Interview Billy Sherwood

"I'm known for doing solo albums on which I play everything myself"

(October 2019, text by Henri Strik, edited by Peter Willemsen, pictures supplied by Billy Sherwood)

The American keyboardist, guitarist, record producer and mixing engineer Billy Sherwood is certainly no stranger in the progressive rock scene. Next to his activities in Yes and Asia, he still has time to release solo albums. His latest album Citizen: In The Next Life (see review) was for Background Magazine a good reason to ask him a bit more about this release!

Billy Sherwood
Billy, why did you decide to record a follow-up to Citizen (2015), and what are the concepts for both albums?
Billy Sherwood: “The concept for both albums is the same: a lost soul jumping from life to life and becoming a citizen of that given time. Frontiers Records wanted me to come up with a concept record and so this is what I came up with for the debut, and now following up with the same concept for the second record Citizen: In The Next Life.”

Why did you choose the robot Sophia, Claude Monet, Christopher Columbus, Wyatt Earp, Stephen Hawking and Mata Hari as subjects to write about?
“These are all persons that interest me and I write about what I'm interested in. Moreover, they all fit within the concept of the character of Citizen.”

This time you did everything on your own and you didn't invite other guest musicians. Did you have a special reason for that?
“The record label requested to produce the record this way. I'm known for doing solo albums on which I play everything myself and this is just an extension of my work.”

A song like Skywriter reminded me of Paperback Writer by The Beatles. Do you agree?
“Yes, it has a Beatles feel. I'm a big Beatles fan so the influence is felt within that song.”

As far as I am concerned is Sailing The Seas one of the highlights on the album because of the awesome synthesizer solo! This piece reminded me of the excellent debut album made by World Trade. Why didn't you use more solos like that on the album and do you agree that it sounds like World Trade?
“I hadn't noticed that it sounds like World Trade, but now that you mention it, I guess you're right in a way. It wasn't done on purpose, but it does have a feeling of that band. That said, guitarist Bruce Gowdy is an important member of World Trade, so for me I don't hear as much World Trade in it as maybe others might without him. As far as the synth solo is concerned, I choose sounds randomly as I go and that sound seemed to fit the song so I used it. I try not to repeat myself with sounds, so that's why you don't hear that synth sound anywhere else.”

Why has the album been released on the Italian label Frontiers Records? Could you choose from more labels?
Billy Sherwood
“I've had a long relationship with Frontiers Records and I'm honoured to be part of their family of artists. It was the perfect fit for Citizen, I'm sure I'll be making more records with them in the future.”

In my opinion Billy Sherwood & Tony Kaye - Live In Japan is a very entertaining live album on which the both of you sound like a real band. How did you get that sound with only two people and why was the accompanied DVD of such a poor quality?
Tony Kaye and I went over to Japan to do concerts after the big tsunami disaster. We hadn't planned on releasing a live record or a DVD from that. We just wanted to play for the Japanese people and try to lift spirits. At the end of the day some of the shows were captured on audio and video and as you mentioned, the video quality is not great. It does archive the moment and so we felt it was worthwhile releasing. Because we were doing a two man show we didn't want to play only acoustic guitar and piano, so I created backing tracks for us to play too. I played drums, bass and I got the rhythm section together, so we could play on top of it. Of course it feels like a band by proxy.”

Can we expect new albums from you with World Trade and Circa:?
“Tony and I have been discussing making a new Circa: record. We both enjoy doing that very much, so you never know. As far as World Trade is concerned there are more people involved and schedules make it difficult for us to get together as a band, but who knows. We may just do another one. You never know.”

You are still doing concerts with Asia and Yes. Is it possible that both bands are coming up with studio albums?
“The last tour we just completed had Asia opening for Yes. I played with both bands and enjoyed it very much, as far as I know I'm still in Asia... and in Yes too, ha, ha. I'm not sure about studio albums going forward hopefully so.”

Any other future plans worth mentioning?
“I'm always working in the studio with various productions and right now I'm focusing on preparing for the next Yes-tour which is coming up.”

Album art 'Citizen: In The Next Life'
Thank you, Billy for answering my questions.
“You're welcome.”

More info about Billy Sherwood on the Internet:

       review album 'What Was The Question?' (2011)
       review album 'Divided By One' (2015)
       review album 'Live In Japan' (2016, with Tony Kaye)
       review album 'Citizen: In The Next Life' (2019)

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