Just four years ago, Benoît David seemed like the perfect solution to Yes' problems. The prog-rock giants were in the midst of a four-year hiatus from the road as lead singer Jon Anderson recovered from a respiratory ailment, and they'd grown weary of sitting around. So the band decided to hire a new singer, and David was the perfect choice – he was the frontman of Canadian Yes tribute act Close to the Edge, and he could recreate Anderson's soaring tenor vocals with stunning accuracy. In a storyline straight out of the movie Rock Star, Yes gave him the job. "Benoît came in and he seemed real good," the band's bassist, Chris Squire, tells Rolling Stone. "The fanbase seemed to really like him and everything was going well."
Last year, Yes released Fly From Here with David on lead vocals and hit the road on a co-headlining tour with Styx to promote it. "At that point, he started to get a little wobbly onstage," says Squire. "I thought he was having a cold or had gotten sick on the road. That happens all the time, but in Benoît's case it seemed to not be getting better. We toured Europe after that, and once again he started to go a little soft. But it was more than that. He just seemed to not want to carry on doing the job. I assumed that after the Christmas break he'd feel differently, but he didn't. We figured it was time to change partners."
With David out of the picture and a big year of touring quickly coming up, Squire remembered a singer that Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters had once suggested: Jon Davison, the lead vocalist of Tennessee-based prog-rockers Glass Hammer. "Taylor is my friend and he told me on numerous occasions that Jon Davison should have the gig," says Squire. "We got together with him and realized that he would be a very good fit. Like Jon Anderson, he's a tenor, but he has a different pitch to his voice. We just returned from our Pacific Rim tour and he did a fantastic job, so everything is happy again in the Yes realm."
All of this begs an obvious question: why not just reunite with Jon Anderson after David left the group? "I've always had the same attitude about that," says Squire. "I would never close the door on that possibility, but we're in the throes of promoting our new album and Jon Davison is doing a good job with that. If anything in the future happens regarding a possible collaboration with Jon [Anderson], I'm sure we'd look at it, but right now we're in a good place and not even thinking about it."
When Rolling Stone spoke to Jon Anderson last summer, he was none too pleased about getting replaced by a vocal doppelgänger in a group that he co-founded. "People get into that place where they don't care about people," said Anderson. "To them, it's just business." Needless to say, Squire has a different take on the situation.
"I don't think Jon has anything to be bitter about," he says. "We cancelled a whole tour in 2008 when his respiratory problems came back. Touring is a tough business. One of the main reasons we aren't working with him now is that he's only able to do a certain amount of shows a week. It would limit our ability to move and make money, really. After we canceled the 2008 tour, the rest of us wanted to work. We all enjoy playing and we wanted to feed the fans' needs – their Yes injections."
Squire is open to the idea of a Yes reunion as part of a residency at a Broadway theater in New York. "The idea of 'Yes on Broadway' has come up," he says. "It would reflect the history of Yes. It requires the collaboration not only with Jon Anderson, but also other ex-members, including keyboard players like Patrick Moraz and obviously Rick [Wakeman] would be looked at as well. Of course, it would have to depend on if there's any interest from that side as well. It's something that's brewing, but it's very much on the backburner."
A big project on the frontburner for Squire right now is Squackett, a new collaboration with former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett. Their debut LP, Life Within a Day, comes out on June 5th. "For years I've been trying to do a follow-up to [1975 solo LP] Fish Out of Water," says Squire. "Every time I tried to do it, the songs got diverted onto a Yes album or some other project. This time I was writing in London and I brought Steve in. Towards the end of the project, we were actually writing songs together from scratch. Also, we started singing together and realized that our voices sounded great together. I didn't even know that he sang!"
The new group is planning on touring England in the fall, and they might expand that into a broader European tour. Just don't expect to hear any Yes or Genesis tunes at the shows. "That's very unlikely," says Squire. "I have never played anything live – expect for a few special occasions – from Fish Out of Water," says Squire. "I've always wanted to play that material, and Steve has a wealth of albums he can draw from on his own. By the time we add all that up we'll have a pretty lengthy show, and there won't be time for any Yes or Genesis songs."
Before Squackett goes on the road, Yes has a 26-date North American tour kicking off on July 13th in Atlantic City. The group has been around for 44 years now, and Squire sees no end in sight. "It's quite an odd thing that Jon Davison is the 18th member to come into the circus ring of Yes," he says. "In many ways I think about the possibility that there could still be a Yes in 100 or 200 years from now, just like a live symphony orchestra. I don't think I'll be in it unless there is an extraordinary medical breakthrough. Just think of the Los Angeles Philharmonic: the members change, but the band keeps the same name."
In 1991, most of the members of Yes, both past and present, put aside their differences for the Union album and tour. If the Broadway residency never comes together, the only place where a reunion would be likely to happen again is at a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. "That would be fantastic, wouldn't it?" says Squire. "It would be great to get every member up there onstage. Fortunately, I think every member is still alive, so they shouldn't wait too long."
Squire isn't holding his breath, though. "I don't know what happens at those meetings where they pick the inductees," he says, laughing. "They're probably like, 'Oh, Yes? Of course they won't be getting in. Next!'"