Trevor Rabin Says New Music With Former Yes Bandmates ‘Just Taking a Long Time': Exclusive Interview
Progressive rock fans were happy to see the long-discussed reunion of former Yes members Jon Anderson, Rick Wakeman and Trevor Rabin come together in 2016. They hit the road for a tour billed as Anderson, Rabin & Wakeman (shortened to "ARW") and which found them sharing the stage for the first time in 25 years, presenting a lengthy evening of both familiar favorites and deeper cuts from the legendary band’s catalog.
Their Ohio stop was one of our favorite concerts last year -- the best Yes show we had seen in years, even if the marquee had a different band name on it.
Earlier this year, the trio celebrated the induction of Yes into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and briefly reunited onstage with former bandmates Steve Howe and Alan White for the night, with Rush bassist Geddy Lee (who gave the induction speech along with Rush's Alex Lifeson) sitting in on a spirited version of “Roundabout” in place of Chris Squire, who died in 2015.
Not long after the Hall of Fame ceremonies, the trio revealed that they would be billed as Yes featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman going forward and announced plans to tour North America in the fall. The current tour finds the group continuing to experiment with the musical arrangements on the classic material as the shows progress -- and they’ve also added a few new surprises to the set list.
We spoke with Trevor Rabin to talk about the ongoing road work and other subjects, including the new music that they’ve been working on.
You’ve been out playing these Yes songs again with Jon and Rick for about a year now. After being off the road for such an extended period, what can you tell me about life on tour with these guys over the past year?
I go to bed earlier. [Laughs] But I’ve got to say, from when we started, you don’t know where it’s going to go. But I’m really comfortable now, because the band has really progressed to quite a large degree. It’s really tight. As opposed to guys getting together and trying to put something together, it’s really become a very, very tight unit. Both personally and musically. What has been exciting is something that I think Rick and I realized from when we first worked together on the Union tour, which was a peculiar kind of time, although it worked in the end. But it really solidified Rick and I. We had this kind of thing, where we said, “We’ve got to do this at some point, we’ve got to work together.” That’s really developed into quite a strong combination with him and I just really knowing exactly what we’re going to do next. It’s become a very close kind of relationship, musically.
I would imagine that’s been very cool to carry over to the new music that you guys have been working on. What can you tell us about that?
I’m always having to apologize for that, because it’s just taking a long time. Not because it’s not going well. It’s almost like when we started rehearsing for the tour. We ended up rehearsing stuff and we realized by the end of it that we had so many choices. The show was over three hours. We’re like, “Now, we’ve got to cut down pretty significantly on this,” and we cut down obviously a lot. It’s been a little bit [like that] recording the new music. There’s so many ideas, which we’ve kind of cataloged, “Oh, we’ve got to utilize that” and then we’re excited, so we didn’t finish through on something and we went to the next thing. So we have a ton of categorized pieces which we have together, and it’s just taking a long time to put it all together. But I think it’s going to result in something pretty special if we have the patience to get through it!
What’s the experience been like for you, working on new music after such a long time with both Rick and Jon?
It’s really weird, because once I started doing film scores, I was really 1,000 percent into it. I love conducting, I love orchestrating and it was an area which I was kind of missing quite a lot during the almost 14 years with Yes. I did little bits and pieces of arranging [with Yes]. On Big Generator, I did quite a lot of orchestral things, but nothing pretty substantial, nothing like a film score. So after 14 years of doing film scores, it was almost like a new experience that I’d forgotten about.
It’s cool to see some of the changes to the set list for this tour. I know that when we spoke last year prior to the start of the initial touring, you talked about wanting to do “I Am Waiting,” from the Talk album. That’s in the set list finally for this tour. What makes that song special for you?
It’s been weird with “I Am Waiting,” because some nights, it works great. And then other nights, it doesn’t work quite as well, and then we think about, “Well, let’s look at some changes.” We’ve changed a bit of the arrangement on it, and the last two gigs we’ve played, it had a really exciting kind of vibe to it. So that one’s worked out, because we were up and down about it for a little while. But we’re pretty firm about it now. It’s just good throwing in some new stuff and changing the show up quite substantially. Even though a lot of the material hasn’t changed, there’s certainly new ways that we’re approaching it. We really looked at rearranging quite a lot of it and made it more about who we are than Rick playing on the stuff that I did and me playing on the stuff that he did. It’s being approached more like Rick is playing stuff as if he had come to it for the first time, and he approaches it as if he’s going to record it. I’ve done that with guitar, so it really has a different kind of flavor to it now than it did on the last tour.
Talk seems like it must have been such an interesting album to record. You really dove into using new technology recording-wise, which seems like it would have been an interesting thing to navigate depending on the day and how well things were working.
It was a really interesting thing. I vividly remember the meeting -- I’d been asked to produce it and I said to the band, “I’d really like to do this on a completely new platform.” This new non-linear recording, doing it on a Mac, basically, it really wasn’t prepared at that point. You could only do four tracks per Macintosh. I was so determined to do it, I ended up linking four Macs together and recording on four tracks per unit and then bouncing it down, and then there was the syncing up [process] of musically syncing up one Mac to the other. Without getting too technical, one second of audio at the time was 44 odd thousand segments of information, but it was being edited to 400 beats, which is nowhere near the 44,000, so it was out of phase and it became quite cumbersome at times. On top of it, there was Chris saying, “Why are we doing this? Why don’t we just record it the way we used to?” [Laughs] It was really quite funny. We were very happy we did it that way. Really, it was the first time that Jon and I had bonded so closely on a record.
I heard that Phil Carson, who was working in Yes management at that time, wanted Wakeman to be involved in the Talk record. How much truth is there to that?
I don’t remember that ever being in the criteria. It happened just after the Union tour, and I just remember that I definitely wanted Rick involved, but it became, “Why don’t we do it with the 90125 lineup?” That’s where we landed, but obviously I’m a pretty strong proponent for working with Rick, so I certainly was into that. But it just didn’t work out.
Looking at the set lists from this year and last year, I’m surprised “Love Will Find a Way” hasn’t found its way into there.
It’s one of those things where we’ve got to balance it pretty well so that I’m not doing seven songs that I’m singing and Jon’s doing three. It’s got to be, at worst, the other way around. I’m already singing songs, and given that I sing pretty much [all of] “Love Will Find a Way,” it’s never entered the equation, which is really a pity, because I think it’s one of the stronger songs, certainly from Big Generator. It’s perceptive of you, because meeting the fans at every show, I don’t think that one show has gone by where someone hasn’t asked, “Are you playing ‘Love Will Find a Way?” more than any other song that we’re not doing.
There was talk at some point about doing “Shoot High, Aim Low” as well, right?
I loved playing that song, almost as much as any other song, and it was definitely one that we rehearsed. Once again, it just came to which ones are going to hit the deck at the end of the day on the editing floor, if you like, because it’s just too long otherwise. But very often, we finish a tour by saying, “Oh, maybe we should have done this.” It’s always quite interesting, trying to integrate things and then we try it at rehearsal and it’s like, “You know what, it works great on its own, but it doesn’t fit into the flow of the show.” It’s always a bit frustrating at the end that certain songs don’t get played, but there’s just so much time.
What’s it been like for you playing “South Side of the Sky”?
I kind of like the verse parts, but it was one that I tried because I really want to approach things so that I’m doing them. Rick approaches the 90125 stuff, etc. as if it’s the first time he’s hearing it and recording it. I try to do that with the stuff I haven’t played on. That was one that, technically, it’s obviously a very easy song to play. It’s just how to approach it and what sound to use. It’s been an unusual one. One of the more difficult things is trying to get those vocals to sound current, because it was done a long time ago and you’ve got to be careful that those don’t sound old-fashioned. So, working out the vocal arrangement was something that we had to really be careful of.
I know that you guys recorded the shows on the last tour -- including filming the show at the Apollo in Manchester earlier this year. What’s the status on that project?
As soon as I finish this tour, I actually go in and finish the mix on that. It’s for the company, Eagle Rock, and I don’t know what they’re going to do -- put it out as a DVD or just put it out on YouTube. I don’t know how you release things like that these days. It’s quite a weird one, because long gone are the days of the video disc. But we’ve done the film and it looks really good. I think it was a really good performance, and the band sounds good on it. By the end of the year, that should be completed.
You, Jon and Rick played with the other Yes guys at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. From what I heard, the band didn’t rehearse -- you just went out and played.
We had a very, very short rehearsal, but for Jon, Rick and myself, a really enjoyable thing was playing with Geddy Lee. He’s a lovely bass player, and it was interesting hearing his take on “Roundabout.”
It was a really cool thing for the fans as well, to see him up there with the band. Had you met him prior to that event, back in the day?
Yeah, we’d met before, but I’m not sure if Jon or Rick had met him, but I had met him before. He’s just a really nice person as well, which makes it a lot easier. You never know if someone is going to be a complete ego lunatic or not, and he certainly wasn’t. He was just the nicest guy and he was great to work with. He just plowed into it, because he was very quiet, but then once he started he playing, it was like this animal was released.
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