Music fans raised on today’s radio-friendly three and a half minute pop songs might find it difficult to comprehend the ten and twenty minute music opuses regularly churned out by progressive bands in the 70s. Back then it was always about the music and exceeding boundaries. In an era that gave us music giants like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Genesis and King Crimson, one of the most successful bands on the planet was Yes. All members of Yes were (are!) amazing musicians and their creativity resulted in classic albums like Fragile, Close To The Edge and one of the best selling live albums of all time, Yessongs. Vocalist Jon Anderson owned the voice of an angel, guitarist Steve Howe could play any fretted instrument ever invented, and did. Alan White was an incredible drummer, Rick Wakeman is almost solely responsible for the use of the synthesiser in pop music, and Chris Squire played Hendrix-like riffs on his bass. Their stage and light show then was enough to rival any Broadway show now. After several line up changes over a career spanning 35 years, the most famous version of the band were recently on tour in Australia. Greg Phillips spoke to Chris Squire on the phone from his home in Santa Barbara a couple of weeks prior to the tour.
GP: How would you explain your role in the band musically?
CS: We’re pretty much all equal contributors in terms of writing and ideas. I don’t know…I’m the bass player. Maybe I hold it all together, I don’t know.
But you’re not a bass player in the usual sense..
I know but whatever we do it just seems to work. It’s hard to analyse or explain it. You get a certain bunch of people together with their ideas, and in Yes’ case, it’s all become what Yes is. We make a certain type of music and I’m just a part of that.
Your bass playing style is very unique. Why is it that you sounded different from everyone else?
I had a lot of influences when I was younger like McCartney and Jack Bruce and Bill Wyman, and John Entwhistle because I was a big Who fan when I was 15. I used to go and watch The Who a lot. I watched Townshend and listened to Entwhistle so I became a bit of a combination of the two of them. Over time I developed my style.
You play the original Rickenbacker that you bought in 1965, do you like to try other basses and amp combinations very often just to see what sort of sounds you can achieve?
The Rickenbacker just happens to be the bass I started with and I’m most accustomed to it. It pretty much plays itself actually. I’ve got a lot of different basses that I experiment with and use on albums at different times. I’m always looking for something new.
Who are some of the current bass players that impress you?
Flea from the Chili Peppers is very good. Actually I like the bass player in No Doubt (Tony Kanal) quite a lot. Although he’s quite different from me, I like what he does. I really like the whole band. But as I said before, it’s not so much the talent of the individuals as it is the way a certain bunch of people get together and make music, and make it exciting for people.
With that spirit of experimentation in the 70s, how much awareness was there of the other bands, and trying to out do each other?
Strangely enough there wasn’t that really. There were bands that I was influenced by like The Who and Keith Emerson’s early band, The Nice (before Emerson, Lake and Palmer) so you felt like you wanted to compete with them but honestly I had no idea what Pink Floyd were doing. I saw them once and couldn’t understand it at all. But by the time they started making records they put it into a more palatable thing and by the time they got David Gilmour, they had a style going. But a lot of it has been about the songwriting as well. You’ve got to have the music ability but you have also got to have songs that people can latch onto.
Yes were an influential band not only musically but you were one of the first to do things like miking a drum kit, playing in the round, using smoke machines and lasers…
We were the first band ever to use laser beams at the Reading festival around 1971. That was quite remarkable. We’ve been innovative in a lot of ways. A lot of the early synthesisers, you know in Rick Wakeman’s territory, that was before anyone else used them. We’ve always been cutting edge and always looked at new technical developments and used them.
How’s your memory from the 70s… Do you recall gigs like the one with The Nice in Cork?
That was very, very funny. The Bonzo Dog Doodah band were basically comedians anyway so they made it fun. I remember we showed up at this football pitch in Cork. They literally had this iron flex running out of the janitor’s shed. It was like a three prong plug socket to power the whole of the band and the lights. It was obviously not going to happen, so we all ended up going down the pub and getting drunk. Then of course a lot of the audience discovered we were in there and we were all going “Yeah we’re going to play in a minute”, knowing full well that we weren’t. But before it turned ugly, we all snuck out the back door and drove to the airport. I think one of the Bonzo Dog guys blew up the stage too.
What about the ‘Topographic Oceans’ album sessions with the rumours of hay bales and cardboard cows, was that all true?
Yes it is. Some people wanted to record in town and some wanted to record in the country so our manager had this idea of recording in town and getting some cardboard cows and putting them in the studio to make you feel like you were in the country. It was quite a difficult album at the time but it turned out OK and was a stepping stone in Yes’ career.
What has been your finest musical achievement?
I think just keeping the band together for 35 years is a pretty damn good achievement
CHRIS SQUIRE’S GEAR
On the floor in front of Chris is a custom pedalboard with buttons to activate preset effects combinations, as programmed by guitar tech Richard Davis. One button also toggles his combination Taurus/Dutron bass pedals, which sit off-stage. The pedalboard is connected to a pre-programmed custom effects rack that organises such things as a custom-built tremolo unit, a Maestro fuzz, a T.C. Electronic Stereo Chorus/Flanger, a Lexicon LXP-5 multi-effects, a Roland SRV 2000 reverb, an MXR 1500 delay, a Morley volume pedal, an octave divider, and an ADA preamp EQed for the low notes on the Tobias basses.
Marshall 100 watt Super Bass Amp and Marshall 4 X12 cabinet, two SVT-2 pro heads and two 8×10 SVT-810e cabinets, which sit behind him on stage
The bass pedals are amplified by an SWR SM-500 head driving an Energy 2×15 cabinet, which is located under the drum riser.