leads to SYN
an interview with
Chris Squire and Steve Nardelli
of the SYN
by Robert Silverstein
Before he went on to carve out musical maps with Yes, Chris Squire
was a member of prog-pop innovators The Synalong with Yes /
Flash guitarist Peter Banks, singer Stephen Nardelli, drummer Martyn
Adelman and the late, great keyboard orchestrater Andrew Pryce Jackman.
Although they made inroads with several acclaimed releases, The Syn
ceased to exist by the time Yes burst on the scene with their self-titled
Lp debut in 1969. In 2005, 40 years on, Stephen Nardelli has reteamed
with Chris Squire for an album magnificently etched in that classic
U.K. paisley pop / 60s symphonic rock sound, echoing the super
studio production techniques explored by Yes on any number of their
decade spanning releases. To better control their groups destiny,
Squire and Nardelli made a move to establish their own record label,
Umbrello, as well as a planned TV station entitled The One TV.
Underscoring the Syn history, Umbrello have released a double CD Syn
set of 60s sides backed by some newly reformed 2004 Syn tracks
with Pete Banks on guitar entitled The Original Syn 1964-2004 and
a brand new 2005 Syn group lineup and CD entitled Syndestructible.
History seems to repeat with this latest departure of Banks, while
in comes Yes bass great Chris Squire to finally place the Syn legacy
up front and center . Even without the illustrious guitar skills of
Pete Banks, Squire and Nardelli made a great move enlisting the support
of the Stacey brothersguitarist Paul Stacey, fresh from his
work with Oasis, and his twin brother/drummer Jeremy Stacey. Credit
should also go to Paul Stacey who produced, engineered while playing
great electric guitar on Syndestructible. Commenting on working
with rock icons, Paul Stacey adds, Close To The Edge
is one of the greatest albums of all time and had a huge influence
on me as a musician. It's great to be playing with Chris Squire. I
even have a Squire signature Rickenbacker in my guitar collection.
Steve Nardelli has a great voice, Gerard Johnson is a super musical
talent on keyboards, and Martyn Adelman is really getting back into
the groove as a drummer. I want to make a fantastic album with The
Syn, something people will remember in 30 years like Close to the
Edge. I know we can do it!" Syn are off to a great revival
with Syndestructible, even though Squire claims Yes are just
on a long holiday for this year. In L.A. on November 2, 2005 Chris
Squire and Stephen Nardelli spoke with Robert Silverstein in NYC about
the second coming of The Syn, forty years after the start of the band.
interview was written and conducted during the first week of November
2005, in the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma which left so much destruction
in that last week of October 2005. With my parents having been dealt,
what would turn out to be, an insurmountable blow by Wilma in South
Florida I decided to go ahead with the interview. In a slight state
of future shock, I spoke by phone in New York with Steve and Chris,
who were in L.A. The article originally appeared in an abridged version
in the January 2006 issue of 20th Century Guitar magazine. In recent
interviews and on his web site Chris Squire has stated that he has
left The Syn and has not fully endorsed their current CD, Armistice
Day. Even so... it's worth taking a look back at that great vibe created
by the Syndestructible CD. -editor}
RS: I want to congratulate you on the new Syndestructible
CD. Ive been playing it for a week now and I have to say its
one of the best prog-rock albums of the new century.
CS: Wow. Well thats good seeing that were five years into
it! (laughter) Thats excellent.
RS: So how did you decide to hook up to reform The Syn with Stephen
CS: Well, basically it came together, the meeting, because Steve came
to me last year in Denver when Yes were at Red Rocks. And he had asked
me if Id do an interview to put on to the Original Syn album,
which he put together as a retrospective about the 60s Syn and
also as a dedication to Andrew Jackman, our keyboard player, who sadly
passed away in 2003. And hed been a childhood friend of mine
as well so of course I was very willing to contribute to that album,
and we dedicated it to him. And so when that project was done, I was
over in London to play a show for 25 years of Trevor Horns musical
productions. That was a show with various artists on it, from Seal
through to Grace Jones. It was kind of a magic show. After, I got
Steve tickets for that and him and I were hanging around, talking
about stuff and I was staying in London for a little bit after that
show and I visited him at his house and he started playing me a couple
of his song ideas that hed been working on at home and I picked
up on some of them and said, hey, Ive got some time on
my hands right now. Yes is on a hiatus this year. Lets see if
you want to make a new album. So we put together Gerard Johnson
on keyboards and the two Stacey brothers, Paul and Jeremy on guitar
and drums. And we went in the studio and made this record.
RS: Can you say something about the Original Syn compilation
CD? I know you play of the 60s stuff.
CS: Yeah, Im not on every track on that. Im really just
on the original two singles that are on there, which was a song called
Created By Clive, another song called Grounded,
which was actually the b-side but should have been the a-side.Then
there was another single with a song called Flowerman
and on the b-side of that was a song called 14 Hour Technicolor
Dream. And the rest of the stuff on that album...just rehearsal
demos and just interesting tidbits from that era.
RS: How did you hook up with the Stacey brothers?
CS: Well, in actual fact we were working in Pauls studio and
we did one of the tracks initially, the Cathedral Of Love
song, without Pauls involvement. Hed been away touring,
I think with the Finn brothers, and then he came back into town and
came by the studio to see us. And we got talking and he was playing
us some tunes that he produced. And I said to him, they sound
real good. Would you... like end up just playing guitar on this track?
He said, sure. And so he finished that track and then
we went away, Steve and myself, and wrote the rest of the album and
then came back to Paul and said, hey, how about you just produce
the album? And he did.
RS: I know hes a huge Yes fan. He said he wants to make a Syn
record thats as great as Close To The Edge.
CS: Thats right. Where did you read that? Was he talking
about the Syndestructible album or anything he wanted to be
RS: Basically about this record. I was under the impression that there
was more material than the seven tracks.
CS: There is...there were two more tracks that didnt go on cause
it would have been just too much time. Its 57 minutes as it
stands so we saved a couple of tracks that well probably put
on our next project.
RS: What was your bass and amp set-up on the Syndestructible album?
CS: I only used two basses. I used my original Rickenbacker of course
on four of the tracks I guess and I also used my MPC bass which is
made by St. Louis Music and thats a guitar Ive had since
the 70s as well and I used that on a couple tracks. The MPC
Electra its called and I think it was one of the companies that was
part of St. Louis Music, which I guess...I dont know if that
became Ampeg, or Ampeg or St. Louis Music or they merged...something
like that happened, theyre both out of St. Louis.
RS: You were supposed to come here on the More Drama tour with
Alan White and Steve Howe but you had difficulties.
CS: Yeah, we had problems with work visas for some people and it was
also the time of those terrorist attacks in London. And so the whole
visa thing was like, really on red alert, those kind of criminal activities
but we didnt manage to get the visas done in time for the tour.
And we were chipping away dates off the front of the tour and we were
still going to try to jump on it but after a certain point, when L.A.
went out, because we couldnt have the visas for the L.A. show...and
we thought, well, we may as well just postpone this and try
and do it again when all this mess is sorted out. And we were victims,
really, of the system.
RS: So the tour is back on track?
CS: Well, no it hasnt been reset yet. I mean, its an idea that
RS: Youre playing Joes Pub in Manhattan in January?
CS: Yeah, thats just The Syn though. Its not with Steve
Howe or Alan White.
RS: So youre living in England now?
CS: Pretty much. Well, working on the Syn project, Ive been
living back in London, which is the first time I'm actually living
there for a long period of time. Since 84. 85 I moved
to L.A. And I lived on the West Coast pretty much since then. I lived
a couple years in New York at the end of the 90s. And then I
was back in Santa Barbara after that. Then, as I said, this year I
went to London to do the Syn album.
RS: Tell me something about the new label you started with Steve Nardelli.
CS: Yeah, the Syndestructible album is on Umbrello. We also
have a DVD company and were also involved in a TV satellite
channel on Sky TV, called www.theone.tv and thats supposed to
be coming on line quite soon.
RS: Is there going to be a SYN dvd?
CS: Were going to film this show at the Marquee Club so Im
sure at some point well be using some of that.
RS: So Yes are on hiatus this year?
CS: Well, Jon Andersons doing some solo work at the moment.
Ive been involved in this and I know Alan White has his own
band up in Seattle where he lives and hes been working on that.
Yes were heavily involved in touring from like 97 through 2004.
We did a lot of on the road work and we decided it would be best to
get off the road at least for 2005. Just to give the fans a break.
(laughter) In a way.
RS: You always seem to have that knack when it comes to take that
break to come up with...I mean The Unknown Conspiracy CD was
two years ago...
CS: Yeah, I know. Maybe Im lucky. Maybe Im good. (laughter)
Or a combination of both.
RS: What did you think of the Yes live box set The Word Is Live
CS: I liked it!
RS: There was nothing from Tales From Topographic Oceans and
CS: I think thats because theres going to be a second
RS: How about Songs From Tsongas?
CS: As a DVD, it looks good to me. I wish the mix would have been
a bit better, but visually it looks fine.
RS: Thanks Chris.
RS: I want to congratulate you and Chris on the Syndestructible
CD. I call it a masterpiece of beat-prog music because
it has that modern edge and a 70s progressive edge but I also
detect a big 60s pop influence.
SN: Well its interesting, what you say because we wanted to take the
best of what prog music was all about in the late 60s and 70s
and kind of bring it into the 21st century. And we call ourselves
prog-modernists, thats the title we came up with for ourselves
and that was the concept behind the writing and construction of the
album. The writing for the album was done very quickly. It was based
on a lot of ideas, which I had over the past 40 years! (laughter)
And then Chris and I got together and we constructed the compositional
side of the tracks over an intense three week period, about a year
ago. And then we spent about the best part of this year in the studio
putting it all together. It was a lot of time, a lot of work went
into the album. A lot of love as well. And we ended up with what you
hear. And I think the aspects of it that you mentioned, you know the
kind of 60s aspect of it, the prog stuff and a kind of modern
feel that we hope it has. I think that is exactly what we were trying
to achieve. The kind of pop psychedelia of the 60s, the prog
and a modern thing that could appeal to people in the 21st century,
rather than some sort of retro thing. So and I think we achieved that.
Its kind of our own sound, its a new sound...in a certain
way. And its getting rave reviews. Im very pleased that
you like it and generally, people are saying the same thing about
RS: I know youre doing other things so what prompted you to
jump back in the music world again?
SN: Well, the thing about music, as you know, cause youre
a music guy yourself, and that if its in your blood, its
always there. And although I wasnt in the music business per
se for about 40 years...although I did have a couple solo singles
out with Decca in the mid 70s. Id actually been writing
stuff over the years. Ive had about 40 of my songs released
one way or another but I wasnt in the industry per se. But I
never stopped writing and I never stopped hammering on my guitar and
singing to my wife and so on (laughter). And so when the opportunity,
out of circumstances...and those circumstances were sad circumstances.
Our original keyboard player, a very talented chap called Andrew Jackman,
he, very sadly, died in 2003, unexpectedly. And that brought Chris
and I back together to make a retro album called Original Syn,
I dont know if you know about that one, which we released
as a sort of tribute to Andrew. And that brought us back together
and circumstances would have it, we started to get together and write
together again. And the opportunity came for us to make a new album,
after 40 years. We felt we had the material to do so and we assembled
a very talented set of musicians to enhance what Chris and I were
doing. Paul and Jeremy Stacey. Paul Stacey was with Oasis. Hes
involved in the production of the new Oasis album. And Jeremy played
drums with Sheryl Crow and also with The Finn Brothers. Hes
a very great musician, both of them. And Gerard Johnson, whos
a wonderful musician in the mold of Andrew. And we came together as
a new incarnation of The Syn and we produced this new album. We put
a lot of time and effort into it and a lot of focus and weve
come up with this great new album we feel.
RS: I understand theres some music that was recorded before
the music of Syndestructible.
SN: We went in to the studio with seven tracks. Theres another
couple of tracks which we kind of half finished, which we havent
used but will be the centerpiece or the cornerstone of a new album
we will probably start work on sometime next year after we finish
touring. I dont know if you were talking about some tracks I
made with Peter Banks in 2004. Those tracks. Yeah.That was basically
a slightly different lineup. Chris wasnt involved then. We put
them as an add-on to the Original Syn album, which sold very
well actually. I was surprised how well it did.
RS: Can you say something about the new venture you started with Chris
SN: The way the music industry is at the moment, which is...its kind
of splintering up in all kinds of directions and is going through
kind of a difficult period shall we say. Where, in fact, we couldnt
really be comfortable with a home for Syndestructible so we
decided to construct our own home, which is our own record label.
And weve put together Umbrello Records. Syndestructible and
The Original Syn stuff is all coming out on that label. And
weve surrounded ourselves with some great some great distribution
partners. ADA / Warners in America, Nova / Pinnacle in the U.K. and
SPV Inside Out Music in the rest of Europe, Universal in Japan. And
weve got great partners and weve got great PR publicists
too working with us. Over here, as you know Wolfson PR, fantastic
company thats done a great job for us over here in the U.S.
We have similar partners in various countries around the world. Thats
the way its structured. Its structured around a company
that Chris and I control. So we control our own destiny if you like.
We can go in the direction we want to go with our music but we surround
ourselves with some great partners. And obviously, also, you know,
if we can have great partners in the media, like yourself, we can
work with key guys like yourself, then thats a cornerstone for
any musical project. And thats kind of what were doing.
Thanks to Chris Squire and Steve Nardelli of Umbrello Records