“When we talk about progressive rock, the most important part of that is the ‘rock’”: Extreme’s Nuno Bettencourt on how Yes and Genesis delivered “simplexity”

Nuno Bettencourt
(Image credit: Getty Images)

“As a kid I had a music library that spanned 10 brothers and sisters. You’d go into one room in the house and there’d be The Beatles playing, then Genesis in another. Probably 90 per cent of the music I was listening to in those first important years of my life was prog. I was in a band called Viking with two of my brothers – we were driven by UK, Yes, Kansas and Genesis.

“When we talk about progressive rock, the most important part of that is the ‘rock.’ Bands like those, and Rush and King Crimson, still made you feel like you were listening to rock’n’roll. It was hard and heavy enough, but they took some risks outside the box too.

Steve Howe was almost an outlier in Yes. You’d hear this classically driven music with layered vocals and keyboards, then there’s this guy playing, like, bluegrass guitar! What made Yes so special was that every member seemed like they were on their own island – the soup had lots of different ingredients.

“I played with Rick Wakeman at the Guitar Legends concert in Seville [1992] and met Chris Squire once – he was a pretty amazing person and one of my favourite bass players of all time. He was like the prog Paul McCartney, where he could play melody or just keep time and still be great.

“Some Yes albums messed with my DNA – fucked up my head a bit in a good way. Close To The Edge was a massive album for me: putting on a pair of headphones, the twists and turns of it really engaging me, just like Queen II did – now that album just didn’t stop.

“For me, the big Genesis records were stuff like Trick Of The Tail and ...And Then There Were Three. The heaviness of some of those songs really turned me on. But if somebody said I had to throw the collection away and just keep one, it would be The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway.

“What I loved about both Genesis and Yes was that they had what I call ‘simplexity.’ They were complex, but you could still latch on to a melody or a lyric. You can want to impress people, but whether fast or slow, you’ve still got to have an emotionality connected to what you play.”

Grant Moon

A music journalist for over 20 years, Grant writes regularly for titles including Prog, Classic Rock and Total Guitar, and his CV also includes stints as a radio producer/presenter and podcast host. His first book, 'Big Big Train - Between The Lines', is out now through Kingmaker Publishing.