Yes was at a crossroads. The band’s founding bassist, Chris Squire, had just passed away from a long bout with cancer in June 2015, and a fall co-headlining tour with Toto was imminent. Luckily, Squire had hand-picked his successor: multi-instrumentalist Billy Sherwood, (pictured) who had already been a member of Yes for a period of time in the previous decade.
“Chris asked me to promise him I would make Yes my priority — and that’s exactly what I did,” Sherwood tells Best of NJ. Yes is bringing their summer Album Series tour to a pair of shows in New Jersey: first, they’ll be at Bergen PAC in Englewood tonight, August 10, and then they’ll be at Mayo PAC in Morristown on Saturday, August 13. In addition to Yes perennials like “Roundabout” and “Starship Trooper,” the band will be performing the 1980 album Drama in full in the night’s first set, and then two sides of 1973’s sprawling double-album epic Tales From Topographic Oceans in the second set. The second show that Sherwood had to fill Squire’s sizable shoes took place at NJPAC in Newark a year ago on August 8, where the late bassist’s signature bass guitar sat on a rack onstage with a lone spotlight on it before Yes came out to perform. “Chris was loved by many people,” Sherwood observes. “The institution of Yes is huge and global, so that was a nice touch. It was very sweet.”
In an exclusive interview, Sherwood tells us why Yes enjoys playing in New Jersey, what fans can expect from the current Album Series shows, and his favorite song to play in the set.
Best of NJ:New Jersey has always been quite receptive to Yes over the years.
Billy Sherwood: I know the passion for Yes is pretty huge with the people in New Jersey. The audience reactions there are what stick in my mind. Jersey is just fantastic in responding to the stuff you play. I look forward to seeing that again, and getting even more of it. They’re going to be really, really excited to hear what we’ve got for them, and that’ll just amplify the experience for everybody.
Best of NJ: Can you give us a preview of what New Jersey fans can expect from this current Yes run?
Sherwood: Yeah, the two tracks we’re doing from Tales are “Ritual” and “The Revealing Science of God.” We’ve been doing those every night lately, and they’ve been sounding fantastic. They’re just so much fun to play. It’s really exciting to hear that music onstage. There’s so much energy behind them here in 2016.
Best of NJ: I saw you do the Drama track “Tempus Fugit” at NJPAC in Newark last August, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen “Machine Messiah” done live.
Sherwood: It sounds great — and there’s some great bass stuff to play too, which keeps me busy all night.
Best of NJ: Chris Squire certainly left you quite the challenge to tackle with the bass lines he laid down on those tracks, but you may be one of the only guys who can do them justice. After all, he gave you the official nod to carry on in his place.
Sherwood: Yeah, that was his wish. That was his plan, not mine. (chuckles) It’s a pretty amazing thing to think about, but that’s how he wanted it — so here we are, you know?
Best of NJ: Do you have a favorite song to play every night, or one that’s the most challenging?
Sherwood: Well, they’re all challenging, that’s for sure! But I must say, my favorite song to play is “Ritual,” just because it’s got a great bass solo. (laughs) We are able to paint between the lines and there are a few areas where I’m able to take it a little sideways, but it’s very much true to the record.
If you’re a bass player, there are no better parts to play. Me, I’m having a blast. I’m getting to dive into all my favorite bass parts that Chris ever created. The band is really happy and sounding great onstage. The fans are supporting it, and they really rallied around the band after Chris’s passing.
Best of NJ: Do you feel like you’re helping to maintain the Yes legacy? You have a lot of responsibility out there.
Sherwood: I’ve been in the band before, as you know, so it’s familiar territory. Had I never been in Yes, I’d feel tremendous pressure going into it, but it was really like going back to your summer home. It was comfortable. I already knew all the personalities and how it all worked. And I know the music really, really well, because I just know it. It made it easier on that front.
The hardest time was the first tour we did after Chris had passed, because the emotions were scattered all over the place — not only for me, but for the fans too, because they were dealing with an emotional evening. Time has passed and we still miss him, but we’ve moved into another stage here, and for me personally, it’s much more relaxed and at ease. I feel more at home with it all — which is what Chris wanted.
It’s just a real special time for Yes right now. There’s a renaissance going on here that’s quite cool.
Best of NJ: Why do you think the time is now for Yes?
Sherwood: Regardless of any personnel changes, at the center of all of it is the music. As long as the music is being represented with integrity, grace, and respect, I think the fans appreciate that — and they want to come see it. It’s a two-way street. We come to do our best to represent these songs, and they come support it. The two worlds collide, and that stimulates the thing to keep moving it forward. Like I said, it’s sort of a renaissance time for Yes — and who woulda thunk it in 2016?
If you had told me I would have wound up being the bass player in this band, I wouldn’t have believed you in a million years! (laughs heartily) Strange things happen around this band, but they’re always positive. And that’s what I’ve always liked about it.
Mike Mettler (@MikeMettler), a.k.a. The SoundBard, is the weekly Audiophile columnist for Digital Trends, the music editor of Sound & Vision, and is currently writing the authorized biography of the band Styx. In his spare time, he dreams of owning a turquoise 1967 fastback Mustang, just like the one his parents owned while he was growing up. (This would mean cleaning out his garage, but that’s a Jersey resident’s conundrum for another time.)
Hero (Top) Feature Image: ©Glenn Gottlieb
Additional Images (in Order) Courtesy:
Live photos courtesy Krista Mettler