John Wenlock-Smith partakes in a Q&A with Jon Davison about the new Arc of Life project for which Jon is the vocalist.
1/ Arc of Life is a new project, how did to come into existence?
While on the road with YES a few years back, Billy and I found a mutual inspiration to start writing during the long drives on the tour bus. Jay was soon involved, supplying his creative input and positive perspective. We then unanimously felt Jimmy was a natural fit.
2/ Who suggested Dave Kerzner for the keyboard role?
Again we unanimously agreed, as with Jimmy, that Dave would bring the perfect musical ingredients into the Arc fold. We were all thinking the same thing in a sort of collective consciousness, but to answer your question accurately, I believe it was Billy who first gave voice to the idea.
3/ What are the main themes to the album?
The most prominent theme is the evolution of mankind. The concept of an arc of life signifying the rise in man’s consciousness and eventually leading to a far greater understanding, passed all political power play and the greed and indifference which plague and sustain the inequalities of our world. Through this ascension of evolution, man’s intelligence will become highly developed, revealing technological advancements beyond our wildest imaginations.
4/ Were you tempted to get a named producer in for the album or Roger Dean for the cover?
We did seriously consider both at one early point. We discussed the idea of working with Hugh Padgham, but eventually agreed that producing ourselves, with Billy’s skills at the helm, meant ultimately having complete creative freedom.
By choosing to not work with Roger Dean we thought we might minimize the Yes comparisons. I suppose they are inevitable anyway, but we certainly didn’t want to add to them (lol.)
5/ Aside from Yes, what other influences are apparent?
Back to Padgham and The Police sound. Another influence was Peter Gabriel, particularly in a song like, Talking With Siri.
6/ Is this a one off project or can we expect to hear more new material and, if so, is there a time frame for this?
We actually have a lot more material already in the works that will eventually surface on the next record. We have no time frame as of yet for ARC II. More importantly for now, we have so much to look forward to with this record.
7/ This band could have great potential for the live arena, could there be live shows post covid? Could you tour with Yes for example?
We want to be out on the road, sharing our music with as many people as possible, worldwide. We are totally keen to the idea of opening for a bigger arena type band. The only way it would be right touring with Yes is if each member of Yes also performed in the context of their respective solo and side projects. An event highlighting the current day Yes family tree, if you will, followed by a headline performance by Yes.
8/ I think the overall response has been overwhelmingly positive?
That is great to hear. The album has been a long time coming and it’s rewarding to finally witness its coming to light and the enthusiastic reaction of so many.
9/ What’s happening with Yes, is there any progress on new material yet?
We’ve been creating and recording since the pandemic hit and have our sights set on a new album. The rest I’ll leave as a surprise.
10/ What’s the story behind the album cover?
The album cover is symbolic of the dawning of enlightenment just off in the horizon as mankind perceives its light at the end of the long and treacherous tunnel through which we have journeyed – to reach at last the exit of the deep cave of darkness and ignorance. What can I say… I’m an optimist (lol!)
Lockdown in the UK, and indeed across the world, has brought significant change to all of us. It has also decimated musicians from being able to perform live and has cost them in funds they would have expected to earn from touring and the merchandise sold at shows around the globe. This has meant that many artists have had to adapt to new ways of maintaining contact and, in many cases, using the downtime to work on new or hitherto abandoned projects.
The upside to this time is the growing number of releases that have emerged and are really something of worth, Steve Hackett’s‘Mediterranean Skies’ album, Transatlantic‘The Absolute Universe’ , Lifesigns’‘Altitude’ and now this new offshoot from the Yes stable, Arc of Life, featuring current Yes members, Jon Davison and Billy Sherwood, along with some talented friends.
Going under the banner of ‘Arc of Life’ this new album is of interest to most Yes fans and to lovers of the band’s current output. In the continued absence of the full group and any new music from them, this is a more than adequate consolation and has great potential, showing much promise for possibly another band in a similar vein to, and influenced by, Yes.
I say influenced by because this is not a ‘Yes by numbers’ trip, this is a new band making its own way. Admittedly it wears its influences clearly on its sleeve and shows similar characteristics at times, but it is most definitely not a new Yes album under a different name.
This album has ten tracks and each of them have something worthy of listening to, some bearing similarities to Billy’s earlier work with Chris Squire on ‘Conspiracy’ and with Tony Kaye on the ‘Live in Japan’ album, although the presence of Jon Davison does makes a huge difference. Also noteworthy are the other band members, Jimmy Haun, Jay Schellan and Dave Kerzner, who are all vastly experienced and talented musicians in their own right and have all floated around the edges of Yes circles.
The album is a mixture of some shorter radio friendly AOR type songs and three longer tracks that allow for some stretching out. The album opens strongly with Life Has A Way which has a strong chorus to it and lots of keyboard flourishes from Dave Kerzner. It has echoes of a Yes type of sound but it is also subtly different. One thing I will say is that it sounds awesome in the car played at a decent volume, it fair powers along with great bottom end and a very unlike Steve Howe guitar solo from Jimmy Haun. As to be expected, Jon Davison is in fine voice here too.
The next song is a bit more laid back. Talking with Siri is about communicating on an i-Phone, an interesting comment on how we communicate these days but, overall, it is a little bit throwaway in my opinion. You Make It Real is far better with a fine chugging rhythm to it. The song is about nervousness when meeting a potential significant other and about when we can resume meeting face to face again, the song ends on a sustained keyboard tone and is highly effective.
Just In Sight is the first of the longer songs at 6:15, this one has lots of keyboards and sound used throughout with some Chris Squire-like bass lines along with a recurring guitar line and tone to it. This track shows the talents that these guys possess clearly. Especially good is the interplay between Jay Schellan and Billy Sherwood which impresses as you listen and there is a good guitar section at the 3:30 mark that harks back to Steve Howe’s playing before returning to the main song at 4:42 mark. This is definitely one of the stronger songs on the album.
I Want to Know You Better reminds me, sound wise, of Love Will Find A Way from Yes’ ‘Big Generator’ album with its marriage of prog and AOR tones. This is rather a catchy little number, all told with a great keyboard motif in the middle, the chorus also being memorable all making this track ideal for a good radio cut.
Locked Down is the second longer track at 9:46 with compelling Lyrics and a superb bass section running alongside a great guitar solo from Jimmy. It has great vocals from Jon and Billy with fine harmonies too. In fact throughout the entire album the contrast between Jon and Billy is incredibly special and enticing. The song also has very strong and prominent bass lines from Billy, all adding up to what is a very good track indeed.
The penultimate song, Therefore We Are, is a real classic number and one which stamps class all over its 9:30 running time. The bass is again very prominent and, in this song, there are lots of processed and layered vocals in this song but don’t worry, it all sounds excellent and is not overly compressed. The musicianship on this song is epic with another brief guitar flurry from Jimmy and some call and response vocals between Jon and Billy. I think this might be the best track on the album, along with Just In Sight.
The closing number on the album is The End Game which opens with some really strong guitar chords and more of Billy’s cultured bass as Jon sings about the endgame. This is quite a muscular track to conclude the album with and it works well overall and finishes what has been an interesting and varied listen.
Certainly musically this one is a very strong album with lots of good songs, memorable and well recorded and produced. Only Time will tell if this is a one-off or just the first outing of a new band, we will have to wait and see I guess.
NEW PROG ROCK GROUP FEATURING MEMBERS OF YES & SOUND OF CONTACT – DEBUT SINGLE & VIDEO ‘YOU MAKE IT REAL’ OUT NOW
Frontiers Music Srl is excited to announce the release of ARC OF LIFE’s self-titled debut album on February 12, 2021. Arc Of Life is a new progressive rock supergroup featuring three members of the current YES line-up, vocalist/guitarist Jon Davison, bassist/vocalist Billy Sherwood, and additional drummer Jay Schellen, one of the most interesting talents in the “new” progressive rock scene in the US, Dave Kerzner (Sound of Contact) on keyboards, and Jimmy Haun (also featured on YES albums in the past) on guitar. Fans can get their first taste of the band’s forthcoming debut with the new single and video, ‘You Make It Real’.
The concept behind Arc of Life is, in keeping with the progressive rock philosophy, to craft creative, challenging, and ear-pleasing music that pushes boundaries.
Billy Sherwood describes the music as, “interesting, with well-crafted songs, performed with precision and grace. All songs feature memorable melodies and lyrics that take the listener on a sonic adventure. Dynamic arrangements with peaks and valleys… it’s all there.”
The other idea behind the band is that YES would be a clear point of influence. But while YES is clearly the main point of comparison, a lot of musical similarities can be drawn to describe Arc Of Life’s grandiose and epic approach to music.
In Jon Davison’s words, “Each YES member understands and supports when others may desire to explore and thrive along new artistic avenues. We then each find further inspiration to bring back to the YES fold.”
But all the descriptions are best left to the listeners to discern for themselves as repeat listens will reveal more layers.
Arc Of Life is a true garden of delight for progressive rock fans and the band is looking forward to performing live. “Once the world gets over the COVID hump, Arc Of Life will be planning as much touring as we can fit in between YES and our other projects. Quite honestly, we’re all chomping at the bit to be out performing again!” concludes Jon Davison.
“What do you get when you take two theatrical lead vocalists, a keyboard player from Juilliard, a jazz-rock genius on guitar, a bass player from Monster Island and a drummer with progressive rock in his DNA? The modern cinematic ProgRock band Circuline.”
That’s a pretty impressive opening gambit from the press blurb for Circuline’s latest release ‘Counterpoint’ and the next line nearly made me crack-up!
“Circuline’s newest release, ‘Counterpoint’ (May 2016), features an all star line-up of SEVEN guest guitarists…”
No, you didn’t misread that, it said SEVEN guest guitarists!! Well, to me that could just turn out to be overkill or the musical equivalent of herding cats but, you never know!
So, for the sake of completion, here are those guests…..
Randy McStine (The Fringe, Lo-Fi Resistance), Doug Ott (Enchant), Alek Darson (Fright Pig), Ryche Chlanda (Fire Ballet, Renaissance), Alan Shikoh (Glass Hammer), Matt Dorsey (Sound of Contact, Dave Kerzner) and Stanley Whitaker (Happy the Man, Oblivion Sun).
So, would these additional musicians add to the depth of talent the band already has or would they prove that too many cooks can actually spoil the broth? Read on and find out……
The album opens with a a powerful statement in New Day, a track that builds on a rolling drum beat and off-kilter keyboards to almost drive you crazy. Coruscating guitars blaze across the landscape, it is like some crazy sci-fi soundtrack or diabolical mind weapon that seems to be forcing you into submission. Dynamic guitars dominate the soundscape, interspersing with the keyboards like some ELP-esque monster. It’s forceful and influential Prog with a vivid outlook and a highly impressive beginning to what is awaiting us.
Like a one-two knockout, Who I Am explodes into the ring on the back of staccato piano opening, insistent and demanding, before a huge crunching riff literally knocks you over. Man, I’m getting hooked on this already! A huge wave of sound engulfs you with its magnificence and you just hang on for the ride. A break in the squall sees that piano note return, gentler and questing, along with the benign waves of the cymbals, calming your heartbeat. The vocals begin and they are theatrical to the max, superb interplay between Billy Spillane and Natalie Brown giving the music an extra nuance. That monstrous riff is what drives this catchy song on though, brooking no resistance. I love the laid back, chilled sections that occasionally grace your aural sensors, they give you a sweet respite from the upsurging music that hits you square on the jaw but always leaves you smiling. To be honest, it’s one of the best tracks I’ve heard this year and I could almost recommend the album just on the strength of this one song.
Did you expect a pause for breath? Well you should have known better. Another drama laden introduction building to something profound leads in the mysteriously named Forbidden Planet, keyboards swirling all around , apprehensive and almost sinister, are setting the scene. The vocals begin, quite emotive and descriptive, adding more shine to the proceedings. I’m almost reminded of the latest Dream Theater album, but in a good way. The thumping chorus will have you singing your lungs out, it is pure musical theatre of the best variety. Artful and dramatic, the guitar solo that fires out is superb and just adds to the feel that you are in an actual theatre, enjoying a musical show. The excellent bass-lead, guitar heavy, run out of the song adds even more of that drama and leaves you with a knowing smile on your face.
Hollow is a more circumspect song, the introduction washes over you before a passionate vocal and guitar fire up and lead the way. Heartfelt and moving, even a bit darker in places, there is a more progressive than cinematic feel to the track as it gets into its stride. To my ears there a definite hints of Glass Hammer and even Dream Theater in the intricate keyboard playing and the way the song seems to be built in layers, the instrumental sections are really convoluted and complex. It’s almost as if the musicians decided that they just wanted to have a prog-infused jam session, and a mightily enjoyable one at that! Once normality is restored we get more of the dominating vocals, leaving an ominous overtone in places. There is something for everyone in the song, baroque progressive moments, touches of Prog-Metal and, well, just excellent songwriting and musicianship.
One of the shorter tracks on offer, Erosion is an instrumental that opens full of suspense, the cinematic overtones are there in spades, this could be the soundtrack to a sci-fi film with its haunting atmosphere and heavy doses of tension. It is quite disturbing in fact and I found myself on edge all the way through.
I love the bassline that opens Nautilus with its jazz-funk feel, there’s a really upbeat atmosphere to the song, the distinct guitar note and vigorous drumbeat adding to that high energy aura. The vocals, once again, hit the spot and give the song its own identity. At first, you aren’t sure whether there are too many influences running through the music but, by the time you’re really involved in the album, it is a distinctive sound unique to Circuline. I feel the keyboards generally take the lead and the rest of instruments follow and it works very well indeed. Another clever integration of the complexities of progressive rock infused with some powerful rock elements to give that cinematic feel, the guitar solo is another sterling effort.
The mood quietens for the delightful Stay which has more akin to a piano lounge track than your usual progressive fare but I really like it. Laid back, funky and with chunks of jazz dripping all over it, Natalie’s vocals are the centre-point of this sepia tinged song. Thoughtful and contemplative, it really does give you a complete feeling of chilled out security. The guitar playing is fluid, serene and composed, it is a song for a wonderful, warm summers day when you haven’t got a care in the world.
S.O.Ais just over one minute of quite unsettling mind warfare if you ask me, it is really quite sinister……
That mood carries on into the opening of Inception with its 80’s synth overtones that seem to want to invade your mind. Again, another impressive cinematic soundscape that draws pictures deep in your psyche, music that challenges the mind as well as satiating the soul. It is almost transfixing in the way it draws you into its embrace to leave you feeling oddly at home. Then the vocals start and your attention changes, the voices, lilting in their delivery, have a hypnotic edge and work in concert with the inventive music to give a superlative listening experience, a musical journey that, once traveled, you are happy to return to time after time. The closing out of the song is particularly brilliant.
So, onto the final instalment in this cinematic treasure, Summit has all the clever subtleties of what has gone before, a quite enigmatic opening before the song begins its final traverse of your musical landscape. Sultry bass lines and drumming add a great backdrop to the exemplary harmonised vocals, like the perfect recipe from some masterchefs of the musical world. Nothing is ever too simple with these guys though, we have some involving musical sections to add substance to the lush vocals laid before us. Grin inducing guitar solos and keyboard runs abound and you are just left floating in a world of musical well-being. The potent chorus adds strength to the beauty of the rest of the song, you are left wanting for nothing with this band’s repertoire and it is shown to the full on this finishing track, some more prog wizardry to add to the dramatic and cinematic feel. I have to admit, by the end of this song and album, I am left feeling that I have been spoiled by the music and talent on offer.
So, do too many guitarists leave you herding cats or give extra shine to an already impressive collection of musicians? Well, if you’ve read what goes before this conclusion you’ll know that they enhance things immensely. A deep well of musical wonderment is laid before you to drink from at will, take a small sip and come back for more (as you will) or take it all in one gulp to be completely indulged. Whichever way, you’re going to love it!