With the release of 2 ASIA box sets in 2021, I’d thought I’d tidy up and re-share these interviews I did years ago – one with John Wetton  and one with Geoff Downes . Earlier this year BMG released The Reunion Albums slipbox [5CDs], and next month will release The Official Live Bootlegs : Volume 1. Next March marks the 40th Anniversary of the band’s debut album, let’s hope there’s something special being planned for release. RIP John.
ASIA Rises Again With Phoenix
This interview was done via email in 2008, following the release of Asia’s first comeback album Phoenix. For whatever reason, it did not all appear as I’d written it, so here is the complete thing. I’d originally sent questions for John Wetton and Geoff Downes, but only ever heard back from John.
What was the catalyst and, I guess – major reason or criteria for the original line-up of Asia to reunite? And was it with the understanding that it would have to be a long term commitment [w/ new recordings] – as opposed to just a one-off tour?
It really started with ‘Rock of faith’, a solo album from 2002,where Geoff and I wrote a song “I’ve come to take you home”, for the first time in many years. From that came the Icon project, and so on to Asia.
Over the years the reunion rumor had come up several times. How much had you guys kept in touch or had you sort of kept ‘tabs’ on each other over the years? AND, How well did the initial reunion shows go? Did they meet or exceed expectations? What have been some of the highlight concerts in the past 2 years?
Extremely well, and by the time we were halfway thru out 17-date US tour, we had an offer for Japan, and the UK.
On Phoenix John & Geoff resume as the band’s main songwriters. How easy was it to pick up your songwriting partnership after so many years?
As I explained in the first question, the ice had been broken, and we were used to working again with each other. The spark was still there.
With John & Geoff doing most of the writing, how is an Asia song [well, on Phoenix and the next album] generally put together? And what sort of input do Carl and Steve have?
Carl is not really a writer, and Steve tends to write on his own, but Geoff and myself enjoy the process of writing as a partnership.
How was the atmosphere and feeling – being together as the original Asia band again in the studio and on stage?
Much better than the first time around! We enjoyed ourselves, and banished some ghosts from the proceedings.
Phoenix is a great album, but it was more of a ‘grower’ from me because “Never Again” is such a powerful lead off rock track, but then the album really varies and includes more acoustic and softer songs. Did you guys have any idea what you wanted the album to sound like – or be a heavier or lighter album?
We just wanted it to be a representation of us 25 years on from our first outing. there are nods to our past, but the music is exactly what you get when you put those 4 musicians back on stage or in a studio. My one regret is that we didn’t have Mike Stone around to complete the circle, but that was not possible, as Mike is sadly no longer with us.
Never Again is a very uplifting and memorable song. Can you tell me what inspired that one musically and lyrically?
It’s virtually the Ten commandments. About never wanting to be judgmental, murderous or have evil intent. It’s musically quite hard-hitting. With the guitar intro, and powerful chorus, it is reminiscent of ‘Heat of the Moment’, but it was not intentionally so, and I think that is ok.
‘Parallel Worlds / Vortex / Deya’ is quite a melodic – progressive centerpiece to the album. Was this originally written as one song or separate pieces? Can you tell me how this song developed in to such an epic?
Yes,they all come from different periods. Deya was written in 1976,in Deya, Mallorca, Spain. Parallel Worlds was written in the Seneca Hotel, Niagara Falls, and was originally titled, ‘Sitting on top of the World’. Geoff wrote ‘Vortex’ quite recently.
How have the new songs been received live? Does there seem to be any fan favorites or faves that you guys enjoy performing?
Yes,’Never Again’, and ‘An Extraordinary Life’ go down very well in the live set.
Geoff and John are currently working on a new Icon album. How is that going? And is there any separation between Icon and Asia songs when writing? [I mean, any difference in what you’re writing or intending the songs for?]
We’re quite a long way into the record now, on overdubs – vocals, keyboards, etc. Should be finished by December sometime.
You’re also going on tour as Icon. How are these shows? Any different approaches to an Icon performance?
Yes, it’s very different from Asia. We have a cello (Hugh McDowell), and will have a female vocalist (Icon has duets).
When might we see another Asia studio album? Do you guys have any definite or tentative plans?
No plans as yet, but why not? We waited over 20 years for Phoenix, we don’t need to put out 2 records in 12 months.
As the original Asia was a fairly short-lived, straight to the top band in the early 80s. Do you guys feel you have something to prove to critics since reuniting?
Only to ourselves, and on a personal level, not musical.
Any solo albums in the future?
Yes, 2009 should see another solo record.
You were friends with David Byron for years; have you had a chance to check out the new Byron Band release from Damage Control Music [Robin George]?? Any contact with Ken Hensley or other Heep alumni since your own comeback?
I still have contact with Kenny, and Mick from the band. I was unaware of the Byron action.
You and Carl both had serious health issues in the past 2 years. How has that affected your drive and desire to create new stuff? And are you guys in to some new routines brought about by these health issues?
Only as far as exercise and diet, we still have the desire to play, and to create.
KJ, July 2012
ASIA – new album XXX
XXX had received rave reviews, many hailing it as the best since that first album. Geoff Downes is the band’s keyboard player and major songwriter – having contributed to such classic Asia songs as “Heat of The Moment”, “Only Time Will Tell”, “Don’t Cry” and numerous others [along with John Wetton]. Prior to Asia, Geoff had been part of “The Buggles”, before joining Yes for the Drama LP in 1980, a band he rejoined in 2011. In this interview Geoff discusses Asia’s ‘new’ reunion era, as well as the album XXX, as well as reflects on the band’s historic debut album.
What are the challenges and rewards this time around with the line-up of Asia? [What makes things easier and more rewarding, and what has changed that you need to work harder or differently at?].
Whenever we make a new album, it’s always a challenge. Not only to write the material, but also make sure we can do it justice in the live setting. The reward is knowing we have new music to play to people, not just relying on the early ‘classic’ material. Simply, nothing has really changed since we began the band. The main suspects are all still there – alive and well, thankfully!
First, just wanted to ask you – what have been some of the highlights since the band returned in 2006?
It’s been interesting to say the least. We all went into it not really with any great expectations or plans for the future. It seemed a nice path to take for all of us at the time and since then it’s been hugely enjoyable. That’s one of the main reasons that it’s still a going concern today.
Can you tell me a bit about some of tracks from ‘Phoenix” and “Omega”, such as “Never Again”, “An Extraordinary Life”, “I Believe” and “Finger On The Trigger”? [these being my favorites. Curious if you’d have any particular faves?] “Finger On The Trigger” was first recorded with John Wetton, but re-worked for “Omega”. Curious if there’s other tracks from “XXX” that may have been around for a while?
We wrote most of the material for these albums in dedicated writing periods before the start of the albums. Actually, with the exception of FOTT which had already recorded on the ICON CD Rubicon by John and myself. I think the record label saw it as being appropriate as an ASIA song. NA & AEL all written specifically with ASIA in mind. No actual full songs remain from these albums, but there are some interesting unused snippets of ideas.
You stuck with Mike Paxman as producer again, as opposed to producing yourselves. How was Mike to work with?
Mike did a great job with Omega, and provided us with a comfortable and relaxed environment in the studio. We felt he kept a very good balance between all the band members not only musically but also personally. We got to know him as a friend too, and so we had no hesitation in asking him back to help us make the XXX album.
The songs on XXX are mainly written by yourself and John Wetton. How did that work out, as [going back to the first album] – there was more band credits? [Might we hear more from Steve and Carl in the future?]
Certainly, historically a fair percentage of the band compositions have emanated from John and me. That’s not to say that that diminishes Steve’s contributions. Actually, Steve has 3 co-writes on this XXX, which is the same as he contributed on ASIA. But yeah, a full group composition might be interesting for the next album!
What is the ‘process’ of yourself and John writing together? Do either of you tend to come up with more of the words, or more of the melodies, etc… ?
The music is usually jointly collated. It’s quite rare that any of our songs end up as being the whole of one our individual ideas. I think that’s the beauty of it and why it works so well, is, that weave together two of our ideas and come up with – well, something different. John does most of the lyrics, but I’ll throw in the odd title or line here and there. I think it’s important for John that HE believes in what he’s singing about.
Can you give me a few lines on your Asia bandmates? [Having worked them 30 years ago, and currently, and what’s changed in the way you all get along and work together]
The thing with this band is that we are all very different personalities. In the early days, this could at times cause conflict, or conversely work in a very positive fashion. Since we got back together we have focused collectively on the latter. There’s a very strong level of respect between the four of us, and the chemistry is still there. That’s what’s important.
The new album seems [IMO] a bit more upbeat/rockier. I love “tomorrow The World” [and that intro], “Face On The Bridge”, Bury Me In Willow”, “Judas” … Can you give me a few lines about some of the songs – as to what inspired them or how they came about, lyrics, etc…?
We wanted to give the fans something a bit more upbeat this time. That’s not to say our previous albums have any less substance. It’s sometimes just how they turn out in terms of balance, but it’s not possible to second-guess this when you embark on a new album such as XXX. The songs are based on hope and inspiration. They are more spiritual without being religious. But bottom line is, it’s better to listen to music than talk about it to be honest.
I enjoyed “Phoenix” and “Omega”, but think this album is stronger all around. How happy are you guys with its outcome and how it stands up with previous Asia albums?
Honestly, we think it ranks up there with some of our best historical work. Having said that, some people will get more out of one album than another, so it’s all a matter of choice and personal taste really. I think we’re more proud of the fact that, we’re still here making fresh and inspiring new music 30 years on. That’s more than quite a lot of bands could say these days!
You’ve also done 2 videos for this album [Face On the Bridge and Faithful]. Might there be any further videos to promote any other tracks?
No, that’s it. Two’s enough!
You guys obviously have a lot of material to choose from for a live set. Curious how much of the new album will be featured, and what ‘staples’ are there from the previous 2 albums?
The set will be made up of all the ASIA albums that have featured the four original members. Of course there will be some of the signature songs from the first two 80’s albums, but we will also be incorporating material from the last three.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the debut album. Reflecting back, what are your fondest memories of that period and what can fans expect [aside from the CD re-issue] to commemorate its release? Any chance there’ll be a live performance of that complete album?
There are many great memories to savour when that 1st album really took off, too many to mention. We had worked long and hard on that for a year prior to its release, so our efforts were thoroughly rewarded. It was an exciting time for us. So it might be appropriate to turn the clock back and play the whole of that album again, like we did on the first tour. But there again, a show is all about balance, and it’s important for us to feature the newer music as well.
Beyond Asia, what else are you working on these days? Any Yes projects, solo outings, … ?
Well yeah, aside from recording the new ASIA CD, I’ve been involved with a number of projects over the last year or two. Specifically, my return to YES which has been a real privilege, and great fun to be back involved with those guys again. But also, I’ve been working with singer/songwriter Chris Braide on an album, as well as a whole host of other projects, so it’s very busy times for me right now!
KJJ, July 2012