Jon Anderson | Infinite Beings in the 21st Century

“We have to get rid of the limitations, and realize that we are limitless beings.”


The very sound of Jon Anderson’s voice, even coming out of the other end of a cellphone, instantly heralds the prog-rock majesty of the band’s 1970s heyday. It conjures visions of Robert Dean–painted album covers and swirling musical landscapes, all bottlenecked by that very specific and instantly recognizable alto-tenor. Even when Yes was unexpectedly taking over the charts in the ’80s with the timeless 90125 and Big Generator albums, Anderson was the through-line, the ingredient that told you it was the same band, just shapeshifting into other realms of sound and song.

Showing no signs of slowing down at age 71, he’s back on the road, this time with famed French violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, his collaborator in AndersonPonty Band. Anderson had actually approached the musician about working with him back in the early ’80s, and they finally found the time to make some music in the summer of 2014.

“A couple of times we’d bump into each other and it was always like meeting an old friend,” he relates. “We always said, ‘We should get together,’ which a lot of musicians say, and it never happens. Eventually though, and thankfully, we connected a couple years ago, started writing, and last year we finished an album.”

Like the most enjoyable of collaborations, it helps if there’s more to the equation than musical compatibility. “We have this sort of lovely relationship. He’s like my brother from a different mother,” he says, laughing. “He comes from Brittany, which is north of France, and my great-great grandparents on my mother’s side are from Brittany, too. So we have that connection.”

While many big tours start out with set lists carved in granite, and schedules nailed down to the half-second, Anderson says that the band took a more organic approach to this jaunt. “I think when you’re working with the musicians we have in the band—well, we’ve been around the block a few times. We finish up doing a two-hour show, but it was originally going to be an hour and a half. But the way people play music sometimes: the evening takes over, the audience takes over, and there we are.”

Though their passion for live performance is clearly what guides them at this stage of the game, Anderson says there are long-range recording plans for AndersonPonty Band that extend far beyond this year. “We wrote about four songs late last year, and in January, we wrote a couple more. So it’s like we’re always thinking about the next step.”

Another possible scenario has the band recording with an orchestra. “I think we’d like that. Jean-Luc comes from a very classical background, and I’m very interested in that world and that style of music, so who knows? It’s going to be a very busy year coming up. We’ll see if we can find some time to record next year.”

Much to the delight Yes fans, part of what is making Anderson’s schedule so incredibly busy this year is his impending reunion with former Yes-mates, guitarist Trevor Rabin and keyboardist Rick Wakeman. “Me, Trevor, and Rick Wakeman are working on a project, and that’s going to be coming out, probably in October. It’s an actual thing that’s happening,” he says, with more than a tinge of excitement in his voice. “I’m always in touch with Rick, and I went to go see Trevor working on a movie a couple of years ago.”

In the years since he left Yes, Rabin has become an in-demand film composer, scoring such films as the National Treasure movies, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and Gone in Sixty Seconds. Anderson says he was “fascinated with how much [Rabin]’s grown musically, over the past 10 years or so. And he’s become quite a celebrity in the moviemaking music business. He works at the incredible Sony studios in Burbank. It was remarkable to watch him work, and the music he creates is just fascinating.”

I mention that Talk, their third Yes collaboration, is a bit of an underrated gem, and as it happens, it seems to be just as special to the guys that made it. “It was really an album that me and Trevor put together at his place. He’d just built his studio at his house, and I hung out there for a couple of weeks.”

If you’re crossing your fingers for a tour with Anderson, Wakeman, and Rabin, featuring new songs and tracks from their collaborative history, you’re in for a proggy treat. They’ll be touring the U.S. in October and November, when the new record drops. “We’ll be doing two or three songs from Talk when we tour later this year. For me, it was music that was never fully realized. If you think about it, musicians go into a studio to record songs, and then they head out on the road on tour. When we did the Talk album, we only did one tour for it, and sometimes it takes more than a couple of tours to really find out about the music.”

Growing up in the town of Accrington in northwestern England, Anderson initially had his sights on playing football for the Accrington Stanley FC. Ultimately, he was turned down because of his diminutive stature, and Accrington Stanley’s loss was rock music’s gain. Music soon became an all-consuming obsession. “I adore music from a hundred years ago, because I’m still learning about all of the incredible artistry that it took to create some of those symphonies, especially Stravinsky. It’s unbelievable,” he says. “It’s a body of people, an orchestra. It’s 450 people performing together, and you say, ‘Oh, music is just a band, just pop songs’—no. There’s so much music around the world on so many levels. A lot of that is thanks to the internet, where we’re able to connect with people all over the world. That, in itself, is a remarkable experience to grow into.”

Does he ever sit back and think about how far he’s come since he was a kid, listening to his favorite rock ’n’ roll songs on the radio? “You know, I’ll listen to ’50s music on my Sirius radio, and I’ll get into that world where I was 12, 14 years old in the ’50s, and remember all those songs and think, ‘Oh, my gosh, where I am musically, it’s pretty wild.’”

Much of Anderson’s open-mindedness and expansive world view comes from his profoundly personal view of spirituality, which he’s always used to infuse in his songwriting an almost otherworldly nature. “I’m working on a song with Rick about the idea that we are now ready to move on, consciously, into traveling space and time. There is new technology that’s going to push us in that direction. We have to get rid of the limitations, and realize that we are limitless beings.”

andersonAnderson believes music is a worthy tool to help break away from these limitations into the unknown, because music itself is such a mystery. “We’re highly conscious of sound, and what sounds creates for us. And in music, sound is everything. Something to do with chakra energy; certain pieces of music just makes you cry. You’ll be watching a movie, and the subtleties of music come in, and it just touches your state of mind so powerfully.”

Another vitally important member of Anderson’s past, Yes bassist Chris Squire, sadly passed away in June of last year. Thinking I might bring the conversation down when I ask about him, Anderson reacts joyfully. “Christopher! I can always see him laughing. A lot of people ask me how he is, and what he’s doing,” he says. “Well, he is happy where he is now. We were very fortunate to reconnect before he died and passed over, there. We connected on such a beautiful level. I said to him that I wouldn’t be doing what I am now, if it wasn’t for him. He was part of my growing, musically; I wanted to thank him. He reiterated that and he said, ‘Yes, I agree. What a journey.’ You know, what a legacy we left behind musically. Chris was an incredible showman and great bass player, bit of a crazy guy, like we all are. He had a great life, and he left a lot of memories to a lot of people.”

When I ask if he thinks it’s odd that Yes continues to tour with singers whose voices sound remarkably similar to his, his attitude is quite sanguine. “It’s just business, and it’s a group of people going out there and playing music that’s very valid. I have a different perspective on what it is, and there are bands out there performing Yes music, called tribute bands,” he reasons. “That’s kind of the feeling of what’s going on. That’s why me and Trevor say, ‘Well, listen if we’re going to get together, we’ve got to reignite Yes,’” he says with a smile in his voice. “You’re not going to get together with me, Trevor, and Rick and not think about our heritage, musically.”

Circling back to his current tour with Ponty, are there any songs he looks forward to playing every night? “Oh, gosh, all of them,” he answers immediately. “There is something very mystical and magical about writing with Jean-Luc’s music.” The group will also be performing Yes tracks, including “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” “Roundabout,” and “Wonderous Stories.” The tour is going to be “a lot of fun,” he states, due in no smart part to the audience. “It’s the audience that is the reflection of who you are, and when you go onstage you want to project a great feeling of confidence and experience, and that’s what you’re getting from the audience. It’s a two-way balance, you know?”

Before we say goodbye, I ask if he feels any differently about his craft than he did when he was a young man, touring the world for the first time. “I seem to have this feeling, especially now that I’m in my 70s, and Jean-Luc is in his 70s, that the music is better than we’ve ever done. That’s the way we feel, or else we wouldn’t do it.” | Jim Ousley

AndersonPonty Band will be performing at The Pageant in St. Louis on May 13. For all tour dates and information, visit

04.28 | Fox Theater, Tucson
04.30 | The Canyon, Agoura Hills CA
05.01 | City National Grove of Anaheim CA
05.04 | Boulder Theater, Boulder CO
05.06 | Majestic Theater, Dallas
05.07 | One World Theater, Austin
05.10 | Ames Center, Burnsville MN
05.11 | Arcada Theater, St. Charles IL
05.13 | The Pageant, St. Louis
05.14 | Barrymore Theater, Madison WI
05.17 | Riviera Theater, N. Tonawanda NY
05.18 | Tarrytown Music Hall, Tarrytown NY
05.20 | Cabot Performing Arts Center, Beverly MA
05.23 | Ridgefield Playhouse, Ridgefield CT
05.25 | The Egg-Hart Theater, Albany
05.26 | St. Denis Theater, Montreal
05.27 | Raoul-Jobin, Palais Montcalm, Quebec

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