Jon Davison was not speaking during our interview. But Yes fans can rest assured that the band’s new lead singer is in fine health.
For those of you who need to play catch-up on Yes’s recent history, founding vocalist Jon Anderson suffered numerous asthma attacks, one being near-fatal, as the progressive rock collective was gearing up for its 40th (yes, 40th) anniversary tour. Anderson wanted to rest and write new music while the other members of Yes wanted to hit the road. This wasn’t the first time that Yes’s “Napoleon” had parted ways with his band, but this seemed to be the first time it was not done on his terms.
Yes went and hired Benoît David, singer for the Yes tribute band Close to the Edge whose likeness to Anderson in physical appearance and voice was enough for Yes to continue as an active band, on both the touring front and in the studio. Fly From Here was released in 2011 to generally positive reviews, some music critics going so far as to say it was their best work since the mid-70s. But just like Anderson, David suffered a respiratory illness and did not feel comfortable continuing with Yes. With Benoît David’s blessing, bassist Chris Squire, guitarist Steve Howe, drummer Alan White and keyboardist Geoff Downes found themselves yet a new singer from another Yes cover band. In fact he came with a recommendation from [power-pop drumroll] ... Taylor Hawkins of all people.
Jon Davison, in addition to being a childhood friend of the drummer for the Foo Fighters, has logged time in the bands Sky Cries Mary and the purveyors of prog Glass Hammer in addition to his Yes tribute band. His vocal similarity to Jon Anderson is even more uncanny than Benoît David. So much so that, over the years, Taylor Hawkins kept telling Chris Squire “If you ever need a replacement [singer], I know exactly the guy.”
For spiritual reasons, Davison was taking a vow of silence when it came time to interview him. Over e-mail, he assured PopMatters that his lungs were perfectly healthy. Besides, Davison needs to rest up for Yes’s near-future plans, which includes a tour where Yes performs three albums in their entirety in one night—1971’s The Yes Album, 1972’s Close to the Edge, and 1977’s Going for the One—and the recording of a brand new album. It’s a crazy ride from singing in your mom’s church to becoming a member of your favorite band, and Davison was happy to give PopMatters the perspective of the new kid on the block. One-time Anderson replacement Trevor Horn once said that “Joining Yes was one of those stupid things that you do sometimes,” but Davison is still pinching himself.
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Can you walk me through how someone wakes up one day to find themselves in Yes?
I’ve always loved Yes music, so I put a lot of enthusiasm into singing for the Yes tribute band I was in. That led to my joining Glass Hammer, which offered me a chance to write in a similar vein while also making my presence known in the prog rock scene. When the time came for Yes to find a new singer, I had laid all the ground work. Of course having a longtime friend, in this case Taylor Hawkins, who’s pals with Chris Squire, also helped. That’s how it all went down. One day going along in my routine, the next, I’m joining my favorite band! It took some time for the reality of it to sink in. Initially, all I could do was focus on the practical aspects of the approaching tour and prepare myself on all levels to embrace what has been a life changing event.
As you mentioned, you are a longtime friend of Taylor Hawkins. Your musical approaches, on the surface, appear to be very different. What are the ties, musical or otherwise, that bind the singer of a Yes tribute band with the drummer for the Foo Fighters?
Though we’re different in many ways, we have a mutual respect for one another that is linked to our being like brothers since childhood. Music has always been a strong tie between us. Taylor really has diverse tastes in music and I’ve learned a lot from him.
Once upon a time, Jon Anderson’s nickname within the band was “Napoleon.” Who would you say cracks the whip for Yes now?
Generally, the band is run diplomatically. There isn’t one personality that stands out above the rest, though if necessary, Chris and/or Steve assume leadership.
Judging by the videos on YouTube, you appear to be very comfortable as the lead singer for Yes. Many others would tremble with fear if they were in your position. How do you overcome the nerves that come with the job?
I practice meditation to achieve calmness and balance and have also found that repeating affirmations is very effective in overcoming any mental negativity.
Yes fans are used to an ever-revolving lineup, but news of a new singer can be especially contentious. How have Yes fans responded to your presence in the band? And is there anything you would like Yes fans to know about you and your goals for the band’s music?
It was Thoreau who advised, “be independent of the good opinion of others,” let alone the negative opinions. In other words, I try not to take to heart what the critics or discontented fans say, and I also refuse to allow my ego to get inflamed over the praises I receive—both reactions are not based in reality. What’s real to me is the power of intention—attitude is everything. I only know that I’ve been called to act, and so I choose to pour all my energy into doing the best I possibly can to fulfill my current role and responsibility. Having said that, I truly appreciate the many dear friends and fans who have taken the time to leave supportive comments on my FB musician’s page and elsewhere. I can feel the love and often reflect on how kind and supportive people can be. That is what is also very real to me—the love we share. I like to take a moment out of my meditations to send vibrations of love and gratitude back to all those souls. It’s an honor to serve them and the members of Yes.
I interviewed Ian Astbury last year. When we talked about his time singing for the Doors of the 21st Century/Riders on the Storm, he admitted that he put more thought and study into his delivery of Jim Morrison’s lyrics than anything else in his life. Do you feel a similar thrust from your conscious mind when singing Yes’s work?
Rather than making a conscious choice to study the delivery and style of Jon Anderson, I simply let inspiration take over. As I’ve always been a lover of Yes music, I find it completely natural to become absorbed in the experience.
Being the spiritual person that you are, has becoming a member of Yes sharpened your perception of Jon Anderson’s lyrics? Have you discovered things before that you haven’t noticed before?
My perceptions have sharpened, but more impressionistically and emotionally, rather than literally. There is so much depth in Yes music, especially in the lyrical sense, and I continue to find aspects that I hadn’t picked up on before.
Performing albums in their entirety onstage seems to be the latest trend for bands these days, but Yes is doing three full albums per night. How do you and the rest of the band pace yourselves?
While on the road I do my best to eat right, get sufficient rest, exercise, practice meditation, and do my vocal warm-ups. These daily rituals all play a significant role in my ability to successfully pace myself onstage.
Do you have a favorite Yes album? Or would that be like asking you to select your favorite child?
Every classic Yes album is on my favorite list, which is in constant rotation.
Are you able to comment on the future of Yes in the studio? Will you continue your work with Glass Hammer? I imagine replacing you in Glass Hammer would be as difficult as replacing Jon Anderson for Yes.
Yes is currently in the beginning stages of a new album. Everyone is really excited about getting into the studio, which should happen sometime this year or early into next year. Although I plan to be very busy with Yes throughout 2013, I earnestly remain a member of Glass Hammer and look forward to working on some new material with them.