Interview Billy Sherwood

“What was the question?”

(March 2012, text by Martien Koolen, edited by Peter Willemsen, pictures provided by Billy Sherwood)

Multi-instrumentalist William 'Billy' Sherwood was born in Las Vegas on March 14, 1965. He started his musical career in the band Lodgic wherein he sang and played the bass. Sherwood's second band was called World Trade and later on he became involved with Yes, one of the most famous   prog rock bands ever. He participated on Open Your Eyes (1997), The Ladder (1999) and Live From House Of Blues (2001) and furthermore he co-produced, engineered and mixed the new studio songs for the two amazing Keys To Ascension-albums.

Billy Sherwood
After leaving Yes Sherwood worked together with Chris Squire to form Conspiracy and so far they recorded two albums. Five years ago Billy formed a new band called Circa:, consisting of drummer Alan White, keyboard player Tony Kaye and guitarist Jimmy Haun. They released their eponymous debut in 2007. In 2011 Circa: returned with a new line-up, being Sherwood, Kaye, Johnny Bruhns (guitars) and Scott Connor (drums). In 2011 the new Circa: album And So On (see review) and his fifth solo album What Was The Question? (see review) appeared. So it seems that I have enough material to talk about.

Your new solo album is called What Was The Question? Could you please explain this rather funny title?

Billy Sherwood: “It was the first track I wrote heading into a new solo project. The meaning for me is: go with the life's flow, because it will take you where it wants to in the end anyway. We all wonder what's next, what's around the bend, what will tomorrow bring, who will be there with us when we get there? Life is filled with so many questions, I've lost track and so... what was the question?”

You played all the instruments on the album yourself. I know you're a multi-instrumentalist, but which instrument was the first one you learned to play on?

“Drums. It was my first passion and it remains something I love doing. I have my own DW-kit and love playing them. My mother is the one who taught me how to play. She played and still does... My parents were both musicians and entertainers, so... I had a built-in teacher in my mother.”

What is your favourite instrument?

“I get asked that question a lot, because of playing different instruments but really I don't have a preference of one over the other. I love music and these are the tools to paint with. I also consider being an audio engineer of sorts to be an instrument and a big part of my sound. There's so much you can do to make a picture sparkle and shine with the audio tricks. That's an instrument I love playing too.”

I hear many influences ranging from bands like Yes, Rush and Genesis on the album. Do you still have their music in the back of your head while composing new songs?

“My influences are always peaking through, as a musician you absorb music for decades and processing it; one can't help but carry favourite flavours into the blend. I don't refer to anyone's music when creating my own. I'm always looking for something new and kind of out there.”

The lyrics on your new album are really interesting. Could you please elaborate on the lyrics of Living In The Now and Free World On Fire?

Living In The Now is a song about just that... live for the moment, love the ones you are with for we are all here on earth for a limited time and so all the more important to enjoy what we have in our daily lives. It reflects the idea of wishing for the future when the present is where it's at. Free World On Fire is a song about trying to locate truth in a world where things are not always as they may seem and often become a roadmap to conflicts.”

What is your favourite song on the album and why?

Delta Sierra Juliet for the single fact that John Wetton, one of my heroes in music, was kind enough to do a guest spot for me. I was producing his record Raised In Captivity and while he was in my studio singing I asked if he would do a cameo on my new solo-CD. I'm a huge fan of his work and so for me this was an honour.”

How did you come up with ideas for the new songs?

“I have my own studio in my home and as soon as I get an idea in my head, maybe a drum groove or something else I'm trying to work it out and start playing with lyrics. There's no other way I go about it: I hear a melody, pen it down and begin all over again sometimes working until 3 AM! Sometimes the lyrics set the tone for the music and sometimes the opposite. Counting The Cables is a track that started with the words, I fit the music to the words.”

Are you planning on touring with these new songs?

“I'm not sure about touring although, if there was a chance I would go for it. I'm very involved with my band Circa:, having said that I do have a band together for it and we are rehearsing for a special concert for the solo project.”

How will the line-up of the band look like when you go on tour with your solo material?

“A four or a five piece band most likely. I would be playing guitar and singing. We shall see.”

You also have a new Circa: album called And So On. What's the story behind that title?

“While touring in Europe with Yoso, Tony Kaye and I were discussing the future for Circa: which we always knew we wanted to go forward with. In one conversation we spoke of forming a new line up amongst other things. Tony suggested making a new CD, playing gigs and so on... After he said that I thought: perfect title And So On. ”

There are some new members in Circa:. What happened?

“People come and people go; what can you say? You always hope to have a band that stays in the same line-up. The reality is that people have families. When they come into play some decide to get off the train while others want to keep riding down the track. Circa: is not unlike any former band with member changes. Alan White returned to Yes to reform the band in 2004 with the tribute singer Benoit David. Jimmy Haun left to do jingles, drummer Jay Schellen became very involved with John Payne's Asia after making Circa: HQ with the band. At the end of the day the band goes on... and so on.”

How is the cooperation with Tony Kaye nowadays?

“Tony and I are good friends. We met in 1987 and have remained friends ever since. I have a deep respect for his musicianship.”

Is Circa: the band that is closest to your heart?

“Yes, it is.”

Does the writing process for songs for Circa: differ from your solo albums?

“I'd say my solo stuff goes further out there. When working inside a unit you want to make sure that everyone is on board with things and that it's all heading a direction that's a shared vision of sorts. That's what being in a band is about for me. For my solo albums I don't have the obligation to run anything by anyone. I just go. If I did something accidently out there I can reinforce it and develop it into something without needing to convince anyone. It will work, wait and see... I love both working with bands, with other people but also doing it all by myself.”

And So On has all the musical components of a classic prog rock album. Do you think that it still fits in the music scene of 2012?

“I have never been worried about my music fitting in, because it never seems to, anyway! I'm grateful to anyone who embraces my music.”

Castaway is a rather special song. Would you please tell something more about that one?

“It's a song about life's pace, a kin to a roller coaster ride. During the writing period of this record I was dealing with a very dear friend who we all knew was dying. This was a tough one for me because he was my best friend from when I was sixteen. I didn't want to believe it was coming, but it did. Castaway is a reflection of the ride we all take: we come into this world alone and we leave the world alone, all the while surrounded by the ones we love and who love us back. There is a beauty to it all, while being kind of dark and somber, there's a peaceful resolution about it, a sort of acceptance if you will.”

In My Sky is my personal favorite, can you understand why?

“That song was written just before the loss of my friend. It's a message to him. I was tempted not to even put it on the record, but after playing it for Tony he said that we had to. It reflects on all of us who has lost someone we loved very much... life is this way.”

Will there be a Circa: tour?

“Well, it looks like it! We have a new agent who is hot on the case and I'm seeing gigs coming in; looking like east coast in July.”

Is there anything else going on beside the two new albums?

“At the moment I'm producing a tribute to Supertramp. It will be filled with great artists, just as the remake of The Wall I did, among others. I'm also making an original prog project/record for the same label. It's almost like a solo CD with friends invited. So far on board are John Wetton, Richard Page, Colin Moulding, Rick Wakeman, Tony Kaye, Peter Banks, David Sancious, Larry Fast, Tony Levin and more...”
Circa: live at Baja Prog 2008

Anything you would like to add?

“Just thanks to all those who follow what I do and support the music. My world is powered by that support and so I'm humbled and honoured. For all the things concerning Circa: please visit And for my solo works please visit I'm on Facebook too, so please come by and say hello. I thank you kindly for this interview, Martien.”

Cheers, it was my pleasure, Billy.

More info about Billy Sherwood on the Internet:
       Website Billy Sherwood
       album review 'What Was The Question?'

       Website Circa:
       album review 'Circa: - And So On'

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