Yes man Jon Anderson on why it's taken 30 years to release new solo LP 1,000 Hands
Yes founder and prog rock pioneer Jon Anderson talks about 1,000 Hands, the solo album he began 30 years ago and has finally completed
By any standard, Jon Anderson's latest album has been a long time coming. The co-founder and former frontman of progressive rock titans Yes started work on 1,000 Hands 30 years ago, during a writing retreat in the Big Bear Mountain ski resort in southern California.
Alongside his friend and long-standing collaborator Brian Chatton, he laid down some tracks. But life got in the way; Anderson went on tour with Japanese new-age pioneer Kitaro while Chatton took off to play keyboard and organ for R&B greats like the late BB King.
The tapes spent decades gathering dust in Anderson's California garage. That was until two years ago, when he was contacted by Orlando-based producer Michael Franklin, who had secured an investment to complete the record.
"Life happens," Anderson chuckles from his home studio, surrounded by various synthesisers, drums and stringed instruments from around the globe.
"I promised to go on tour in America and Japan with Kitaro so off I went while Brian went the other way to work with BB King and other people like that. He had an idea of how he wanted to hear the tracks and he actually spent time and money working on it.
"He sent me the mixes and I said: 'Actually Brian, it's a little bit too overproduced. Love you man! But let's leave it for now.'"
Anderson initially dubbed the project Uzlot – meaning "us lot" in a droll reference to his Lancashire upbringing – until Franklin suggested they change the name to 1,000 Hands, a nod to the number of artists who contributed to the record.
"He surprised me every week with new ideas. He was very dedicated to it," Anderson says in his quivering alto-tenor voice, his accent only slightly softened by years of US living.
"We are connected to do chapter two and we have already done half a dozen songs. We are going to do some more in the new year and release that next Christmas."
The title is no exaggeration – the record features an array of guests including jazz pianist Chick Corea, legendary drummer Billy Cobham, French jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, the Tower of Power horn section and more.
Most importantly, it also features recordings from Anderson's former Yes bandmates – drummer Alan White and bassist Chris Squire. This makes the album special indeed following the death of Squire in 2015 from a rare form of leukaemia.
"We were like yin and yang," he recalls of his late partner.
Like his music, conversation with Anderson darts from the technical to the spiritual and back again – for him the two are intertwined.
Around the same time as the record's inception, Anderson moved to America for good.
"I'd had enough of a few things," he recalls.
"Managers that don't take care of people, managers who pretend to love what you are doing but have got no idea."
He considered moving to southern China but on one of his final trips to Los Angeles met his second wife and muse, Jane Luttenberger.
"As a fate would have it, I came back to LA and I met this beautiful woman and fell in love and I've been seeing her in my meditation – my Janey. She's a busy lady, very smart, keeps me going and saves my life. I'm very blessed on that level."
Anderson became a US citizen in 2009 but is the first to admit the country's flaws.
"America is a strange and crooked place – crooked on many levels," he half-jokes.
"I've lived here 30 years. I'm an American citizen so they can't kick me out of the country for saying that," he adds with a nervous laugh.
Donald Trump is "an idiot", he says, before asserting his support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
"He doesn't care," he says.
"He has no powers of caring at all. Just to let you know where my heart is, it's with the people, with Black Lives Matter."
The music of 1,000 Hands spans throw-back prog-rock in the form of Activate and Come Up, hypnotic rhythms on WDMCF and whimsical reggae on First Born Leaders.
The final track is a reference to the generation Anderson himself emerged from – the social justice warriors of 60s and 70s, many of whom still attend his gigs when he plays live.
"When I was on tour with 1,000 Hands last year I would do a couple of songs and say: 'We are the first born leaders. Everyone here, you remember the 60s' – most of them are from that time.
"The 60s was this revolutionary time – emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. All you need is love was Krishna but The Beatles sang it and The Beatles were touching the whole world."
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Anderson has turned to meditation for solace. However, the music of the past has also been an aid.
"Music has always helped," he explains.
"In the 60s the music was the lead energy. It was The Beach Boys, it was The Beatles, it was the Stones, it was Zappa, and even in the 70s – Yes got in there as well. We all kept going and we're still hippy."
:: 1,000 Hands by Jon Anderson is out now.