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Thursday, August 2, 2001

Yes guitarist Steve Howe's chat transcript

Yes guitarist Steve Howe chatted with JAM! Music on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2001. Read the full transcript here:

Tim Lutterbie: Hello, Steve. I have always wondered if you ever take the time out to hop on the Internet and check out Yessites like yesworld.com, yeshoo, yesfans.com, and so forth. Sorry this is not a music-related question. Many of us fans always wonder if any of the YESMEN ever check out the web sites made in your honour!?!?!!?!? Thanks, Tim

Steve Howe: I do occasionally when I'm with somebody who's really ... yep, I do. I mainly look at the official website, they're the ones I look at. There are so many other sites that we just have to kind of let them ramble on if they want.

William E. Surdi: Mr. Howe: What song/album would you like your fans to remember you by. God Bless

Steve Howe: Goodness ... I guess, if we're talking Yes, Close to The Edge, Fragile, The Yes Album, any of those ... my latest album (Natural Timbre) is very descriptive of where I've come to, what I've developed into.

David Wasser: I've always been curious about collaborative writing. Does one person write the whole song, and then others make comments and suggestions? Does each person bring bits and pieces and then someone tries to put them all together? Can you explain how you go about writing a piece in collaboration with other musicians? Can you give some examples?

Steve Howe: There's no set formula. Often, one party will maybe write all the musical structure and another person might write the lyrical structure. Other times, I've given some songs to Jon and he develops them with his songs. In a group writing sense, it's a real mixture. In the forthcoming Yes album (Magnification), there's no one way it's done. There's not a formula, it is really different from person to person and project to project. Another example is GTR. We (Steve Hackett and I) wrote practically everything on the album. That means some albums are leaning more towards Steve and more towards me. It's just really an agreement you reach with other writers. With Jon and I, often I've written a lot of the musical structure and then Jon will develop the melody style.

Bruce Seeliger: You once spoke about recording an all-steel disc. Any plans to still do that? Also, John Paul Jones (ex-Zeppelin) has been playing "bass steel" lately. Any thought about doing some steel duets with him?

Steve Howe: Quantum Guitar was almost called Quantum Steel, and that album carried some of the steel tracks that I've been building up over the years. I'm planning the steel, and peddle steel, more and more interesting as time goes by, so I wouldn't ignore that fact. I was inspired when I was very young by steel players like Speedy West. Steel is a very expressive instrument. I'm aware John Paul Jones has been playing Manson guitars from England, and many of them are actually steel. John is a surprisingly inventive musician, designing his own instruments. Oddly enough he was touring last year with Biggs -- he's another guitarist who's exploring what you can do with different kinds of guitars and basses.

James Ullom: Looking forward to seeing you and the band this Sunday in Colorado. Is the new Yes album, Magnification, a new musical direction for Yes, or would you say its a continuation of The Ladder but with an added orchestra element?

Steve Howe: The work we're doing right now on tour is an extension of the Master Works tour of last year with added orchestra. The record is an interesting spin-off from the arranger/conductor Larry Groupe. He's arranged the record. Time And A Word and The Symphonic Music Of Yes were the only other orchestra projects. The desire for Yes to collaborate in this way is not only because the keyboard inconsistencies that we had have given us the opportunity to be a four-piece group and record with an orchestra on the new record, it is really more of a jump into a new situation.

Ned Nerdin: After watching the show in Reno on July 22, I was amazed that you were playing a red Les Paul for the first three songs, which included Close To The Edge and And You And I, and I was just wondering why you chose to play that instead of your legendary ES 175?

Steve Howe: Well, neither of those songs were recorded with that guitar. They were both from the Close To The Edge album. Originally I used an ES345 for these songs, but due to problems I've had with that particular guitar, I'm more comfortable playing a Les Paul. It's been more consistent and reliable.

Yesfan Forever: What led you to choose regular acoustic in lieu of the Vachalia to play on All Good People during last year's Masterwork's tour?

Steve Howe: The instrument you're referring to was mistitled by me many years ago. It's really called a Portuguese guitar, and last year songs were added during the tour that I was not fully prepared for. The previously mentioned guitar was not available to me on tour so I played the parts on a regular six-string guitar. It wasn't as rewarding for me to do this since the sound was not really the same. On this tour for instance, I'm back with the guitar with songs like Wondrous Stories, Your Move.

Mary: Are there any plans in the future for a solo tour for Natural Timbre? I was able to catch your last solo tour in the U.S., and am looking forward to another. Thank you!

Steve Howe: I would love to be touring and playing, as I have now more solos from Natural Timbre to add to my solo one-man show. Yes are keeping me busy through to some of next year. After that I hope to return either exclusively solo or solo with my own band. This next year, I will play the west coast, which I didn't do last year due to the limited time left to me after Yes had finished touring.

Stuart : Really thrilled you're coming to the U.K., Steve. I was wondering why the same old venues again, such as Manchester Apollo, when there are new venues in the U.K. such as the new Symphonic Hall (Manchester), which is custom-built for orchestras?

Steve Howe: Very good point, Stewart! The details of tour schedules are explored by me, and sadly I'm not always aware that there are better alternatives in some of these cities. So ... good point. I'll ask a few questions.

Gus: Do you enjoy meeting with the other band members outside the stage?

Steve Howe: At various times there is enough time and harmony to allow for some actual interaction. But we work very intensely, sometimes for two or three months, and often when the tour ends we go our own ways, not least of all myself as I'm the only member who lives in the U.K. still. The telephone allows us to stay in touch on vital issues. This is often done after enough space for everybody to "cool out", after the extensive work we do together.

Uncle Meat: What is the story with Rick Wakeman? Is it true that he might join YES in 02 for the tour?

Steve Howe: Well, there's certainly not an particular truth in that. We've wanted Rick since Keys, to be a fully committed member. This, based on his own decisions, has not been possible and and it's been his decision not to offer us a full commitment, sadly. But nothing is set in stone either way.

Tom Onusaitis: With today's computer animation technologies, has anyone suggested or thought of making a film featuring Roger Dean-image animation and Yes music together?

Steve Howe: This idea has been mooted a few times. Two things come to mind: 1. Not with my blessing, Roger is not doing the sleeve for Magnification or the T-Shirts for this tour, although Roger is one of my friends. This has been a group decision. I can't imagine that for long Yes can be content with its visual direction without Roger's direction. These projects do get a little bit complicated, so things aren't quite as easy as they sound. Roger has had some projects that looked like they could develop into that kind of a project, but they haven't come together, even when Roger was close to the group. [Reason for Roger not doing album]: Some of the views around were that maybe we needed a change. I personally have never endorsed that thinking, and I don't today.

Steve South Shields England.: Steve is there any Yes album you think would benefit by being completely re-recorded considering today's new technology and production methods.

Steve Howe: Well, yeah, yes. I think that Time And A Word has some great songs, some excellent arrangements, not only from the orchestra but from the band themselves. To me Time And A Word was the deciding album on the direction of Yes. That album is worth recording again because it's so great that it should be looked at again. I think there's very little (possibility of recording it again), but I think it would be a worthy idea.

Steve Collins: Steve, I saw Yes play in Abilene, Texas, in 1977. Does the song you wrote, "Abilene", have anything to do with that concert?

Steve Howe: Yeah, it did. I was there. I was there sitting in my hotel room, the phone rang and there's nobody there. I wouldn't say the song offers a complementary picture of it ... rather than the sort of vagueness of being there. Being there was transitory, and I guess that's partly why I wrote it. I think it was inspired one afternoon, sitting there, and forever more has a reference.

Paul: Who are the other contemporary guitarists that you admire now?

Steve Howe: My main enjoyment is based around guitarists I discovered were earth-shattering from the '50s and '60s. But contemporary guitarists are very often illuminating the potential they have for taking what's gone before and interpreting it. Dixie Dregs, Steve Morse, we became friends, Obviously Van Halen, certainly I have tremendous respect for him; the late Allen Murphy who was a lesser known guitarist; Pepe Romereo, he's a fine classical guitarist. Albert Lee is one of my original guitar heroes. I think he's still there! Martin Taylor on the jazz guitar, he comes from Scotland. I produced one of his albums. He's one of the guitarists who kicks my ass!! He's played with more guitarists than I have. There are players now who can probably surpass much of what's been done in ability, but for me, I don't know that there can be another Django, Eric Clapton ... it's a hard act to follow for new guitarists, because a lot was done so creatively in the '50s, '60s and '70s.

David Dotson: I recently read "Close to the Edge", the story of Yes. In the book, it stated that in an 18-month period, Yes released the "Yes Album", "Fragile", and "Close to the Edge". Do you ever look back and wonder how you guys did so much great music in this length of time?

Steve Howe: Certainly I do. I almost can't explain how we could have done so much. If somebody asked us to do that now, it would be unthinkable. We were young, excitable, relentless in our quest to partially conquer the world. I think those three albums carried that flame for success, that stylistic revamping of the original ideas of Yes, into the epic 20 minute pieces. I think, 'cause it's the first one, Close To The Edge should be heralded as one of the ultimate 20 minute pieces.

Neil Y: Do you have a single most memorable moment while playing your guitar? Who was with you at the time, and was it in concert, or studio, or in your bedroom, or ???

Steve Howe: Goodness me ... emotionally and personally, certain concerts and times have a lot of importance to me because I was immensely happy. Strangely, when Yes played the Union tour in London we were all on our best behaviour and it created a startling Yes event. People ask me also, where's my favourite place to play, which is similar to this question. There isn't (one), because each time we work, a different city will rise to the occasion with us and Yes will play, not just well ... we elevate the music. There really isn't one particular moment in time, there are many moments in time that make up my satisfaction with various performances, and sometimes playing on the solo tour is very rewarding. Sometimes I surprise myself. I've been on top of it all year; there's no rust on my fingertips.

sunnflower: Hi, I live in Ontario and a special friend of mine lives in B.C. Hhe is going to a concert of yours tonight. I told him I would play all "YES" songs tonight while he was there to have the feeling I am with him. What is your favourite one to play?

Steve Howe: Ummmm ... there isn't one, really. When we were doing Relayer, we were doing a song called To Be Over. When we played that song, it was pretty damned good. The cream of the crop for Yes ... We haven't played that for a long time. There isn't a favourite. It's about the performance, sometimes just luck playing the particular song.

Steve Howe: Hi, everybody, thanks so much for the fascinating questions, and I hope you all got a little insight and are able to come and see us working this year, and I hope to see you all soon.








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