Music

I've Seen All Good People: An Interview with Yes

One day, Jon Davison was singing in a Yes tribute band. Then, he actually became the touring lead singer of Yes. Now, he shares his tale, along with how he and the band prepping to play three albums in full every night of their upcoming tour ...

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.

* * *

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.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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