Global Bass Online May 2000
In searching the `Net for peripheral informationregarding the band Yes for our interview last issue with Chris Squire, we came across the following two tribute bands. Now we have all seen Springsteen, Aerosmith and Allman Brother tribute bands, but to tangle with the likes of Yes is another matter entirely. This got us to thinking about Tribute bands and what on earth motivates them!?! Particularly when paying tribute to a band that plays epic songs created with multiple sections, interwoven lyrics with wide complex harmonies, this must have proven to be a monumental task. So we had to ask, and they were anxious to tell us…
Being in a tribute band can set you up for a lot of work,particularly if you choose a marketable band to pay homage to. So this issue we’ve decided to take a closer look at a couple of groups that have used the Tribute route rather successfully. One of them is from England and the other from the State of Ohio in the U.S. Both have decided to take on the formidable task of emulating one of Rocks most identifiable and longest running icons. No, not the Rolling Stones or Bob Seger. Both of these would have actually been a lot easier to pull off than the group these folks have chosen.
Fragile, from England, and Envision from the U.S, have both embracd the complex and multileveled music of YES. In this issue we will speak to the bassists from both of these bands. In many ways, the task or role of playing the part of YES’s Chris Squire would be a daunting one.
The source of much of YES’s identity and sound over the past 3 decades is the monster bassist Chris Squire. Anyone tackling this role had best be at the very least, an exceptionally good bass player. This person must not only have their chops together, they must have a good ear for discerning complex parts, sometimes buried in songs recorded with the less sophisticated technology available decades ago, when recording technology like our present day CD was unheard of.
As well, Squire achieved much of his success as a bass player built upon 5 things. A unique sound mixed well forward in the music, an outgoing stage presence, a strong sense of teamwork, leadership and vision, a great voice that melded perfectly with the lead vocalist and bass parts that sounded like NO ONE else. Filling those shoes, even in a tribute band could be the undoing a many a musician, and completely beyond the scope of discipline for any ‘jobber’.
We begin first with Fragile, a band from England. Jon Bastable, bassist for Fragile spent some time with us recently, giving us a bit of the inside track on life in the band and his thoughts on trying to find a balance as a bassist and a person trying to represent a larger than life individual.
Global Bass: A tribute band can be a bit of a mixed blessing, as I am sure you know, in that there are the natural limitations put upon the band to confine the songs they play live to the actual song list of the band they are emulating. In that light with your live shows, do you perform any original songs or songs by other progressive bands, or do you work solely through Yes’s repertoire?
Jon Bastable: Our original material for the band (at this time) consists of a three-minute instrumental, written by the keyboard player.
GB: Are you one of the original founding members of Fragile and what were the series of events that brought about the founding of the band itself?
Jon: I’m one of the two founding members along with Steve the vocalist. Steve had been a fan of Yes for a number of years and it was always commented upon that when he sang, he sounded like Jon Anderson. We had gone to see Yes in London in March of `98 and on the way home I said, “We can do that”. This would have never worked without that correct voice and that, I feel, gives us the edge over any possible competition.
GB: You have been playing for over 20 years now, in that time, have you always been a fan, an admirer or Chris Squire’s?
Jon: I have been a fan of Chris’ since I began playing bass. I must admit though to trying to emulate Geddy Lee of Rush in the early `80’s. My true style of playing is actually closer to that of Geddy’s so to do this properly, I had to adapt.
Global: Do you have any other particular influences player wise?
Jon: Apart from the above influences I have to admit to liking Jaco Pastorius and I even played nothing but fretless from 1985 to `95.
GB: Do you play any other instruments than bass?
Global: Using a Ricky seems to be a natural choice if doing the music of Yes, do you include the Chris Squire Signature bass as part of your bass collection?
Global: What strings, amps and effects do you use to achieve the Squire sound?
Global: I am under the impression from what you have told me that this group has been a major growth experience for you, one reason not the least of which is the sheer scope of player your role has to be.
Jon: This band has been a great experience for me, though I am no newcomer to Progressive Rock. It still has taught me a lot about the bass. I always think that if I had had to sit down and write a bassline for these songs, I wouldn’t have had a clue!
Global: What kind of regimen have you had to develop to
undertake such a massive body of work?
*We choose a song (the next one we have decided to tackle is ‘Awaken’),
*I will listen to the song at least five times a day for two to three weeks.
*I will attempt to work out a rough outline of the song, like the main riffs, etc.
*I will then, using headphones for clarity, pick out every note individually using studio and live versions for reference.
*I don’t write out anything, that forces it to be relegated to actual memory.
*I then play through the whole song at least twice a day until we take it to rehearsal.
*By then I know the song so well that I often end up helping others with their parts.
Global: As a tribute band, you can set yourself for a lot of scrutiny. Some people derive great joy trying to make the uncommon common. Also, some bass players can be very competitive. There are also a lot of hot-dogging bass players out there trying to ‘out-Squire’, ‘out-Jaco’ each other. Do you feel that you are under a lot of pressure to capture an accurate picture of your role?
Jon: I don’t feel under any pressure at all. I can look at all the bass players in the audience and dare them to do it! But seriously, I did get problems in the early days before I bought the Ricky, but the comments have stopped.
Global: Do you go into the whole stage look, clothing, lighting, giant rubber dinosaurs!?!?
Jon: We are a band playing Yes music for Yes fans; we don’t go a long way to look ‘alike’, although I love dressing up in silly clothes and Steve (the vocalist) has become Jon Anderson Mark II. Steve has become a bit scary of late as he is really starting to believe he is the guy!!
Global: Do you perform very often and do all the members work exclusively within the perimeters of Fragile?
Jon: We all have our own lives, projects, day jobs and other bands. This is a hobby and a business venture. It is a way of letting off steam. We did our first gig in January 1999 after 7 months of rehearsing and at the end of this year, we have an extensive U.K. tour with at least one trip to France. Full details are on our website.
Global: Have you been able to establish a good following of supporters over the years?
Global: When I spoke to Chris a while ago, I asked him how he manages to keep it straight with the very complex vocal parts that he is expected to handle, all the harmonies and the unusual phrasing that Jon Anderson is known for. I asked him simply how he manages to juggle all this stuff in his head. He told me that what he will do is sit down with the bass part and work it over and over until he no longer has to even think about it. Once it is ‘hard-wired into his head, deep into his thinking, he does the same thing to the vocals. How do you tackle this same hurdle?
Global: Of all the bands to tribute, why YES? What did they have that would capture the interest of all of you in the band?
Global: You have had previous members of Yes itself play with you over the years. How do they come to know about the band and what do they think of what you are doing. To the point, have you ever spoken to Chris and asked him what he thought of Fragile and you as a bassist?
Jon: We’ve played with Peter Banks, the original guitarist of the first two Yes albums, and that was a great experience. I felt like I was reliving a part of history. This came about via a Yes fanclub who reviewed our first gig. Steve Howe’s son came to see us play once and seemed to enjoy it. I have not spoken to Chris himself but they must all be aware of our existence. That may come later.
Global: Have you performed outside of England yet? Do you
hope to say for example, head to the U.S. or Canada?
Jon: I have a slightly different stage persona than Chris. He shines from the stage, larger than life. My persona has always been a bit darker than that. Steve normally introduces me at the end of the gig as the ‘demonic Jon Bastable’. I do like to dress up though, as I mentioned earlier.
When asked about previous band members Jon mentions ‘Our first lead guitarist, Micho from Venezuela, was quite a character. Apart from speaking hardly any English at all, he also had no sense of direction. This often meant that there was zero communication between us and he used to wander 50 or 60 miles away from gigs. Quite often, he would make it to the gig a mere 15 minutes before we were to play. Also, we sacked our first keyboardist before he had a chance to do a single gig. Also, we had a guitarist who joined because it was his “lifelong ambition” and after many rehearsals and just two gigs, decided it wasn’t his dream anymore and left the band.’
Moving away from the English take on Yes, we head to the State of Ohio in the U.S. to speak to the bass player for an American version of a Tribute to Yes. Alexander Bennet MacDonald, Jr. has played bass since 1968, playing in various high school and garage bands from `68 till 1990. From 1990 till `96, Alex started to take on more complex bands, being drawn further in to his life as a bassist. From 1996 till now he has held the position of ‘Chris’ in Envision. The most unusual aspect of this band is the fact that they have chosen a female to cover Jon Anderson’s spot. Mellisa is an uncanny soundalike to Anderson’s voice, rounding out the overall sound of the group and adding that final touch or ‘realism’.
The American `spin’ on an otherwise very English band should prove interesting. They have sent the magazine a CD that was originally recorded in `98 with a few different members than the present day version of the band. Constant members since the time of the CD release are the vocalist Melissa, keyboardist Matt Riddle and the subject of this interview, Alex MacDonald, bass player for the band. The 8-song album contains covers of SIBERIAN KHATRA, WONDEROUS STORIES, ALL GOOD PEOPLE, AMERICA, LONG DISTANCE RUNAROUND, ROUNDABOUT and HEART OF THE SUNRISE.
The CD presents an excellent selling tool to promote the band to venues. The tunes are so close to the original Yes versions as to be uncanny, yet graced with just enough of that original flair to reset the critics ear. Like Fragile, Envision have plans for another CD within the foreseeable future, only this time it will be with original tunes of their very own.
Global: You could have just as easily ended up in a Motorhead or Metallica Tribute band Alex.
Alex: Sure and we’d be working…a lot. It would also be much easier to do that. It would also be financially better, probably even better crowd-wise. We would probably attract more, especially in the location we are in. But there isn’t anything more satisfying than pulling this off. Getting the reaction we do from the real Yes fans.
Global: An effort has been made by the band to sound like Yes, but not completely. Room has been left for originality.
Alex: Yeah and that actual CD was done a couple of years ago now and since then we have capitalized a bit more on that. We’ve kind of put together the ultimate ‘Yes-head’ live set. All the things that we would have like to see them do at shows. The original intent was to play it as close as possible to the studio version. Inevitably, after we began to play a while and began to get very familiar with the stuff every body started adding their own things. This would have been unconceivable on Day One, it was bad enough trying to just play this stuff like the studio takes at that time, and make it sound like something.
Global: It is big music.
Alex: There’s so much going on. It’s not just me. It’s Matt the keyboard player, John the guitar player and everybody. Each of us has multiple things we have to be doing. The guitar, the pedal and the singing and all that. You have to really concentrate on what you are doing. Almost to the point where you don’t get to enjoy what you are doing. (Laughs) You have at least 3 things going on at once. I’ve found while you are balancing all that you have to stay in the moment. The inclination is to start projecting 8 bars into the future. The next line, or ‘oh jeez, look what coming up!’. Invariably when I do that my first thought is, ‘I don’t know! I’ve completely forgotten!’ When I start doing that, I start screwing up in the moment. You have to just stay in what you’re doing and just move along.
Global: Do you actually cover Chris’ vocal parts as well?
Global: Squire’s voice is not like Jon’s, but close enough to lock very nicely.
Alex: Jon’s known for his high voice and Chris would often sing an even higher part.
Global: Which is amazing consider the sheer size of the man.
Global: From reviews of your concerts the consensus is that you are a very good band.
Alex: It’s a great joy and a lot of fun. We put a lot of work into trying to recreate that. Not only just copying Yes, but also trying to put our own spin on it.
Global: You were saying that it is a bit difficult to work as much as you would like where you live in Ohio.
Alex: Yes, we're in the Cleveland, Akron area, tribute bands are fairly well received around here, but bands that do well in this area are Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead, Genesis, The Doors copies.
Global: Still ArtRock though.
Having said that, we are very happy with how well we are dong ourselves at this point. But it’s been a few years to get to this point.
Global: Seemingly with few member changes.
Global: Your concerts are 4 hours long!?!
Alex: We usually have 3 and a half-hour shows. We don’t always get a chance to do the whole thing.
Global: Do you go the way of the huge stage show like your mentors?
Alex: Matt’s (the keyboardist) really the brains behind the outfit. He’s got contacts all over the place about where we get our gigs. People can actually e-mail him, he’s the keeper of the website.
Global: So would you say the gigs tend to be more concerts than bar gigs?
Alex: At this point we try to do more concert venues. It’s really a concert show, it’s not a bar band. As long as people that are coming there know that this is Yes music, we wouldn’t want to bring it on the regulars at a bar!
Global: I can see it now..."Can you play 'Cocaine?' " Is your own original stuff any closer to being?
Global Bass: How do you manage to retain originality when you are so totally immersed in another bands music? You yourself, whether you want to or not, play like Chris Squire.
Global:: Recording the 8 songs on your CD in 2 days is quite remarkable. There must have intense rehearsals before hand to keep things very polished.
Global: Are you a strong believer in rehearsal?
Global: You have to invest the time.
Alex: I am glad we have, as painful it can be sometimes to devote that much time to it, it definitely makes a difference.
When first we went into this article we had no idea whether or not the bass players in these respective bands would recognize the complexity of their roles. The CD from Envison is excellent, incredibly close to Yes in sound and feel but just different enough to remind you from time to time that this is a whole new generation of musicians.
The answers from both Jon Bastable of Fragile and Alex MacDonald of Envision convinced us that both bass players have a good solid grasp upon the role they had taken. You would not expect Pauley to do Shakespeare. Both of these men realize this and have put their all into their respective projects. We will keep you informed of Envisions newest CD when it comes available. As well, just about right now, Fragile is recording it’s first live CD at a gig in England. Both should be interesting and entertaining.
You can find the websites for these two bands at
http://www.yestribute.com/ for FRAGILE
You can also order Cd's from the respective bands at these sights as they become available.
We will be placing ENVISION's CD on our Global Bass Station in a few days. Please check back, you will be impressed.
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