The John Wetton Interview
As John Wetton told me: “When I had the triple by-pass, my doctor said, ‘Don’t be afraid to go out and work, you had the operation not to play golf or just muck around. But my manager took it literally, and now I’m working all the time...”
And he certainly is.
As the lead singer of Asia, John Wetton has been on the road with the band, more or less, since their reformation in 2006. He also helms various School of Rock projects and just put out, in my humble opinion, what might be his best solo effort to date, Raised In Captivity. Known from his work with Uriah Heep, King Crimson and UK, no one, it seems, is capturing John Wetton these days as he puts more time into his music-making than ever before.
I don't think I have ever heard you sing better than when I saw you with Asia a month ago. And you seemed to be having the time of your life.
Well, thank you very much for saying so. Generally yes, I think we’re a lot better on stage than the first time back. With the ‘06 reunion, we were a little shaky then. I mean, the playing in a band like Asia will never slip below a certain point; we set a pretty high standard. But back in 1982, we’d have one really good gig out of a few decent ones. Now, they are all really good, more consistent. Basically, we try to give depth in blasting for those two hours.
I especially liked the way you guys changed the songs around and the fact that there wasn’t any dipping into the back catalogs of your past works. It was a full night of Asia, if you know what I mean.
Well, we only really have five albums to choose from — it’s not like we have a continuous history of 30 years. In the beginning, it was always somewhat a walk down memory lane with what we did on stage. We tried to downplay the previous band members’ reputations, but when we first started, all we had was one album to blow everyone out of the water with, so we had to dip back into each member’s back catalog and we have done so in the past with this band live. But now, yes we are only doing Asia music, only ever selling Asia merchandise. It’s very much a feeling of being back home again in Asia.
I am also really enjoying Raised In Captivity, your new solo release. It has a commercial sound to it.
If it is commercial and if it sells, that’s fine by me. If it’s well received by the fans I couldn’t be happier. That’s the yardstick on any record — if it sells enough to make another. The worst thing is that it doesn’t sell well enough to make another.
You and Billy Sherwood worked on this album in California. I read where that was a good experience for you as it took you well out of your usual comfort zone.
Sitting at home in my sleepy home in the south of England I sit at my piano or with the acoustic guitar. I will end up usually with a dreary little folk song or slight prog piece, and I wanted to get out of here, go to California, walk around the place to the sound of crashing helicopters, SWAT teams (laughs). It’s a totally different environment.
So you wrote in California and took them to the UK?
I had six or seven conceptual ideas, me in my folk tunes default mode. For me with songwriting I’m always getting an idea down, retrieving the pieces, putting them in some sort of order when I sit down at the piano. So, I had enough of some good ideas when we got in the studio and we started multi-tracking, but working with Billy was a Godsend really — he could turn it all into reality. And it was basically he and I, and no one else to interfere and the icing on the cake was the guest soloists. I had four earmarked for it, then called in the rest.
Regarding the cast of special guests, do you just pick up the phone and they come down?
Well, Geoff (Downes) came down. Everyone else recorded it remotely, and we got it over e-mail. That’s basically how things come together nowadays — all by cyberspace. You know, we used to say someone “phoned-in their part” when a player didn’t play a part all that great. Nowadays, it’s true. People are phoning in their parts — over the net!
I especially love the last song on the CD, “Might Rivers.” This is where you duet with Anneke Van Giersbergen.
Thank you. Actually that’s a perfect case of never meeting a musician. Anna and I have dueted four times now (she appears on various Icon songs, Wetton and Geoff Downes’ project).
So are you going to tour this album? What’s in the immediate future?
I’ve been at home, sleeping in my own bed, drinking tea in my own kitchen, my feet on the ground again. It would not be difficult to get a really good band together, hit some small clubs. That would be easy to do later on this year. But for now I am going to take August to go on holiday with my son. Come September, I have a couple of School of Rock dates on the West Coast. From there who knows?
And more Asia?
Well, seeing as half of Asia is in Yes presently (at presstime, both Geoff Downes and Steve Howe are touring with Yes in support of the Yes album Fly From Here)...So we have allocated periods for Asia. While Geoff and Steve are with Yes, they are not working with Asia and never the twain shall meet (laughs).