by Darryl Smyers, 21 March 2013, Dallas Observer
If known only for being a member of The Buggles, keyboardist Geoff Downes would still have a place in rock history. “Video Killed The Radio Star” was the first video played on MTV way back in 1981. But Downes’ greater commercial success came as a member of Asiaand Yes. Currently recording and touring with both bands, Downes is certainly one of the busiest keyboardists around.
From a tour stop in Aspen, Colorado and in anticipation of Yes’ show tonight at the Verizon Theater, Downes spoke with DC9 about his four decades in new eave and progressive rock.
You were just in Dallas a few months back touring with Asia.
It just kind of worked out that way. That’s just the way things get thrown up sometimes. Neither band did Texas for quite a while before that ,so it’s nice to be coming back in very quick succession.
Is it difficult splitting time between Yes and Asia?
At the moment, it’s not so difficult, because I had an intense tour with Asia last year and we are taking a little break right now. It’s a privilege to play in both bands.
What’s it like in Asia without guitarist Steve Howe?
I think the other guys are willing to carry on. We decided to keep going. It might help Asia look at different musical avenues. It’s still going to be very much like Asia. I look forward to working with those guys.
You first became a member of Yes in 1980 and then you went thirty years before rejoining the band in 2011. Why come back?
It was because we had some material and they thought I could contribute to the music. I had worked with all of those guys over the years. I was happy that they got me involved. They really got off on what I was doing. I recorded a whole album with them and then we went out on tour.
Before you joined Yes in 1980, were you a big fan of the band?
Of course, I was. When I was studying for exams, I used to listen to them. I remember listening to Close to the Edge. That was the album that really drew me to them. The keyboard arrangements were incredible. That’s what got me into Yes.
Will there be more new music from Yes in the future?
I think so. I think everyone is really happy with the way this line up it working out. It is sounding very solid. It would be very nice if this line up has the opportunity to make another album.
What about the changes in lead vocalist? Jon Davidson is the band’s fourth singer.
Jon Davidson is a great asset to the band. Yes plays some pretty ambitious music and it is a big challenge for any musician or singer to pull that off. Jon Davidson has done an amazing job. People are coming to the shows and we are getting a great reaction. That’s really all you can judge it all by.
In 2010, you had a brief reunion with Trevor Horn in The Buggles. Any chance of new music with that project?
Yes, I am still in touch with Trevor and that is something that is always going to be there. There’s not much in touring because the whole concept of the Buggles was a studio creation. But if the opportunity arose in the future and Trevor and I have the time, then I would probably consider it.
The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” was the very first video played on MTV. Can we kind of blame you for everything?
Yes, I am guilty of that one. Hey, it’s a piece of history that I am proud of. It was a very prophetic moment.
Your plate seems so incredibly full. Besides Yes and Asia, you’ve also done albums with [Asia singer] John Wetton under the name Icon and solo albums under the moniker The New Dance Orchestra. How do you keep up with such a workload?
You’re right; it is pretty intense. When I get a window of opportunity, I usually fill it with something. Almost all of the projects you mention are things that I hope to work more on in the future. These things never go away. They are no one-off projects. They are all important to me. They are really fun hobbies.
You’ve also produced acts as diverse as Mike Oldfield and the Thompson Twins. Are you still working as a producer?
I tend to shy away from the production area. It’s not something that I have particularly embraced. If I am involved as a musician, involved creatively, that is quite different. I’ve produced a few local outfits in South Wales, but it’s just a couple tracks here and there. I’ve got so much on my plate; it’s hard to find time for production work.
Do you still hold the world record for having the most keyboards on stage?
I don’t think so. Actually, I don’t know if I ever held the record. I think it was something that someone put me up for. I don’t know if that was ever officially written anywhere. I certainly had many keyboards on stage at one point.
I saw Keith Emerson a few years ago and thought no one could have more than him.
Yes, he has quite a few, but I think I really did have the most one time. I had 28 and that is quite a lot. I’ve cut it down now to just about ten. I think it is a modest set up.
Yes performs tonight, March 21, at the Verizon Theater in Grand Prairie.