Interview with Chris Squire from Yes: Sustained

Certainly no conversation about progressive rock is complete without Yes. A key influence to every prog-leaning band since their inception in 1968, Yes are titanic figures in the genre with repeated and successful crossover pop hits that have brought to them new audiences while satisfying old ones at the same time. The undying support of their fans has allowed them to continue proliferating their art over 19—going on 20—studio albums, numerous lineup changes and world tour after world tour.

The new album, Fly From Here, features all the eclectic flourishes that fans expect from Yes. More Close To The Edge than 90125, the record at first creeps into the mix with the refreshing piano-driven overture for the five-part title track that covers all the progressive bases. There are, of course, beautiful vocal harmonies, urbane acoustic and electric guitar playing and memorable keyboard lines held together by Chris Squire’s hard-picked and sinewy bass playing.

With the album set to be released Stateside July 12, Squire, the band’s legendary bassist and only constant member over their 43-years, took a few minutes to discuss tone, his band’s career, the new album and the prospect of working with former vocalist Jon Anderson again in the future.

Your bass playing is very different from a lot of the bands from the era in which Yes started. How did you develop your sound?

Just naturally, really. I used to be a big fan of John Entwistle and The Who. I first went to see them and John was actually playing a Rickenbacker bass at the time and I thought, “That sounds like a cool sound.” That’s why I went out and bought one myself. So I kind of always liked the idea of that kind of rawer sound, swing bass, round-wound string sound. And I guess a combination of how I set the tone controls on the bass, together with the Marshall 100 Watt, that I actually still use, which is an amp from the mid-‘60s. The way I set that up and everything, I guess I just waited until I was happy with the sound of it.

You’re still using the same amp?

I still use the same one, although, of course, to a certain extent it’s going to be slightly different because it’s needed some repair work. And replacing old components isn’t always that easy. It’s probably changed its characteristics a bit, as an amplifier, and of course my playing has also changed to an extent, and my technique and everything. Essentially, I guess I’m still trying to hear the same thing when I play. Presumably I can get past any problems that might be with the technical side of things and hear what sounds good to me (laughs).

Where you viewed as kind of an unorthodox bass player when Yes started?

I think you would say that, yeah (laughs). I don’t know. It’s funny, it does go back again to my influence, of course, as a teenager, of The Who, who were definitely my favorite band. And of course I wanted to be a showman like [Pete] Townshend was but I wanted to get Entwistle’s great sound. So, I guess I combined both traits of those characters and tried to own that personality.

Yes has been together in various incarnations for so long, what do you think has kept the band together and the name alive for so long?

It’s ironic in a way, because Yes has had quite a few changes over the years. Every time someone new has come in they’ve obviously injected more energy or new energy into the band and changed the sound a bit, and the approach, etc., depending on how much input the new member has had.

Of course, there’ve been some notable people; Trevor Rabin was a big influence in the ‘80s. And I think because of the changing in itself has just allowed the band to be free to grow in different directions and then come back and change again and then come back and learn from every phase that we’ve been through, really. I’ve benefitted a lot personally from having been able to evaluate what the band has done with various different musicians, and I’ve been very lucky to have gained all the information from the many members there have been.

In the 1970s, there was so much incredible rock music coming out. Who did Yes view as their contemporaries at that time?

It’s hard to know who our contemporaries were, really. We weren’t exactly a run-of-the-mill band. The people who were coming up at the same time as Yes were coming up were of course Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. And the majority of bands at that time were more blues-based where Yes was a little bit more poppy maybe, a bit more folky and with not as much influence on the blues side of the band, although we did incorporate those elements. So it’s hard to know who our contemporaries really were. I mean, Genesis came along not that long after us and sort of stepped into a similar mode of making music. Of course they did very well. Queen were also around the same period of time as well, a bit after us.

When you were writing music during that period, would you ever find yourself listening to a new record by Led Zeppelin or Queen?

Strange enough, around that time that you start realizing that you’ve got a band that could work and could become popular—and of course you see that in growing audiences, etc.—you don’t really listen to necessarily people who say you’re from the same country or whatever. In fact, I probably listened to Crosby, Stills And Nash more than I listened to Led Zeppelin in those formative years. Because that was more what Yes was about; a band that had great vocal harmonies. So, of course, I was influenced by Simon & Garfunkel and bands with great vocals. And of course we wanted to be band who were good instrumentalists as well, and Bill Bruford, our original drummer, was of course very influenced by jazz. So that was another element that was sewn into the makeup of Yes. We were kind of eclectic really. We kind of stood slightly aside from other acts. Of course there was also The Nice with Keith Emerson, which metamorphosized into ELP, which I guess were contemporaries of ours.

Do you ever hear bands that sound like they’re influenced by your own music?

I’m sure there are, but the thing is—like I’ve even read articles from someone or other in a band who said Yes was one of their big influences but their music doesn’t sound anything like Yes. Like I remember one of the guys in Tool was saying how big an influence Yes had been on them. But to listen to what they were doing, you wouldn’t necessarily think so, unless they were talking about odd time signatures or polyrhythms. Maybe that’s the element they were referring to, other than the vocals.

After enjoying so much success what drives you to keep making music?

Well, it’s an enjoyable thing. Actually writing the new music and songs is actually quite hard. When I say that, I mean it’s something that you have to really get committed to doing. But once you get over the hump of, “Oh this is hard,” things start developing and it becomes a pleasure, and it’s always good to be happy that you’ve pushed yourselves into doing something. It’s another notch of the success of the band. It’s a satisfying feeling once you get over the hump of that.

What is the status of Jon Anderson? I know Benoît David did the album and is doing the tour.

I’ve never closed the door on the possibility of working with Jon again. He has left and rejoined the band on a couple of previous occasions. It could happen again. But right now, having just finished the album and the fact that we’re all pleased with it and the reviews from outside all seem to be very positive, we’re at least going to spend the next year or two going around the world and promoting and playing live. That’s really all I can say right now about that. Ask me again that question in a year’s time and I might have a different answer. I’m hoping that we’re just going to be doing promotion on the album and furthering the band in its current format.

Yes will be performing with Styx on July 4 at the Susquehanna Bank Center, July 5 at PNC Bank Arts Center, July 11 at Nikon At Jones Beach Theater and July 12 at Bethel Woods Center. For more information, go to