Yes' Steve Howe Previews Yestival, Talks Other Touring Band of Yes Alumni

Steve Howe
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Steve Howe of Yes performs at Humphrey's on Sept. 4, 2016 in San Diego.

As it prepares to kick off its Yestival tour this week with Todd Rundgren and Carl Palmer's ELP Legacy, Yes is further fired up by the presence of another group using the Yes moniker these days.

Shortly after Yes' Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in April, past members Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman -- who began touring as ARW in 2016 -- re-christened themselves Yes Featuring... The move was legal; as Yes guitarist Steve Howe notes, "We basically have a discretionary agreement" allowing the trio to use the name. But when Yes hits the stage starting Aug. 4 in Greensboro, North Carolina, it will feel a new charge to prove itself as the group that truly deserves to employ the Yes name.

"We are our own entity," Howe tells Billboard of the group that includes drummer Alan White, keyboardist Geoff Downes, bassist Billy Sherwood, singer Jon Davison and, for Yestival, Howe's son Dylan on drums as well. "We will carry on in our own style, and I think we'll bring the people along with us who have either already identified with that, that we have a certain approach to the ralism and the authentication of Yes music. We feel it's our right and obligation to do that very, very convincingly. So we're that band, and if you like that thing, we're that band."

Howe is loathe to say much about the ARW version of Yes. "We don't want to fuel any fires," he explains. "That's an unstoppable force to us." He adds that, "Anybody can play Yes music. If they want to get up on the stage they can do anything, I think ARW have got great potential as ARW, but they're going to do what they're gonna do, and they're not going to change their mind because of what we think. Only time will tell if they did the right thing." Yes Featuring... returns to North America, and by that time Howe and company are hoping to have laid its claim with the Yestival shows, which run through Sept. 19.

After doing a few years of full-album shows, this time out Yes will be mining the group's first nine albums -- 1969's Yes through 1978's Tormato, with at least one song from each. "I can't give it away yet, but obviously how many songs from the first album have been played? Uh...none," Howe says. "So we're stopping on the first album, but also we're doing two songs from one of the albums, and one of them's going to be a surprise sort of acoustic song that just Jon and I will perform. We're bringing the focus to the songs rather than the albums, and I think we've got a good balance here with things that we're bringing forth that have never been played."

Howe is also excited about having his son, Dylan -- who's worked with him on many of his solo albums -- be part of Yes this summer. The younger Howe will share time with White, who was sidelined part of last year with health issues, and his father is confident he'll be able to hold up his end. "He's a very versatile player in the same way that I am, I think," Howe says. "Part of his education over the last 10 years has been to learn every Yes piece, and he knows virtually every one...because to him it was as good as learning Count Basie or Art Blakey -- partly because he's grown up with it, it's in his blood. So this is a golden opportunity for him to show his strengths, and I think Dylan is going to delight many people not only because of his knowledge of Yes but in how prepared he is. He's a practice maniac."

It's not yet known if Dylan Howe will remain with Yes after Yestival, but the group is starting to consider making some new music, its first since 2014's Heaven & Earth. "We're working on it cautiously and casually," Howe reports. "We wouldn't rush into anything because we know that is a huge mistake -- 'Oh, quick, let's make a record!' We have plans. We're obviously building material and getting that material refined and then selecting, because it's got to be great material. We haven't fully concentrated on that, but after this summer tour, maybe one of our goals is to move into that in a creative way with the right producer and the right environment. It's a bit of a jigsaw to piece together, but I would say it's on the horizon."

Before then, Howe will release Anthology 2 on Aug. 11, focusing on his work in bands such as Yes and Asia and with other musicians. He's also started work on a two-part memoir, which he hopes to deliver to his publisher before the end of this year for publication during 2018.

"I'm really enjoying it," Howe says. "I'm looking through my career and at the music, but I'm looking at the ventures around the music -- the causation, the methods that got us to things and telling stories and talking about how I feel about Les Paul and Chet Atkins and the really great players who are still with me even though they may have passed -- like how I saw Wes Montgomery when I was 16. There's a lot to write about, yes."