Billy Sherwood has to be one of the busiest musicians in rock music these days. Besides a prolific career as a producer, engineer, and session musician for nearly three decades, he has carved out an impressive catalogue as a solo artist (eight studio albums and counting), and has been a members of legendary prog-rocker band Yes on a couple of occasions, and is back as a member.
He has also worked in other prog-rock projects such as his first band Lodgic alongside older brother Michael, as well as Circa with former Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye and with late Yes bassist Chris Squire on the Conspiracy project. Even more recently he has filled in on bass and vocals with another iconic progressive rock band, Asia, replacing co-founder John Wetton who died at the end of January.
Yet Sherwood has still managed to find the time (and energy) to put together another musical masterpiece with one of his other bands – the long dormant World Trade. This band was his second after Lodgic, releasing its self-titled debut in 1989. The record, Unify, was released worldwide on Aug. 4.
Unify is actually a true World Trade reunion, bringing together the initial quartet that released that self-titled debut back in 1989 – Sherwood, guitarist Bruce Gowdy, keyboard whiz Guy Allison and drummer Mark T. Williams. A second World Trade album, Euphoria, released in 1995, featured Jay Schellen (Hurricane) on drums, and a guest appearance from Squire.
Bringing back together the original foursome was the idea of Frontiers Records impresario Serafino Perugino, who had established a great creative and commercial relationship with Sherwood over the last number of years.
“I was already working with Frontiers. I just put out a solo album called Citizen [in 2015] and there was the new album with Circa and I guess they liked them both and they did well because the asked me if I would put together the original cast for World Trade and would they be interested in making a record. I contacted all the guys and it sounded like a good idea to everybody so we went for it. So it really was Serafino and Frontiers that was the catalyst,” said Sherwood, who said, serendipitously, there was time in all their schedules to do the work necessary to create what became the band’s third album, Unify.
“I was in between Yes tours at the time so I knew what my window of opportunity was. Once we established that time frame, everyone else was able to put aside stuff so that we could hit the target during that time. We committed to the project and once we got into the loop, we started writing and getting things going and that aspect of it comes pretty quickly for me and the other guys. Once we were all in on the record, it probably took about six months in total, but the initial creative thrust and a lot of the work happened in about six weeks.
“The first thing is Bruce and I sat down and wrote the record and really dug into that part of it. So that was he and I forming the songs, and that was the first part. Once we had the songs, we turned to the production side of things and we got together with Mark and tracked the drums and bass. And then Guy got involved after that with the keyboard layering, I went to my studio to do the vocals and we brought everything together back at Bruce’s studio, which we kind of deemed would be the home base for the project.”
World Trade is essentially four long-time pals getting together to make great music. Sherwood has relationships with each member dating back many years, and said that is really what makes the music created for Unify special.
“I think the biggest difference on any project you’re working on is the artists that you’re working with, and I think that’s what, collectively, makes World Trade unique from my other projects. The initial sound and vibe comes from Bruce Gowdy [also known for his work with Unruly Child] and what he does with his approach to writing and arranging. That sets the template for me about what World Trade really sounds like for the first record and did again for Unify,” Sherwood said.
“He took the lead in getting all the songs organized and arranged and what not, and I came in and did the melodies and lyrics like I usually do and then we involved everybody else. But Bruce, I have to give him a lot of credit; he is the big reason why World Trade sounds the way it does. And I do have a unique history with all these guys. Bruce and I met right after Lodgic broke up and we started hanging out and working on material. He is a very funny guy and he’s got a great musical sensibility. That was my attraction in wanting to work with him early on; it just seemed like it would be a good, fun time, which is what it turned out to be.
“I have known Mark Williams because of both of us being part of the whole Los Angeles circle for a long time, and we would run into each other here and there, but had never really worked together until World Trade. And he is just a fantastic drummer, singer and multi-instrumentalist. His brother [Joseph] is the singer in Toto and his dad is [famous movie soundtrack composer] John Williams, so that tells you there’s something going on in that family. Guy was in Lodgic with me. Before that he was working with my brother’s band doing Vegas kind of revues for years, so I have known Guy since I was 13. So it’s a unique relationship with each one, but when we get together, it always feels like the band we formed 27 or so years ago. And to be able to do it all again, it’s crazy.”
Sherwood was devastated by the loss of Yes co-founder, bassist and longest-tenured member Chris Squire when he died in June of 2015. A long-time friend, Sherwood, who had played with Yes during a stint in the late 1990s, was asked to replace Squire when he became ill and subsequently was personally asked by Squire before his passing to ensure the band continued on.
So for the better part of the last two years, Sherwood has made Yes his priority, even though he still managed to record and release an album with his other side project Circa (Valley of the Windmills in 2016) as well as the World Trade record.
“It’s gotten a little easier to do the shows for sure. The first tour after Chris died was pretty rough emotionally, thinking about Chris a lot and playing onstage and trying to look entertaining as well. I know Chris didn’t want me to stand up there and look depressed, but at the same time the emotions were running very high and it was very raw. So that first tour was pretty tough with the tours after getting a little easier. The whole time I know this is what Chris wanted us to do; to keep Yes going. That was his dearest wish,” said Sherwood.
“To that end I have turned that sorrow into more of a motivational factor now in keeping the band going as best I can, and doing my part. And we have had some amazing tours and played some amazing music. We played all of the Drama album and two sides from Tales from Topographic Oceans on the last tour, which was recorded and is going to be a live album coming out soon, which is fantastic.
“Obviously the band got into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, which is something very special and now we’re doing this ‘Yestival’ Tour, which is us, and Todd Rundgren opening and also Carl Palmer’s solo band on the bill. In my heart, I know this is what Chris wanted. And the band is thriving and doing great things I am honoured to be a part of it and I shall continue to be a part of it as long as I am required.”
He said Yes is even contemplating new original material.
“We are always talking about new material. It was early going when we lost Chris so the conversations are only now beginning about a new record. But we have to see where it goes and how it fits into an already crazy busy schedule,” Sherwood said, adding that 2018 is a milestone year for the legendary band.
“There are a lot of plans for the 50th anniversary next year and we are doing a lot of cool things, so the band is going to be very busy.”
As well as his duties with Yes, Sherwood was also asked to fill the shoes of another prog-rock legend who passed away more recently. As mentioned previously, John Wetton of Asia died in January, and he and Sherwood were also friends. As with the Yes scenario, Wetton enlisted Sherwood to help ensure Asia could continue to tour, which it did quite extensively over the past few months.
“I had a very good relationship with John. We obviously weren’t as close as I was with Chris because Chris and I didn’t live that far apart and John was based in England. With that being said, I figure we participated in probably 25 records that I worked on over the years. At one point we had covered so much material of other people that I thought it would be great if we could do something original together. He called me back a few days later and asked me to produce his solo album,” he explained.
“So he came to L.A. and we made the Raised in Captivity record and we spent 29 days together in my studio just very intimately co-writing everything, which was so much fun to do because John is a huge hero of mine. We became pretty close over those 29 days, but I never imagined that he was thinking about me to do this and it came as a complete surprise when I was asked. But just like what happened with Chris and Yes, there was no way I was going to say no. And it was just a few weeks after he passed that we started the tour with Journey. So Asia just finished 45 shows with Journey, and literally a half hour after that last show was finished, [Yes and Asia keyboardist Geoff Downes] and I were literally in a car driving to rehearsals for Yes.”
Being so busy with Yes and Asia, Sherwood isn’t sure, logistically, if there is a chance World Trade could play some live dates, but he is certainly up for it if the scheduling can be pulled together.
“We would love to do it and we have spoken about it. But to be honest, between what Yes is doing and Asia in my world, it’s just going to have to come down to the calendar and seeing if there is an opening and an opportunity to do it. That said we would love to play live shows and get out there and play the music from the first album, and this new album,” he said.
“But as I promised to Chris, Yes is priority one. And in the same way, I promised John I would make Asia priority one – so I have two priority ones that are pretty busy. So we will just have to see. But if the chance presents itself and we can make it work, we have all spoken about the fact that we would like to do it.”
For more information on World Trade and Unify, visit http://www.frontiers.it/album/5393.
For more information on Sherwood’s various activities, visit http://www.billysherwoodhq.com.
- Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Napanee, ON, who has been writing about music and musicians for a quarter of a century. Besides his journalistic endeavours, he now works as a communications and marketing specialist. Contact him at email@example.com.
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