Playing not one but three classic albums in their entirety, Yes guitarist Steve Howe, bassist Chris Squire, drummer Alan White, keyboardist Geoff Downes, and singer Jon Davison have been delighting fans on a nostalgic musical journey spanning albums released between 1971 and 1977. Hailed as icons of progressive rock, the band’s tour is a unique experience not to be missed by lifelong and new fans alike. As the latest addition to the band’s lineup, Davison spoke with me about the tour, starting out as a Yes fan, and how he got here from there.
I see you have a festival planned in Camden on Aug. 3, appropriately called Yestival. It sounds like a great time. How come something like that hasn’t happened before now?
During the last tour it came up that we were going to do this and I forgot to ask who the impetus was for getting that going. I suspect it was Chris because he’s been talking about doing something like that for quite some time. I’m sure, if all goes off well, it could very well be an annual thing.
It’s been said that a Yes show isn’t just a concert, but more of a musical journey. Do you feel that’s a true statement?
I definitely agree with that. I think the caliber of Yes’ music really lends itself to that experience because the music is so involved and there are movements that I think take the listener on a journey. I feel that way, too, when I’m singing the music. I feel like it’s a mutual experience, this unique experience between the audience and the band members.
Before joining the group you were in a Yes tribute band, and prior to that you were the bassist for Sky Cries Mary, which I was a fan of.
No way! You’re kidding! (Laughs) Well, how old are you now?
Were you in Seattle at the time?
I wasn’t. Honestly, I don’t even know how the album made its way to me. It’s funny but I once said the same thing to Scott Mercado [Candlebox drummer and former Sky Cries Mary] and he had the same reaction.
That rarely happens. The vast majority of people have never even heard of Sky Cries Mary. That threw me off my chair a bit! (Laughs) Was it This Timeless Turning?
Yeah, I was the bass player on that.
I always liked that album. There’s no more from Sky Cries Mary, right?
Yeah. We broke up. Well, we didn’t really break up. That sounds like there were disagreements and things and friction and there really wasn’t any of that. We just felt that the ship had run its course and that was around 2000. Then we came back together in 2004 and we carried on until about 2010. We made a new double live album in 2005 and then we did a new studio album in 2008 I think it was, or ’07, called Small Town. Check it out. We are proud of that album.
That’s great to hear. I’d like to catch up with the band. So between Sky Cries Mary you were involved with some other bands, including a Yes tribute band. What does it mean for you now, to be fronting Yes?
Well, I’ll elaborate a little bit if I may. I’ve always been a bass player primarily. I sang in a choir when I was really young so I learned to sing, but I didn’t pursue it. I wasn’t really the right personality to be a frontman in a rock band and I never quite had the voice for it, like a Robert Plant type or your average sounding rock singer. I don’t have those abilities. So I just sort of stuck to bass and did some background vocals now and then for some different bands.
Then, after Sky Cries Mary, there was this lull period when I wasn’t doing anything musically and Yes had always been my favorite band. I knew if there was one rock band with a style that I was close to, it was a John Anderson style, which is not like your average rock band. It’s a different technique altogether.
So I heard that this band was looking for a singer—it was just a hobby thing, just for fun—and I wasn’t doing anything musically so I just thought, “Wow. How great it would be to just be doing something Yes oriented?” I just decided to join the band and through the years I just got better and better at it. It was really rough at first because it’s so challenging, but I just stuck with it.
That led to me being discovered by a current progressive rock band by the name of Glass Hammer out of Tennessee. They’re very much in the Yes vein of progressive rock. I joined them and we were doing original music, we are doing original music actually, because we’re still together. That was the next tier and that led to Paul Silveira, the Yes manager, discovering me online because Glass Hammer had an online presence promoting our music. Then Chris Squire also knew about me through a mutual friend of ours, Taylor Hawkins from Foo Fighters, who I grew up with in Laguna Beach, who had been filling Chris’ ear for years about “Oh, well I know this guy. If ever you should need a replacement, I know the guy.” So Chris was aware of me and when the time came I was approached from both angles (laughs). But I think I sort of drifted a bit from your question.
That’s alright. It sets the stage nicely for my question about what it’s like to be up there as a formal member of Yes now.
Oh it’s amazing. It’s hard to put it into words. It’s very surreal and so rewarding. It is surreal to think about how I got here, the steps that I took. I never even dared to dream that such a thing was possible but it’s just great. I’m so enthusiastic and it’s so rewarding to sing the music and I think I’m bringing a lot of enthusiasm to the band. They seem to be responding. I joined in 2012, around the beginning of February, end of January.
Thinking more as a fan than the band’s vocalist, what do you think the attraction is to seeing Yes perform three classic albums in their entirety on this tour?
I think it’s a rare opportunity. A lot of this music they have not played in decades and certainly not in sequence as they are now, so it’s a rare treat. I think anyone that listened to Yes growing up, if it affected your life at one point or another, I tend to see, for those that attend shows, that it’s a big nostalgic experience. Hearing that music again brings them back to where they were at the time, in their lives. I just see that it’s a very moving, meaningful experience for people.
We’re not doing the albums in chronological order. That was the original plan. But, you see, each album in itself is a complete universe, if you will. So it actually didn’t work in chronological order, just for the overall flow of the entire show. Each album is its own thing, so we’ve mixed it up a bit. The set order we’re doing now really works well. We based that decision on the reaction of the audiences. It’s not a selfish motivation. It’s really what works best for the overall experience.
So we’re starting with Close To The Edge, then Going For The One is the second album, and we conclude with The Yes Album. The general consensus from the vast majority of audiences is that that’s what really works. It flows best that way.
See Yes at the Mayo Performing Arts Center July 25, Capitol Theatre July 28, NYCB Theatre at Westbury July 31, and Aug. 3 for Yestival at the Susquehanna Bank Center. For more information, go to yesworld.com.