Interview: YES Singer Jon Davison Talks About Heaven & Earth Album
NAME: Jon “Juano” Davison (Jon D.)
TITLE: Singer, Musician, Recording Artist
BANDS: Yes, Glass Hammer
RECORD LABEL: Frontiers Records
BORN: Laguna Beach, CA
CONTACT: Smitty @ S.P. Unlimited (917) 406-7412 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Jon Davison was first introduced to music when he sang in a church youth choir led by his mother. She instilled in him an appreciation of music and a love for singing. He later learned to play guitar and bass. This eventually led to him performing in various original and cover bands with his childhood best friend Taylor Hawkins (currently drummer of the Foo Fighters).
Davison attended the Art Institute of Seattle to study audio and video production throughout the 90’s and he played bass for local group called Sky Cries Mary. The group achieved a respectable level of success touring Japan and also appearing on Late Night With Conan O’Brien, and The Daily Show.
In 2001, Davison moved with his wife Maewe and their son Aleph to her home country of Brazil for a year where he also played bass with Ronald Augusto. In 2006 he became the singer of a Yes tribute band called Roundabout.
In 2009, he joined the well-known Progressive Rock band Glass Hammer recording five albums with the group as lead vocalist on the first three. He now shares that role with singer Carl Groves.
Davison joined Yes as their new lead vocalist for their world tour in 2012, and recently completed the recording of their 2014 release “Heaven & Earth” which is scheduled for release in July on Frontiers Records.
1) Do you remember the first time you were exposed to Yes’ music? And did you ever in your wildest dreams believe that you would one day become a member of this legendary band? What did you do when you got the call to join Yes?
The first time that I remember hearing Yes was when I was listening to KLOS (95.5)/Los Angeles in the mid 80’s and heard “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” That was my very first exposure to Yes music.
Then I went back and discovered their earlier works and of course realized the massive difference between “90125” and the classic material! From that moment on, there has always been this grand and adventurous story to absorb.
I was very excited to get the call to join Yes that goes without saying. I had always felt a kinship with the band. At one point, I was singing in a Yes tribute band called Roundabout, just as a hobby, but purely out of the love for the music. That was a good taste of what it was like to sing Yes music and I was then confident that I could do it.
Yes’ previous singer David Benoit was doing a great job, but when he had to drop out of their tour of Australia, New Zealand and Japan due to illness, they needed someone to step in right away. So I was also very excited to be able to help this band that has always given me so much through their music.
2) Yes is releasing a new album “Heaven & Earth” in July with the first single “In A World Of Our Own” out at Classic Rock Radio now, and the lyric video for the single is coming on July 10th.
Yes – In a World of Our Own (Lyrics Video) on MUZU.TV.
Listening to this new material, your voice seems to fit right into the classic Yes sound, yet you still have your own distinctive style. You also contributed as songwriter on all the tracks. Can you give us a little insight to the Yes songwriting process?
The first thing that happened was that I went out to Chris Squire’s house and set up my portable pro-tools rig so that we could write together. From there, things continued on a one-on-one basis. In late December of 2013, I flew to Steve Howe’s farm house, which is in the countryside of England (and extremely beautiful by the way) and we worked together for about a week collaborating extensively. I then did the same thing with Geoff Downes where he resides in Wales.
In January 2014, the band convened in Los Angeles prior to the recording of the album. That was when the music really came to life as everyone was now involved and we were collaborating on the music as a band. (You can imagine, for example, what it was like to take the music from the demo stage, complete with stiff drum machine parts, to actually having Alan White playing drums!) Everyone was enthusiastically collaborating, contributing, and fleshing out the songs together.
That was an amazing experience… to hear the material I had been painstakingly working on for more than a year in my home studio finally come to life! To witness these great musicians performing this music… it was just awesome! A week later, we were already in the studio laying down the basic tracks and moving forward with the album.
3) We’ve heard that you were introduced to Yes by your long-time friend Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters. Can you tell us a little more about how you two became friends and how you came to join Yes?
Taylor and I grew up together here in Laguna Beach and we were actually neighbors. We met at school in the 2nd grade and we just hit it off! Before we started playing music, we used to geek out with Star Wars action figures. Then one day Taylor called me and said, “I’m getting a drum set and I’m going to be a drummer!”
He said that our other neighbor had turned him onto the drums and had also given him the Queen album “The Game.” He was totally psyched on the reality of Queen and the role of Roger Taylor. That was his iconic figure even from an early age.
Taylor kept telling me that I needed to sing like Freddie Mercury and I just couldn’t relate to that at the time as it wasn’t really a fit with my personality. But I picked up the guitar and then later played bass in high school as we performed side by side in cover bands. We simultaneously learned our instruments and evolved together.
At that time, I couldn’t find my niche as a singer. I knew I had a voice, but I could never sing the average Robert Plant style rock and roll which was more along the lines of what Taylor and I were going for, and which requires a lot more aggression. I’ve always had more of a smooth sounding voice, so I usually just sang background vocals.
I’ve really found a home in Yes music because the style of singing is so unique. It is more “proper” and less of a strain on the voice. It wasn’t until around 2006 that I decided to take a stab at singing lead vocals when the opportunity to join Roundabout came upon me.
Then Taylor had met Yes bassist Chris Squire about five years ago. They have been good friends now for years. Taylor is a real lover of all types of music and is always very interested in his friend’s projects. Naturally he was enthusiastic about what I was doing. He even came on stage and drummed on “Long Distance Run Around” for my last gig with Roundabout in 2009. Taylor had mentioned to Chris that I was doing a great job with it and that if the band should ever need a new singer, I was the guy for the job. Thanks Tay!
4) You will now continue to work with both Yes and your own band Glass Hammer. How did the guys in Glass Hammer feel when you told them you were joining Yes?
They were very excited for me, but they were also a little concerned that I would give up on them. But I assured them that I would have time for both bands and I’ve carried on with that commitment. We have plans to do another album together in the near future.
5) On Yes’ new album “Heaven & Earth” you had the chance to work with legendary Producer Roy Thomas Baker (Queen, The Cars, Guns & Roses). The album was also mixed by former Yes member Billy Sherwood. Please tell us about the recording process for the new Yes album?
Working with Roy was an eye-opening experience. He has so much history attached to his personality, having been such a pillar of Rock ‘N Roll. I mean, when you consider that he produced “Bohemian Rhapsody” and other masterful work with Queen. He’s definitely one of the great producers of all time!
It was an honor to watch Roy work. I studied him a lot. It was also a delight to sit with him over lunch between sessions in the studio. I would pick his brain about what he had experienced in the business and he of course had some amazing stories to tell!
6) Yes have seen recording technology evolve from analog to the digital realm (and they have even been partly responsible for that evolution with Rick Wakeman’s contribution to the synthesizer). Are there some parts of the recording process where Yes still prefers to use vintage equipment instead of using new digital technology?
Yes, it’s actually a hybrid of the two. There was a lot of emphasis on using traditional gear in the studio. Roy reinforced this by implementing the use of analog gear that he personally brought in. I think this approach translates quite well in the overall sound of “Heaven & Earth.”
Upon hearing the record, Taylor Hawkins also pointed out that he thought the sound of the album was very organic. We’ve been so subjectively involved in the making of the album that it has been great to hear other people’s outside perspectives.
7) Last year, Yes toured performing live versions of “The Yes Album,” “Close To The Edge,” and “Going For The One.” This time around, you will be doing “Fragile” and “Close to the Edge” along with the greatest hits and undoubtedly some of your new material. What is your favorite Yes song to perform live and which is the most challenging to perform?
There are actually several challenging Yes songs to perform, and they’re all great. But “Turn of the Century” [from “Going For The One”] was very challenging because of its extreme dynamics. It ended up probably being the most rewarding song to perform as I could sense I was improving with it over time.
“Going For The One” seems like that might be a tough song to perform?
Yes, that was a challenging song because the range is so high! The “Going For The One” album was probably the most challenging album to perform… there’s no doubt about it! Yes were really pushing the limits at that time with songs like “Awaken.”
8) What are your thoughts on the current state of the music industry? What are some of the changes you would like to see happen in the future?
I tend to get nostalgic about how having a tangible vinyl sleeve in your hand once meant everything. Today, it feels like there is more emphasis on the immediate attraction to one particular song at a time, rather than devoting one’s energy and attention to a complete album experience. I’m not saying that’s necessarily the truth with Progressive Rock fans, as I think it’s more of a purist movement, but overall the business of marketing and selling music is catering to the former.
9) Yes fans are generally also audiophiles. Streaming music services like Spotify and Pandora seem to be growing now and Apple’s iTunes is well established. Do you believe that digital audio has a promising future as technologies improve with the introduction of high quality uncompressed files becoming available through new services such as HD Tracks, Ponos, and Apple’s new High Rez Audio which is expected for release later this year? What are your thoughts on today’s new music services?
At this point in time, the average music consumer seems to mainly care not about listening quality so much as convenience and immediacy. I don’t know? I do hope the market for higher quality formats will continue to grow and inspire listeners.
10) During the height of the Progressive Rock era, bands like Yes, Jethro Tull, early Genesis, ELP, early Kansas and others were pushing the limits of music by creating epic extended pieces without the boundaries of the three-minute radio Pop song. What is it that inspires you to play this style of music?
I just relate to this music! It’s transcendental. It’s obviously rooted in Rock ‘N Roll, but it just takes things to such a higher level! Yes music has a Classical element to it which is so elevating and uplifting!
The spiritual aspect of it truly resonates with my heart. Yes music really takes you on a journey and that’s what I love about it. It offers such a rewarding listening experience and that’s what has always captivated me. Obviously, I can translate all that inspiration into my performance now that I’m a member of my favorite band!
After some of the pioneers of this musical genre disbanded in the 80s, other bands like Glass Hammer, Porcupine Tree, Marillion, and Spock’s Beard carried the torch and continued to create some great music. Who are some of the other current Progressive Rock bands that you enjoy listening to?
I really admire Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree. I also like the Flower Kings a lot. I have the new album from IQ “The Road Of Bones” which I have to say is pretty amazing.
I’m a big fan of the earlier Glass Hammer material as well. Those are just a few that I can name off the top of my head.
Do you have any advice for up & coming musicians?
Play the music that moves you most! Don’t get distracted with ulterior motivations like money or what might sell more. Follow your heart and create the music that honestly reflects who you are. That is what will be most rewarding to you in the end. Everything else will fall in line.