Chris Squire Just Says Yes to Syn
The Yes co-founder and king of all Rickenbackers explains the Syn's roundabout reunion
By Bill Forman
Not many bands can claim to have released their best album 40 years after their formation. The Rolling Stones certainly can't, and neither can ... um ... OK, so maybe only a handful of bands actually put out a new album four decades on. So when Chris Squire is complimented on the new album from his pre-Yes outfit, the Syn, he's still fairly amazed.
"Yeah, I think we came up with a very good album here, surprisingly enough," says Squire. "And I do say surprisingly, because when we finished making the album, we all listened to it and said, 'Wow, this is a really good album.' That's why I'm working on promoting it while Yes is taking a bit of a laid-back period—it's really been very fulfilling for me."
Titled Syndestructible, the band's "comeback" album is a winning combination of post-Invasion Britpop and progressive rock tendencies. Squire's unmistakable Rickenbacker bass sound, songwriting skills and backing vocals add a ring of familiarity to songs that typically approach the 10-minute mark. But there's none of the histrionics that helped make prog the one rock genre that has yet to undergo a proper revival.
Squire describes the genesis of the reunion as "a very freaky thing," prompted, as it was, by the death of Andrew Jackman, the band's original keyboard player. "He was a very good friend of mine—a friend from the age of 5, actually—and he had a brain aneurysm and died just straightaway, tragically, in 2003."
Enter singer Steve Nardelli, who wanted to put together a compilation album in memory of the Syn and dedicate it to Jackman. Nardelli set about contacting his old band mates, including Squire and founding Yes guitarist Peter Banks. "Steve wanted to do an interview with me for the album, so he came and met me in Denver while we [Yes] were playing at Red Rocks," recalls Squire. "He put that album out as The Original Syn, and then in November of 2004, I was back over in London doing some work when I ran into Steve again."
The singer—who, unlike his better-known band mates, had spent decades away from music in the fashion and sports apparel industry—told Squire he'd been writing a couple new songs and asked if he'd play on one. Squire said yes, and the partnership unexpectedly resumed. "I ended up staying back in England for a year, working on an album and getting all the guys together to play with," says Squire. "And so the Syn reunion was reborn quite by accident really."
Conspicuously absent from the "reborn" reunion, however, was guitarist Banks, who wrote an angry, open letter to Nardelli after participating in an aborted reunion around the time of The Original Syn retrospective.
"That was before I came along," says Squire, diplomatically. "Peter had done some work on a couple of new tracks— I think they did a cover of Yes' 'Time and a Word' and an old song that the Syn used to play called 'Illusion.' But by the time I showed up, he was already out of the picture."
Banks, it should be noted, is the only original member of Yes who had never returned to the fold, not even for one record. "Well, Peter, you know, he's not—I don't think he's the easiest of people to work with," says Squire. "But let's not dwell on that," he adds with a laugh.
To promote the album, the current lineup—which includes Squire's longtime Yes band mate Alan White on drums—is hitting the smallest venues Squire's played since the Syn's Marquee days. "We just did a little East Coast run and, yeah, I would say it's a pretty different experience! I've gotten to like it—that intimate feel and being able to talk to people—not being in this vast space."
So with one proper album to their name, what will the Syn be playing to fill out the set? "Mainly it's just the new album we're playing, plus a couple of newer tunes that didn't go on the album and will go on a future recording of the Syn," says Squire. "And then we also do a little medley of the Syn's '60s hits. Not that there were hits really, although one of them was No. 1 in France."
But even with White along for the ride, Squire insists there will be no Yes songs in the set: "Nope, none at all. This is a Syn show." Even so, fans aren't likely to be disappointed. "The Syn was a breeding ground for a lot of the techniques that Yes would later come along and perfect," explains Squire. "So the germs of a lot of the original ideas that went into Yes had already been born in the Syn."
Yes fans can expect fewer time changes, less bombast and an absence of capes, but similar instrumentation and surprisingly strong material. "That's something a lot of prog music does lack, is a good basic song," says Squire while discussing bands that have followed in his wake. "That's what you need in the first place, before you start dressing it all up."
The Syn, Friday, Feb. 17, at 8pm at Kuumbwa Jazz Center, 320 Cedar St., Santa Cruz; $20 adv/$25 door; 831.427.2227.
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