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INTERVIEW – Jon Davison, YES – June 2014

| 31 July 2014 | Reply

INTERVIEW – Jon Davison, YES – June 2014
By Shane Pinnegar

Grammy winning prog-rock icons YES will play their 1971 and ’72 classic albums Fragile and Close To The Edge from start to finish at Crown Theatre on Wednesday November 12, singer Jon Davison tells SHANE PINNEGAR.

Yes - Jon Davidson 01

In his two years as frontman for the group, Davison has seen plenty of action with the band. Firstly, he replaced his predecessor Benoit David after he suffered respiratory problems, stepping straight into an Australian tour. Then there was the Three Album tour of North America, which saw the band playing the Yes album, Close To The Edge and Going For The One in their entireties, before the band inaugurated their Cruise To The Edge prog-rock ocean-liner cruise.

About to start the U.S. leg of the Fragile/Close To The Edge tour, Davison says that the latter album is honed to perfection after a couple of years on the road, but they former is still a mystery to the band.

“You know, actually, we haven’t even tackled Fragile yet!” he laughs. “We have all been individually working on it, obviously in support of the tour, but we haven’t rehearsed as a band any of the Fragile material. So I don’t really know about that one, we’ll have to see how it goes. Close To The Edge we’ve been performing for about a year and a half so we’ve grown quite accustomed with that material.”

Born in 1971 – the same year Fragile was released – the softly spoken singer says he was a big fan of the band long before the singer’s position became vacant.

“Yes definitely were part of my musical journey,” he explains, “my first exposure to Yes was when I heard them on the radio, and that was Owner Of A Lonely Heart [the US # 1 hit released in 1983], so I didn’t discover Yes up until that point. Then I went back to the classic years and discovered all the earlier work.

“[I was] absolutely a huge fan [when I joined the band in 2012.] I’ve always been – I was very well familiar with all the material,” he says.

Yes - Jon Davison

Although he wasn’t involved in the creation of these albums, Davison says he hasn’t needed any special techniques to connect with the material emotionally.

“I just follow my heart because, again, I’ve always been so enamoured with the music that it’s easy in one aspect because the inspiration is there. I truly love the music as my own and then on another wave it’s a bit more technical, with the physicality of it.

“Using your body as your instrument, that’s absolutely true so you really have to take care of your body on all levels. Which means exercise and proper diet and always warming up before a show. I mean I think that’s what most professional singers have to do – I can’t imagine it otherwise. That’s certainly what I have to do everyday.

“I did put a little bit of spin on interpreting things but they are really minor things,” he continues, talking about adapting the music to his personal singing style. “That just comes natural because I’m my own person obviously and my own unique expression is going to come through. But no, I’ve never gone so far as to think ‘all of this should be different’ or ‘I’ll change this.’ I try to really stay loyal to the original versions.

“I always use the albums. The albums are always a guideline because over the years [we] might shift a little bit from that version on the album, so I always go back to the albums. I always make sure I’m rendering things accurately in honour of the original. I always have that guideline, the original albums are the guidelines.”

Yes 01

The tour will also feature some long-awaited new material, with the album Heaven And Earth – only the band’s second original record in thirteen years – to be released in July.

Davison says that although Heaven And Earth is not a concept album, there are some threads which run through the songs.

“It’s not a concept album. There are some underlining fittings that you see consistent throughout most of the lyrics but in no way was it contrived to be a concept album.

“The title Heaven And Earth refers to the duality that governs our very existence. As you know there is constant balance and therefore duality; where there is dark there is light, where there is up there is down, right/wrong, black/white. It goes on and on. There has to be this constant balance of duality. So a lot of the lyrics touch on that concept.

“Because man is physical but there’s also a metaphysical aspect to our existence, so there again, there is a dichotomy and the lyrics sort of touch on that. Even on the cover, I just thought of it the other day, the Yes logo is depicted between these jagged lines of black and white so there again is more emphasis on that duality. I just noticed that the other day – I always knew of the design but then I realized, oh yeah there’s more dichotomy, more contrast there.”

Yes 02

Having made eight full-length records with Sky Cries Mary and Glass Hammer, Davison is no stranger to a recording studio, and contributed heavily to both the music and lyric writing on the new album. He says it was easy to slip into working with long-term band members Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Alan White and Geoff Downes.

“In preparation to come together with the band I just did what I always do: I wrote out of inspiration and brought it to them not knowing if it was going to at all fit in to the creative flow and mindset. Luckily the majority of my material did, so I would say that it was very much a natural process.”

In addition to the long-term core of the band, most of whom have been with Yes off and on since the early 1970s (Downes first joined in 1980), producer Roy Thomas Baker – overseer of classic albums by Queen, Journey, The Cars, Hawkwind, Nazareth, Ozzy Osbourne, Cheap Trick, Motley Crue, Foreigner, Devo and many more – twiddled the knobs. Davison says he was excited to work with the celebrated veteran.

“Absolutely – I was very happy about that,” he beams. “I’ve always been a huge admirer of his, what he’s achieved. I was quiet most of the time – I would just sit in the back of the control room like a fly on the wall and just watch him work his magic.”

This will be Davison’s second visit to our shores, but he still doesn’t expect to get any time to just relax and be a tourist, with the band locked in for five shows in four cities in a whirlwind week.

“Unfortunately no, not much at all,” he explains. “Last time we were there we had a day off between most of the shows and luckily enough we were in the Coolangatta area where our hotel was so we were able to go to the beach there on the Gold Coast. It was quite amazing. But in general there is never enough time really to absorb it all.”

grp 1 glasses photo credit Rob ShanahanA.JPG

With the band forming in 1968, and especially when touring two forty-year-old albums, Davison says that their core audience is mostly older fans on a nostalgia trip, but not entirely.

“It is mostly that, but I do see a lot of young people. They are definitely the minority of the audience but I guess that I would say that there are some, a number of younger people and it’s very encouraging to see that they’re always carrying on [the torch for the band].”

The Cruise To The Edge trips were a highlight for the band over the past few years, but such a unique opportunity for die-hard fans to mingle with their idols has it’s pros and cons for the band members, Davison says.

“It was great to connect with people on a daily level,” he explains, “but it became overwhelming on the first cruise we did because we never had just a moment [to ourselves]. If you just wanted to walk from the cabin to the restaurant it was like you and your entourage was constantly showcased among the populous of the ship. You know, that’s enjoyable up to a point, it’s nothing personal against people, it’s just that everyone needs their own space.”

Stuck on a cruise ship with thousands of sometimes-obsessed fans might scare some artists – there wouldn’t be too many places to hide, one would imagine.

“That’s right, yeah!” he says with a laugh. “Then the second cruise that we did, we had a VIP lounge area where all the musicians had privy to this off-limits area so you always could just go there and unwind and everything. That eased it off a bit.”

It seems everything is roses in the Yes world, but I couldn’t let the singer go without bringing up the elephant in the room: original singer Jon Anderson, who was replaced after illness in 2008, and who still holds a torch for reuniting with the band to, in his words, “do the tour everybody dreams of.” Davison good naturedly insists that such comments aren’t hurtful or intimidating to him.

“No, not at all. I completely understand and I would feel exactly the same way. I can’t blame him for saying that at all and you know: it could very well happen! If that’s the case, on one hand I would be reluctant to [leave the band] but in another way as a fan and true supporter of the band and an immense lover of the band, I would cheer him on.”

Rather than replacing Davison, bassist Chris Squire at one point suggested the possibility of an expanded line-up touring with both Davison AND Anderson on board.

“Yeah, I wouldn’t mind that at all,” the singer attests.

Yes - Jon Davison 03

Some people might feel threatened at the prospect of losing their job or even some of the limelight, but as a fan of the band, Davison remains zen about the concept of seeing the most-famous line-up of Yes together again, whether he does so from the stage or the audience.

“Yeah, you have to because it really was his role, ultimately it belongs to him.” He explains gently. “For whatever reason I’m just here helping the band progress forward, even if it’s for a limited time. I’m grateful for this chance, this opportunity and the expanded line-up would be phenomenal for me. To be up on stage singing next to the great Jon Anderson!”


This story was first published in edited form in the 2 July 2014 issue of X-Press Magazine

Category: Interviews

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