Tony Kaye has a very good reason for not previously doing a solo album in his lengthy and distinguished career.
Now living in Florida, the former Yes keyboard player admits he’s tried before to come up with a solo record, but didn’t have any passion for it: “I’m the sort who needs to be inspired. I’m not a natural songwriter who can sit down and it all comes out. I have musical ideas in my head, these are classical really, but before I’ve had to abandon all thoughts of making my own album because there was nothing for me to focus on.”
All that changed when 9/11 happened: a landmark in 21st century history.
“I was living in LA at the time, and a friend of mine phoned from Washington and told me to turn on the TV. Like so many, I was transfixed by what was happening before my eyes. My mind was racing and telling me that I had to go to the garage and dig out my keyboard, which I hadn’t touched for five or six years. The next day I set it all up in what was a very hot room and started coming up with music – and so I began this 20-year journey, at last reaching the point now where the album has finally come out.”
Two weeks after 9/11 occurred, Kaye met his wife-to-be, Dani Torchia, who has been heavily involved with the album.
“We’ve shared this adventure. She’s a singer and songwriter herself, and came up with the track Sweetest Dreams. I told her I wanted something about the first responders who arrived on the scene, and this is what she wrote. It was perfect, and we recorded it immediately.”
However, Kaye faced an immediate problem in that he wasn’t exactly set up to record. “All I had was an eight-track cassette recorder, and I used this to do the 911 Overture, the first piece I composed for the album,” he explains. “But I then got to grips with new technology, like [audio software] Digital Performer, and learnt how to use this. This meant I could transfer everything I’d done on that cassette machine to a much more advanced computer programme.”
However, it was far from plain sailing as Kaye readily admits: “I lost some of the multitracks! So, was forced to go back to the original recordings and use a few of these on the final album. Yet that’s worked out much better than I [had] feared.”
This resultant album, End Of Innocence, might have been in the pipeline for two decades, but Kaye hasn’t been concentrating solely on this project for all that time, as he explains: “No, that would have driven me crazy. What I would do was write and record in batches. I had no record deal so no deadline. But when I reconnected with the Yes guys for Cruise To The Edge in 2019, their management took on the project and signed me to Spirit Of Unicorn. And they told me that if I wanted to have this ready for release on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, then I had to hurry up and complete it. That’s where being in lockdown really helped, because I could fully focus on recording the album as there was nothing to distract me.”
Aside from his wife, Kaye had help from several others in the studio as well.
“I got to know Jay Schellen, who’d been helping out Yes, and he came in to do some of the drumming. You can hear him on Flight 11, my interpretation of the conversations which happened on the plane, and Jay did a brilliant job in bringing this to life. There are also some local friends of mine who play on some tracks.”
For Kaye this is not a project that allows the listener to dip in and out: “In order to appreciate what I wanted to achieve you have to play the album from start to finish. This is the only way you can sense what was going through my mind.
“How did I feel once this was completed? Emotionally exhausted. I wouldn’t say that
it was in any way cathartic to write and record the album, but when I listened back to this in its entirety it fully reminded me of my personal journey over these last 20 years.”
Kaye decided to call the album End Of Innocence, which he believes sums up the impact of the terrible event.
“The world seems a more dangerous place as a result of that atrocious attack, and I wanted to reflect this in the title. End Of Innocence does that. It sums up the darkness and fear, which inevitably colours the musical atmosphere.”
He will be donating 10 per cent of the profits from sales of the album to the Gary Sinise Foundation, which supports veterans and first responders when they face times of hardship.
“I’m a very big fan of [him] as an actor and have always been interested in the fact that he raises a lot of money for those who put their lives at risk to help others,” he reveals. “It’s a charity I’m very happy to support.”
This may not be the end of the trail as far as End Of Innocence is concerned. Because Kaye is also considering a live performance.
“When I listened back to the album for the first time after it was finished, what was going through my brain was how amazing it would be to actually perform this onstage with an orchestra, and some suitably incredible visuals. And now things are opening up, I hope I can make it happen.”
So, now Kaye has bitten the bullet and made his first solo album, doubtless he must be ready to dive in and record a second one soon? “I’ve no plans for another solo album,” he admits. “As I said before, I’m not someone who can just sit down and have songs pour out. If I was to do a second solo record, then it [would be] because something had truly inspired me, the way 9/11 did for this one.”
However the maestro isn’t sitting back and putting his feet up. He intends to keep himself busy for the foreseeable future, with no intention of once more packing away his keyboard at the back of the garage.
“For a start, there’s a new album coming soon from Circa [the band that also features current Yes bassist Billy Sherwood]; it’s our fifth one, although we don’t currently have a release date.”
End Of Innocence deals with a very dark and chilling subject, but before our time with Kaye is up, Prog decides to lighten the mood a little by clarifying a long-held rumour about the musician. It’s been said that he auditioned to play the role of keyboard player Viv Savage in the 1984 movie This Is Spinal Tap. The part ended up going to Rare Bird’s David Kaffinetti, but Prog wonders if there’s any truth in the Kaye rumour?
Kaye pauses then sighs. He gathers his thoughts and confesses: “I did audition. Kind of. I went to the studio and did talk to the guys about what they were planning to do. That’s as far as it went so I didn’t actually go through a formal audition. I could sense what sort of movie this would be and had a lot of personal doubts about whether it was right for me, and never wanted to take it further. The film turned out exactly as I knew it would. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. But Tony Kaye as Viv Savage? Nah, I could never have carried it off.”
This article originally appeared in issue 124 of Prog Magazine.