In late ’99 I received the “The Ladder”, the new Yes album at the time. I really liked it at the time, a bit different, lighter, more diverse instruments, but I enjoyed the songs like “It Will Be A Good Day” and “If Only You Knew”, and the Roger Dean cover-art is one of my favorite Yes covers. [And recently reissued on vinyl, which sparked my interest in revisiting it]. At the time I got to interview drummer Alan White for this release. Alan joined Yes in ’72, and has been there ever since. Aside from Yes, the guy has had an amazing career – playing with John Lennon, George Harrison, and Joe Cocker.
Check out more at – http://alanwhite.net/
‘I recently had the privilege and honor to interview YES drummer Alan White.
The band is currently out in support of their latest album “The Ladder” – which is being hailed as their best since “90125” by many fans and critics. [See my review in December issue of Universal Wheels for more].
The band now comprised of White, guitarists Steve Howe and Billy Sherwood, keyboardist Igor Khoroshev, founding members Chris Squire and Jon Anderson. For more info on Yes check out YesWorld www.yesworld.com, Notes From The Edge at www.nfte.org.’
Q: Congratulations on the new album.
AW: Thanks very much.
Q: I think it’s probably the best [Yes] album since ‘90125’.
AW: Yeah, there’s a lot of good stuff on it; we enjoy playing it.
Q: How have things been going?
AW: Excellent. I just got back from doing a clinic last night; I was teaching last night down in Sacramento, so i had a busy day yesterday, and I’m just kind of doing paperwork today.
Q: So, you guys are pretty scattered out!?
AW: Yeah, John lives in San Wanabispo [?}, Billy’s in LA, Chris is in New York, Steve’s in London, and Igor lives in Boston.
Q: How has reaction been to the album as far as the critics, and the fans?
AW: Really good. I’ve seen a lot of positive things towards it. They’re saying it’s a mixture of pretty much what we tried to do, and what it seems it’s coming across to the people like that, is get some elements of the 70s, the 80s, and the 90s all rolled in to one package there. And it’s kind of like a modern version of all that material. So there’s elements and sounds from the 70s and 80s, but played much more in a 90s style.
Q: Yeah, that’s what I gathered. I hear a lot of ‘classic’ Yes in there on the guitars, vocals, and harmonies and that. You guys are doing a lot more of this album in the live show as opposed to the last album, correct?
AW: Yes, we started piling up a list for playing on stage, and because of the nature in which we made this album , we actually played it live in rehearsals and quite a lot of classics while we went and recorded. So again in rehearsals for touring, a lot of that material sounded really good straight away. We do like 6 numbers.
Q: You guys did this album with Bruce Fairbairn, and from what I understand of him he did a lot of Hard-Rock stuff like Aerosmith, Loverboy – a lot of bands I wouldn’t associate Yes with.
AW: Right, but he was a big fan of the band; he also understood the band’s music, and he always wanted to get his teeth around something that was challenging like this – a more progressive type band. I think it was a perfect relationship we had, and unfortunately, as you know – it never worked out in the end for him.
Q: How much of the end did you guys have to finish after he passed away?
AW: They were about 3 tracks in to mixing when he had his heart-attack. But the engineer, who we had been working with [Mike], he actually had been working with Bruce for about 10 years, and kind of knew how he wanted the album to sound; so basically he wanted to carry on and finish the project.
Q: How do the songs come together with you guys, because I notice that you share the songwriting credits. What can you tell as far as the ‘breakdown’ of who brings in the melodies, or the lyrics – that sort of thing!??
AW: We all throw things ‘in to the pot’, as it were. I usually come up with some keyboard chords, and rhythms and stuff like that, and John comes up with melodies and lyrics, and Chris….People have different kind of things they bring to the table all the time, or if somebody brings something to the table – another guy will change it in kind of another direction. So, it’s very amicable.
Q: Billy and Igor haven’t been with the band for very long, have they?
AW: No. Actually, Billy’s been around the band for about 10 years, but he’s been a full member for about 3 or 4 years now.
Q: Is Igor a full member?
AW: No. He’s still a sideman, but he’s contributed a lot like in the writing on the last album, and changing chords and stuff like that. So, he’s on a good salary – let’s put it that way!
Q: How does it work now that you have 2 guitarists in the band, and how does that work out on stage?
AW: Pretty good actually. Steve Howe is going to be Steve Howe, and he has a very definite style. And some of the material we do from the 80s Billy kind of latched in to that a lot more – some of the stuff that Trevor Rabin did, stuff like that, and Billy comes to the table with his own material too. He comes from more of an 80s standpoint, where as Steve is probably more 70s.
Q: Is there a comparison between Billy and Trevor?
AW: No, they’re very good friends actually. It’s not a case of that. It’s that Billy feels he’s good at emanating what Trevor did in some of that music, and no there’s no comparisons drawn between them.
Q: You guys got a lot of different sounds on this album with all the guitars, keyboards, and ‘world instruments’ – what can you tell me about that?
AW: We actually had a percussioner come in, and played a vast array of world instruments that we wanted to use on certain, and we only used about as half as many as anticipated. We had that kind of ‘world feel’ to some of the drumming and stuff like that. We wanted to get across Caribbean / Afro-American rhythms, but in a progressive kind of way, a progressive style; and that was the idea behind all of that.
Q: What was the atmosphere of the making of the album before Bruce passed away, because it’s a very positive – musically and lyrically, kind of uplifting. !?
AW: We spent like 6 weeks writing prior to Christmas of ’98, and then we had Christmas off, and then went back in to the studio in February and did a couple of more weeks of rehearsal, and just slammed in to the album. There was a great vibe between everybody. We were all living up in Vancouver, and we’d all get up and go to work every day, and that’s a very good positive way to make an album; as opposed to some albums where everybody lived around the area, and you lived your home life and then had to go in to the studio every day. So, when you’re living away from home it tends to go faster.
Q: Was there a ‘happy’ feel about the album as the recording went on?
AW: Yes there was. There was a very uplifting kind of sense. Bruce took the helm, and he was very good sitting behind the board, making decisions, where as opposed we might have been scratching our heads for a while, Bruce would say “no no -that definitely doesn’t work, you should do this in this direction…” And he had good control over what was going on in the studio. It lead to us being more positive while we were in there because we thought “well – that’s outside ideas listening to it, we should take that advice and just take that path”.
Q: What stands out as far as favorite tracks on the album, and what’s receiving the most attention?
AW: Different people like different things. At the moment they’re playing “Home World” a lot, and you know, I like tracks like the Caribbean tracks. For me it’s very hard to say because to me they’re all so different because you kind of live every track, ya know. I have a kind of feeling for all the tracks myself. Home World to me is a stand-out track, it’s a combination of the 70s and what the band used to be and a very modern way that we played it in the 90s.
Q: I love that, as well as “If Only You Knew”. Like I said, it’s just got a great feel to the whole thing.
AW: Absolutely. And you know down the line, I think come the end of the year here we’re thinking of doing a version of some of those songs, as well as some classic songs with an orchestra. Those songs are perfect for that sort of thing.
Q: You guys are on a big world tour, is there any chance you’ll be recording for a live album?
AW: Actually, we did a thing for ‘Direct – TV’, that was playing just before Christmas, that we did at the House of Blues in Las Vegas. And I think down the line we’ll be making some more live recordings and probably another video – as a whole show done properly. I think we’re looking at that right now.
Q: Can we touch a bit on some older albums?
Q: The Drama album, was that an odd album to make with the line-up changing?
AW: Yeah, in some senses it was because it was really started by Steve, Chris, and myself. Jon wasn’t involved at that time, and we just went in to rehearsals and we were rehearsing in Munich with the idea to do a new album. In the next studio was Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, and they were fans of the band, and they kept coming in and listening to us, and finally one day Trevor said “I’ve written a song that you guys can do really well”, and then all of a sudden we were playing the song, they’re both kind of in Yes. We had a meeting, and then we went in the studio and recorded. That was another album where a lot of people gave a lot of music from a lot of different areas; it was compiled really by all of us, and we had a great time. I think it’s kind of an underrated album, to tell you the truth. I think it’s one of the band’s better albums.
Q: In the 70s you guys got in to a lot of really lengthy things, big productions like “Tales Of Topographic Oceans” and those type of albums, like “Relayer” – where you had really lengthy tracks and big progressive movements, and you got away from some of the shorter things…
AW: The norm – yeah. Rebels. ha ha. I think that there was so much musical talent in the band at the time that we wanted to try something new, and try and find a new avenue, and that’s what we came up with – which became known as Yes music, and I don’t think there’s many people that can emulate some of that stuff because it’s pretty difficult to play, some of that it. We just went down our own avenue that way, and created our own style even more.
Q: Did you feel any of it got a bit excessive, because in the late 70s you had the punk thing and that stuff that was kind of rebelling against the establishment bands, like yourselves.!?
AW:I think this band came from more of a musical kind of “let’s test ourselves out, as long as we’re making something that looks, ya know – the future.” We were more interested in that kind of area.
Q: Was there any stuff recorded after the Drama album, with that line-up, that never got out?
AW: There’s a few tracks that were done, that are still around actually with Trevor and Geoff on them. I don’t know if they’ll surface, maybe on a compilation album or something.
Q: Is there a lot of stuff in general in the vaults that could be released at a later date?
AW: There is some live stuff from that period and other periods that haven’t been released yet; but I think right now we’re concentrating on really getting this unit working because it’s playing very well on stage, and everybody feels good about it.
Q: The “90125”, as opposed to the late 70s stuff – that was a more direct, more of a rock album….
AW: It was more 80s, it had more of a rock approach even though we had Yes elements in amongst it, and one of our most successful albums of all; and we just happened to hit on the right button with “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” – and it gave that album a lot of sales and a lot of play.
Q: Was it a hard album to follow up?
AW: Not really, I don’t think, because I thought “Big Generator” had some material that was as good as some of the material on 90125, and it did pretty good. It was just a different album, you know, we’d moved on down the line a couple years and that. But I wouldn’t say it was that hard to follow up, no.
Q: In the late 80s you guys got in to doing other things and that…..
AW: We did Big Generator and then the tour, and then we did the “Union” tour in ’91. That was all of us on stage together.
Q: That was a big production; I guess that’ll never happen again!?
AW: Well, I don’t know. You never know down the line how many players will come out of the woodwork, and we can do another tour like that. Everybody was very amicable, and got on together, and we just got on with the tour.
Q: Do you still have a lot of contact with former members – like Trevor, Tony Kaye….
AW:As a matter of fact I saw Trevor a couple of days ago. I haven’t spoken to Tony for a couple of years, he kind of disappeared for a while. But, yeah – we talk and see each other occasionally.
Q: Is Eddie Offord still around?
AW:I haven’t seen Eddie for quite a few years; I think it’s been 3 or 4 years since I last saw Eddie. The last thing I heard was he’s in California mixing a few local bands, trying to get local bands off the ground and that.
Q: Do you do a lot of studio work?
AW:I do some, but when I’m home here in Seattle, I tend to like to spend time with my family. I have a home studio up here, and I can do some writing. I have a lot of friends in bands and the music business around here, but I tend to keep away from doing too many sessions.
Q: Your pre Yes days, working with John Lennon and that, any fond memories?
AW: Sure. It was a great period of my life, that was a great stepping stone up to playing with a band like Yes. I used to tell people I was so young and naive at that time, I was like 20 – 21 years old and I was going to play with people like that, and doing sessions all around London, and it was ‘passed’ almost before I knew what was happening. And you had to pinch yourself on down the line to let yourself know you’d been part of history like that.
Q: Are guys on-line?
AW: Yes. In fact I got a call today saying that they’re changing some of our web site names. They’re registering all of our names for our own web sites, because most of the time we go through ‘Notes From The Edge’. They sift through all the information and then give us all the relevant stuff.
Q: Do you go out on the web and explore a lot?
AW: Yes. I have a son who’s 17 in February and my daughter’s actually on it right now, she’s on amazon.com looking for a new stereo system for her room. ha ha….
Q: Your proudest moment as a member of Yes from the past?
AW: Actually one of the main proudest moments is when you really finish an album that you’re really proud of, like some albums that never got as much attention like for instance “Talk” – which was an album that I thought was great, but it didn’t get the attention that some of the old albums did. But, walking out in Madison Square Gardens and playing 7 nights in a row, like we did in the past, and we still got the record there I believe today for consecutive nights. And receiving Grammies; we got a Grammy for 90125 and that was real exciting.
Q: Do you follow much of the music scene these days?
AW: Yeah, I keep up with it. I don’t tend to run out to clubs to see new bands all the time, but I see enough of the stuff.
Q: Do you follow the progressive scene much?
AW: Yeah, absolutely!
Q: What do you think of it?
AW: A lot of bands that were kind of ‘honed’ on what we used to do in the past, and now they’re gone their own journey in the 90s. But I think there’s some great music out there, but there’s so much of it I couldn’t isolate much, but I mean Dream Theater and people like that have been around for a while and obviously did that. I commend it, for people who are trying to do something different.
Q: Favorite drummers – either influences or out there today!?
AW: You know what, there’s so many people that play so many different ways. I like the Steve Smiths of the world, and Leonard White, and some of the fusion guys I loved a lot, and I things from them within my style. There’s guys in the past that I liked a lot – Andy Newmark, Steve Gadd – all those guys influenced me from a distance in different ways, but there’s a lot of great players around today.
Interview conducted January 2000 by Kevin J.