When Rolling Stone discovered Yes would be teaming with Asia for a summer trek that would have members of King Crimson, Emerson Lake and Palmer and the singer of a Yes cover band onstage, we promptly proclaimed it the proggiest tour of all time. Ian Drew grabbed a few moments with the man pulling double-duty in both bands, Steve Howe, to find out how he’ll split his time, who’s heading to the studio and how he narrows down his most embarrassing wardrobe moment.
How did you decide to do this double tour?
I had this summer pretty much booked up [with Asia], and Yes were disappointed about not getting a chance to play this summer, so I put my thinking cap on. I feel strongly that Asia is going to be very good opening act for Yes and it is a very unusual situation that someone like me would be in both groups — I feel that in itself says quite a lot.
During the show, what can we really expect?
Well obviously we’re fortunate that a lot of our music from our albums is greatly enjoyed, like for Asia, “Sole Survivor” and “Wildest Dreams,” and of course “Only Time Will Tell” and “Heat Of the Moment.” And then with Yes we have our rich material from Close to the Edge, Fragile and those albums, and of course “Roundabout” is incredibly popular, and so is “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” and we put in a good selection from the early years.
Do you get into a different frame of mind for each band?
I use different guitars in the groups, I use 175 Gibson models in Yes mainly, or I’ll play a 345 and I play Statocaster, but in Asia I mainly do all my work on a guitar called a Gibson exhaust system, along with Martin guitars and also Line 6 Variax, which is an incredible guitar which plays different sounds from one central guitar. I’ve got a thousand guitars on the road, and they split almost like two-thirds for Yes and one-third is Asia.What I do in Yes is quite soft and floaty, and kind of meanders a lot, but what I play in Asia is quite, I wouldn’t say rigid, but quite attacking, but also it’s got a different sort of mentality if you like, which is a little bit harder, and I quite like that.
Why did you leave Yes?
Well Yes kind of expanded after Drama was the most successful tour, and after that Trevor [Horn] wanted to get on with the second Buggles record, Chris [Squire] and Alan [White] wanted to go out and jam with Jimmy Page, I can’t blame them, and Geoff [Downes] and I were kind of left holding this baby called Yes, and we decided not to do that. So two months later after that incident, he and John Wetton asked do I want to get together. That was a fantastic time and then a very tricky time, and after that, a couple months after leaving Asia after two albums, I met up with Steve Hackett and did that, and blah blah this just goes on. This is what my life’s been like. So I can only just think I must be a really lucky bastard to be able to keep the momentum up through different groups and get so many chances at doing that.
What about future plans for recording with Asia and Yes?
I can’t really make an announcement like this is going to happen and that’s going to happen, but let’s just put it this way: both bands are working towards recording projects being realized.
Do you look back at any of your looks from back in the day and cringe?
I mean I wasn’t pretty with stuff in the very early days of Yes. I had something called my rock & roll jacket, which was a bit too small for me — it was just a silk blue jacket that was longer at the back. I wore some weird stuff, but when I got to Tales From Topographic Oceans I was dressed really like an Afghanistan peasant, so that was a good laugh. If you want to have a good laugh, watch only the “Owner of a Lonley Heart” video. Asia was a little bit more, cool. Not saying cool, hip, but I’m saying that we were cooler in our desire to be flamboyant, but I really do have a lot of fun with clothes.
Has anyone reached out to you to say they’re big fans?
I’m not big on name dropping. I’ll tell you what was nice: the people who do The Simpsons really like what I do and Yes we got a special Simpson’s poster once that they designed just for Yes, with a Yes logo on it and the Simpsons bobbling around it, and they drew it. And the Muppets too, I met the Muppets once when they were shooting in England.