Jon Anderson Interview: "People That Love Trump Are Beautiful People, but Trump Is Not an Honest Person"
Image attributed to Deborah Anderson
Born on October 25,1944, singer and songwriter Jon Anderson is best known as the former lead singer of the progressive rock band Yes, which he formed in 1968 with bassist Chris Squire. He was a member until 2008 and was also a member of Yes featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman.
Anderson’s solo career has featured collaborations with other artists, and he has appeared on albums by King Crimson, Tangerine Dream, Iron Butterfly, Battles and Mike Oldfield. In 2017, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Yes. His latest solo album, Song of Seven, will be released on November 27, 2020, as a remastered and expanded edition with two bonus tracks previously unreleased on CD. Song of Seven was a UK top 40 hit upon its release by Atlantic Records in November 1980. Also, just in time for the presidential election, Anderson has released a video called “Go Screw Yourself,” in which he expresses his dismay with the state of the world and the politicians.
"I wrote the song, and then obviously Sandy Hook and the other terrible things that happened in children’s schools just devastated me about gun control and where people are making money out of the sadness of the world. Well, screw them, you know?"
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Jon, how are you and your wife doing during this health crisis?
Jon Anderson: Really good. We live up in the hills, away from the village, in Central California. We’ve been here six months. Twice we’ve gotten caught in the fires up north, so we decided not to go again up north. We’re just happy and getting on with a lot of work, which is really good.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Have you rescheduled tours that were supposed to happen this year?
Jon Anderson: We’re supposed to be on tour now. It’s hard to say what to do really because everybody’s going to go on tour next April, I think.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Do you mean that the band Yes will be going on tour?
Jon Anderson: No, no, just everybody who’s a musician and needs to work and perform. People will want to see them to be entertained. So it’ll just open up probably next summer. But who’s to know because it is a pretty strange time, to be very honest.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Yes, it is. Your latest video, “Go Screw Yourself,” is great! How did it come about?
Jon Anderson: It just happened a few years ago when I was working with some teenagers in Long Island in what was called the School of Rock, and I wanted to get them excited bout something. So I started singing about crooked politicians (laughs).
I wrote the song, and then obviously Sandy Hook and the other terrible things that happened in children’s schools just devastated me about gun control and where people are making money out of the sadness of the world. Well, screw them, you know? I just felt like with the way things are in the world right now, it would be the time to release it.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You don’t say Donald Trump’s name in the song, but it appears you do want a change of leadership in the United States.
Jon Anderson: Yes. We have to. I think that people that love Trump are beautiful people. But to me, Trump is not an honest person. He tends to lie. I don’t trust anybody who lies.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Agreed.
Jon Anderson: Just my opinion, you know, because we’re all one collectively, and there’s always some bad apples. But when it comes to the real truth of how we live, I’ll always believe it’s for a better world. Mother Earth is really hurting. COVID comes from that energy, so the earth would be better off with deforestation and things like that. People forget about that, but there are people out there just gouging out parts of the earth, and the creatures are the ones that suffer. Then eventually, we suffer because we are Mother Earth’s children, aren’t we? Sorry about that, I just got carried away (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: No problem at all. What does the 1980 album Song of Seven mean to you?
Jon Anderson: It’s kind of interesting to listen to it again. I haven’t listened to it in years maybe. I really like it. When I wrote it in that moment in time, I’d been working with Yes really for about seven years, and I had a break when I started doing other kinds of songwriting. By the time I got into doing Song of Seven, I actually released an album called Olias of Sunhillow, which was a real breakthrough for me musically, so I just asked some musicians that I knew in London to come into my studio in London to just make some music. They were very welcoming and very smart with musical ideas. I even worked with Jack Bruce, one of the greatest bass players of all time, and it was a beautiful experience to make the album.
But at that time, I didn’t really know if I was going to write some commercial songs or just keep writing music. So if you listen to the album, there’s some very lightweight songs about relaxing and chilling out, and then there are some songs like, come on, let’s get going, and Song of Seven is like a little symphony.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Your daughter, Deborah Anderson, sang on the album?
Jon Anderson: Yeah! I always get my kids to sing on my albums. It’s so much easier. They end up singing anyway because it’s nothing to them. Their dad sings. It’s no big thing to them (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Deborah’s a musician and a professional photographer?
Jon Anderson: Yes. She’s been doing incredible work over the past 20 years now, and people connected to the world of photography and video creations welcomed her with open arms. She’s won quite a few awards for her latest project which is the film Women of the White Buffalo. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I’ll definitely look it up. I know you’re very proud of her.
Jon Anderson: Oh, gosh, yeah. She spent the last two years filming in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, talking and spending time with the Lakota people, learning about their world, their problems and their incredible knowledge.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What was going on 30 years ago when you made the 1000 Hands: Chapter One project?
Jon Anderson: It’s the craziest story because a friend of mine named Brian Chatton was in my first band, the Warriors, in 1960. He was 16, and we became great friends throughout the years. He just happened to be in LA in 1990 when I moved there. So I called him up and said, “Let’s go up to Bear Mountain. There’s a ski resort up there and we can rent an A-frame, make some music and fish.” I’ve never laughed so much in my life. Brian is a total comedian. He got himself into trouble with a girl, and he had to leave the situation, you know. Then he went out on tour with B.B. King. He’s a great keyboard player, and we wrote about nine songs.
Chris Squire played on a couple of tracks. I thought it would be a great idea for musicians I’ve known over the years to do some songs. I toured with Kitaro, a Japanese composer. So Brian went that way, and I went this way, and I put the tapes in my garage for 27 years thinking it was good when we did it. I thought that it was okay, but I never thought I’d finish it.
Then this producer, Michael Franklin, called me up and said, “Where are those tapes?” I said, “They’re in the garage.” He said, “Send them to me, and let’s see if they’re any good. I’ve got some money to finish the album.” So I sent him the tapes, and the songs sounded amazing. He got Billy Cobham, my favorite drummer, and Ian Anderson and even Zap Mama, a singing group I knew from Belgium. Before we knew it, we had about 40 or 50 people on it. It was kind of amazing. We finished it in 2018, and there wasn’t a record company interested in the record until this record company came along called Blue Elan records.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You mentioned that Chris Squire’s on the album.
Jon Anderson: Yeah, and Steve Howe from Yes is on the last track, “Now and Again.”
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Are you working on Chapter Two?
Jon Anderson: I am, all the time. And Chapter Three. And Chapter Four (laughs). Well, I’ve had six months off, and all I want to do is get all my songs together and kind of finish them. Most of the time, I’d be on tour after a year. Now, I’ve got the chance to finish all this work.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What were your hopes and dreams back in the 60s when you started your music career?
Jon Anderson: (laughs) I was trying to survive. I think the great thing was when I was young, I worked on a local farm with my brother. We would bring milk to people around town and would sing all the time while we did chores. Then the 60s came, and my brother had a band called the Warriors, and he asked me to join them. We’d do Elvis Presley and the Everly Brothers songs.
When I went to see the Beatles in 1963 before they became famous and everybody listened to them play, girls screamed at the end of every song. It was great to see a band that was so good. From then on, I just wanted to be a Beatle, so I gave up my job on the farm. My mum nearly killed me, but I think she just wanted me to be happy anyway.
So I had my first band in 1963. We went around Germany like the Beatles did. The Warriors was a pretty good band, but there came a time in 1967 where they didn’t want to rehearse. I got very upset with them, and they told me to go away. So I did. I eventually went to London, met Chris Squire and started this band called Yes. You never know if you’re going to be famous. You never think about that. You just want to work hard because you feel very grateful to be a musician. That’s why I work so hard on my music. I’m very, very grateful and thankful. The world I’ve gone through in the last 50 years is extraordinary. It’s kind of like, you can’t make this up. It’s like a wonderful crazy dream.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Do you have a relationship now with the remaining members of Yes?
Jon Anderson: Not really. I’m in touch with them. I’ll work with them. I worked with Rick Wakeman and Trevor Rabin two years ago. We toured for two years around the world. I worked with Steve Howe and Bill Bruford on an album called Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe in 1989, which was a very good album, and we toured around the world. That was great. When you stay in touch with people because you love them like brothers, you don’t need to pay anyone to work together, you know what I’m saying?
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Do you think that it’s possible for everyone to get together to make more music and tour?
Jon Anderson: Yeah, you never know. I’m a little bit like an open book. If they ask me, I will. But I don’t want to change them because I’ve asked them many times to get together and do this and that, and they’ve always been busy. I don’t mind that, you know? We’re like family, and family sometimes are close and tight, and sometimes they’re really not.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You recently had a birthday. I hope it was memorable!
Jon Anderson: Thank you! 76 is fantastic! I like numerology. That’s why the album is Song of Seven. 76 is a magical number, and I’m now in my 77th year, which is cool.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Have you ever thought about retiring?
Jon Anderson: No. I’ll keep going. I’ve got a lot to do, a lot of work to finish, a lot of musicals to finish, a lot of books to write. I just believe that this life is all about finding your true self and to find the divine within, so that’s what I do.
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