Saturday, October 8, 2011

INTERVIEW: Billy Sherwood Discusses The Progressive Rock of CIRCA… ‘And So On’


By Ray Shasho

Remarkably this article fits the criteria for both Classic Rock and Classic TV.
CIRCA’s latest release is a powerful musical deliberation constructed by four gifted artists. CIRCA’s YES affiliations have not restricted their creativity and willingness to develop their own sound. And So On is the band’s third release and greatest innovative achievement to date.

The band was formed by Tony Kaye and Billy Sherwood in 2007. Kaye was the original Yes keyboardist from (1968-1971) and Sherwood was asked to replace lead vocalist Jon Anderson when he and Trevor Rabin left the band but was uncomfortable with the idea. After Engineering/Producing the Keys to Ascension albums, Sherwood was asked to be an official YES member and played on three albums. The multi-instrumentalist Sherwood played guitar and keyboards on stage with YES on tour.

CIRCA features the alluring lead vocals and Squire-like bass playing of Billy Sherwood, Tony Kaye’s masterful execution on organ and keyboards, Johnny Bruhns licks of complexity on guitar and Scott Connor’s barrage of reason on drums. CIRCA’s debut album originally featured Alan White of YES on drums.
Their latest collaboration is how I describe, “The more you listen to it -The more you want to listen to it.” There are delightful YES similarities on the title track “And So On” and "'Til We Get There” with astonishing parallel to Chris Squire and Steve Howe.
But for most of the tracks it’s pure CIRCA magic. “Cast Away” is a bewitching masterpiece capturing lyrics of life’s mysteries and the bands artistry performing in progressive conformity.
“Halfway Home” is a tune that should definitely find its way on the playlists of contemporary radio.
The haunting “In My Sky” is a beautiful heartfelt composition. Sherwood’s voice is breathtaking with delightful connotations to Peter Gabriel and Steve Winwood’s John Barleycorn.

“True Progress” is an incredible compilation showcasing the ingenuity of what defines CIRCA and their track “Each To His Own” will soothe the psyche with inspirational messages dealing with the puzzle of life.
And So On by CIRCA is a breath of fresh PROG. An incredible composition performed by gifted instrumentalists.
Billy Sherwood was born in Las Vegas Nevada and into a showbiz family of talented musicians. His father was big band leader/musician/actor Bobby Sherwood -his mother Phyllis was a singer and a drummer and his brother Michael a singer and keyboardist. Now if that hadn’t convinced anyone that they were indeed a showbiz family how about the fact that his Godfather was legendary comedian Milton Berle.
I had the opportunity to chat with Billy last week.

Here’s my interview with record producer/engineer/songwriter/vocalist/muti-instrumentalist/musician Billy Sherwood.

Billy, thank you so much for being on the call today.

“Right on Bro and I appreciate the time.”

It’s ironic and I really didn’t plan it this way but I just published an article regarding the collaboration of Tony Levin, David Torn and your ex YES and CIRCA bandmate Alan White. And several weeks ago I interviewed Jon Anderson, so it’s been EVERYTHING YES. 

“You’re on the YES Roundabout.”
(All laughing)

I’ve noticed a lot more collaborations like that between seasoned musicians as of late. Are they trying to mesh and see if they’ll produce a hit album or just doing it for fun?   

“Musicians all want to play and the kind of musicians that we’re talking about here are always looking to push the envelope and to do something different and unique and not get into a rut and play the same stuff every night so I think that always sparks the interest to do something different and explore other areas and obviously when you get guys that who we’re talking about something unique and great is going to happen.
I think it’s just the act of being a musician wanting to push forward in your music you’re always trying to look for the next thing and keep going. That’s how I feel about it and I’m sure others do as well because it’s happening as you said.”

What bands influenced you into becoming a musician?

“Well my first real memory of getting into bands or following music was kind of R&B rooted stuff like Earth Wind & Fire, The Ohio Players and kind of what was grooving on the radio in Vegas at that point when I was a kid and I fell in love with the rhythms and the styles and got way into it. Earth Wind and Fire was the first concert that I saw and then my musical horizons expanded and I started exploring YES music and fell in love with that and obviously out of all the music I loved growing up that was the most influential and the most closest to my heart as a fan long before I joined the band."

"Then through friends and the like minded musical friends discovered Genesis and Peter Gabriel, UK, Return to Forever and Mahavishnu and you know the list is ginormous. And that’s what my roots are founded in that kind of stuff and for me now and at present I draw on those emotions and those musical memories to pull things now and use right now and present and I’m glad that I have that Well to draw from because music today is not designed nearly at all like the music was designed in the past some of that stuff is just remarkably musical and great."

"And it’s funny playing this kind of music Prog as we do -we just got back from Mexico where we did some shows had some fun playing our new album and in the crowd were some kids from the university there. They had no idea really who we were and what this was about and they were way too young to even know. But by the time it was over they were just devout and into it and we’re with you we’re telling all of our friends and it just illustrates the point that music is timeless and ageless and you know if you can get the music in front of a generation that normally you would be told they’ll never like that well they actually ended up liking it and it changes their whole world. It’s cool to know that it still can happen that way and it can happen that way and it is happening that way.”

Musicians nowadays have to basically promote themselves over the internet and become entrepreneurs to have any chance of being noticed, any words of wisdom for musicians trying to make it?

“I get asked all the time by younger musicians and this guy in Mexico asked me after the show turned on to CIRCA and you know was really freaking out over it he said “What would be your best advice to me growing up and trying to be a musician?” I said don’t listen to what anyone tells you about the kind of music you make. Just make it! Be yourself, make your own music and be totally true to your art because it’s kind of a selfish thing to be an artist I mean you lock yourself in a room you want to make your music and you don’t want to be bothered and it’s a selfish act and then you release it to the world which is the most unselfish act but when you do that you have to be prepared for the good the bad and the ugly and you have to let your music be true and then people who want to adopt it as that they take it on and they love it and it changes their world and then of course you get people who aren’t buying in but at the end of the day if your true to yourself you can move forward you can succeed you can start gaining your own ground and the internet has totally allowed people to do that.”

I know you’re a multi-instrumentalist but what was the first instrument you first learned to play when you were a kid?

“I started playing drums at a pretty early age because my parents were musicians. My dad was an amazing multi-instrumentalist and I can play a lot of instruments but my dad actually played all the instruments I could play and then added another twenty five or thirty five different categories on there he was incredible. He got an act actually in Vegas my parents Bobby and Phyllis Sherwood.”

Yea, your dad was a famous guy didn’t he work on the film Pal Joey with Frank Sinatra?

“He was bandleader on Pal Joey and he’s had many-many albums out and you know I’ve got this amazing set of 78 wax records battle of the bands with my dad’s band and Dizzy Gillespie and Artie Shaw so it’s very cool to see all that stuff and that’s a whole other thing and a whole other kind of music that is amazing. My mother by proxy of working with my dad she was an entertainer, she was a singer, dancer and an amazing drummer and she played drums with my dad’s act and by virtue of watching her as a little kid I started sitting behind the kit and she sat behind me and explained that the foot goes on one and three and the snare on two and four and off we went. So I learned to play from her and drums have been my first instrument and are a passion of mine and have been ever since.
But it was an interesting way to grow up seeing that lifestyle and it kind of became my lifestyle by virtue of continuing on the same path.”

I read somewhere that your Godfather was the legendary Milton Berle?

“Yea my Godfather was Milton and he was a really good friend of my dad’s and my dad actually has a star on Hollywood and Vine here in Hollywood from whatever year it was when television was first born and the Milton Berle show was one of the first shows on TV and my dad was one of the costars on the show and they became friends and Milton became my Godfather by virtue of that relationship.”

Did you get to see Uncle Miltie very much?

“That’s Godfather Miltie to you.”
  (All laughing)

“At the time of my growing up a lot of my youth growing up was in Vegas because my parents were working there during that heyday I don’t know if you ever saw the movie Casino but that was the era that my dad and mom were kind of there it was a crazy time. Anyway I would see Milton when he came into town and of course my parents would see him and I’d be coming along but I hadn’t seen him in a long-long time and so I think it was 1984 or something like that I was rehearsing at a studio working on trying to get a record deal and we were working on some demos at a studio called The Complex here in LA so we had amazing recording facilities and then had a huge video film shoot production sound stage.
Someone came in and said, “Dude your Godfather is down the hall he’s making a TV Special.” So me and my brother went down the hallway and we see his dressing room and we knock on the door and he says, 
“Come on in!” and we open the door he turns around and goes, “Guys how are you?” and he’s in full drag with red lipstick, the hair, the eyeliner, the shoes and he was just such a wonderful dude and just gave us a big hug and just extremely warm obviously he and my father were extremely close. But I’ll never forget that image and that was the last time that I saw him.”

I’ve followed Progressive Rock bands since I was 13 years old, I’m 52 now. CIRCA’s latest rendition And So On has all the components of a classic Prog Rock album. You knew there would be YES connotations but CIRCA definitely reinvented itself on And So On.  I thoroughly enjoyed the CD and to be perfectly honest can’t stop listening to it. 

“When we started this thing CIRCA many years ago now the obvious comparisons were going to come no matter what we did because we had me Tony(Tony Kaye) and Alan(Alan White) in the same band. At the time we may have outnumbered the real YES members in their band. (Laughing)
 So the obvious comparisons are really common and I understood that and it’s cool it is what it is and I explained then the idea is not hey here we are let’s write YES music –no, the idea is let’s write music that flows. And the result of being who we are and doing what we do it kind of comes out in that vibe.
The second album with Jay Schellen adding a different twist and everything like that it sort of evolved into a different level of CIRCA and now with this new third record it kind of found its own and I kind of feel the same way about it that others do including yourself and other people I’ve spoken to where its really clicked into its own sound as a CIRCA sound now and I’m quite happy about that and very proud of the record.
I’ve been trying to make records you know I describe it almost like a movie for your ears where it’s a little unconventional in its shape and form but there’s something that’s intriguing in keeping you wanting to wait and see the next frame of film except in here what’s coming around the corner for your ears.”

Talk about the origins of the song “Castaway.”

“I lost a very-very close dear friend of mine who I’ve known for 30 years and it hit me quite hard. Usually I’m not getting into that in my music I kind of keep it in a different place but it started seeping into some of these lyrics and concepts and I just started thinking about life and we all do as we get older but when something like that happens it really makes you stop and take the count. And the song is just a reflection it’s a metaphor for life is like a rollercoaster you know and at the start it’s a fun adventure and it looks like it’s going to be really exciting you get to the top where you’re peaking and you’re doing your thing and then there’s the back half of life that comes at you. And so I started thinking about all those things in a way where it really seeped into all of the lyrical content. At the end of the day that whole experience I just described for me personally it’s a beautiful thing because that’s what life is about it’s the whole thing."

"So the song reflects the idea that eventually we come in alone we take the journey and we go out alone and it’s kind of its own serene sort of beautiful thing and along the way the other metaphor the castaway is always someone who is alone on an island somewhere and that is the metaphor for the song that even though we are all interrelated closely we actually come and go alone and that’s the idea.”

And positivity is definitely the only way we can make it through the journey.

“That’s the whole theme of the album really the title itself basically means just keep going as I said don’t pay attention to what anyone is telling you about your personal journey just keep going because that’s what it’s all about. It is a positive message in that regard."

I’ve got to say the song “In My Sky” from the new album was my personal favorite, it really blew me away.

“It’s funny you mention that because “In My Sky” was the precursor to writing “Castaway” I mean when I spoke to this friend of mine he knew he was going and he kept telling me, “I’m going” and I kept being in the denial thing you’re not and finally as it got near its end I started realizing no he is and it freaked me out. It’s hard to even talk about now. That song is a result of that easing stone call and it’s very heavy.”

It’s a very special song and I definitely felt the vibes. I can’t help but hear a hint of Steve Winwood and John Barleycorn in the song.
I definitely hear Chris Squire when you’re playing the bass on other songs on the album.

“Well that’s going to be in there, I had the luxury of looking over his left shoulder if memory serves for several years and picking up a few tricks.”

I understand you and Chris Squire had a great relationship?

“Yea, we were friends and very tight for a long-long time. We had a lot of great laughs and great times and serious times and taking care of business times and all those things that go with a relationship that I never imagined that I’d have quite frankly because Chris was one of my heroes growing up. And then life is life and you know you go through things and your business ties into what you’re trying to do and things happen. He found himself moving back to England and reforming a different band and I found myself staying here and reforming CIRCA and one thing leads to another but we definitely had some great times that I’ll never forget.”

You mentioned CIRCA played some dates in Mexico is CIRCA officially on tour?

“We’re on tour as gigs are coming out; we are in a live mode. We just did two shows one in Mexicali September 3rd and the next night in Ensenada on September 4th and we now have a little string of shows here for the Southern California area on October 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th. There’s some other gigs coming in November Tony Kaye and I have this two man show that we’ve kind of created that’s accidentally you know been asked to come back for a second round in Japan we went there not too long ago and the promoter called us and asked do you want to come back in November. So we’re going to take that back to Japan in November and when we come back I think CIRCA’s got some stuff brewing on the east coast in December. So I can’t say it’s the world tour but it’s more like yea we’re getting gigs which are a good thing. I’m cautiously optimistic that it looks like we’re gaining the momentum that I’ve been trying to get going here for awhile. So with the support of the fans it will start building more momentum.”

Don’t forget about Florida when you guys are touring.

“One of the interesting things that came about this year was working with John Wetton who is amazing and making the Raised in Captivity record here with him and you know he’s getting ready I believe to do some shows with his band playing that stuff. And so I’m hoping in a perfect world perhaps we could join forces and maybe have CIRCA and his band play some shows back east. It’s nothing official but I’m definitely putting it in people’s ears as an idea.
About John Wetton’s record (Raised in Captivity) there’s a lot of cool lyrics on there that are very deep that are written by him and very personal and everything and there are also a lot of amazing guest artists Eddie Jobson, Steve Morse, Tony Kaye is on there, Geoff Downes, bunch of cool guys.”

You and Tony Kaye seem to also have a great relationship.

“Tony is my Bro we’ve been buddies for a long time I mean literally since I met him and we’ve never had a cross word or a conversation that hasn’t been like I hear you I know what you mean. So very much kindred souls I guess. And I’ve always respected his playing immensely and when we toured with YES I got to tour with them the first time on the Talk tour I gained an even deeper respect for him and we just became friends. And I dragged him as he will tell you out of retirement to play on a few tribute records and he said, “I don’t know man” and I said I’m coming over I don’t really care. And he did it and smoked it. And then one thing led to another and I said are you inspired to do anything and he said, “I’d love to.” So the inspiration took over and we started CIRCA."

Tony Kaye was so important to the foundation of YES.

“We do this medley man in the CIRCA set as a homage to his early YES moment where we play this chronological instrumental thing that starts with 1968 and goes all the way to 1972 and it’s got some great T. Kaye Hammond moments in it and people dig it, it’s really cool so when we do get back to Florida you’ll see that and it’s a very cool piece of the show."

Billy you’ve got a new solo album coming out as well?

“My new solo album will be out really soon it’s called What Was The Question? and that will be my fifth solo album. It’s basically a totally surreal musical kind of adventure and it plays around with the themes of constantly asking the question of things. All the songs relate to that theme in a matter of speaking. There’s a song called, “Counting The Cables” and it’s about the WikiLeaks situation and it kind of plays with the question of is it a good thing that we actually do know everything or is it maybe a better thing in order for something to become stable and peaceful we leave that closed door and negotiation to happen that don’t intrudes but it can happen where are the balances between the two and what is the right course it plays with that concept."

I know you’re a workaholic so what else is going on beside’s new CIRCA (And So On) and your new solo album (What Was The Question?). 

“There’s so much going on, I’m working with the Sonic Reality/Sonic Elements Company and doing all sorts of recordings over famous drummers stuff. I just recently played bass over Neil Peart’s drums from RUSH and doing demonstration stuff with them which is really fun to do.
 I’m working on a new band called Breed right now not the Breed of old but a new band called Breed. And that record is really Progressive and really adventurous it reminds me somewhere between a modern take of an old Genesis Wind & Wuthering or something it’s very cool I like it a lot."

"And I’m always open to working with other people I recently sort of opened my studio if you will –I’m on Facebook with thousands of friends and I’ve said to all of them look if you’re out there and you need assistance with overdubs, mixing, production, don’t be shy in other words everyone I work with doesn’t have to be a rock star. If you need a guitar overdub I’m a work for hire musician call me. And I’ve actually ended up on six or seven records this year by virtue of doing that and they’ve all been fun projects to work with."

"And I would say the same thing if everyone out there in the audience needs anything from bass, drums, guitar to mixing you can find me on Facebook because I really do enjoy working with people and I find interesting relationships from there that go to unique places.”

Billy the new CIRCA album And So On is awesome and I’m looking forward to listening to your solo effort as well. Thank you so much for being with me today it was a lot of fun.

“Thank you and take care Ray.”

Special thanks to Billy James of Glass Onyon PR for this interview.
CIRCA official website http://www.circahq.com/
Billy Sherwood official website http://billysherwoodhq.com/Store/
Billy Sherwood on Facebook   http://www.facebook.com/people/Billy-Sherwood/752104140

Order Ray Shasho’s new book called Check the GsThe True Story of an Eclectic American Family and Their Wacky Family Business at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, borders.com or iuniverse.com.
 
“Normalcy is a myth and anyone who tells you differently isn't very normal."Check the Gs" is a memoir from Ray Shasho who tells of his own offbeat upbringing working in the family business art gallery, from a young age. Of Cuban and Syrian descent, he tells a very American story of coming from everything, seeing everything, walking the line of the law and much more. A fun and fast paced memoir, "Check the Gs" is a worthwhile addition to many a memoir collection." ~~ MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW

Contact author/classic rock music reporter Ray Shasho at rockraymond.shasho@gmail.com
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