New Yes Album Asks The Great Questions Of Life
by Geoff Ford
Prog rock icons Yes are set to release their new album The Quest, a strong album posing the great questions of life and finding that we have our destiny within our own hands. The Quest is released on 1st October through Inside Out Music and features eight new songs plus a bonus CD having three additional tracks.
With Steve Howe and Jon Davison writing songs with complementary messages, The Quest is the first studio album for the current Yes line-up of Steve Howe (guitars, vocals), Alan White (drums, backing vocals), Geoff Downes (keyboards), Jon Davison (lead vocals, acoustic guitar) and Billy Sherwood (bass guitar, vocals) with additional percussion provided by Jay Schellen who supplements Yes’ live performances. I was privileged to catch up with each member of the band who gave me their personal insight into the making of The Quest.
This is an important album for Steve Howe who has taken on the role of producer for the first time while co-ordinating the file sharing made necessary by the global pandemic. “My contribution to the album was all written before Covid,” says Howe, “and by the end of 2019 I’d started showing Jon those songs. We’d already recorded (bonus track) Damaged World and Future Memories before Covid and then, as the dreaded lurgy came, we thought ‘Ok, this is a means to an end.’
“Curtis Schwartz’s studio in Ardingly was the headquarters of the steering of the files and the building up of the tracks and accumulating our whole album of music. We may have done it quite similarly even if we hadn’t had the terrible disaster but it was the only way.”
The Ice Bridge (Davison/Downes) introduces the album’s ecological theme, dealing with facing the dangers of climate change and opens with a fanfare from Geoff Downes. “Oh, yes, that’s one of my signature bits, there, coming in,” Downes laughs. “It’s a nod to a lot of the great Yes stuff. It’s great to hear Steve and Alan, the old timers performing with such majesty,” he adds as the track features some tasty guitar runs from Howe driven along by White’s pacey drums. “Steve is a very unique guitarist and, on this album particularly, he’s really come to the fore, there’s a lot of influences in Steve’s guitar playing and he’s utilising a lot of styles. And with Steve being the producer, as well, he’s really steered it in a great direction.”
The first Howe composition is Dare To Know with a dreamy, jazz-influenced intro. Howe and Davison share the vocals, asking ‘what is the meaning of life?’ and find that everything must fall into its place. Besides some classic 70s guitar lines from Howe, the track also features some very interesting orchestration.
“There’s an orchestra on several tracks,” Howe explained. “Dare To Know has the whole orchestra, where it’s just the orchestra and then we come back in and they steer us a long a bit.
“That was one of my ideas, I wanted to expand the augmentation of what Yes does and to have a controllable role for something as beautiful as an orchestra was really appealing. They came into their own and that was done remotely in Macedonia. If you organise things properly, then you get what you want back. Paul K Joyce did the arranging for me, it was an augmentation of the Yes sound and when we heard Dare To Know, we went ‘Oh, my goodness, great!’
Howe also contributes Music To My Ears, which determines that we have control of our destiny in our own hands, and Leave Well Alone suggesting that the authors of history have written it in a way convenient for themselves. Howe’s oriental Koto provides a pretty introduction and, at just over 8 minutes, this is the longest track providing Howe plenty of scope to rekindle more memories of Yes’s own glorious history.
Minus The Man, the first of two Davison/Sherwood songs, also uses a section of the orchestra and shows new technology as a double-edged sword, building the superman but without the human soul. The second, The Western Edge, is a call for unity to help humanity to survive.
“Jon came up with the melodies and the lyrics,” said Sherwood, “I was primarily the musical aspects. I had the idea of a song title for The Western Edge and presented a demo with the chorus and Jon took it from there. They are very dynamic in their way, and powerful, and reminiscent of that Yes energy, epic moments on the records they’ve had in the past.”
Sherwood was also pleased to work closely again with stalwart Yes drummer Alan White. “Yes, there’s a studio that I work at in LA and Alan flew down for a couple of weeks and we tracked drums and bass, just kind of got on with it and sent the files back. It was nice to be able to work in person in the rhythm section again.
“I’ve worked with Alan so much, I know all of his little tricks and ways to pull stuff out of it, and we have a great working relationship, in the studio, always have. We just got really creative together, trying to bring as much out of the music as we could. It was a lot of fun.”
Given his recent history of back problems, White’s drumming on The Quest is particularly strong and full of energy, which will delight Yes fans everywhere.
“Yes, I was definitely looking for that in the rhythm section on this record because it’s such a big part of the Yes sound, having that engine room just pumping away while the song above just works really nice over it. It came out good.”
“It helps when you’ve got a good place to work in and Billy’s really good on the recording desk,” White added, “so we got things down relatively quickly. I spent quite a while studying the music before I went down, so I was kind of prepared.
“I worked with (the late Yes bass guitarist) Chris Squire for 43 years,” White continued with a hint of sadness in voice, “but, you know, Billy’s a great bass player. Chris was one of his mentors so he does a lot of things the way Chris used to do and he seems to have inherited that style a little bit. It always helps when you’re on the same page.
“It was a little bit different because we’ve never done an album virtually, as it were, and I think it came across really good”
Davison provides Future Memories, a love song pondering what the future may hold, and shares the credit, with Geoff Downes on the main album closer A Living Island.
“While I was in lockdown in Barbados, I really did some soul searching. Barbados is one of the few coral islands in the world, it is actually a living island. I felt that was a beautiful title to touch on while the world was shutting down during that initial lockdown. I felt the need to express in words all those intense thoughts and feelings and my personal perception of it all. Conceptually, as the song progresses through its three themes, the lyrical concept of the living island then branches out from the personal and becomes more about the well-being of the world in general and that the planet is indeed our precious living island in a sea of stars.
“All my vocals on A Living Island were actually recorded in my home studio in Barbados. We unanimously felt those original takes were so emotional, poignant and powerful. We therefore decided to keep all of it and that’s exactly what you hear on the record.”
The bonus disc presents a further three songs. Sister Sleeping Soul again revisits the spirit of Yes-past. Mystery Tour pays homage to The Fab Four and their influence on popular music and culture while Damaged World returns to the themes of the main set.
The Quest is a confident statement that moves Yes forward and demonstrates unity and the respect and harmony that flows through the band members. “Everybody really shines on the album,” says Geoff Downes, “certainly the rhythm section of Alan and Billy, the first studio album they’ve done together, and you’ve got the magic back of the great Yes rhythm section that was there from the very beginning.”
“I think fans will be pleasantly surprised,” concludes Jon Davison. “It is a big step forward. It really feels like Yes is propelling itself into the future.”
The Quest is also the first Yes album to be available mixed in 5.1 at the point of release, mixed by Steve Howe with a little help from Jon Davison and artwork by the legendary Roger Dean.
The Quest – 2CD Digipak track listing:
2. Dare To Know (Steve Howe) 6.00
3. Minus The Man (Jon Davison/Billy Sherwood) 5.35
4. Leave Well Alone (Steve Howe) 8.06
5. The Western Edge (Jon Davison/Billy Sherwood) 4.26
6. Future Memories (Jon Davison) 5.08
7. Music To My Ears (Steve Howe) 4.41
8. A Living Island (Jon Davison/Geoff Downes) 6.52
1. Sister Sleeping Soul (Jon Davison/Steve Howe) 4.51
2. Mystery Tour (Steve Howe) 3.33
3. Damaged World (Steve Howe) 5.20
The Quest is released on 1st October 2021 as a Limited Edition Deluxe Glow-in-the-Dark 2LP + 2CD + Blu-ray Box-set, Limited Edition 2CD+Blu-ray Artbook, Gatefold 2LP+2CD+LP+booklet, 2CD Digipak and Digital Album via Inside Out Music.