The veteran vocalist discusses his new recording, as well as some past and present projects.
By Martin Popoff
Surely one of the richest. most sonorous, most distinctive voices in progressive and classic rock, John Wetton seemed to touch down upon the landscape of the ‘70s and early ‘80s with considerable importance. There was work with Family, King Crimson, Roxy Music, Uriah Heep, UK and most famously, Asia. A raft of solo albums have ensued in the interim, with the latest, somewhere in the “cone.” John explains.
“Well, I'm right in the middle of it now. If you consider that the last album, which was Sinister, finished off a trilogy that started with Battle Lines and went through Arkangel and finished with Sinister, which in Japan was called Welcome To Heaven, because they didn't like the word sinister… I went to great lengths to explain that it referred to my left-hand as sinister, but they thought it had some kind of occult, macabre connotation. So I said OK, and I used one of the titles that I mocked up previously (laughs), and they said 'Oh, we love that! We love that!' So sometimes my albums have different titles in the Japanese release so the deluxe package gets a different title, and possibly a different cover as well. But this time I hope it will be the same. I have to deliver it in just under a month so we are at the moment, noses to the grindstone. It is very much in the same vein as the previous three, but whereas I explored on the previous three, I made a point of forgetting all about the sort of art school lyrics and getting right down to basics, general feelings, getting rid of a lot of stuff that had built up inside me and be more personal. That's one decision that I made in 1991, that any music I made in the future was going to be a reference to something that actually had happened to me, something in my emotional sphere or something that I could identify with someone else going through. And that still applies today. In fact, the sort of landscapes have changed a bit. Battle Lines was very much a rock album but then it was conceived and written and recorded in the early '90s and we're actually ten years on now from when I first started recording it; a lot of things have changed, and I suppose there are a lot of things that cannot be gone back over that have changed, sometimes good and sometimes not so good. And I think this album will reflect quite a lot of that. The soundscapes are a lot of broader. We’re using a lot more technology on this than ever before. There are still a lot of very personal lyrics on it. There is still the kind of melodic element that I've always had and the voice is the same (laughs).”
How is the voice holding out? How has it changed in the last little few years, if indeed it has?
“Fine. Touch wood, it seems to get better. I quit smoking about ten years ago. And anyone who is reading this or listening to it, I can't give them any better recommendation on what to do with their lives than to stop smoking. It's just the best thing you can do. Whether you're a singer or not, but especially if you're a singer. Boy, it makes a big difference. But again, once you get to my age, you look back, well I look back and I say, well I'm glad that I don't smoke now and really get involved in too much of that sort of stuff. But you know, being a child of the '60s, well, I grew up in the '60s, born in '49, well, yeah, the most influential years of my life were the '60s, in terms of everything hitting at the same time, culturally, emotionally, I talk to people who were born in the '70s and I say, you know (laughs), you missed quite a lot there really…”
John ventures a few song titles for the next album, ending up with an explanation of the cone reference mentioned back where we first started… “One is called “New Day” another is “I Believe In You”, “The Way It Is”. It's quite positive. It's quite positive, yeah. But I always regard making an album as entering into a kind of cone. At the beginning of it, you have everything available. There are no restrictions at all. You've got every sound, every lyrics, every possible piece of technology at your disposal as a musician as well and seemingly all the time in the world. As you go further down the cone, your limitations become greater and you have less things available to you. To the point where you reach the very end of the cone and you decide there's nothing left available to you; that's it, you've done it, the record's over. If you go any further than that, the whole thing opens up again, and you are really lost (laughs). So to me, I'm about two inches down a three foot cone at the moment (laughs).”
Given that he’s always in demand, I asked John if there was anything else coming out shortly with his dependable name stamped on it. “There's a record coming out in Italy, a rock opera, and it's called Genius,” he explains, “and it comes out around October the 20th. I'm on that and I play King Chaos (laughs). I don't know why they chose me for that part (laughs) and I only know the bits that I chose to do and it sounds pretty good to me. I got the usual thing. I got a CD of the backing track, put it onto ProTools, did my vocals, and sent the CD back and hadn't heard the finished mix. I was just happy with what I sent out and they seemed very happy with what I sent them. So that will be coming out third week in October. There's always something going on (laughs).”