Steve Howe Explains One ’Challenge’ of Writing Music Today, Says Yes is ’Avoiding Prog-Rock Cliches’

Steve Howe, progressive rock guitar legend and the classic member of Yes, reflected on how he and his bandmates approach songwriting these days and how they manage to make their music as versatile as possible without repeating themselves too much. Speaking to Guitar World recently, Howe discussed this while talking about Yes’ latest album, 2023’s “Mirror in the Sky.” Asked whether making a new Yes album is “formulaic” for him, Howe replied:

“Surprisingly, no. ‘Mirror the Sky’ went a bit backward. We were almost done with the record, and our label was ready to release it.”

Cut from the Stars

“But then, I mentioned that we had further tracks at about 10 minutes each. The label didn’t even know we had them, but they were all for them once we played them for them.”

” One of those songs was ‘Luminosity,’ which guided us stylistically. Working from that position sent us in a direction that dictated the entire album, which we feel in many ways is something that branched over from the last album, ‘The Quest.’”

Going off on this, the interviewer then asked Steve whether there was any secret to not being repetitive. Steve replied by saying that it’s all about picking the right songs:

“It seems simple, but it’s about picking the right songs. We write tons, so going with songs that have lyrics that will inspire us is imperative. It’s about crafting each piece with unique colors and defining texture. And truthfully, that’s what Yes has always done.”

One Second Is Enough

“We see our music as if it’s all connected but still able to stand alone as individual pieces, you know? And I think that by avoiding any prog-rock cliches, we’ve been able to separate ourselves from the masses of King Crimson soundalikes.”

During the interview, Howe was also reminded that 2023 is the year when Yes will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Yes’ legendary album “Tales from Topographic Oceans.” Asked what has changed the most for the band in these five decades, Steve replied:

“Interesting question. It would be an understatement to say that our recording methods have changed. [Laughs] Back then, we’d record things on the road to cassettes and quarter-inch tape. And when we’d bring it to the studio later, we’d say, ‘God… this sounds awful. What are we going to do with this?’”

“From there, we’d say, ‘How do we play and improve it?’ So the entire demoing process was very rough. But that process also bred albums like ‘Fragile,’ ‘Close to the Edge,’ and ‘Tales from Topographic Oceans.’ I think that had we not done that, perhaps we might not have distinguished ourselves from the Pink Floyds of the world.”

Going more into the matter, Howe was also asked whether he sees the guitar as his “ultimate means of expression.” While answering the question, Howe also reflected on one of the challenges with writing music today, particularly the “shorter attention span” that listeners, in general, are showing. He said:

“I think so. But part of the challenge is balancing that with creating music for a world with a shorter attention span than ever before. Then again, things are different now. Back in the ’70s, we toured like mad and didn’t always have success. And then, with Asia, I was part of a massive record that sold four million copies.”


“I couldn’t believe that it could be so seemingly effortless. So, I’ve seen both sides, and now, I’m more driven by what music means to me than anything else. I’ve often said I’d rather be a Chet Atkins back-room guy. I’d be quite happy with that. But certainly, I’m an opportunist, too. So, if the spotlight keeps falling on me, I’ll have to rise to the occasion.”

This, for lack of better words, a collective symptom of shortened attention span among music listeners was also addressed by Gov’t Mule leader and former The Allman Brothers Band guitar player Warren Haynes in a recent interview. He touched upon it when asked about some of the songs on the new Gov’t Mule album “Peace… Like a River” being pretty long. He offered:

“I don’t know if you could get away with that in the mainstream world these days. We’re trying to bring it back in our own way because, I suppose, it’s a big part of what we love. A lot of the songs on this album have seven or eight different sections, as opposed to the normal two or three these days.”

Cut from the Stars

During that same interview, he was also reminded of things always getting “dumbed down” in modern music to which he replied:

“Yeah, and the alternative to doing what we’re doing is for songs to get shorter and shorter and simpler and simpler, to where eventually everything is just a soundbite, and I really hate that idea.”

Going back to Steve Howe and Yes, the prog rock legends have released their latest album “Mirror in the Sky” back in May this year. The full version of the album includes a total of nine songs, clocking in a few minutes over one hour. Some of the songs also feature the FAMES Orchestra and arrangements done by arrangements by Paul K. Joyce.

Yes - Live Houston 2022

Photo: Steve Knight (Steve Howe 2015)


  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.