Former Yes guitarist and singer Jon Anderson certainly gets around.
Last year, it was a collaboration with Jean Luc Ponty for their album Better Late Than Never and, earlier this year, it was announced that he was getting back together with Yes bandmates Rick Wakeman and Trevor Rabin for the long rumored AWR project. An album is in the works while the three will tour together later this year.
In the meantime, Anderson has another project about to be released with Swedish guitarist Roine Stolt. Stolt has been a leader in rock music in his own country for decades in bands like Kaipa, The Flower Kings and Transatlantic along with a very successful solo career.
Their new album, Invention of Knowledge (July 8 via InsideOut Music) isn’t just two giants from the progressive world pooling their considerable natural resources, but a project with a fresh sound, in the process making music that spans the ages.
The idea to bring together the Yes legend and The Flower Kings/Transatlantic maestro actually came from InsideOut owner Thomas Waber.
“It was Thomas who originally told me that I should work with Jon Anderson,” recalls Stolt. “But at the time, Jon was just so busy that I couldn’t see any way this might happen” but fate, as it can sometimes do, already had laid plans for this alliance. So, in February 2014, the pair were brought together on the Progressive Nation At Sea cruise.
“Mike Portnoy suggested Transatlantic should do a couple of songs live with Jon, when he agreed to join the cruise. It was meant to be a surprise for everyone, and no more than a 20 minute set. But then Jon emailed and suggested we should also do the first side of the Tales From Topographic Oceans album. Now, I love that music, but it was an extra 20 minutes to learn but we were all really keen to do this. So, we spent three hours on board the boat rehearsing, and then performed for an hour or so with Jon, doing The Revealing Science Of God (Dance Of The Dawn) (the aforementioned Topographic Oceans piece), Long Distance Runaround, And You And I and Starship Trooper. That was the first time I had ever met Jon, but we got on very well.”
“Roine and I had a wonderful instant connection when we met on that boat out of Miami two years ago,” adds Anderson.
From this beginning, Anderson and Stolt began exchanging musical ideas across the world. “The foundation of the songs started many moons ago via the internet,” explains Anderson. “Even though we are at opposite ends of the world, we have been able to co-create this very special album, thanks to the modern technological world we live in.”
“Jon began to send me through files with ideas he had,” adds Stolt. “And I took these, chopped them into bits and began to assemble the tracks for the album. This process began in the summer of 2014 and over the next six months or so, everything came together. Because of the time difference, Jon would get up in the morning and send me over demos he had been creating with musicians out there, and I would then take these and develop them.”
And Stolt was delighted with the way things worked out. “It was like going back to the ’70s in one way. Because there were no rules. We were drawing inspiration from all sorts of musical heritages across the world. There were no restrictions. Jon said he didn’t want us to do a traditional progressive rock album, but rather wanted it to be progressive music. It took me a little while to understand what he meant. However, the point was that we didn’t need to aim at producing a rock record. We should be prepared to bring in any musical elements we wanted. And he was right. We took inspiration from anywhere and everywhere. There is so much music out there to be excited by, so why deny yourself that possibility?”
However, there is still a familiarity in the way the music sounds, something Stolt was keen to keep at the core of what has been achieved.
“Yes, I felt we should keep it all on recognizable territory. Both of us have a history of music behind us. To take on something completely new wasn’t really something either of us wanted to do.
However, this is definitely the most complicated and detailed music that I have ever done. And that’s so exciting.”
The recording process began a year ago, with Stolt going into the studio with three old friends to record the basic tracks.
“I worked with The Flowers Kings duo of Jonas Reingold on bass and Felix Lehrmann on drums, with Tom Brislin on keyboards. Tom had done the Yes Symphonic Tour, and I knew him well. It was important for me to be comfortable with the musicians at this stage, because that way I was more relaxed about telling them how we wanted it all to sound. If I had been in the studio with people who were strangers, then I might have felt more restricted.”
Stolt of course handled all the guitars parts, and subsequently other musicians were inveigled into the tapestry. These included Nad Sylvan plus Pain Of Salvation’s Daniel Gildenlow both on backing vocals, joined by female singers Anja Obermayer, Maria Rerych and Kristina Westas.
“I also did some of the backing vocals,” reveals Stolt. “But none of the lead ones. Jon did all of those, as well as writing the melodies and lyrics. And he was happy with me to work with the musicians I chose in the studio. He trusted my instincts.
“Jon recorded his vocals in California, and I constructed these parts of the songs from the files he sent me.”
The album has been co-produced by the two main protagonists and Stolt was very impressed with Anderson’s attention to detail.
“He was very specific in what he believed was needed. I have never worked with anyone who had so many creative ideas. I loved it. For instance, he might suggest that there was a need for a tribal rhythm at 12 minutes and 43 seconds into a track. Or, that his vocal needed a little effect at seven minutes and 12 seconds. It was so easy working with him. Not in the least what anyone might believe.”
The album has just four tracks – Invention Of Knowledge, Everybody Heals, Know and Knowing. “As you would expect, these are very long,” said Stolt. “It is difficult to describe the way they sound. You’ll have to hear for yourself. There is so much going on musically. As I said earlier, it does reflect the attitude in the ’70s, when artists didn’t allow their creativity to be confined to a linear dimension.”
“Working with Roine has been such a musical mystical journey for me,” muses Anderson. “I’ve had so many musical adventures in music over the past decade, and feel the time is just right to release some of the songs that came to me with the help of fellow musicians. Roine has proved to be an excellent producer, as well as a very soulful guitarist and all round musician. We decided to create long-form musical journeys for people to take time to relax, listen and enjoy the results of our labors.”
“For me, this is an album that will prove to be timeless,” says Stolt. “In the way that you can put on a Yes album from the ’70s now and it still sounds fresh, so I feel people will be able to listen to what we have done here in 10 years’ time and it will still make an impact.”