White, Alan (Yes) (December 2001)

A Magnified Alan White

Alan WhiteI admit that I have a big list of dreams to fulfill, but on the 17th of November I finally achieved one of them. What was that? Well, interviewing Yes, the Godfathers of the progressive rock movement! OK, I've actually been able to talk only to Mr. Alan White, the great drummer of the band, but you can't have everything. Can you?

Igor Italiani: Hi Alan! Can you tell me how you had the idea of doing an album with an orchestra? How difficult was it to write the album as a band, considering you had also to think about orchestra fill-ins?

Alan White: Basically it was a thing that was in our heads for a long time, about doing that kind of thing. It's just really because Yes' music lends itself to an orchestra, so we had it in our heads that we should do it this time, without including keyboards players ... and that's the reason why I play keyboards in the studio, even if it's really piano, not synthesizers. To be completely honest with you, on one of the tracks both Chris and myself play an organ together, which is a very funny session, but we got it done fairly well. However, I think we started writing already, having in mind to leave space for the orchestra to fill in, and the guy who wrote the arrangements used to come every week to the studio, so he checked out what we were doing. We gave him tapes and he used to come back and forth with them.

II: But what it's like to play with an orchestra?

AW: We did 38 shows in the States before coming here to Europe; we only had a month off in between. So now we are kind of used to it, because in America we also had a different orchestra every night, even if with the same conductor. What happened in the US was that the conductor would go in the afternoon and rehearse for three hours with the orchestra then it was our turn. Well, considering that some days we never were able to see them until we got on stage... And they play all these parts, with these really, really good arrangements to some of the older songs, and obviously the new ones, too, and only at the show had we a true idea of how this union worked together. But let me say also this ... a funny thing is that we have a break midway through the show, for Steve's guitar solo, and we go back and usually meet them and they say: "We are great fans of Yes, this is a dream come true for us... so a lot of the orchestra players were fans of the band, and I think that was a plus too.

II: So how about the orchestra that's following you in Europe?

AW: In Europe we have the Polish orchestra playing with us. They are very young, between 20-30 years old, and most of them are women, so it's very different to see them on stage. There are a lot of pretty girls up there [I can confirm on that one - II] playing, it's very bizarre! But we got to know them, because we are playing together for three weeks, and they are really nice people.

II: Are you planning on doing a live recording somewhere?

AW: Yeah. We're going to do a DVD and a live recording. We'll film the two shows in Amsterdam and record them as well. [According to the official Yes website, this DVD will likely includes documentaries and other features along with tour footage - ed.]

II: Alan, changing abruptly subjects, why you have recorded only one solo album in all those years?

AW: Because I've been too busy doing Yes stuff. I've actually had a lot of material, collected over years and years, but I use some of it in every Yes album. However I'm collecting some other pieces and maybe my second album will come out someday. I've been recording with a band in Seattle, where I live ... it's more of an ethnic type of band, with percussions. It's kind of like crazy stuff, but it's actually what I like to do (apart from Yes).

II: Have you seen Trevor Rabin as of lately?

AW: Yes, he is a good friend of mine, and also of Chris. He came to the show in Hollywood and we had a good time talkin' with each other.

II: And there's a chance to work again with him in the future, because he now does orchestral works.

YesAW: Well, I don't know. Things are open ended, so you never know what's going to happen with Yes. Yes is like a chameleon, always changing colours.

II: But do you have a favourite Yes line-up?

AW: Well, it's like asking if I have a favourite album, but I think that every year is kind of different. Every year, every album, has got a song character ... mmh ... but I think that there's a classic line-up, which is Rick [Wakeman], Jon [Anderson], Steve [Howe], Chris [Squire] and myself; that's the line-up with the longest running time. I think that was a good line-up that did a lot of good stuff. But the other line-ups have also produced a lot of great music. [While Squire is the only member who has always been with the band since the beginning, White is the only other member never to have left since joining in 1973 -ed]

II: But do you think you'll introduce a new keyboard player at some point in the future?

AW: Well, we have a keyboard player tonight. It's a guy called Tom Brislin, a young guy ... very, very good. He is 23 years old, and he is like a bridge from the band to the orchestra, because in some parts he controls the orchestra. All I can say is that the shows are going down really well with him. The people really like him.

II: Next step?

AW: Well ... everything in Yes runs in cycles, and we usually do the album, then we have some time off, and then we do another tour. With this tour we are doing a lot of places ... North America, Europe, Japan, Australia ... but I suppose that after the tour we'll take a couple of months off and then we will start to write something for the new album. [Look for another North American tour in 2002, and possibly Australia and Asia, too -ed.]

II: This time you also touched Russia. How was that experience?

AW: Yes, we have been in Russia for the first time. Mmh ... Steve hates it, he never wants to go back there again... ah, ah ... I actually quite liked it. My wife came with me for a couple of days, and we went to Estonia, around a lot of beautiful places. You know, there are fantastic places in Russia. Also the people at the concerts were great. We played in the Kremlin, so we had to get special passes to get in ... but these are not dangerous places, believe me.

Yes - Magnification (2001)II: Alan, returning to Magnification ... Larry Groupè was your very first choice or had you other options?

AW: Oh, yeah, pretty much. He did a number of movies so he sent us a number of CDs, and we kind of liked his works. We just wanted to see what he had to present, so we met him and he came with some ideas, ideas that everybody really, really liked. So it was through the management basically. They found him, as he also works a lot with the San Diego Symphony orchestra. He is a really nice guy and he actually conducted the first ten shows of the North America tour.

II: Alan, can you tell me something else about "Dreamtime," the best song, in my opinion, of the new album?

AW: Yeah, a lot of people like "Dreamtime." A lot of people wanted us to play it live, too, but we are not doing it, at least for now. I think that eventually we will do it in the near future. On the other hand today we will probably do "Magnification." I say probably because it is not an easy song to do on stage, so we still don't know. We are working at it, so we will be able to do it in Amsterdam, for the live recording. Returning to "Dreamtime" ... well, yeah, it's a great song, one where the orchestra and the band really work well together.

II: On the other hand, what can you say about "Spirit of Survival," a song that possesses some uncharacteristically dark lyrics for a band like Yes?

AW: Well, isn't it uncanny that Jon came with these lyrics actually way before the September attacks? I always think about that, because "the Gods have lost their way," and it's a line so true nowadays. I've had a conversation with Jon about it, because it's kind of ... pretty eerie.

II: Speaking of Chris, he does an outstanding job on Magnification, especially when he does lead vocals. So maybe Jon is in danger of losing his job?

AW: No, no, I don't think so ... Jon has a unique voice, I think. But Chris, he possesses a very distinctive voice too, so he can go and give the band some lead vocals as well. The thing is that Yes are very democratic today, we all have equal says in everything that goes on. We are one solid unit.

II: But what's the secret of Jon's voice?

AW: I think he is born upside down, ah, ah ... No he really has a unique voice, and I also think it has improved with age. It's gone a little deeper, without sacrificing the high tones, and he still has a lot of power.

II: What about the idea of selecting a new keyboardist with a progressive metal background for your next album?

AW: Mmh ... it's an interesting idea. Like I said before, this band is like a chameleon; we are always fed with outside inputs, like jazz, classical, r 'n' b?

Yes - The Ladder (1999)II: Returning to Magnification ... the first rumours I spotted about it were that of a new millennium TFTO, plus orchestra. But these proved to be only rumours in the end, as the music is more towards The Ladder. Does the future hold, for Yes, albums that are similar to the first ones?

AW: Well, maybe. I don't know. The songs are only as long as they need to be. When we write we don't think about the length. We just write and whatever the length is, we just take it. Who knows, we could write another 20 minute song someday.

II: And so we arrive to "Mind Drive" [Keys To Ascension II] What's the genesis of that song (the last suite Yes managed to do)?

AW: Oh, I love "Mind Drive." I love to do it on stage. I wrote "Mind Drive." You know, the original rhythm ... it came to me one night ... I woke up and immediately went to record it. That's what started "Mind Drive." And the next day I went to the piano and wrote some other chords around it. That's the beginning ... then we continued it with Jimmy Page. It was me Jimmy and Chris ... we were in the studio working as XYZ ... Robert came down to the studio and thought that it was too complicated, so the three of us tried to do something with it ... well, finally we used that tape some time later.

II: Alan, do you think you'll do another tour with Kansas?

AW: Maybe. That was a good tour. I really enjoyed playing with them. Phil [Ehart] is a good friend of mine, and Steve [Walsh] ... well, Steve was almost the singer of Yes one time [What? Oh my God! This could have been really interesting! -II]. He came and we rehearsed together for a week. But I don't think he and Trevor got along well together. Maybe the chemistry was not right for the time.

II: Alan, another strange question ... is there any chance of hearing something from Drama in the future?

AW: Shssh ... stop mentioning Drama [With a funny look on his face - II] ? no, actually Jon has said he wouldn't mind singing something from it. Well ..."Tempus Fugit" and all the other songs are great to play on stage, and you know that we played them when there was Trevor Horn. So who knows, Jon said it would be fine to sing something?

II: Maybe the only problem is that you have a lot of great songs to play live!

AW: Well, if we should do everybody's set list we would be on stage for 4, 5, 6 hours, so it's impossible to please everybody. This one (set list) is more of the classic kind of set with a couple of new songs added. It's impossible to do everything. But it's all in our heads, so we can always change something on any given night. The problem is that sometimes I don't think that people would enjoy such a thing. Sometimes I wonder if they get tired, because it's complex music that's not easy to follow.

II: Mmh, are you really sure, Alan? I don't think so.

AW: Well, no. I think about that for a moment, but fortunately at the end of the set everyone is standing up and enjoying us. Well, let's say that it's a good evening of music.

II: Yes, a very good evening of music. [A pun? -ed] OK, thank you Alan; all that is left for me to say is that I really hope that Yes will continue to play this great music forever.

AW: Thank you. I hope this, too. So goodbye and enjoy the concert tonight.


Tales From Topographic Oceans (1974)
Relayer (1975)
Yesterdays (1975)
Going For The One (1977)
Tormato (1978)
Yesshows (1980)
Drama (1980)
Keys To The Studio (1980)
Classic Yes (1982)
90125 (1983/2004)
90125 Live - The Solos (1985)
Big Generator (1987)
Union (1989)
Yesyears (1991)
Yesstory (1991)
Greatest Hits (1993)
Highlights: The Very Best Of Yes (1993)
Talk (1994)
Affirmative: The Yes Solo Family Album (1994)
Keys To Ascension I (1996)
Keys To Ascension II (1997)
Open Your Eyes (1997)
Yes, Friends And Relatives (1998)
Beyond And Before: BBC Recordings 1969-1970 (1998)
Something's Coming (1998)
Friends & Relatives (1998)
The Ladder (1999)
Millennium Collection (1999)
House Of Yes: Live From The House Of Blues (2000)
Yes, Friends and Relatives - Volume Two (2001)
YesSymphonic (ep) (2001)
Magnification (2001)
Keystudio (ep) (2001)
3 For 1 Box Set (2001)
Original Members Of Yes (2001)
Extended Versions (2002)
Friends And Relatives: Ultimate Collection, Vol. 1 (2002)
Yestoday (2002)
In A Word (2002)
Yes Remixes (2003)
Friends And Relatives: Ultimate Collection, Vol. 2 (2003)
Roundabout: Best Of Yes Live (2003)
The Yes Story Gold (2003)
The Ultimate Yes - 35th Anniverary Collection (2004)
(Re)Union (2004)
Topography: The Yes Anthology (2004)
Inside Yes 1968-1973: A Critical Review (2004)
The Word Is Live (2005)
Live And Solo: The Collection (2006)
Greatest Hits Live (2006)
An Evening Of Yes (2006)
Yesstories: Group & Solo Tales (2006)
Essentially Yes (2006)
The Definitive Rock Collection (2007)
Roundabout & Other Hits (2006)
Live At Montreux 2003 (2007)
Works (2007)
The Best Of Yes: 1970-1987 (2007)
Symphonic Live (2009)
The BBC Recordings 1969-1970 (2009)
Introducing Yes (2009)
Wonderous Stories: The Best Of Yes (2009)
Union Live (2011)
Fly From Here (2011)
In The Present - Live From Lyon (2011)
Heaven & Earth (2014)
Songs From Tsongas (2014)
Like It Is: Yes At The Bristol Hippodrome (2014)
Progeny: Seven Shows From Seventy-Two (boxset) (2015)
Like It Is: Yes At The Mesa Arts Center (2015)

9012LIve (VHS/DVD) (1985/2005)
Greatest Hits Video (VHS/DVD) (1991/2001)
Yesyears: A Retrospective (VHS/DVD) (1991/2003)
Yes: Live - 1975 At Q.P.R. (VHS) (1993)
Live In Philadelphia 1979 (VHS/DVD) (1996/2003)
Keys To Ascension (VHS/DVD) (1997/2001/2009)
The Union Tour Live (DVD) (1999)
House Of Yes: Live From The House Of Blues (VHS/DVD) (2000)
The Best Of MusikLaden Live (VHS/DVD) (2000/2003)
Live In Amsterdam (VHS/DVD) (2002)
Symphonic Live (DVD+CD) (2003)
Yes: Special Edition EP (DVD) (2003)
YesSpeak (DVD) (2003)
YesAcoustic (DVD) (2004/2006)
35th Anniversary Concert: Songs From Tsongas (DVD) (2004)
YesSpeak - YesAcoustic - 35th Anniversary Edition (DVD) (2005)
Critical Review 1968-1973 (DVD) (2005)
Greatest Video Hits (DVD) (2005)
Inside Yes Plus Friends And Family (DVD) (2006)
Acoustic Live (DVD) (2006)
Total Rock Review (DVD) (2006)
Close To The Edge: Rock Milestones (DVD) (2007)
Live At Montreux (DVD/BR) (2007)
The Lost Broadcasts (DVD) (2009)
Rock Of The 70s (DVD) (2009)
Union Live (DVD) (2011)
Live Hemel Hempstead Pavilion October 3rd 1971 (DVD) (2014)

Added: December 21st 2001
Interviewer: Igor Italiani

Artist website: yesworld.com
Hits: 1281
Language: english

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