When asked if the founders of Yes had expected the band to still be going strong almost 50 years after its formation in 1968, Jon Anderson was quick to answer.
“Oh yeah,” he said casually — and then he laughed. “No! ... Any band you start, you give it a couple or three years.”
Of course they hoped they had a good thing going, and that the music they would create together would be worthwhile. But they never expected it to go so well.
“As time goes along, all of a sudden you become famous,” Anderson said. “You’ve just got to keep going.”
And they are. On Aug. 26, Yes Featuring ARW — formed of Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman — will kick off their North American tour at Stockton’s Bob Hope Theatre.
Yes was the brainchild of Anderson and the late Chris Squire. They brought in Peter Banks to play guitar, keyboardist Tony Kaye, and Bill Bruford on drums.
From the beginning, Yes was willing to experiment with new artistic forms of expression. It was what bands did in the late 1960s, Anderson said, pointing to the Beatles, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Frank Zappa and others who pushed the envelope.
“All these musicians, they inspired me,” he said. “When I started Yes, I wanted to emulate that idea of making music for stage.”
Making music for radio play is much more business-oriented, he said, but bands have to do it to get their name out there. Once people know who they are, though, they have a lot more room to try new things and develop their unique sound.
“You start spreading your musical wings, like Yes did in the early ’70s,” he said.
The band — and Anderson himself — are known for exploring deep spiritual themes. It was a natural progression, given the kind of music that influenced the members of Yes, Anderson said. The Beatles, for example, had a number of beautiful, spiritual songs.
Exploring spirituality and trying to find an understanding of God and creation is human nature, he said. Music is a way to share that quest with others.
“The more I sang about my journey to realization — I can tell you, the only reason we live is to find the true divine energy of love,” he said.
The lineup has changed over the years. Anderson spent three long tenures with the band up until 2008, with breaks to work on solo and duo projects. Rabin joined in 1983 and left in 1995 to become a composer for films including “Remember the Titans,” “Gone in 60 Seconds,” “I Am Number 4” and “National Treasure.” Wakeman joined the band for various projects and tours between 1971 and 2004 while not working on solo projects and tours of his own.
Yes has been joined over the years by several other talented musicians.
And Anderson and Wakeman worked together on a few side projects over the years, most recently Anderson/Wakeman.
In 2016, they came together with Rabin to form Yes Featuring ARW.
“It’s good to be back in the band,” Anderson said.
Since then, the group has been nominated for the UK Band/Artist of the Year for 2017. In April, the three joined other current and original members of Yes at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where Rush’s Geddy Lee joined them to perform “Roundabout” before Yes was inducted.
They’ll be touring throughout the U.S. until mid-October. Then, they’re going to get ready to celebrate Yes’ anniversary — the band turns 50 next year.
“We’re going to have a big birthday cake,” Anderson said — then laughed. “No.”
They do have a few gifts in the works for their fans, though.
Yes Featuring ARW has been working on an album to mark the milestone, which is due out in 2018.
“It’s going to be amazing!” Anderson said.
Three trio has been writing the music for it over the past year, and are continuing to work on it. Anderson described it as exciting and adventurous, like many of the band’s best albums.
“It’s classic Yes — it’s very very different,” he said.
The band is also planning a big visual installation that will start in London.
“The idea is that we’re going to be performing with the installation, and then we’re going to make holograms of ourselves,” Anderson said.
The plan is for the installation to travel to other major cities throughout the year.
Anderson has no plans to quit making music — with Rabin and Wakeman or his own solo projects — any time soon.
“I just love music. I’m so grateful for what I do. I’m very healthy. I’m in love with my wife after 25 years together. What more can you say?” he said.
(Among Anderson’s projects have been several albums recorded with his wife Jane Luttenburger, including “The Promise Ring” and “Earthmotherearth.” She tours with him, too. “We go everywhere together,” he said.)
When he spoke with the News-Sentinel on Monday, Anderson had spent the morning working on a musical piece 10 years in the making, he said.
“I’ll be making music until I’m 103 — and then I’ve got to go,” he said with a laugh.