Steve Howe

Yes: In The Present
Steve Howe
Photo: Glenn Gottlieb.

Progressive-rock icons Yes are still going strong after more than 40 years of recording and performing. Throughout their reign as one of the most influential rock bands of all time, having sold more than 50 million albums worldwide, they’ve endured personnel changes as well as stylistic changes.

The current incarnation includes Benoit David on vocals, Steve Howe on guitar, Chris Squire on bass, Alan White on drums, and Oliver Wakeman on keyboards. Their latest studio album, Fly From Here, was released in 2011, while In The Present – Live From Lyon documents their current live set. VG caught up with Howe to talk guitars, and find out how that new singer is working out.

Are you happy with the way Live From Lyon turned out?
I’m pretty happy. We found Karl Groom to mix it for us, and he did a great job. We went through his mixes, made some comments, then I popped in and did the mastering for about four hours with the mastering people. It sounded good and we pretty much kept the set as is. It nicely sums up a whole era. That was at the end of two years with that lineup. Live From Lyon helps justify and explain where we’ve been, and it was great.

Did you do anything different with your guitar sound compared to previous tours?
Not really. In 2007 I started using Line 6 amps, and I’m playing a Gibson ES-175 and a Gibson Stereo for the Close To The Edge material. The only time I play a Line 6 guitar is when I’m playing an acoustic or sitar part within a song. When I play an acoustic solo piece, it’s always on a Martin.

Which Line 6 amp are you currently using?
I’m using the Line 6 Bogner with the Pod HD500. It’s a hell of a thing. It does everything and more that the old Vetta II amp was doing. All the programming is in the pedalboard and I’ve got two of them. I can plug it into an amp and not change anything except the volume. When I play into a Bogner I’m only using the amp section, not the preamp, because all the sounds are in the pedalboard.

There are things that are better and things that aren’t really as good. I think it takes awhile because I’m pretty fussy and have good ears, and I know what I hear is actually what I’m hearing. When I programmed it, I was really happy. I think I was in a nice environment. It was adding some of the warmth that I like.

What is your #1 guitar?
The ’64 Gibson 175D I bought in ’64 is my best guitar. There’s no doubt about that. That’s going to mainly stay in the U.K. I’ll use it onstage in the U.K., but when I leave the country, there’s so many hassles with it staying with me permanently, because it has to. Then I use a 175D Steve Howe Model. It’s customized with a third pickup in the middle to simulate the Switchmaster guitar. I really like that guitar, and I’m pretty much using it all the time when I’m abroad.

Which one sounds better?
When you play a guitar for 45 years, it’s going to sound better (laughs)!

Over the last few years, Benoit David has made a seemingly seamless transition as your vocalist.
That’s right. The recordings are a very good example of really how far we’ve gotten going with this. He’s been absolutely amazing. He does some rhythm guitar and some percussion, and he’s a good all-arounder.

Originally, he was brought in because Jon Anderson had respiratory problems and couldn’t tour. Since then, he’s recovered. Do you see a time when Jon Anderson will return to the band?
Jon and Rick (Wakeman) don’t want to tour in the way that we do. It’s too strenuous, too intense, and a lot to do. Also, Jon wanted to change the keys in most of the songs and we don’t want to do that. There are quite a few other issues, as well. So when he got ill, we got Benoit in to start a new era of Yes. We were going to be assertive and move forward, and as it happened, the band and Jon accepted that there was a split. This was a change in direction. We were going off here, and he was going to go off there, and we would get on with our lives.

That does happen sometimes, and it has. Each of us wishes we can all do well in this world. I wouldn’t like to be quoted as saying that we won’t get together again, but we all have to move on. That doesn’t mean to say that I’m going to be playing in Yes when I’m 70 (laughs)! There are other musical ventures I know I’m destined for, but Yes is still very important.

Are there any new projects in the future with Asia?
Yes. We’re starting a third reunion. We may return to the stage and do some work on an album, and we’ll be celebrating the 30th anniversary of the fourth album.

On January 21, I’m releasing my solo album, Time, on Warner Classic. It’s pretty exciting because it’s been a team project with writers and orchestrators and getting different ideas. It has taken four years and it’s a bit of a milestone because there are no drums. I play a mixture of traditional classical pieces with some interesting interpretations. It’s got a nice continuity and I’m really excited about it.

This article originally appeared in VG July 2012 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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