Interview with Tony Kaye of YES and CIRCA
Legendary keyboardist Tony Kaye is best known for his work with Yes. Kaye played and wrote material on the albums Yes, Time and A Word, The Yes Album, 90125, 9012Live, Big Generator, Union, and Talk.
Nowadays Mr. Kaye is working with Circa, a new band consisting of current Yes drummer Alan White, former Yes member Billy Sherwood, and Union session player Jimmy Haun.
I recently spoke with Tony Kaye on the telephone, and what started out as a proper interview devolved into a fan asking one of his idols all the questions he’d always wanted to ask. I found him to be an extremely nice guy.
JD: How did the band Circa come to be:
TK: I’d pretty much been in retirement for the last few years, but a while back I got
a call from Billy Sherwood. Billy was putting together a tribute to Pink Floyd
CD and wanted me to play on it, which I did. Alan White was also involved with
the project. The musical relationship really just started from us having fun in the studio. It was very organic.
JD: Was the material pre-written or was it worked up in the studio.
TK: For the most part the material was worked up in the studio, although there were a couple of things that Billy had written with (former Yes guitarist) Trevor Rabin dating from 1997 that we worked on as well.
JD: You mentioned Trevor Rabin. What led to his departure from the group after the TALK tour of 1994?
TK: He just decided that he wanted to leave and do other things. After the tour I also decided to leave. I continued to be affiliated with the band for a while in a sort-of managerial capacity. I actually encouraged them to reform the line-up from the 1970s and perform the music from that era in concert, as I thought that the fans would like it.
JD: Speaking of the guys from the 70s line-up, how did all of the different factions get along on the UNION tour of 1991? When I first heard that most of the former members of Yes were going out on tour together I never thought it would make it past the first show.
TK: The Union Tour was a great tour. Everybody got along really well.
TK: It’s true. There was some apprehension at the beginning, because nobody knew how it would go over, but it was great.
JD: Could you ever envision that 8-member line-up going out again?
TK: I think it may have been talked about but I really doubt that it could happen. The logistics of getting all of those people together is a monumental task. There are rumors of a 40th Anniversary Tour, but I doubt it would be with the Union line-up.
JD: The fan reaction to your new band Circa has been great. Is there more Circa music to come?
TK: We are all committed to this band. We plan to start recording again this summer. Billy has a great recording studio, so it’s a very easy, laid back situation.
JD: How did the sessions for the debut Circa CD go?
TK: We got together twice a week. Like I said, it’s great that Billy has a studio at his disposal. There was no pressure at all.
JD: What are the current plans for live work?
TK: Right now we’re focusing on festivals. We will be playing at Rosfest, and I think there is another prog festival in Mexico that we might be doing. There will also be some Circa shows in
JD: They way I understand it, your initial departure from Yes after The Yes Album had to do with your not wanting to abandon the
TK: Yes it is. I had no interest in using those types of keyboards.
JD: We finally got to hear some of your
TK: Well during the 1980s the Hammond wasn’t really in fashion, so there were other keyboard sounds that were more prominent. By the time of Talk the
JD: I thought that some of the keyboard sounds used by bands in the seventies were dreadful…some of that stuff sounds like an ice cream truck to me. A Hammond sounded cool in the 50s and it sounds cool today and it will sound cool 50 years from now.
TK: I agree. It’s a timeless sound.
JD: You worked a lot with Trevor on the Talk album didn’t you?
TK: Trevor and I lived near each other at the time and I was able to spend a lot of time in the studio.
JD: Do you ever listen to Yes music these days?
TK: I never listen to it, except for when we are working on something like the massive Yes section of the Circa show. I had to listen to a lot of the stuff to get familiar with the material again.
JD: If you had to put one Yes album in a time capsule for a future generation, which one would it be?
TK: Well it would probably be one that I wasn’t on, such as Fragile or Close To The Edge…maybe 90125.
JD: But what about The Yes Album? Most of the songs on that album are still played to death on the radio today.
TK: That’s true; if you listen to a classic rock station those songs do turn up quite a lot. Record companies gave bands time to develop on record in those days. The Yes Album was the culmination of the first few years of the band, and it does stand up.
JD: The thing that I like about Circa is that it’s a very stripped down unit. Was this the original intention:
TK: Well at the start it was more of a project than a band. It was initially going to be called Family, and we thought it would be great to get Peter Banks, Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman…all of those guys involved, but Steve was in the middle of putting
JD: I think a tour featuring Asia and Circa would be great.
TK: That would be very cool, but it would take a promoter to put that together. Another drawback would be that we play a two-hour set, which includes that 45-minute Yes piece. I don’t think we could get our point across in a short opening set.
JD: The new Circa DVD is great. Have you guys discussed doing what The Who did on their last tour by offering a DVD or CD of each show?
TK: Yeah, we have talked about that, and that may happen in the future. The Circa DVD was our first show, and it took a lot of work to get that together, so getting the music together has been the main focus.
JD: Will the Circa album ever be available for download?
TK: No, we decided that we wanted to be in charge of every aspect of the sales, and working with a label is totally out the question. For now our website will be the place to get our music.
JD: You wrote a lot of material for the Big Generator album. Was that also a by-product of living close to Trevor Rabin?
TK: Yeah we were able to get together and do a lot of jamming. Sometimes people would bring things in and we would work the ideas up. With Circa we started from scratch for the most part.
JD: There is a lot of controversy surrounding the Union album. I’ve read about session musicians being brought in to flesh out the album without the band knowing about it and all sorts of things. What actually happened with
TK: It started out as an Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe album, and when the label found out that the West Coast Yes were recording at the same time, they suggested that we should fold the projects together. Jimmy Haun of Circa actually played some guitar on
JD: Was Peter Banks ever approached about taking part in the Union Tour?
TK: To my recollection not really. I think the consensus was that there were plenty of people on stage already. There was talk of doing a couple of shows with him, but I think that logistics was again the problem.
JD: Was there ever a few seconds when it looked like the 8-member line-up would do a studio album together?
TK: No. After that tour everybody scattered. It was a lot of fun but they had us playing 5 or 6 nights a week. We worked hard on that tour.
JD: I didn’t know until recently that you were a member of Badfinger.
TK: I was working with Badfinger on the Say No More album in
JD: You did eventually tour with Badfinger to support that album, correct?
TK: Yes. I was going to tour with Badfinger, and at the same time Chris Squire had just met Trevor Rabin, who had recently auditioned to be the vocalist for
JD: Badfinger had such a tragic story.
TK: Horribly tragic.
JD: So when you hooked back up with Chris Squire the working title for the band was Cinema, correct?
TK: That’s right. We rehearsed for about 9 months under the name Cinema.
JD: How did working with this incarnation of Yes differ from the early version of the band?
TK: It was totally different. Trevor was so important to 90125, thus he was quite dominate. Most of the songs were his, but we were fine with that because he was on a real hot streak with his songwriting.
JD: What is Trevor doing now? Soundtracks?
TK: He does a lot of soundtrack work, and I think he’s working on a jazz album.
JD: What musicians is he working with on the jazz album?
TK: I think he’s doing all the instruments himself.
JD: Other than new Circa music, do you have any projects coming up?
TK: I’m working on an instrumental album based on the events of 9/11. My wife co-wrote and sings on one of the songs. It’s mostly orchestral and I’d like to have an actual orchestra perform it, but they are very expensive.
JD: Thanks very much for talking to me. Looking forward to your new music.
TK: Thanks Jon!
Billy Sherwood and Chris Squire
Billy Sherwood was nice enough to talk to me at 9 a.m. one morning.
JD: Tony Kaye mentioned that you had some shows coming up in
BS: We are doing a club date in
JD: The Circa CD and DVD seems to be going down well with the fans. Has the success surprised you?
BS: We knew it was good but since we’re just selling the music on our website we thought our sales would be smaller than they have been. It’s been great to see the stuff sell well without having to deal with retail.
JD: Any plans to sell MP3’s on your website?(www.circahq.com)
BS: No, none of us are really fans of that crunchy sound you get with an MP3.
JD: Circa will be recording this summer, correct?
BS: Yes, we plan to work on the album starting in the summer and it will probably take the rest of 2008 to finish it.
JD: Circa seems to have had a very organic beginning from what I’ve read and been told.
BS: Yeah, I was working on a tribute to Pink Floyd’s The Wall album and I invited Tony to play on it. He said, “I play tennis now, not keyboars!”, and I told him that was about to change.
JD: I just interviewed him (TK), and along with being incredibly nice, he was so humble. I asked him which Yes album should be put in the time capsule, and he mentions Fragile and Close To The Edge! I was pushing for The Yes Album myself.
BS: He’s just that kind of guy. Very sweet guy.
JD: He and Alan hadn’t played together in a while. Did they fall back in rather quickly?
BS: Oh yeah, they’ve always had a good relationship. They worked together on some of the tribute CD tracks also. There is none of the politics between those two that sometimes exists between members of Yes.
JD: Will Alan be a part of the Yes activity in 2008?
BS: Most definitely. When Alan is not available for Circa our drummer will be Jay Schellen, who has worked with
JD: Do you think that Circa will continue working with long pieces, or do you think some 3 or 4 minute songs will work themselves into the mix?
BS: I have other outlets for the short song format. With what we’re doing I think we need the freedom to write long pieces of music.
JD: While most of the Circa material grew from a jamming type of situation, a couple of the songs started from a collaboration between yourself and Trevor Rabin, right?
BS: After the Talk tour, maybe a year or so after, Trevor send me a couple of tracks of music that he’d written, and I added some melody lines and wrote some lyrics to them. We were threatening to do something with them, but they just sat on the shelf. When Circa started happening, I pulled the tapes and we rearranged the songs to fit in with what we were doing with Circa.
JD: Is your home studio a commercial studio or just a personal one?
BS: It’s mainly for my own work. All of the tribute CD’s have been done here and I do a lot of production work here. I do a lot of writing for Japanese anime’ cartoons. I also work for Master Source, which is a large music library. They’re featuring me as their artist of the month on their website, which is quite an honor.
JD: How did you end up touring with Yes on the Talk tour?
BS: I got a call from Trevor out of the blue. It was great. They were looking for somebody that could play additional keyboards, guitars, backing vocals, etc.
JD: And how did end up becoming a member of the band later on?
BS: The “classic” version of the band had just recorded Keys To Ascension I and Chris Squire called to ask if I’d like to mix the record, which I did. The band liked the results enough the have me produce and mix Keys To Ascension II. They were supposed to tour that record, but Rick Wakeman bailed on them.
JD: Why did he leave?
BS: I wasn’t a member of the band at the time so all of that political stuff happened away from me.
JD: On the Open Your Eyes album you became a full member.
BS: After the Rick bailed the band was in a bad spot, but I wanted to see Yes succeed, so I approached Chris Squire about writing some material and getting the band on the road. Chris and Allan and I got together and started writing some stuff, but Steve was reluctant to become involved. He didn’t like the idea of a second guitar player being on stage, and he didn’t like the material, although he wasn’t contributing any material either. Steve decided to come in at the last minute to be involved with the album. My goal was to make Yes successful, not to make Steve Howe happy.
Anyway, I funded the whole album and took it to a label, and we got a deal for it.
JD: The two-guitar lineup lasted long enough to make The Ladder, which is a great album.
BS: Now on that one I wasn’t allowed to produce because I was a member, and I was too close to the music. That’s why they got Bruce Fairbairn to produce it.
JD: I quite liked Igor Khoroshev’s playing.
BS: After Open Your Eyes was mixed, the band thought that I would be playing keyboards on the road, and I said no, no, no, I’m not a live keyboardist. At that point Jon brought in a bag of cassettes of keyboardists from all over the world. He put in Igor’s tape and we all dug it.
JD: What prompted his departure?
BS: He had some sort of legal trouble that created a riff between he and the band. I’m not sure exactly what it was.
JD: And after The Ladder tour, you left the group?
BS: By the end of the tour the politics between the band and the management and within the band just made for an unpleasant experience, and I couldn’t take it anymore. It was just not a very positive way to move forward.
I became involved in television and film scoring, and became a jingle writer for Alias Arts. My wife and I wanted to start a family, and it was the right time for me to get off of the road.
If the band was more united I would have found a way to stay.
JD: Was the writing on The Ladder fairly balanced?
BS: I’d say so. If Jon Anderson dug it, it worked, if he didn’t, it didn’t.
JD: Do you have any contact with other members of Yes outside of Alan and Tony?
BS: Rick worked on one of the tribute records, and he was incredibly nice to work with. Bill Bruford played on a track, Peter Banks….Chris I don’t talk to that much now because he’s moved back to London. I even worked with Steve a bit on some things, and it was great. Apparently the political stuff that is such a negative within the band doesn’t exist outside the band.
JD: Thanks for talking to me this morning Billy.
BS: Talk to you soon.
CIRCA in concert: