next thirty years. And that is the adventure.

What sort of music and artists were you taking inspiration from?

I think the concept is more like symphonic music. I don’t know what ‘symphony’ means as a word: I’ve never even thought about it. But it’s got that symphonic overtone. There’s so much melodic and musical juxtaposition. It changes from one thing to another, gets us to the next section, which will hopefully lead us to the next part, then bring us back to the first section. Very much like a symphonic work.

Do you think Yes fans will appreciate it?

I really hope so. Because there are more Yes fans than you could ever believe. Most of them don’t follow what Yes are doing at this moment in time. But there are so many fans out there who love what Yes music has done in their lives. It’s in my DNA to be creating Yes [style] music. It’s this higher consciousness of thinking, musically speaking. I’d say 80% or 90% of Yes music, I love dearly. I listened to Mind Drive the other day and I thought, ‘My God, this sounds so damn good’. There are some things that I think, ‘Ah, man that didn’t work’ – but what the hell.

What other projects have you got on the boil right now?

I’m working with Jean-Luc Ponty and this incredible band of musicians. We invented it just two years ago – the whole thing, the whole album – and we’re touring it now in America. It’s a real progression of music, and a different formation, because I’m working with what you’d call jazz-fusion musicians. It’s magnificent to be onstage with these people.

Songwriters often change with age. Do you think you’re still improving?

Well, you think everything you do is better [than before] – or else you wouldn’t do it. ‘Oh, I’m just gonna make some music, it’s not gonna be as good as what I did four years ago, but I’m gonna do it’: you don’t think like that. You think everything you’re doing is so much better than you ever did in your whole life. Like, ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this, it’s so fantastic…!’

Anderson/Stolt’s Invention Of Knowledge is released June 24th on InsideOut.

Henry Yates

Henry Yates has been a freelance journalist since 2002 and written about music for titles including The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Classic Rock, Guitarist, Total Guitar and Metal Hammer. He is the author of Walter Trout's official biography, Rescued From Reality, a music pundit on Times Radio and BBC TV, and an interviewer who has spoken to Brian May, Jimmy Page, Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie Wood, Dave Grohl, Marilyn Manson, Kiefer Sutherland and many more.