Notes From the Edge
Conversation with
Steve Howe

from nfte #215

MIKE TIANO: Let's start with Yes, first of all. That's obviously the main part of what's going on with you right now. How's the process going?

STEVE HOWE: Well, the process is staying on course, you know, the process of last November's writing together here for a month, you know, and pooling ideas and switching the songs around and trying riffs and different ideas and not so much anybody's tapes, you know, complete finished works of art, but more just the ideas that weren't yet formulated, haven't yet been steered by those individuals into their own style; like I would have taken a song and done it my way, you know--it wasn't really about that. It was really about these collective ideas--choruses and verses and instrumental ideas, riffs, themes--you know...we need them all. We need the whole sort of range of music to make Yes music interesting. And so the process is going well, and at the moment we've recorded a few backing tracks for the album, and so, we're progressing nicely on target.

MOT: When you say the backing tracks does that consists of: bass, drums, rhythm guitar, basically?

SH: Yeah, it's a whole performance by the band. The main thing that we know we're going to keep are the bass and the drums, and the other things will be improved on...and some of the basics may stay--the old basic rhythm guitar--I can find that I'm so sure about my lead part that I'll do a rhythm part, because I know what I'm going to do in the lead, I don't want to emulate it in a half-baked way. Or, in backing track stage, with my experience, you do what you need to do to help the track more than try and find out what you're going to do yourself, so I have that sort of functional role sometimes. I like it, and out of it can come good rhythm guitars...other times I flurry around and go mad and nuts and things on tracks, but quite often you get sensible about the amount, you tend not to improvise really while you're doing backing tracks; but there again after the backing tracks are done--like for instance today I went back in and did a whole new guitar straight away over the top, erase the live guitar, and just did another one where I can really focus on just what I was doing and just did the basic part... and that kind of a part might stay, because it's a good part, it isn't so much a feature, but it's something that's fundamental in the track.

MOT: I take it that you're recording in sections rather than linear, or are you playing the whole composition from start to finish?

SH: Yeah, we are.

MOT: Really.

SH: Yeah, we're doing...we can't give away our secrets really [laughs], and though somebody else would if I didn't, but I'm not really going to say exactly how we do it. Now, we record takes and whenever possible, we use the whole take that's best. So, out of a session, this is after we've rehearsed the music, gone through it once already in the studio, we then come back to it and play the song pretty much like, hey we know that we'll have some fun playing this song now, it's not a mystery to anybody, it's not going to be rearranged, nothing fundamental will change about the song, we're just playing it. At that time we record multiple takes and then just pick the nicest one, and if there is something we like about it, like 90% done, obviously we might edit , but we're not doing any kind of fake live playing; we're either playing live or we may do a track in another sort of production sense, where you don't play together, purposely. We haven't done one like that yet, we're all playing together, and doing nice parts.

MOT: So, would you say that with the rehearsal you did at the beginning of the year, coupled with what you did last year, that the songwriting part is totally done--the composition is set in place for the most part...?

SH: The structure for the composition is, yeah, but the detail of that composition isn't set, in fact it's wide open to be enhanced, transformed, or rearranged or just stitched up, done up good and proper. Of course you've always got a strong backing track, stable, has all the right moves in it, you can then enhance it more...so the ideas will change...it will get somewhat more complex but there is also a style formulating from this music which is, if you like, the style of Yes in 1999, that's a combination of us and Bruce Fairburn, and the way he's steering the band is to make clear, decisive, exciting music, that kind of has a clarity, some simplicity, but also some complexity as well, so it seems to be a good bag, although it's got a lot of--what I mean I'm pleased about, it's got a lot of a more English approach about it somehow, possibly it's even helping being in Canada that we keep sort of ties with our English heritage.

MOT: British Columbia.

SH: Yeah.

MOT: How is he interacting with the band, is he's directing somehow... ?

SH: It's not a collaborative production, this is produced by Bruce Fairburn; although having said that, to clarify the credit, he's a very understanding, responsive, intelligent person. He takes on board everybody's doubts, criticisms, and fears about something, if somebody says I'm worried about that bit there, or I'm worried about this part in there, he'll work on it and then he'll come up with a conclusion quite quickly, "No, it's ok, it's got past me," or, "You're right, let's change it," so he's in fact fairly meticulous, that everybody has a chance to...well he's meticulous with our opportunity to put input in and say what we like, so the great thing about it that's so like a wonderful circle is that by doing this, we're able to communicate through him; he's like a medium, if you like, for the group to stay very close together but face issues through him that usually tear us apart, when something has to go, or when somebody keeps persisting that they want something their way, and it isn't going to be their way, instead of it being a clash between personalities it's a decision taken by the producer [laughs]. That's wonderful.

MOT: So he manages the process, essentially.

SH: Yeah, it's what a producer does, it's the same thing, well it's obviously not the same as me producing a record by any means but, it's the same code of discipline that you have to bring, if you're a producer you have to make things happen, and whatever it takes to make them happen, and if it's doing it yourself that makes it happen, then...but if you're conducting other people then in that time frame, say, it's one session or a whole day, you have to have a goal and you have to achieve that goal, otherwise you're behind schedule and producers don't generally like be behind schedule because there are consequences, complexities, and mix up with schedules and one person can't do it here and then he can't mix it there.

MOT: Does he seem to have a real inherent feel for Yes music?

SH: He has an understanding, a knowledge. It may be a good thing that it's not too involved, it's not a fan-based sort of knowledge, he understands our successful music; I wouldn't comment on how deep it goes, but I think the most important thing for a producer is to get the nowness out of the artist, and I think the contact that he has with us now, he's getting to know us really very quickly and getting to know what we do, how we talk and interact, and he's controlling that, he's making that work, but he's got to talk somebody like this or somebody else about that, he's got to keep things balanced, that's what a producer does, and Yes without that, of course we get imbalanced and projects take too long or cost too much money or things aren't guided well, so what with getting better management now we've got production.

There's many things we don't know, we don't know how deep his familiarity or knowledge is with Yes, we don't know as artists, how he works with us in different ways to how he works with the other bands that he has been very successful with...they're not like us, none of them all the same--the Cranberries aren't like Aerosmith and Yes aren't like Kiss, so there's this sort of paradox, but that is the marvelous thing about producers, they aren't actually pigeon-holed , they might emulate a style coming through with a certain act, but then most producers diversify and do different sorts of acts. So, I think it's a good time to say something I was thinking about before you came up, is that any band, any artist, any artists outside of music to exist must be goalistic and want to be successful, otherwise if you don't want to be successful, you just sort of do this on a very low-key way, but we want to be successful...Yes wants to maintain its existence--it doesn't want to disappear up its own black hole, it wants to exist. And now it can't really exist without a very high level of success. We're forced into it, we can't have medium success and exist because this is a big operation, and so in a way we want this record--not sort of consciously, but subconsciously, want this record to completely live up to our expectations of being a record that represents quite honestly what we are, it doesn't try to conceal that, but at the same time, it isn't stashed away in cult records, but is actually a full-running record in today's contemporary music.

For Yes to make a progressive record and it to be feeding maybe off of KEYS I and II as much as some of the band would have liked to maybe continue the band, could have been somewhat unrealistic in our survival stakes,...what we're writing is music that we think is about pleasure, it isn't about something distasteful, and therefore this pleasure, you know, we think it's infectious, and we think that infectiousness is in the music, that collaboration--obviously particularly for Jon and I--where we have collaborated as well is the path that we laid many years ago, that we're still in touch with, and therefore there's a cross-writing sufficient that the songs have everybody's ideas thrown in...almost like a kitchen sink, but instead it's created another style of Yes music that's not pigeon-holed and it's not exactly diehard. I got to say it's not a diehard record, but on the other hand it's seems to be about giving pleasure, and if we're enlivened by this being able to walk into the studio and have things work for us and everything's sufficient and everything's great for us--we're having a good time not sitting on a desert island doing this but having a good time doing it because it's productive and it's more productive than other experiences we had...not that KEYS II was a very productive time, but it was filled with dilemmas about management and all that other crap, and now we got that sorted. We're ready to take--well we are taking advice all the time and let's hope that's not a dangerous thing because after all, Bruce's experience is about like a film director's is, is about getting the best out of his actor, or for him best out of his artists, so we cover a wide range of Yes styles; it isn't one style in particular, that we're just like this, but we're certainly cross-sectioned across other things.

MOT: Certainly being eclectic was always one of the hallmarks of Yes...

SH: Yeah.

MOT: ...eclecticism of the music itself...

SH: We did an ending today that was...that I said to Chris when it ended, it sounds just like the kind of thing Yes always should do...it sounded like a cinema, the film had ended and bang, this thing, the end of this song, this kind of simple ending we did that had a little trademark in it...it was just great...I love James Taylor's song, "No one can tell me what I'm doing wrong today," I just find that sometimes I just need to say that, it's a bit like a Zen chant, I suppose, but it clarifies in your own mind that you can't be doing too many things wrong if you can be part of something generating this kind of energy in our music...it's pretty exciting.

MOT: It sounds like the creative juices are really flowing.

SH: Well, they are in a certain kind of way; there's balances to keep... there's things that happen that throw things slightly off balance, and you think, well, OK, this is reality, let's see how it goes, and then there's give and take...people come back the next day with an idea...it gets tried, maybe it doesn't get included, then we appreciate...and we start playing the song and we start playing it to record it, and it's ready, and Bruce is nicely primed us, and not got us in there too early...you see the whole thing is it's got to be right--you know, a producers' responsibilities is actually quite great because usually, or often...well I've not been produced by Trevor Horn, so Yes at that time were slightly nurtured by Trevor a bit--nurtured might not be word they would agree with [laughs], because at times they...well Trevor's a marvelous producer, and they're not about to say he's not, but at times there were difficulties, communication and things, and this is pretty early on with Bruce...but he's able to, say, make a comment about something and everybody's willing to listen and try and make it work because we think it's important.

MOT: Maybe it's to your advantage too that he's not a "Yes fan" because last time I recall a producer being a big Yes fan was Jonathan Elias. Was what Jonathan was doing with ABWH at that time similar to what Bruce is doing: in other words, everything looked copasetic, but you didn't see what was coming?

SH: Yeah...it's a bit awkward, really, looking back at Jonathan, because while it was going it seemed good, and then when the record got finished it appeared that one had lost sight of what the group were really trying to do. I doubt whether Jonathan wanted that, but Bruce certainly wouldn't want that to happen to us. It's our record; he makes us feel very much like, all the time, that it's a shared opportunity, but he has control in that environment, but I think he could say at any point very truthfully that all he's doing is working with what we've got...we've got to come in with things, and he can say well, from that I would deduce that this bit's no good and that bit's great, double that, lose this, and he may help us sift our music into some sort of order, but only when he needs to, I mean, we get a lot of that stuff right ourselves, but he may make adjustments to what we're doing, so I could talk a lot about it, but it's all at an early stage.

MOT: Is it also too early to talk about some of the compositions themselves...like the flavors or the durations?

SH: It is really, yeah [laughs]. We're just started recording it! On this minidisk it's got ten songs; they might not all be on the album, and these are the demos...these are the studio demos, but it would be much too early give any of these titles away, not that they are in any way written in stone.

MOT: I wasn't really concerned about titles, but more just the flavors of the music...

SH: We've got some pieces planned...we've got a suite planned of pieces, a few pieces that work together harmoniously and thematically, so that's nice. We're not looking to do another TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS on this album; we're looking to maybe show our colors, and we've already mocked up one piece that has...the last time I can remember doing something quite as exciting was "Time and Time Again" by Asia when the band got kind of rocking, and it's really cool, you know what I mean? What we've got is a really good thing, and we're doing that with songs that really seem to work. I could always say Jon or I would most probably certainly say, well, we would have liked to have written it all, and we have the ability to do that, but this is Yes and Yes is doing it this way in the hope that that level of evolvement from everybody creates...a good band should be a band that should be happy with its music, you can't really expect a band to keep playing if certain people don't like the music or didn't like this...it gets to be a sort of, don't like this, don't like that, story. So Yes has changed its approach through all that touring to becoming a band, not without problems but with the capability of dealing with problems at certain times and getting around of it because we are friends...but certainly nothing's every really that cut and dried, you don't just sit on stage [laughs]...you never know what's really going to happen to Yes and some things can look worrying and then the worries go away, and the result comes.

MOT: So what's it like to actually collaborating with Billy [Sherwood], because we know that you really didn't do much collaboration on OPEN YOUR EYES; and as far as Yes as a unit goes, this is the first time you've had a sixth member...Billy's helped in the past, but now he's totally involved.

SH: The thing is that I'm happy to answer your question but it's really too early to say, really because we're at the stage, I suppose a bit like Hackett and I did, when Steve Hackett and I wrote GTR, and we had a great time for three months we sat in each other's houses writing songs and designing that album, and we actually wrote all of it like that, and I've been working with Billy on this project so far, and it's not always easy to know whether we're keeping everything aligned as much as we need to, so at this stage I got to see what I can achieve and in a way I consider what Billy's doing, but in a way not consider what Billy's doing when it comes to wanting to find what my goal is in each song. So I have a kind of dual role with Billy in the creation of the music as much as writing parts or a song comes from Billy and we chop this out like we do with everybody's, and we kind of mess around, and work with it that way, and another way. I, in all honesty, have to say that it isn't easy making room for another guitarist, whoever he was, in Yes...it wasn't easy with Trevor Rabin, and it's not easy in Yes to share the goal, the guitar picture, in Yes. It isn't easy to share the guitar position, it's not. But there again I've always been very prepared to learn how to change, how to mold, how to see, but I know that Jon and the rest of the band want me to excel, and it's not always easy to do when there's somebody else playing the guitar, because things happen along that route that don't always work for me...we're working well at the moment, having said those sort of concerns, we are working well at the moment, and we're getting things down on tape.

MOT: How's songwriting with Igor as compared to keyboardists of the past?

SH: He, in some ways, he is like many keyboard players--he has the same sort of musical compositional style, as Rick and Geoff and somewhat Patrick; play something, and rarely is it left to the skeletons, without some sort of interesting chord movement and lots of arpeggio, very virtuoistic sort of style, that's what attracted me to Igor when I first heard his piano playing, and that's what I like to have around me, is a keyboard player whose virtuoistic tendencies come across in the music. But it's still a very early learning process, because having done a tour that was about music that existed, besides one OPEN YOUR EYES song, everything else was known Yes material, so it was about providing known quantities-- now they're unknown quantities and they're open, and I think now he's starting to broaden the horizons, because the keyboards are a bit like that, they can either be regimented or very just what you expect, where other times they can go just push past that and become more spacey, more translucent sort of movements and shiftings of colors, and also be very dramatic in the ability to suddenly become the brass with the synths, and all that... I think I'm working with him more on an instrumental basis--his channel is like me and Jon, and also Jon and Igor, they get some digits going, and they can pull things out like Jon and I can pull things out, so he's getting a pretty broad experience. Things are improving, which is important.

MOT: How about the interaction with Chris, as another hallmark of Yes has been the way your guitar playing with Chris's bass playing complement each other.

SH: I like the way Chris is hearing what I'm doing, and I'm always hearing what he's doing. We have a good, an easy way of working using our ears, because that's the way the guitar and bass kind of knit well together; like I think it was yesterday he was saying to Alan, "Well that bit, you play with the guitars," and Alan said, "Yeah, that's right, I went with that guitar part, because that's what's kind of going at that time," and Chris was friendly, jokingly annoyed that Alan deserted the bass department and favored the guitars. So this is quite sweet and reminiscent of the old times in the band, really, when, at times the drums were worked out as in a way they are now--more fluidly worked out down to the last beat, exactly, if this is a push and that one isn't, so all the bass drum beats are being discussed, and everybody has to know what is going on, and it's surprising that at the last minute that you can find out that everybody's playing different chords [laughs]...but you know if you find out just at the right time, of course, you can avert some later horror when you listen back, and you expect it to sound like a piece of music with some resemblance of harmonic structure, instead everybody's playing the wrong chords. So you find those moments of comparative disillusionment about, are we playing something...

MOT: So it sounds like the vibe is really happening, the band is really together and, almost like the old days, huh?

SH: Well, yeah, it's got the same ingredients of it could fall apart tomorrow, but it won't because we're so much more...everybody's got so much more invested in this...we've got our own time and life again invested in this record, and it's got to work out right for us; it really has.

MOT: Let's wrap up this Yes portion of the interview with a question about the game plan, just basically...unless this is too early as well, as far as tentatively when the album should be released, tour plans...

SH: We don't make any of those things...we have options that we hope to take all of them if we could, which is maybe to be doing European festivals by June, and all that...and then by August be in America and touring America and Canada, but it's ambitious, and it also might be impossible to start as early, but certainly we want pick up some European festivals in June and July, and then we want to tour here.

MOT: Let's move on to PULLING STRINGS, since that's just coming out now. Even though it's cool that you're back in Yes, and you're totally devoted to Yes at this point, I was thinking tonight that it gave you a kind of a breathing space and a chance to revisit a lot of solo material that you may not otherwise have a chance to look at again...how do you feel about that?

SH: Yeah, at first PULLING STRINGS was an item like NOT NECESSARILY ACOUSTIC that I knew, [firstly] I wanted to record for another solo album, that tour, and then the next thing was that it would only appeal to me some years later, much like NOT NECESSARILY ACOUSTIC...it was a couple of years until it came out, and this one's longer, partly as you say because of the distractions of Yes and getting on with QUANTUM GUITAR and things like that. So PULLING STRINGS was a something I casually toyed with; it's almost like a record that just kind of had to feel like the right time to come and then I committed to it--to release it this time of year, so...it's really a CD about, for me '93-'94, '94-'95, [they] were amazing years because of what I learned to do on my own, and what I learned I could do on my own, and the fun I had on those tours--some of the films I've got are of me playing different music that I've never released, or times I did play other things, and sometimes it's because of that I feel much better about music than I've ever done, much more kind of my versatile side has pleased me, and I enjoy playing different kinds of guitar very well. So coming back to PULLING STRINGS and molding it a little bit, was really pleasurable because in fact I missed doing that kind of show, I did some last year at this time, just three shows...I'd much rather really be completely in gear for solo work, it is a slightly different gear...and have all of the guitars and equipment that I need, and I suppose that's the only way I'll do it the next time I do it. But I suppose I look back at it and it's bit like other periods of my life--I know I couldn't recreate that...the only two years in my life since I've been playing the guitar that I've not been in a band [laughs]...two years not in a band...it was a marvelous experience of self-dependency.

MOT: You were the solo, singer, songwriter, guitar player basically...

SH: That's right.

MOT: The nomadic minstrel on your own, going from town to town. Which one of those tracks now, listening to them, stand out or surprise you?

SH: Well, I think "Windy and Warm" is one of those tracks, because I really like that tune. Generally, I suppose, kind of molding it, you get kind of very use to the track; I think "Running the Human Race" is quite good. There's different sides to it really; the most sensitive side is solo guitar when it's just one guitar--a lot of it is that--but of course there is the backing track, backing tracks as well..."Sweet Thunder" was a track I really did want to put out, and I quite like putting one new track out on a live album; it's just an interesting idea... there are about three tracks that are good for me.

MOT: Three tracks?

SH: Yeah, I mean "Misty", that kind of work is really, like doing weird guitar stuff, is really what I like to do, and I've only just touched the surface in a solo show of how weird it could get, and I like this idea, so "Misty" is like a sign of the times for me where I'm messing with the sound and I like it for that aspect. "Windy and Warm," as I said, is a fun, bluesy style tune, and I don't really do too many quite like that, so I like that one...and doing "My White Bicycle" is the sort of mania tune, where I try to emulate my sort of psychedelic moment there, just in that wildness of playing on my own, was just like what I was doing in the '60s--the drummer stopped and people fell about the floor making love, and like I was playing the guitar, so there's a little bit of that sitar style in that somewhere. Yeah, there's a couple of comments.

MOT: But nothing you would have done differently, or some tunes that you would have liked to have played during that tour that you didn't get around to?

SH: Oh, definitely...as I was doing the tour, I realized there was more music I would like to play...you never really do an album where you completely do everything the way you want, even if it's your own album; you get it like you can get it at the time, and that's a lot to do with that time, and that's why you try to focus as best as you can on what you are doing, so it's as good as possible. I mean I prepared that, I recorded in it in America and went back to my farm and made mixes of it, and then I took those mixes with me to America, and sat in Lititz at White Coast Recording, and kind of compiled it there, and I brought it back to Dynamac and just kind of tightened it up a bit more for about three or four days...I went through the tracks, and improved it, just made it more convincing as a complete, continuous...quite difficult doing continuous...a lot of people do live shows and they tail every track where it's so easy...that really makes it easy, so I enjoy pulling it, stringing it together, and it's a very uncomplicated record...I hope it's got a kind of slightly softer approach than NOT NECESSARILY ACOUSTIC, which was really in your face and very up-tempo, and everything was push, push, push... I hope that nobody minds my "Turn of the Century" introduction about all of the tracks were from GOING FOR THE ONE...

MOT: Everybody loves it, come on [laughs].

SH: Good, good [laughs]. It was a wonderful tease, and I love to hear the audience...it was like being strung on with it so much...it was great because every number seemed...[in a funny voice] well, I thought we're going to hear that one, but didn't.

MOT: I think it's a treat that they got to hear even the few seconds of some of those songs...you never go onstage and play "Parallels", that's for sure [laughs].

SH: That's right, and there I was, playing "Parallels" just for a moment. I think this is so exciting for me, NOT NECESSARILY ACOUSTIC and PULLING STRINGS now, really wrap up the whole thing. There are a couple of tracks, surprisingly from NOT NECESSARILY ACOUSTIC period, we didn't get into documenting the complexity of that factor, but I think that there's a couple of tracks anyway from there, see if anybody can spot them.

MOT: You say that there's accompanying "road movies" to go along with this?

SH: Well, there are, much like in the CD-ROM there's Danbury from NOT NECESSARILY ACOUSTIC. There's a few excerpts from Danbury.

MOT: I do want to talk about the CD-ROM, but before we do that, why don't we talk about Dylan [PORTRAITS OF DYLAN]? How did the project itself come about?

SH:
It started about four years ago when I recorded "Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll", for my own amusement... I'd always wanted to do it, so I recorded it, and I recorded it in quite a bombastic sort of style, made it very dramatic and heavy with drums, heavy guitars and a screaming steel guitar that went [imitates the guitar sound] and all this, and it was really quite ghastly. Well about two weeks later I went to a concert and I saw a very fine guitarist called Martin Simpson and he was playing in London--it may have been five years ago, I'm not sure--and he was playing in London and I went with Jan and our friends [photographer] Mickey Slingsbury and his girlfriend Lydia. So we're there, and he's playing all this folk stuff, and I'm really enjoying it, and he played a few blues songs, which is one of his things--like it might be mine one day--and he suddenly said he's going to play a Bob Dylan song, and he sung "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll", and of course my heart kind of dropped and I [thought], God, I just recorded this horribly, compared to the way he did it; he did it wonderfully, wonderful way, I liked his way very much, so I thought bury that--kill that, so it kind of got dropped from my mind because I realized that I hadn't done it in a very fulfilling way.

So a couple of years back I found the tape, and just thought, I'll play this and listen to it, and I thought yeah, I'll change it; so I took out all the heavy stuff and put those Spanish guitars all over it, and wrote the whole part out as a Spanish guitar part, and then put an orchestral idea behind it, so I used the same framework, but changed everything, and I really liked doing that. So I had that track and then an interesting time came in my life when I actually had chunks of weeks at the studio where I could kind of stay and work on a project for a week...well usually a week, I'd go and work on a project for a week and see what I could do and then go back to London and see the kids, see Jan, and then go back and work another week, and in that time a couple of years back I recorded all those, most of those backing tracks, except "Well Well Well" and "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands", everything else is recorded in that period, and I did all of the backing tracks and shaped all the songs; and then I sung everything, but I hadn't intended to sing all the songs, I knew it was too much for me to sing all these songs, but I just recorded the ones that I could sing and see what I could imagine doing at this time. So... about a third of them are famous songs and most probably about two-thirds are lesser-known or in degrees lesser-known songs and I think that avoided being caught up in the greatest hits sort of idea that it's not about Bob's greatest hits, it about mostly my, some of my favorites...[stresses] *some* of my favorites...so once I recorded those backing tracks it just sat around for a while. I was full of enthusiasm, and Jan said "What the hell are you doing?:" and I said listen to this, and still, [laughing] "What the hell are you doing?" and I said, well I can get this record done, I can make this record. It's a balance.

MOT: How did one Bob Dylan song lead to another, at what point did you say, "Well, I could do a whole collection of Dylan songs"?

SH: Well at that time, when I messed about with "Hattie Carroll" then I realized I could really arrange Dylan, in an arranging sense; in other words instead of using my compositional skills I was now using my arranging skills, and I thought, wow, what a nice thing. I don't have to write the songs, I don't have to decide if that rhymes with that OK [or] anything, I've just got to play this song, so in a way it did something for me, and I love Bob Dylan's choice of guitarists over the years, so in a way it's a chance for me to be the guitarist, and I enjoyed that--that's one of the fundamental reasons I did it, was that, but also to elevate or to bring a new dimension or a new style to some of those songs, like "Hattie Carroll" in particular where that is a completely different style to the way he played it. I'm not blowing that out of proportion, but I'm just saying that's what I enjoyed doing from a guitarist and arranger point of view, and also playing a variety of instruments on the album is another...I didn't know that I was going to do that; Geoff [Downes] played on three tracks, he could have played on them all I suppose if I had decided to do that, but a lot of it is guitar--a *lot* of it is guitar, in fact "Well Well Well" doesn't have any keyboards on it at all--actually it does, it has an organ. But like an organ is a sound, it's an identifiable, recognizable sound, therefore it's got to be there, it's one of the trademarks of all popular music that I can remember in rock, after early rock it wasn't really there, all that much in early rock, but Booker T...

MOT: How about Dylan's own influence on you? When did you first hear Dylan?

SH: When FREEWHEELING came out was the first time I heard Bob Dylan...you have to check what year that was, I can't remember--might have been '64, '63, '62...

MOT: What tunes are on FREEWHEELING?

SH: "Blowing in the Wind", that's the first track. So I hear this album, a friend says to me, here, listen to this, and I'm listening to it in his back bedroom, and I put it on and I hear this guy's voice and his harmonica and this song. This guy's singing this song from inside, that's what I thought, I heard somebody singing for the first time like a blues guy did, "Woke up this morning and got the blues," you really believed them, it was really convincing. Obviously popular music doesn't really...you don't actually believe it, with third hand, it's like "She Loves You", it's not "I love you"--it can be, you know, "I love you baby", but then the Beatles brought it into a kind of "She Loves You", different angles on it, and then Dylan had these other fascinating stories. So when I heard that album it was almost like a I knew I had to acquire this taste, but it was going to happen quite quickly. The fact that he symbolized everything in rebellion to me as well was what I think was very important; I think he brought out the rebel in me, and that rebel wasn't somebody who wanted to break things, but the rebel in me wanted to do my thing...I was a rebel without a cause [laughs]...it wasn't a rebellion against anything other than being ordinary...what I hated about what my life could have been was that I could have not got off my backside and done nothing and I would have been still where I was born; in a way I like Holloway [his birthplace], I don't hate it, but I certainly know that I had ambition and when I heard Dylan, the fact that he strummed and played harmonica...remember this is very early on, and he became like a cult hero; the first picture I saw of him I thought yeah...it's like any makeup of a successful artist. OK, so some people it might work looking like a jerk, but basically when you heard somebody and then you saw them and you saw this image and you heard their music...I was very young and I was very receptive to that; it meant a lot to me, and I had never ever have lost that.

And of course he went through BLONDE ON BLONDE, I do a few songs from [that], and also up to STREET LEGAL [which] was one of his most sensational records I think that he did recently, in the last fifteen years, ten years. And many of his more recent records I've enjoyed too, and I'd bought all of his records, and I suppose much like my guitar playing reflects quite a lot of my early influences, then my choice of doing "Portraits of an Artist" it had to be Dylan because he...I suppose I try to write songs like him, like for instance if you know HOMEBREW and there's a song on there called "More About You"--I did that in a sort of Dylanesque sort of style, I think, strumming guitar and the tambourine and...[singing] "I wanna learn more about you, seems like we've not spoke for a while"...so it just a kind of, Dylan's always there in some respect; when I think about some of the playing on "And You And I" like in the "Preacher" part [imitates a guitar part that precedes "Sad preacher nailed upon... "] and Jon comes in after the...

MOT: You mean the E figure?

SH: Yeah, after the big themes and it all quiets down again and I go back to the beginning and then I come in...I think it's called "The Preacher". So, you know, most of all I think the most powerful part of it that for instance, his live performances are also so compelling, Bob Dylan, but I didn't see him until about the time of STREET LEGAL in the mid-eighties...I was totally blown away, I went all three nights to see him; I went the first night, and I just got tickets for the next two [laughs] and it's very emotional, very, very emotional to hear him sing like "I Want You", or something, in person--it was great, so his live recordings, particularly "Hard Rain" and the video of "Hard Rain"--fascinating stuff, like "Don't Look Back", the early, early documentary, but for instance "Hard Rain" was rough, ready, raw, somewhat out of tune, the wind beats upon the stage, the people are struggling, and yet almost surviving through their desperate need for that music; and to portray that music, and Dylan is almost vicious and hard-hitting that night. He sings "Idiot Wind" in a way that's unbelievably bitter and hard, but true to his art all the time and that's what's so fascinating, and that's what I admired about him so much is his outburst of lyrical ideas, and a lot of his early albums, he was a mad rhyme maniac, where things rhymed in weird ways or unconventional ways, but he always pulled it off. He kind of taught writers that you got to pull things off in this business, much like Peter Gabriel and "Sledgehammer" was an interesting song; Steve Hackett and I used to talk about what that song is and why it works, and my wife summed it up once to me: it's clever nonsense, if you're going to have nonsense you've got to be clever, if it's going to be that vague about what it really is, and sometimes you want songs that are vague; like it's a ploy that writers have about getting away from the moon in June as far from possible, is to be as vague as possible.

MOT: Going back to Yes, for me there's always a major part of the music that, the lyrics weren't always literal..."what's 'Close to the Edge' about?" [laughs] That's not the point.

SH: You don't have to ask what THE WALL is about, you know what I mean? I don't think anything's really about one thing, I think that's...as much as "Close to the Edge" wasn't a title that told you distinctly what reason you were close to the edge to, but certainly there's a lot of room in any idea to incorporate, as I think it does, lots of other ideas that aren't really connected, but with artistic license one connects because you need this thing. It's a bit like saying how can an artist paint with only three colors, well he can't because he really needs those three colors because it needs to be colorful, for depth, so we need lots of ingredients as well.

MOT: So you finally got Jon to sing "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands"? How does he do?

SH: He does it brilliantly... he does it brilliantly. I'll play it to you; he's remarkable. He didn't want to take it on as a single voice all the time, because it is such a long song he varies it between harmonies and a bit of double-tracking, a bit of countervocals and all sorts of things. [Steve did play the final mix and he wasn't exaggerating: this is a stellar effort from Jon. --MOT]

MOT: When did he record it?

SH: He recorded it before Christmas.

MOT: In Nashville?

SH: Yep.

MOT: So that's what he was doing in Nashville.

SH: Well, it's one of the things; that's the first thing he did for me when he went out there was do that because he knew I was waiting, and then he spent some time recording some other things...

MOT: So, he did it on his own...you had sent him the tapes?

SH: I sent him a slave, and he did it with an engineer; a guy called Ed.

MOT: Great. Has Dylan heard any of this?

SH: Bob Dylan. Well no, they're bound to because we're about to send it to him, and of course they gave us a new song called "Well Well Well" which P.P. Arnold sings, and basically she's...well we got three girls singers on it, so we're not shy of girls, in fact there's a violinist on it as well, she's Anna Palm... so it's the first album I've done of other people's music, and I think that, in a way, has been an education for me; trying to bring the same detail that I do on my music to somebody else's is quite intriguing because it's not really something I do. My music's about what I do much more than about putting it with somebody else. But of course the choice of Dylan as a writer and as a stylist to draw from is almost unbeatable, I mean, I can do Volume I can start Volume II straight away [laughs] because he has a wealth of material, really, far greater than the Beatles, wider than Paul Simon or anybody, just a wealth of wonderful music, because you can look right back to those early albums.

MOT: If you had to choose one Dylan album that really summed up your own appreciation of Dylan, what would you choose? Hard question to answer?

SH: Well because I think I like STREET LEGAL a lot, because it shows just how much he can come back on--not really come back, that's the wrong expression, how much you can revitalize himself and come up with a whole lot more, so just when you think it's over it's not [laughs], and of course I understand that he's always seems to be on tour as well. He's not really a writer, he's not really a singer, and he's not really a guitarist; he's all of those things, and that's quite intriguing...I suppose it's simply something that lots of people emulate; they want to be able to do that much. And often when I meet unknown artists, and they do everything--they write and they play and they record--and I say to them, you know what, give yourself a break, get yourself off this hook, when you get going, yeah, when you know what you're doing with your market and your work, yeah, of course you can end up producing yourself, well why not work with other people because I wouldn't be able to make a record like PORTRAITS OF BOB DYLAN, I wouldn't have been able to make that record, twenty, thirty years ago, I had to collaborate with people, had to learn, had to find out how to do it. So when I look back on BEGINNINGS, that's my first solo record, and yeah, I like a lot of it, and it's fun, it's a nice thing for me to visit now and again, but... you know you made one record, do you want to make another [laughs]...it was bit like I was monitoring myself to see how quickly after finishing Bob Dylan my mind would start thinking about, well why aren't you making a record? It wasn't long--when all of the tensions and last minute panics had simmered down on leaving Switzerland and getting back to England, and delivering this record...behind-the-scenes sort of panics...I wasn't burned out on it at all; I was feeling great about the record, I loved it to bits...about two weeks later, I started to think [laughs]...but what I'm doing now is much more, getting more sensible with what you undertake to do, and I'm really happy that some things are moving, like the CD-ROM. But again PULLING STRINGS that's closed the book on that part what I was covering, and now the Bob Dylan thing is another record that's been muted a few times.

MOT: Obviously Yes is the main focus of your life, but have you thought of any promotional type of projects?

SH: Yeah, well I'm working with Jim Halley, who's managing me, with Eagle Records, they're very hot in promotion and we're looking at some promotions in various ways... we're done shooting video already; we maybe shooting some more video to, you know, air about me talking about the record and about the special singers--guests I've got with me; we're hoping to keep up some intensity for a while and try to give the record a chance to air.

MOT: Pretty cool. Before I forget, I have to ask you what is happening with MASTERPIECE GUITARS?

SH: Yeah, well they've now ready, and that's going to be out, they're saying, that it's going to be out sometime in May.

MOT: Really?

SH: But, you know, I've told them to keep away from April, but May's still a bit close.

MOT: Yeah, it's also...what is it now, two, three years old? Seems like so long ago now.

SH: It doesn't really bother me terribly that it's two years old when it came out so, records can be like that.

MOT: So let's talk about the CD-ROM, gosh you got Yes, you got PULLING STRINGS coming out, Bob Dylan, and...

SH: Been productive, haven't I? [laughs]

MOT: I wasn't so much addressing that side or it but the fact that the CD-ROM itself looks to be so dense and have so much to it. Can you kind of run down some of the features of the CD-ROM?

SH: [in an announcer's voice] "BeyondSound presents Steve Howe Interactive Signature Series Title." OK, the basic idea is this...there's obviously some video to see in here, that we have around the project, it partly introduces it and then obviously you can switch to view different parts of it at different times; take for instance Master Class Performance is mostly where we're dealing with specific tunes, some of them are four solo pieces, some of them are clips from different songs, there are like key riffs we call them, and somewhere else in Backstage Pass section you can access different people's views about me and my talk about different people I've work with. We'll come back to the fact that one CD will be the Guitar Book, including the discography and all the other things that are in the book on the CD.

MOT: So, it will be the entire book, in digital form, basically?

SH: And I read all the italics; it's not as interactive as the rest of the project because after all the book is an entity.

MOT: Right, right; it's a static thing.

SH: It's relatively static, but it's a fascinating way to access it.

MOT: Yes.

SH: So, going back to the Master Class, wrapping up on that, you know we look through various Yes titles, and talk about some of the riffs, simply how to play them, on split screens, so you can get an idea... a lot of it follows rather on my sort of train of thought, is that seeing and hearing is one of my experiences about playing the guitar, not looking at books and reading bits of paper, so CDs are kind of fascinating me into this. So anyway Master Class is there; the Backstage Pass section has visits from different people that I've worked with as I said, and then there's another section called Links and Resources, and that covers a whole gambit of different sides of use of guitars and stuff--it's kind of hard to describe really what's in it because it's in a format that I haven't learned the language yet to talk about, but yeah, you're very much choosing what you do; you go in there, I talk about things somewhat, and...

MOT: How did you choose the particular pieces?

SH: Just logic, really, I mean the guys [BeyondSound] put their input it--they're fans, they basically know what I'm doing, they've helped the project along a lot by bringing their train of thought to it as much as their knowledge of technology, but basically they're Yes fans, and they wanted to see something like this, and we feature some of my solo pieces which is a really big thing for me, is the fact that I do some performances I'm very proud of, particularly "Surface Tension", also "Clap", "Mood for a Day", and I think one other solo piece. So there's quite a lot of music going on in there, it's about music, but also there's... you know, with the documentary and the stills and other things in there, there's quite a lot going on.

MOT: Do you think you'll sit down at the computer yourself and try and go through it?

SH: Yeah, I wouldn't have any trouble--it's not difficult. It's very worked out... bang on the choice...

MOT: No, I was wondering if you would do that yourself...

SH: I'm the only person in the world that could learn the least from watching it, but there again my own curiosity takes me back to all my work.

MOT: I mean just so you could see how all the interactivity works.

SH: Well, I've had it shown to me last week--I've seen it, you know, virtually done it already.

MOT: [laughs] Sorry, just the notion that you can go in and see how you did that, "how did I do that?" [laughs]

SH: Yeah, right...

MOT: I guess you could in a sense because you don't really watch yourself.

SH: Well I did learn from it. I must be honest, I've already learned from it, it's quite fascinating because when I watched it, I saw some things about my playing that I've never noticed, somewhat from my own sort of reasoning, sensibility, and I saw some things I was fascinated with about the way that I move around the guitar, that I wasn't aware of at all, so in a way it did show me something about myself that I didn't expect, and possibly it does hold the key because when I did "Turbulent Plan" and watched it about a year later, I hated it, you know, and I thought it was dreadful, and I didn't really want anybody to buy it anymore, not that it really sold very much in the first place. So I'm learning, in other words, I know this is much, much better--it's very thorough, it's very hi-tech, and I really like the way I talk on it, which is important, it's not easy to do that, it's not easy to like yourself, believe it or not, when you're looking, you know, at yourself--imagine putting a mirror on yourself and talking...

MOT: Yeah.

SH: ...and that's really what it's like watching yourself on the television, and it's not all that easy--it takes a lot of patience, of course my physical, my facial expressions change quite dramatically sometimes, and I really wanted to play that down a bit on the screen, so you know, it was a question of control, being in the right frame of mind, being with people that understood my sensibilities, my sensitivities.

MOT: So basically you're sitting there talking to the camera, aren't you?

SH: Yeah, I mean I do introductions, and you have the choice: if you get tired of me talking, then don't watch those parts at all.

MOT: [laughs] Go someplace else. It's going to be a three-CD set?

SH: The third one is going to be the book. The bulk of it is the two...the fundamental idea is what we presented here. It has clips from some solo shows; it has a clip from a Yes show, and also one of a New York state show, and we use clips from a couple and then we used all of "Running the Human Race" because there's something about it that was really one of the nicest things done on the CD-ROM. So we're getting a bit of video to make it kind of like you couldn't get--you can't get it anywhere else.

MOT: From what I've seen, it looks like it's very classy job.

SH: Yeah.

MOT: So talking about guitar, what about the state of guitar today...I mean, thinking back to the times when it was exciting for something new to come along, and going back as far as when the latest model of Stratocaster came out or something.

SH: But nobody flipped, and nobody flipped when the Les Paul came out. All those things are very gradual you see--you look back on them and you could see that yeah, in 1953, you know, the first Les Paul came out, and you thought everybody went running out and bought them? There was skepticism, there was fear, you know, there was doubt, there was insecurity, and they got adopted by the rebellious people, you know, the rock stars. So there was a time when those guitars were played by, you know, just regular people, but they were adopted, you know. So if something happens now, you know, it's very gradual--you look back and say, oh yeah the Steinberger came out on that date, or PRS they put their guitars out on this date, or the Parker, you know, came out then, or the Stepp digital guitar came out then, but it's effects [that] always take a long time to sort of circulate--people are still saying to me, "Oh what's that guitar?"...and I go "It's a Sitar guitar," "Oh, I've never seen one of those before"..."well", I said, "you've heard it," "I was not really aware, oh is that it". So, in other words, people's knowledge takes years and they [Coral Electric Sitar] came out in the '60's, and people still are surprised when they see one. So you know things are kind of slow and weird because things kind of rebound, a bit like Blondie, you know things rebound back and come back--I'm really one of those artists who's actually never gone way yet, although I have in some respect because going away form Yes meant that people's attention towards me was far less until...you know, besides Asia, or other things that I did, but when I was in my solo thing, I was like from Yes, ex-Yes sort of guy, and I didn't mind that at all, but...

MOT: So what excites you about technology today? I mean, is there any hot guitar you've gotten or new hot device?

SH: No, there may have been lulls in the last ten years when, you know, at times I thought nothing was really going on, but I always said that Steinberger was major advancement, the things that happened in that guitar, for me, are tremendous and I love playing them, so.--and the same feeling I had with PRS Guitars, I think they're tremendously good...I mean it's still astounding how well some people make guitars, and Martin are bringing out a model yet to be announced this year in conjunction with me, the Steve Howe 0018, so...there's one now; there's a prototype [pointing to the Martin standing in the corner].

MOT: Oh, cool.

SH: You'll see it has my initials on the fret.

MOT: Can I check it out?

SH: Yeah. There's only a limited edition, they made 200.

MOT: [Plays the guitar] That's sweet [laughs]. That's really nice; that's a nice-playing guitar.

SH: That's a prototype Steve Howe. Looks very much like mine--well that's the intention, that it looks like my '53.

MOT: It's set up the same, basically?...well, that's exciting.

SH: Yeah, I told Martin how proud I was, you know, that we'd done this, and I had been playing their guitar since 1968, which constitutes like 31 years of diehard's Martin enjoyment, but of course we worked together very close--I'd like to say this, we worked together very closely, particularly in the '80s, once we got to know each other, and I promoted the guitar called the MC 28, which I still have, it's a remarkable guitar, and so we started to have a very close relationship, and it has tremendous dividends for me because of the quality of the work that they do, you know whether it's making or repairing or designing, and they're very...very nice people to work with, so you know, my relationship in one respect with guitar companies goes very deep when it goes deep, and for a while it can be very transient and have no attention at all, you know I can be playing my Scharpach ...

MOT: You've had a pretty good relationship with Gibson for a long time.

SH: Yeah...yeah, I mean, you know things have got to work, things have to work, you know you have to talk about something and it happens, and you have to get follow-throughs, and you have to feel you're in touch with people, and that can be hard with a big firm, and it also has got a lot to do with what I want to do, and where I would see potentials, but most probably ignoring all sorts of other involvements, like I have in England with Hugh and Andy Manson--they're two guitar makers I like very much, and you know they work on my collection for me, and I like their guitars a lot, so there's not really an end to it; I don't think everything's bad, you know I don't like the idea that oh now there's not the wood, we're finding new woods to make guitars out of, different woods, and some people collect enough to have some wood stashed away, you know, so they are continuing quests to make better and better guitars, and obviously MASTERPIECE GUITARS, when it comes out later this year, will demonstrate again that, like Blue Bossa, is all new guitars, and they sound terrific, you know you can hear all of these pieces on one eight, six minute track--you can hear like eighteen of the blue guitars of Scott Chinery's collection...so amps, you know, come along and I still use the same amp but they're new so I had to prime them and things. Equipment interests me tremendously; yeah, now I'm very tempted with the gadgets and the new things, Yamaha sent me some things to try out; I now have a Yamaha guitar stereo--I call it, I refuse to call it anything else, it's a Martin Taylor model, but it's the model that Martin Taylor plays. It's an F-hole guitar with transducer bridge, six-piece bridge, and stereo facilities of panning--fascinating guitar, and I'll be playing it soon. But often I get a guitar, and I'm just jammed up, I mean I was just playing my Super 400, and suddenly I'm playing Yamaha that they built especially for me in L.A., so I'm really thrilled with that. So the fact there is growing around me the kind of relationships I want, you know with people who certainly can't be fly-by-night, otherwise I'm not interested.

MOT: That's right, right.

SH: So, you know, I like people who proven, like I have, their ability to produce great guitars, and I admire them, but Theo Scharpach who only makes his own guitars, you know, hand-made guitars, and I'm always in touch with, in him, not on the phone or by fax, but I play his guitar, and I'm always in touch with that entity, so it goes that deep sometimes, and my Kohno also is a guitar thing, is a world-class, as it is a world-class guitar, so I enjoy playing great guitars--many of them come from the '50s and '60s, you know, the guitars I particularly like, and then with Yes I'm using the Switchmaster on a track, I'm using the 175, because those guitars are, just sound, great, you know, I mean I love that sound and I'm one of the few guitarists who play them in a rock band, so I take that opportunity often. But there again the other guitars--the Strat, the Fender, the Telecaster, and the Steinberger, really help me a lot as well because I can't make a Gibson sound like that you know, and so I love to be multi--like today I was sitting on the deck at the studio in the open air thinking that I like that multi-guitar, you know it's most probably the thing I love the most from Chet Atkins, you know, was the multi-guitar. I mean Chet's done a lot for the guitar industry, and I think guitarists try and do that, you know--it's honorable, but also it's intelligent because we do have ideas, you know, I certainly have ideas which I hope soon will become invested with a particular guitar manufacturer, to produce a electric guitar that has my blessing for partial involvement.

MOT: Or something totally new rather than, say, a reproduction of the ES175 model.

SH: That kind of thing really doesn't interest me; it's a completely different feeling for me than the 0018 because that's been a diehard guitar all the way through.



From Notes From the Edge #215

The entire contents of this interview are
Copyright 2002, Mike Tiano
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Special thanks to Jen Gaudette
All photos 2002 Robin Kauffman unless otherwise noted


2002 Notes from the Edge
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