Dr Rock: Tales From Chris Squire - An Interview With Yes
, November 9th, 2009 09:50
This week, Dr Rock meets bass god extraordinaire Chris Squire from prog visionaries Yes and has a natter about all things Zeppelin, drugs, punks and Spinal Tap
Congratulations on 41 years of Yes. Looking back, what were the high points?
Chris Squire: Yes has had some very memorable moments on stage, one of them being in 1984 when we were promoting the 90125 album and we were doing a few nights at Madison Square Garden. The audience was so enthusiastic. I remember after we finished the second song of the set the audience just started applauding and wouldn’t stop for about 15 minutes. We had to go and sit down on the drum riser and wait till they stopped.
You’re known as one of the best bass players in rock but I was surprised to learn that you came about your style after having suffered a bad acid trip, playing bass for months on end, hidden away at a girl-friends flat? Please elaborate on that.
CS: [Laughs] Yes, I must’ve mentioned that once, I didn’t know that it had been that well publicised. But yeah, that’s kind of what happened, back in 1967 or something like that, I became introverted for a while and just stayed at home and spend most of my days rehearsing by myself with my bass guitar and practicing really hard which of course is invaluable if you want to make it. In the long run you’ve really got to know your instrument. That’s kind of what happened to me.
Who were you influenced by?
CS: In 1963, when I was 15, I had such a wealth of influences. There was The Beatles, they had just become world famous and Paul McCartney was a big influence. Also Bill Wyman from The Rolling Stones was a big inspiration and Jack Bruce, who of course went on to form Cream. But when I originally saw him he was playing at the Marquee with a blues band called the Graham Bond Organisation. I was also a huge fan of The Who’s John Entwistle. So yeah, I really had lots of people to draw inspiration from.
Yes’ take of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘America’ must be one of the oddest covers ever. Who got the idea to turn that song into a prog anthem?
CS: I don’t know exactly who came up with the idea. At the time Jon Anderson and I were really into Simon and Garfunkel and it probably just came about by some mutual discussion so we went on to try and give that a shot. It may have been my idea but I can’t remember. But yeah, I used to really love their albums and the production on their early work.
Yes must be one of the most challenging bands to play in live. What’s your number one rule to make sure things don’t go wrong on stage?
CS: Well, probably the same as with any other band. Obviously we rehearse before we go on tour. Because we’ve been working quite a bit this year and we’ve already done an American tour, we just need to brush up on a couple of things before we start this European leg. But with all the best will in the world things will always go wrong from time to time.
Parts of Spinal Tap are said to have been inspired by Yes. What’s your take on that? Did you like the film?
CS: I thought it was a great. I actually kind of knew the people who were producing that movie in Los Angeles. I’m sure that there were a few Yes anecdotes in it. Like some of the scenery malfunctions, stuff like that. It was a great movie and now the band actually still goes out and plays live concerts. Obviously it made its mark in time.
With the advent of punk, Yes, in many young peoples’ minds back then, turned from progressive to backwards. How did that affect you?
CS: When punk started Yes was still playing to huge stadium audiences in America so we hardly noticed that there was anything happening to be honest. But as time went on, towards the end of the 70s, one was obviously much more aware of it. And of course a lot of great new talent came out of punk including The Police in a way and Elvis Costello. A lot of music was born in that era but didn’t necessarily follow punk rules of having to be so totally anti-establishment.
Apart from the music, what did you make of the punk philosophy of just getting up on stage and doing it, regardless of talent and skill?
CS: Well, that argument is a bit of a dead end argument really because however untalented you are, if you keep doing gigs and keep playing then you’re going to want get a better bass rig, get a better guitar and by default you’ll end up becoming a better player. You could be a complete novice at the beginning but after a while if you keep doing it you’re going to become more accomplished.
Could you please tell me about your band XYZ that stands for ex Yes and Zeppelin?
CS: After we’d made the Drama album in 1980 and toured that around, everyone decided to have a bit of a sabbatical. Steve Howe went on to form Asia with John Payne, and Alan White and myself were just chillin’, really. Unfortunately John Bonham had died and I’d known Jimmy Page a bit over the years and he moved into the same area of Surrey where my house was so we started hanging out. He wanted to play music again so we just started working on some music together and Jimmy just wanted to get back into playing. And Robert Plant was also supposed to be part of the project but he never actually did come down to do any rehearsing, I think it was still to early for him after John Bonham’s death. So what happened then was it all kind of got put on the shelf. Also around then Alan White and I met Trevor Rabin and we got involved in the 90125 album so that put an end to it.
Did the XYZ material ever get a release?
CS: No it never did, you can find it on the net though, just like everything. Somebody got hold of the demos and put them out there. They’re ok quality but they’re not great.
Did you go to the Zeppelin reunion tour at the O2 recently and hang out with your old buddies?
CS: I actually played at it. The official title of the concert was the Ahmet Ertegun Memorial Concert and it was a bunch of Atlantic Records artists playing because that was Ahmet Ertegun’s label. I played with Keith Emerson because ELP had been on Atlantic as well. Simon Kirke from Bad Company had also been on Atlantic and so we opened the show with ‘Fanfare For A Common Man’, the Keith Emerson instrumental song. There were a few other bands on after us and then Zeppelin played the second half. It was great, they were really good that night.
Zeppelin were known for their debauched touring antics. What went on at a Yes tour during your heyday?
CS: We were not quite on the same level of antics in the Yes camp. We weren’t choir boys but we were a bit more sedate, I think. Although, there have been moments of excitement over the years [laughs]. But all in all we were very business-like, we always wanted the shows to go right. Of course we spent quite a lot of money on our stage sets and our production. I think that’s one of the things that may have also gotten us noticed because when we had somewhat elaborate productions back in the day no one else really did.
Roger Dean was responsible for most of Yes’ memorable artwork and stage-sets. Do you still get to see him?
CS: Yeah, we quite often hook up with him when he has art-shows in different parts of the world. Sometimes they coincide with when we’re doing shows in that town. We see Roger quite often, really. In fact, on this tour we’re doing right now he designed the stage-set.
You’re well known for being a Rickenbacker man. Any chance of converting to a Fender or a Gibson bass in the future?
CS: I do have about 70 or 80 basses. And of course in that collection I have Gibsons and Fenders and all kind of odd makes and experimental guitars that people have made me over the years. I’m not a one guitar man but I did learn and hone my craft with a Rickenbacker and I still play that guitar a lot during the current set.
In 2004 you regrouped on of your first bands, the Syn. What made you want to get back together with those guys?
CS: It was sort of a memorial thing because my original keyboard player in that band was a guy called Andrew Jackman who’d been a friend of mine since I was a kid. He died suddenly of a brain aneurism and so we came together more as a sort of memorial piece of work on his behalf. But the album that we made Syndestructable I was quite proud of. But in reality the singer was never really the greatest singer in the world and 40 years on he hadn’t really improved (laughs). But the album, I enjoyed making it and it’s got some good playing on it from Jeremy Stacey on drums and Paul Stacey on guitar and Gerard Johnson is playing keyboards. So yeah, it’s good music.
Who’s better, Alan White or Bill Bruford?
CS: Well, it’s really like apples and oranges because their drumming style is almost 180 degrees different. And you know the first few years of Yes with Bill Bruford, we had a bit of fun playing that way and he taught me a lot and then when the change-over came to Allen it took a bit to adjusting actually because he was such a different kind of drummer but at the end of the day the great thing about it is I ended up being the lucky guy because I managed to learn a lot from both of them and their different approaches.
What’s coming up for you guys apart from the forthcoming tour?
CS: We’re intending to do a new album in 2010. We’ve already had meetings about it, talking about what musical ideas we’ll be putting forward, etc. Once that’s established we’ll put them all in a pot and see what comes out. I’m also working on an album with Steve Hackett from Genesis and we’ve almost finished it. It’s something I’m very proud of, actually. It’s probably going to be coming out under the name of Squacket next year.
Are you still in touch with all the ex members of Yes?
CS: On and off. Some more than others. Trevor Rabin and I keep in touch. Usually when I’m in LA we get together. But yeah, there’s no one I go out of my way to avoid [laughs].
Yes are about to embark on the UK leg of their Europe 2009 tour
NOVEMBER Monday 16, Birmingham Symphony Hall Tuesday 17, London Hammersmith Apollo Thursday 19, Edinburgh Usher Hall Friday 20, Newcastle City Hall Sunday 22, Manchester Apollo Monday 23, Bristol Colston Hall _Wednesday 25, Belfast Waterfront Thursday 26, Dublin Olympia