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Billy Sherwood

2015 was the year when the world was saddened by the passing away of Chris Squire, founder and bassist of Yes. He asked Billy Sherwood to step in for him. Sherwood, multi-instrumentalist, singer and produces was also working on a new solo album and that one was released a short while ago. Reason enough to catch up with Sherwood, who just got back from ‘Cruise To The Edge’.

By: Winston | Archive under prog / sympho metal

Hi Billy, how are you doing? Had a nice vacation on the Cruise To The Edge?
Hi yeah thanks, I’m doing fine. Well the trip was a blast but I was very busy still. And the travel home was quite tiring, a travel day of 22 hours, I’m pretty wiped out but had a good rest. I’m good now, haha.

How were things on board with the band and fans?
Things are very special with Yes and the fans right now as you know. So many wonderful Yes fans gave a lot of love and support. It was a blast,

Given what happened this year, Chris’s passing away I can imagine emotions were intense?
Yeah it’s still very fresh for a lot of people. But it was good to see many people smiling and happy. Yes is alive and well. There were worries if it would work, most of all by myself, but Chris himself believed in it and he was right. The fans stay around and want the band to continue and that’s what we’re going to do. That’s really nice to see.

Chris asked you in time to replace him, did he know what was going to happen exactly?
Well the time between he asking me to fill in and his passing away was six weeks. So it went really really fast. I was expecting him to come back but maybe he was more in touch with his mortality than I was. Thinking back on the conversations we had he was more than hinting on me staying in the band. That was amazing.

And so you did step into the band, it must have felt bizarre for you to stand there, on thát exact spot.
It was weird, very surreal and strange; Chris should be there. But life has its way and so I reflect on what he wanted. I do the best I can but it is difficult still. I try to think not too much about it.

Must be hard to do indeed. And also; Chris’s last recording was for your ‘The Citizen’ album, he is on the title track.
Yeah, we did some overdubs for it at the Holiday Inn. I set up a little studio there, Chris came over and played my 5-string bass and did a great job on that track. It was before I knew what was going on and we had a great time. He was in great spirits, strong, living larger than life. I am glad I did that and to have that memory, the last thing we did together.

He was a character, always friendly, always chatting with fans…
Yeah and he had a great heart. He loved people, he loved the fans. When he was first diagnosed it was what stressed him the most; “We’re supposed to do a tour…but I don’t want to let the fans down. They want to see Yes so I want you to do this, for a large part until I’m recovered”. That was pretty amazing to me.

And so we have that ‘Perpetual Change’ again…
Haha, yeah. I was number thirteen when I first joined in and I think we’re in the twenties by now. Someone said to me that there probably will be a Yes band forever and I said well maybe in the future next members will be robots, who knows, hahaha. The music is timeless.

I noticed that you were at the Anderson Ponty Band gig last week?
Yeah I went to check that and it was very cool to see. I am a huge fan of Jon Anderson and Jean Luc Ponty, I have all of his records too. I think it’s a very interesting combination, with the other musicians in the band as well. It was very entertaining and I’m happy he (Jon) is doing that.

Did you meet Jon there?
I went back to say hello yeah. I worked with him on a lot of levels in Yes you know. It was also kinda of bizarre but cool. I toured with various line ups, both the 90125 and the classic band. And why not, like you said it’s everchanging. It is nice to see that the members still go and see each other. At the show I looked to the left and there was Trevor Rabin sitting next to me. How bizarre is it that I go and see Jon Anderson, with Trevor Rabin in the audience and I’m there as the only actual member of Yes? Life takes its way and I learned to not burn bridges and stay neutral. It’s all about music.

”You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave” (quote The Eagles’ ‘Hotel California’)!
Hahaha, exactly yeah. I like to quote the Godfather “I'm trying to get out but they keep pulling me back in!”, hahaha! It’s just strange and bizarre to realize I have become one of them. Every time I worked with and for Yes I thought it was the last time. But then Chris called me to ask if I would join in on things going on. I just roll with it but I never, never expected to become the bass player. It is surreal but familiar. I’m honored to be part of it.

band imageSpeaking of which; how did you approach that task; playing bass in Yes? The way Chris did it or are there things you do a bit different?
Well I am very conscious to play the notes as they were composed for the records. I came to the first rehearsals full prepared. We had about three days to rehearse before the first gig and that’s not a lot but I had it all together. So I had it under my belt and felt comfortable to stretch out somethings here and there in my style of playing. Chris wanted me too, he said “Don’t imitate me, I want you to be you. You can do this your way.” So I’m trying to be myself and respect the music too. The music of Yes is first and foremost, it’s not about showboating.

Was it strange for the other members in the band, having you there on thát spot?
Yeah it was. I walked in and thought wow, look at that…it was emotional and strange. But I played with Alan before in side projects so we had groove already established. It was easy to pick up where we left. Steve was very appreciative to see me coming in well prepared, having the notes in the right order, haha. Geoff was happy and smiling and the vocals were solid together too. It kinda took the edge of the reality of missing Chris.

We will see the band in Europe in the spring, are there plans to tour more next year?
Things are looking good for the band to play live. After Europe we might do Japan, USA and Southern America. And behind closed doors there are more plans to have Yes play around the planet more. No one was sure at first of course if it was going to work but now that it does we can go on from here. The curve is moving upward.

And is there talk of doing an album too or is that too early?
It’s still early yeah. I always love to do new music. I’m never short of creativity and wanting to do things in the studio. I would image somewhere down the road something will happen but as of now the band is still kind of shellshocked by Chris’s passing. We have to get through this first.

As much as I would like to see how this ‘new’ Yes would work out regarding new material I'm curious about some sort of ‘Union’ type of thing, with as much Yes family members involved.
In a perfect world it would be possible, it’s beautiful to even imagine it. But you know there are politics and I am not in the position to negotiate here. It would be a fun thing but the future of Yes is about making new music and touring that music and not su much on looking back. My personal desire is to keep pushing forward. If the powers that be work out some sort of ‘Union’ like project and they need a bass player; I’m in.

Moving on to your record ‘Citizen’ now…it’s album number already for you as a solo artist right?
That’s right and it’s the first time to have guest musicians as I was used to do my albums all by myself. But when I spoke to Frontiers (record label-WA) about doing this record they were very interested and then they asked me to make it a concept album. I thought that it was kind of a tall order but then I thought of the reincarnated soul, like General Patton from World War II thought he was. I took that interesting idea as the basis for the concept. So I created a character called The Citizen who travels through time. And together with the lyrical content and a musical them that comes back on the record it ties it all together. I’m happy the way it turned out, all things considered.

You have some famous musicians and singers participating too, as you already said but usualy you ask them for a tribute album. What did they say when you told them that this time it was for your own album?
Haha, well a lot of them have become friends over the many years now. So they didn’t even ask what it was for. But of course I told them, about the concept and they were all interested to get on board. There are about thirteen guys on the album and they all wanted to participate and did accentuate the songs and concept. For instance Rick Wakeman’s piano performance on ‘The Great Depression’, very beautiful.

Agreed, you can always tell it is Wakeman playing, he has a signature in sound.
Yeah, when I sent him the file of the song and told him the context – a man who was about to take his own life beacuse he had lost everything – and received his part back it was so great. Listening to what he did…tearjerker stuff.

The album as whole, to me, is offering something extra, even without the names that are involved, there’s a certain feel on it
Cool. It has elements of prog but also other kinds of music. I don’t define prog on how long a song is or should be. I approach an album with the musicality that comes up and keep as tight as possible. But when a song turns out to be fourteen minutes long then it just turned like that.

So what’s next for you on the agenda?
More touring with Yes but in the meantime I will get a band for ‘Citizen’ up and running too. It will be on a smaller scale that Yes obviously, but we hope to get all over the place, where we can. I built a core band that will play the music and I will invite some guests to join in when they can. Some of then already said they want to so we’ll find out.

And what about Worldtrade, I read that there is something going with that band too?
Worltrade is happening indeed. We are making a new album as we speak! Half of it is in the can already and it sounds phenomenal. It gives you the feeling of the first record…

Well I’m not a fan but I am CRAZY about that first album, so wow…
Bruce Gowdy (guitarist) is responsible of that sound and where usually I’m all over the music
but in Worldtrade I’m actually waiting for Bruce to feed me. And he really comes to the table with compositions for this new album. The basics are in the can, with compositions and lyrics. It’s very exciting. And CIRCA has a new album coming out on Frontiers too next year and it’s called ‘Planet Dissolved’ and as I just said that prog isn’t about the length of the songs; this one has only four songs on it. So you can imagine the length of these, haha. We really went to town on it.

Is the live band for Citizen meant for the USA or Europe?
It’s for wherever we can play, I’m very into touring with this album and I hope we can play as much as possible. It would be nice if we could play places like we did on the YOSO tour (band with ex Yes and ex Toto members). I really hope we can do European shows too.

And on that note we wish this multi talent the best of luck with all things going on; Yes, Citizen and Worldtrade. A musician in heart and soul and a real nice guy. Keep an eye out, we know we will!

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