Trevor Rabin: “Playing Yes Songs without Jon Anderson Isn’t Relevant to Me”

He also discusses the future of the ad hoc Yes reunion band, Anderson Rabin Wakeman.

By Brian Ives

Trevor Rabin is the guy more responsible than anyone for Yes’s ’80s re-launch. The South African singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist-producer was originally forming a new band with then-ex-Yes members Chris Squire and Alan White, to be called Cinema. Soon, former Yes members Tony Kaye and Jon Anderson joined the group, which became Yes. But it was Rabin’s songs — notably “Owner of a  Lonely Heart,” a number one hit — that revitalized the ’70s prog-rockers for a new decade and the MTV era. 

But after four albums with Yes, he left the band to focus on film scores, and that’s kept him busy over the years; his credits include Con Air, Armageddon, Gone in 60 Seconds, Snakes on a Plane and Get Smart, among many others. Last year, though, he returned to touring by co-founding Anderson Rabin Wakeman, with fellow Yes alumni Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman. Soon after that came word that Yes would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Rabin spoke to Radio.com about ARW, the induction and what the future holds for him and ARW. 

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Speaking with Jon Anderson six years ago or so, he said you and Rick Wakeman were starting a project. It took a while for you guys to get it together for last year’s tour!

It did take quite a long time. I was really busy with film scores, I had been for 17-odd years. The schedule got really in the way, and Rick had to schedule.

It had been a long time since you toured; how did you like it?

I think I can speak for Rick and Jon as well, we spoke about it at length saying it’s quite amazing that after so many years of doing it, this is the most we’ve ever enjoyed it. We just had a ball every night; we looked forward to it. There wasn’t one night where it wasn’t just immense fun.

There was a nice bond between you and Rick, even though you weren’t in Yes at the time same, except for the “Union” tour of 1991-1992.

That was a big part of it, Rick and I kind of found each other and just loved playing together, and we always promised each other that this is a “bucket list” thing, we’ve got to do this again at some point.

Did you enjoy playing the songs from Steve Howe’s era?

Well, I enjoy it actually quite a lot more now, because this time around, Rick and I decided that, rather than play the songs exactly as they are on the record, we would obviously respect and adhere to certain parts which are obviously really pivotal to the song. But both of us were gonna approach the songs as if they’re brand new songs and we’re about to record them. So we really approached the songs as if they were [new] while respecting… we didn’t want people to listen to the songs and not recognize them. It gave a lot more energy and a lot more freshness by doing it that way.

Did you miss playing live?

The funny thing is, I didn’t for a while, and the first time I realized how much I was missing it was the first show we did.

Being in a band — and especially that band — there are big personalities. Did you want to avoid the drama of bands after you left in 1995?

I think it was more that I was enjoying conducting and working with an orchestra on films and I just love that so much, so I didn’t really have any thoughts of anything else. In fact, Chris Squire had approached me a number of times during the period from when I started to pretty much up until he passed away he was talking to me about coming back and playing. And he always had this funny saying, “When are you gonna give up your best job and get back on the road?”

But I really didn’t have any passion to do it, and one of the catalysts was when he passed away, Rick and I and Jon spoke and said, “Now is the time. We really owe it to ourselves to do it now.” And I think that was it; that’s when I started realizing it’s really time to do this. We’re all ready for it, it seems like the right time.

When you say that Chris wanted you to come back, was his vision to have you and Steve Howe in the band together?

It changed. There was one point where it was to have the two guitars, and then there was one point where Jon left [in 2008] and he had said he wants to discuss a lineup, and we never got to have that meeting because I was so busy at the point and just couldn’t even concentrate on thinking about that and really wasn’t into it. And there was really never any point when those discussions were had that I was very interested. For me to do this — in fact ARW proves this point — I didn’t feel that playing Yes songs, to me, was too relevant without having Jon singing them.

There was a rumor that ARW approached Bill Bruford to play drums.

I haven’t spoken to Bill. Jon, I don’t think, has spoken to him; I don’t think Rick has. So maybe someone has spoken to him, someone in management, but I certainly haven’t spoken to him.

Will ARW do any new music?

Yeah. Actually, Jon was at my studio [recently] putting final touches on a couple of tracks we’ve been working on and we’re just gonna do it song by song and bit by bit, and as we go along we’ll formulate what the whole concept is. But these days doing an album is very different to what doing an album was many years ago. It’s almost freeing, although I really miss the idea of an album and the album cover and the sequencing of the songs and the whole story that the album might develop into, but it’s also quite freeing having this kind of thing where you just put a song out. It’s kind of cool.

Jon’s been very prolific in his solo career in recent years.

Right. I’m the problem there. I’m prolific, and I gotta tell you, I learned you don’t have a choice but to be prolific when you’re doing film stuff. But I’m a bit of a stickler for polishing things up and getting them to where I think they’re perfect, and I know there’s two kinds of artists, there’s those that do that and then there are the others that are very prolific. Like Prince was very prolific, and I remember hearing that George Michael said to Prince or to his manager, one of Prince’s problems is he doesn’t edit himself. And I thought about it and I said that’s a good point, but at the same time, it’s another way of doing it. But I guess I’m on the other side of the equation with that.

How do you feel about your upcoming Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction?

Oh, it’s a real honor. I didn’t even think about it, I’ve never really thought about it, and then obviously we’ve been nominated a couple of times before, and so the third time was obviously the charm, but because we’ve been nominated twice before, I didn’t necessarily think, “This time’s gonna be it.” So I was still quite surprised.

Do you have any sense of which members will perform that night? [Editor’s note: this interview was conducted a few weeks ago]

We completely honor who the Hall of Fame have mentioned that the nominees are, which is basically the same band who did the Union tour. Whichever members are available to do it on that night, that would be fine with all of us.

A lot of fans were upset that Peter Banks wasn’t included. I know that his era was years before you joined the band, but what are your thoughts on that?

Yeah, I agree. I always loved Peter. I’ve got on really well with Peter, we always got on well, and in fact, during the Union tour he was hoping to come and play with us, and I was quite excited about it. It didn’t happen and now he’s passed, unfortunately.

Is appeared as though Steve Howe was always very touchy about having another guitarist on stage; even for the brief period where he and Billy Sherwood were both playing guitar for the band in the late ’90s.

Well, I didn’t really concern myself with that, because once the Union thing happened it happened pretty quickly. And I guess I don’t wanna say anything that’s going to be construed as being what it isn’t… but to me, the really exciting thing for me was just how well Rick and I got on. I think that eclipsed any other concerns that might have been had.

So, at the Hall of Fame you guys may share the stage; could you imagine another Union scenario, where both sides get together for a full tour?

Well, I think that would be fine if that’s what happens. But I think from ARW’s point of view, we’ve always looked upon ARW as being the best… we look upon ARW as being our version of a reunion, because as you rightly mentioned, Rick and I, outside of Union, haven’t played together.

But it would be great to see you guys with Alan White again.

We love Alan, and I know he hasn’t been well and he had a friend of his replace him [in the touring band] for quite some time, but happily, he’s up and running.

Have you spoken to Tony Kaye?

I did speak to Tony. Tony got in touch with me to say how great it was, and I don’t know if he’s gonna make it, but hopefully, he can.

Beyond ARW, are you working on more film scores, and are you going to do any more solo albums?

I am. In fact, I’ve got two solo records which I’m scheduled to do and two scores which I’m not at liberty to mention right now. I get ostracized by doing so. But I pretty much signed on to them now, and so I’m pretty busy right up until the end of 2018 at this point.

I did an instrumental album in 2012. I wanna follow that up with another [instrumental] album, and I also do wanna do a kind of vocal rock album to follow up on the Can’t Look Away album [from 1989]. Yeah, then obviously, a priority goal for us is ARW, and I’ve got these songs to do, but nothing’s gonna get in the way of the ARW tour for Rick, me or Jon.

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