Talks with Jon Anderson about Survival & other Stories
©2011 Ambient Visions

Jon Anderson
Photo by Robin Kauffman©


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Survival & other Stories

AV:  You have always been active in music whether you were touring or recording new music but in May of 2008 you suffered an asthma attack that put you out of commission for a number of months. How serious was this incident and how did it affect your outlook on life, relationships and your career? 

JA:  There were also other complications that year as well. It was a very difficult time, and with the help of my wife Janee and some fine doctors I regained my health, but it took a long time before I could sing again. I kept my spirits up by painting and strumming on the guitar, and mumbling ideas into 'garage band'. It didn't stop my creative flow and it made me be thankful for life , my children, my Janee, my world of music, my close friends and every single day that comes.  

AV:  Were there any changes in how you approached your songwriting/touring once you were able to get back to work? 

JA:  Not really, there was a new inspired feeling inside. I just wanted to thank the Gods for life, and praise Nature in all it's wonderment. As for touring, I've never felt so happy, healthy, and in love with performing, 'ever'.

AV:  Your music has always contained a spiritual and mystical component to it going all the way back to the classic years of Yes. For your solo material have you brought even more of these spiritual elements into your lyrics? Is this because you no longer have to consider band mates in deciding what to write?

JA:  I always dreamed of finding 'truth' to life, and I'm on course to that understanding. Writing and singing about it has always been part of my music, from Yes songs to Vangelis songs, and solo too. There has always been that thread of 'searching' accepting and understanding this amazing world. As I say, we are all spiritual beings, I, like many people, love to sing about it.


AV:  What is it that inspires you as you compose your music and has that changed for you doing solo work compared to how you composed music as part of Yes? If so in what ways?

JA:  These days I wake up with music sent to me from people around the world. My son Damion just sent me a track yesterday, and I just sang a song instant ideas, and sent it back to him, 'with Love'. It happens most everyday. I do have many 'songs in the works' that need a finishing touch. Sometimes it takes time for the songs to formulate but that's the nature of music.

AV:  Were you happy to get back out on the road in 2009 and was it difficult to get back into the swing of things after having spent an extended period of time recuperating from your serious health condition?

JA:  It was like riding a bike, a bit unsteady at first, but soon I got the hang of it, and now it's just wonderful to be free and up there singing my head off.

AV:  You were even touring with Rick Wakeman in 2010 on an exclusive UK tour. How long had it been since the two of you were out on tour together and did the two of you settle back into a familiar rhythm of working together?

JA:  We have a good, honest friendship. We toured 4 years ago, and it was such fun to sing with him. He has a very unique musical touch, and he likes to joke on stage, which is a blast for me and the audience. We have a beautiful album of songs out now.

AV:  Tell me about the album The Living Tree and how that came about and what kind of music that listeners can expect to hear from the reuniting of two members of Yes?

JA:  Well we started writing the songs last year, songs for the tour we called it, just to add some new thoughts to the show. Then we realized we had enough for an album. They are different and very special, and they started to grow with every performance.

AV:  When did you start working on the songs that ended up on Survival & other Stories? Did you already have the Survival album in mind at this time?

JA:  Yes I had most of the songs ready late last year. I have enough for 3 albums, so I decided to release 'Survival ' now. It's the right time.

AV:  The title Survival & other Stories seems to be reflective of what you just went through in 2008. Tell me about the title for this album due out in June 2011 and what it means to you. Why did you choose the songs that you did to include on this release?

JA:  Janee and I decided which songs would work. I had about 20 to choose from, and we felt that the songs were a reflection on the past 3 years. It's about surviving a serious time of health issues, and the bond of 'love' that surrounds us in spirit, and the world at this time, deep in wonderful chaos, yet evolving as the world always does.

AV:  I found the openness of the song Unbroken Spirit to be sobering as you look at life from the perspective of one who is growing old but remaining unbroken in spirit despite it  all. Tell me about your motivations for writing this song and how much of you personally do we find in these words.

JA:  It has a deep effect on me when I sing this song on stage, because I know there are many people out there that have gone through or are going through the same ordeal, hospital and the like. It's a difficult thing to imagine, but the spirit is very strong and can overcome these trials.

AV:  When you are writing songs for a release like Survival & other Stories do you steer the music in a certain direction to match the themes of an album?

JA:  Not really, I feel it the other way around. I just write songs as they come to me, and then look back and check them, change a lyric here and there, or vocal.  Once they are ready, they are ready, then it's a question of which songs work with which songs. Sometimes I realize that I have a larger outlook on a project , that's when I start to link song ideas together very much like the longer formed songs from Yes. I have about 5 large projects running at the same time now. When they will be finished is anyone's guess.

AV:  Tell me about the ad that you put on your website 4 years ago that said “Musicians Wanted” and how that helped shape and mold what became Survival & other Stories. What were you looking for at the time and what kinds of responses did you get?

JA:  This was truly amazing, to get so many peeps interested in sending me their music, and so much of it was great. I'm meeting so many new musicians all the time now. It has been like opening Pandora's Box, there are so many talented peeps out there.

AV:  I’m sure most of us think that when it comes to creating and marketing an album it must be easy for someone who has been in the music business as long as you have. There is a quote in your liner notes to Survival that says “Making music is easy…It’s the business
that’s hard.” Does that still hold true for you today even after the long and successful career you have had with Yes and now as a solo artist?

JA:  Yes it is 'Hard' always. There is no easy road to success. You have to 'pay your dues' as they say, and then keep it going. That's the trick, keeping a steady incline of developing your strengths in music and practice, practice, practice.

AV:  What kind of help did you have in making Survival & other Stories a reality?

JA:  Great music that was sent to me via the Internet. No producers, just Janee and I, but I met some and they were enthusiastic, which helped. Rob at 'VoicePrint' records was always there to listen and help...a wonderful dude.

AV:  How has the internet made the process of creating an album like Survival an easier path to walk?

JA:  The Internet is the savior of many things, including music. It has become a 'world' studio don't you know!!!!

AV:  Were you a hands on kind of guy when it came to mixing and mastering Survival & other Stories? If not how is it that you work with the person who will be responsible for shaping your music into its final form?

JA:  I mixed the songs in my studio, and then went to a friend's studio in LA  to se if they sounded OK!! With the help of Patrico, the engineer, I was able to get them just right. Wonderful to know my studio sounds good.

AV:  Is there a song on Survival that you are particularly proud of or that captures the spirit of the album? Why?

JA:  I really love 'Incoming', 'Understanding Truth'. All of them, to be honest, are a part of me. It's funny, when you mix, and it's done, you sit back and feel contentment. Then that disapears a day or so later, and you start to judge the music. Bad thing really, you just have to let go and remember that moment of contentment instead.

AV:  With the release of Survival coming up in June 2011 how do you feel about the whole project looking back at it from the finished side instead of at the start of it? Are you happy with how it all turned out and were you able to capture in music the concept of “survival” and “triumph” as you had lived through it?

JA:  I really believe it works, and it's a new start for me on many levels. I have a great belief in the future. It's very exciting.

AV:  I noticed that you and Jane are listed as producers on Survival. When it comes to your music what role does Jane play in helping you decide if a song you wrote nailed what you were after or still needs some work?

JA:  She is the love of my life, and a great critic. She pulls no punches at all. So I want to win her over and over again with better music and songs. She loves all kinds of music, and it helps.

AV:  Will you be out on the road doing Survival for live audiences summer of 2011? Do you enjoy performing live after all these years of touring? What is it that you get out of doing your music live for an audience that you don’t get by just putting out the music on a CD?

JA:  If the album is well received, I would tour with a small group to perform the songs.   But we will see what happens. In answer to your question about performing live I get a feeling of 'oneness' when I'm up there singing.

AV:  After all these years of living in the U.S. what was it that made you finally decide to become a U.S. citizen a couple of years ago?

JA:  I want to be a part of the 'Dream'. We are the children of the world. America has a long way to go to become that Dream, but it will happen.

AV:  Any closing thoughts about your music or your philosophy of life at this stage of your life?

JA:  My Mantra is 'It will happen when it happens', and 'God has no religion'.

AV:  Thanks for taking a little time out of your schedule to answer some questions for Ambient Visions. Wishing you much success with the new album and whatever else life brings your way.