Steve Howe: A Roundabout Way to Yes
Yes will present three of its seminal works, The Yes Album, Close to the Edge, and Going for the One, played in their entirety at nearly every gig in early 2013. Jambands.com recently sat down with its lone original member, bassist/vocalist/composer, Chris Squire for Part I of our Yes Interviews. In Part II, we discuss the continuing fascination of the magical world of Yes music with its legendary guitarist, Steve Howe. The musician has kept himself busy in a myriad of projects over the last four-plus decades, including work in not one, but two supergroups—Yes and Asia—some trio albums and gigs, solo albums and touring, and other works, which defy categorization. Indeed, as our feature was going to press, Howe departed Asia to focus on Yes and his solo projects. One can see his comments about that former group in the context of this current development.
In the end, Howe is a fascinating and original musician, while being an amiable and friendly conversationalist who, like his Yes band mate Chris Squire, has managed to stay relevant by enjoying his craft, and honing his tools in an ever-changing sonic landscape.
RR: There seems to be a lot of variety in everything you have going on right now—from solo projects to Asia to Yes; everything all at once in a good way, too. I wanted to speak to you about your group activity, but I also wanted to focus on your excellent new solo album, Time, which is a variation on a fine direction for you, too.
SH: Right. Thanks very much. We paid a lot of attention to Time. We kind of developed it more than we recorded it. The creation of it—so much of it was built around the guitar that we didn’t add any other guitars. Besides the two acoustics on “Kindred Spirits,” maybe, everything just has one guitar appearance. We got down some pretty good balance and a lot of great people helped me put that together, so I am very thankful.
RR: Let’s talk about your collaborative work with Paul K. Joyce on Time .
SH: I met Paul four or five years ago. I was looking for an arranger to work with because I realized that the beautiful thing about the keyboard player is that, in a way, they are a great asset when you want to arrange music. What I really wanted was somebody who could write scores and do stuff like that. When I met Paul, he was a composer and he could do some writing with me, and that’s how we started arranging. He wrote a couple of tunes, as well, which, of course, was an added thing for him. He’s done television, a bit of film, a theatrical show, and he’s pretty well-rounded, and he’s fun; he’s a fun guy. He doesn’t live a million miles away, but we live about an hour and a half away from each other. He lives in the western part of England, so he’s been good all around and very solid. He didn’t want Time to come out until he was happy with it, too. Together, we created a standard level that we both could understand and wanted to achieve.
RR: How were the dozen tracks selected for inclusion on Time ?
SH: It went in phases. When I was originally working, I had two pieces—“The Explorer” and “Apollo.” They were completely and utterly different. You couldn’t believe how different they were. They were both about 18 minutes long—each of them. They were just colossal great pieces. But, unfortunately, there were many parts were I wasn’t playing in them, so, originally, I thought, “No, that’s great. We have a good piece of music, but we haven’t got guitar all the time.” There wasn’t guitar for more than 32 bars, or 64 bars—it was a bit much. When Paul K. Joyce came in, we looked at those two pieces, and we were really struggling, and I said, “I love them, but why am I struggling?” He said, “Well, maybe, they’ve got to come down.” We wrote some of it down, and kept the parts we most care about, and, so, that’s an example of the kind of writing we did. We would compose a whole long piece, and, then (laughs), cut it down.
On other levels, what happened was that before I met Paul K. Joyce, I was compiling parts with two pieces, and looking for other material to go with that, and I did cobble something together that was like a synthesized version of maybe half of what’s on Time, and half of other stuff that didn’t really match up. I was trying to think to myself that it was finished, but, then, when I met Paul K. Joyce, I said, “What am I doing? I have been working for years on this already (laughs), and it is so far away from being right.” And, that is sort of the encapsulated story.
RR: You also worked with your son, Virgil Howe, who collaborated with you on “Kindred Spirit,” and laid down a solo on that track, too.
SH: That’s right. Virgil gets a mention, and Dave Biglin, too, who is a fine writer and keyboard player and a friend of mine. There was quite a broad stroke there of people and different sorts from different backgrounds. Of course, three of them are fundamentally keyboard players—Paul K. Joyce, Paul Sutin, and Dave Biglin. Also, Virgil (laughter) is also a keyboard player. That was my wish—to work with keyboard players, but Paul K. Joyce just managed to do the arranging so well.
RR: You also worked outside the Time context with your other son, Dylan Howe, in your jazz trio a few years back with another keyboardist, Ross Stanley.
SH: Ross Stanley, yeah. We have come to an arrangement where we are doing the trio every other year, so I have some material I want us to look at, and we are looking to re-invent the trio a little bit, and see if we could get a tour and a bit more recording. Somewhere in the midst of the Yes and Asia touring schedules, there will be a trio period.