Billy Sherwood on replacing Chris Squire, solo work + what’s next for Yes: Something Else! Interview
Billy Sherwood recently found himself in a position that was both enviable and deeply sad. Tabbed to rejoin Yes on a temporary basis in place of his mentor Chris Squire, Sherwood ended up completing a tour held in memory of the legendary bassist, who died in late June after a short battle with leukemia.
Squire had, of course, first introduced Billy Sherwood into the Yes fold. Their song “The More We Live,” written and demoed apart from Yes, appeared on the band’s 1991 Union release. Over the following years, Sherwood toured both with the Chris Squire Experiment and with Yes, in support of 1994’s Talk. He then co-produced and mixed the Keys to Ascension projects in 1996-97 before joining Yes full time for 1997’s Open Your Eyes and 1999’s The Ladder. Squire and Sherwood later formed Conspiracy, which released a pair of albums in the 2000s before Sherwood returned as a mixer for Yes’ 2014’s Heaven and Earth.
That made approaching Billy Sherwood as a fill-in tour bassist during Chris Squire’s treatment a no brainer, but also deepened the emotional impact when Squire suddenly passed away. Now that Sherwood has completed Yes’ summer tour, he’s turned his attentions to solo work. He talks to Preston Frazier in this exclusive Something Else! Sitdown about his interesting past and busy future …
PRESTON FRAZIER: How did you initially become involved with Yes?
BILLY SHERWOOD: I met Chris Squire in 1988, ’89 after he had heard some World Trade demos. We were introduced by our mutual friend Derek Schulman, and the rest is history, as they say.
PRESTON FRAZIER: I had the opportunity to catch Yes’s summer tour with Toto twice this year. How did you felt the tour went?
BILLY SHERWOOD: All things considered, the tour went very well. It was emotionally probably the most difficult I’ve ever done, given the circumstances that had me out there in the first place. It was very comforting to have Toto out there, those guys are my brothers and were very vital to lifting spirits for me personally out there — and, of course, they performed amazing, as always.
PRESTON FRAZIER: Congratulations on Yes’ Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nomination, and the upcoming Cruise to the Edge. What are the plans for the band in terms of future recordings?
BILLY SHERWOOD: I honestly have no idea what Yes plans to do for the future. I know I’m all about wanting to move things forward with new music, which for me is a sign of vitality and the future. That said, I’m merely a traveler on this journey and so we shall see where the future takes us, once we get there. I’m never at a shortage for creativity and the desire to push things forward — and, of course, Yes moves as its own pace.
PRESTON FRAZIER: In addition to the tour you have been hard at work on solo projects. Your just-released album single “No Man’s Land” seems to have a political slant. Tell us about the album Citizen.
BILLY SHERWOOD: Citizen is being released on Frontiers Records on November 6, and I’m very excited about it. The album features a lot of great artists, including Alan Parsons, Steve Morse, Rick Wakeman and the host of others. “No Man’s Land” was the first release from the record, in video form. It’s about a World War I trench runner, sending messages from his command only to watch his comrades dying out there in the fields. It’s a bit heavy. The entire record is a concept about a lost soul reincarnated in various historic periods of time. This concept afforded me an opportunity to play around with a lot of different themes and ideas, lyrically speaking. I’m very proud of this record, and am looking forward to everyone getting a chance to hear it. I’m also looking forward to playing it live, which is what we’re talking about as we speak.
PRESTON FRAZIER: Tell us about your early musical influences. I interviewed Michael Sherwood not long ago and he mentioned your parent’s musical lineage.
BILLY SHERWOOD: My earliest influences were R&B bands like Earth Wind and Fire, Funkadelic, the Ohio Players. Those were what I was into, then I migrated in the progressive rock, and discovered Yes and all the other great bands of that genre. Along the way, I listened to a lot of fusion, Weather Report – this new stuff – and a variety of jazz music and big band, which is what my dad did for years as a well-known big-band leader.
PRESTON FRAZIER: What was the first instrument you played – and when?
BILLY SHERWOOD: My first instrument was drums. I still play them, and do a lot of sessions playing on various albums where I still get to play them. I migrated into bass after that, then grabbed the guitar started playing keys. Then I crafted them all together into what I do now.
PRESTON FRAZIER: We hear a follow-up is in the works for William Shatner’s 2013 release Ponder The Mystery, which you produced and played most of the instruments. Tell us about the new project.
BILLY SHERWOOD: At present, this is indeed a rumor. Shatner is always incredibly busy, and my schedule’s a little hectic a present. Those two factors combined make it difficult to foresee. That’s said, I love Bill and would work with him again in a heartbeat. He’s a beautiful guy and a ton of fun to hang out with.
PRESTON FRAZIER: Talk about the writing process with William Shatner.
BILLY SHERWOOD: Surprisingly easy and swift. Bill has tons of ideas always flowing. He came up with the concept; I came up with the music. It was a match made in heaven.
PRESTON FRAZIER: World Trade and Lodgic were two stellar bands that you helmed in the ’80s. It’s also been rumored a World Trade project is in the works. What can you tell us about it?
BILLY SHERWOOD: World Trade is indeed making a new album, and it’s already sounding amazing to my ears. This is also coming out on Frontiers Records, with the original lineup. What’s amazing is we picked it up right where we left off musically speaking, and more importantly as friends reunited. In addition to all the above information, there’s also some other cool things going on, a new Circa is coming out on Frontiers Records next year. My previous solo album, Divided by One is being released on CD as well as a sort of best-of CD calledCollection, which is made up of one song from each of my seven previous solo albums as well as bonus tracks. So, there’s lots going on in a lot of different directions.
PRESTON FRAZIER: Finally, tell us your Top 5 favorite albums.
BILLY SHERWOOD: Yes, Tales of Topographic Oceans. Weather Report, Mr. Gone. Pink Floyd, The Wall. Kate Bush, The Dreaming. Genesis, Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.