Interview with Trevor Rabin, Film Score Composer and Former Member of Yes

(This interview was originally published August 30, 2013 on the now-retired Kickin' it Old School blog. It is one installment in an incredible series of interviews we are republishing on Rediscover the '80s for posterity and your enjoyment. These are more than just interviews in a way; they are more like '80s timelines or oral histories on their respective subject matters. Please keep in mind the original date because some content could be specific to the time of the interview, though the majority should be timeless and totally rad.)

When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the '80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.

This time that awesomeness is Trevor Rabin. He was a guitarist, vocalist and songwriter for the band Yes from 1982 to 1994. He co-wrote their biggest hits from the '80s like “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and “Leave It” which helped drive sales of the 90125 album and launch the band to a whole new generation. He has continued his career as a solo artist and very successful film soundtrack composer. Find out a little about him, those 80s hits with Yes and more as we get on to some selections from my interview with Trevor Rabin

Q: When did you know you wanted to be a professional musician? When and how did you get your own start in the music industry? How did being born and raised in South Africa influence your musical tastes and abilities? Please tell us a little about what you did earlier in your career prior to Yes.

Trevor: I always was going to be a musician from as long as I can remember. Growing up in South Africa gave me a really well rounded musical basis. I started doing a lot of session work when I was 16 and in South Africa, the session scene meant you had to play anything, unlike America where you would probably be booked for a specific thing. Before Yes I was in a band called Rabbitt that did exceptionally well in Southern Africa. It is still considered the biggest band to break in South Africa. The guys are still my best friends.

Q: How did you hook up with Chris Squire and Alan White to form what would ultimately become a new version of Yes? What brought you guys together and did you just click right from the start?

Trevor: We did click from the start. We met when I got a call from Phil Carson (Atlantic Records) saying Chris and Alan would love to meet me. We met at a Japanese restaurant in London, decided to set up a day to play together and the rest is history.

Q: Did you have objections/concerns over ultimately calling the band Yes rather than something new (like the originally intended Cinema)?

Trevor: I objected strongly to calling the band Yes as it was a completely new thing that had little to do with previous Yes. Jon [Anderson] joined near the end of the recording of 90125, and once his voice was on it, then it seemed right and quite natural.

Yes had apparently broken up in 1981. Rabin got together with bassist Chris Squire and drummer Alan White, former members of Yes, and began collaborating under the name Cinema in early 1982. They brought in, former Yes member, Trevor Horn as producer and a former Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye. Once former Yes vocalist Jon Anderson heard some of the songs they were working on and expressed interest in joining the band, that made four former Yes members and it made sense to revive the Yes band name. Rabin’s songs were a guiding force in this lineup and he didn’t necessarily want to be seen as just Steve Howe’s (former Yes guitarist who went on to help form Asia) replacement. The new Yes would hit new heights of commercial success while introducing the band to the new MTV generation.

The album 90125 was released in November of 1983. It was the first to feature Rabin and marked the return of Jon Anderson. The album’s name (in case you were wondering) simply came from the Atco Records catalog number for it. The album was hugely successful going on to sell over 3 million copies in the U.S. alone featuring the hit singles “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and “Leave It”.

Q: Please take us back to when “Owner of a Lonely Heart” was written and recorded. What is the back story about how that particular song was conceived and written?


Trevor: I wrote “Owner of a Lonely Heart” about a year before hooking up with the Yes guys. The riff kept going round in my head for a while, then the lyric and melody came to me. The reason the mix was quite radical was due to me recording the original demo on a four track. Having to bounce tracks a number of times, a happy accident happened.

Q: Did you have any feeling that “Owner of a Lonely Heart” was going to be something special when you wrote or recorded it?

Trevor: I always had a good feeling about the song and, in fact, it was going to be the single off my solo album.

Q: Any other interesting stories or details regarding writing, recording or performing “Owner of a Lonely Heart”?

Trevor: Other than having written the riff while I was on the toilet, not really.

I’d say that is an interesting detail! “Owner of a Lonely Heart” was the first single released from 90125 in November of 1983. To me, it is one of the iconic songs of the early-80s. It was written primarily by Rabin with credits also going to Anderson, Squire and Horn. It became the band’s first and only #1 hit in the U.S. when it reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in January of 1984. It was a worldwide hit reaching the Top 20 in at least 19 other countries as well. Here is the music video for “Owner of a Lonely Heart” by Yes…


Q: What are your feelings regarding “Owner of a Lonely Heart” now 30 years later?

Trevor: I’m still very proud of it. But I would have to say that I’m just as proud of Jacaranda [his fifth studio album released in 2012].

Q: This was right at the same time that MTV and music videos were becoming big and that helped introduce Yes and your song to a whole new audience. What are your thoughts on music videos and the impact that MTV had on the success of “Owner of a Lonely Heart”, especially in America?

Trevor: Videos I did that I was pleased with… “Something to Hold on To” from my solo album Can’t Look Away [1989] directed by Jeff Stein [earned a Grammy nomination for Best Short Form Music Video]. I’m also quite proud of my video for “Anerley Road” from the Jacaranda album which I filmed and directed myself. I also think Rabbitt did some great videos for the time.

Unfortunately Yes’s videos stink, all of them. I think the worst being “Owner of a Lonely Heart”. It’s a study in making rubbish for a lot of money. Luckily, the song did well and wasn’t affected by the incredibly bad video. [I think he's being a little over-critical.]

Q: I have always really liked the second single from 90125, “Leave It”. What can you tell us about how that particular song came together featuring the cool harmonies?

Trevor: I’m very happy with “Leave It”. We went into a studio and couldn’t get a good drum sound and started with vocals. Without a good drum sound, we focused largely on the vocals and that’s what resulted. I think it’s Yes’s best work vocally. (But also a crappy video, ugh.)

“Leave It” was released as the second single from 90125 in February of 1984. It was co-written by Rabin, Squire and Horn. It wasn’t as successful as “Owner of a Lonely Heart” but it did make it to #24 on the Billboard Hot 100. I particularly enjoy the incredible harmonies that are the song’s distinction. Even though Trevor doesn’t seem to like it much, here’s the interesting music video for “Leave It” by Yes…


Q: What else can you tell us about your times in Yes working with the guys like Chris Squire, Jon Anderson and the others back then and over the years? Are you still close with any of them?

Trevor: There were good and bad times. It was easy working with Chris although he’s always late. I loved recording Jon’s voice. I would sometimes get a call from an engineer on Jon’s solo projects. Jon would instruct them to call me to tell them how to get his voice sound. I was very flattered. I’m still friendly with the guys. Alan’s son, Jesse, is my godson and we just went to his wedding. Jon and I are still very close. I also get on very well with Rick Wakeman.

Q: What do you remember best about the decade of '80s music?

Trevor: I personally think the '60s and '70s will be remembered more fondly than the '80s [I soundly beg to differ!]. The clothes and hair of the '80s were awful, and the Yes videos were too. Happily I think 90125 stands up as a good moment for the '80s.

Q:
Please tell us a little about where your incredible music career has taken you since the '80s including your work on film scores and soundtracks. What are some of your proudest professional accomplishments?

Trevor: I come from a classical family. My father was concert master for the Johannesburg symphony and my mother was a great piano player and teacher. I studied piano, orchestration, etc. and so film scoring is a real passion for me. I have many proud moments with film: 'Armageddon', 'Remember the Titans', 'The Great Raid' and many others. Film is one of the few areas where one can have a platform to write serious classical music. Of course not always, but I have been lucky on a lot of the 40 films I’ve done to have had the budget and need to use a large orchestra.


You’ve probably heard his outstanding work from Remember the Titans on sports coverage or at sporting events. Rabin also composed the theme for TNT’s NBA coverage in 2009 and, in 2011, remixed the theme for the CBS NCAA March Madness theme. In addition to Remember the Titans (2000), he has now scored dozens of popular films including Con Air (1997), Armageddon (1998), Enemy of the State (1998), Jack Frost (1998), Deep Blue Sea (1999), Gone in 60 Seconds (2000), Bad Boys II (2003), National Treasure (2004), Coach Carter (2005), Glory Road (2006), National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007), Race to Witch Mountain (2009), G-Force (2009) and many, many others.

Q: What else is Trevor Rabin up to nowadays? Musically and otherwise? What can we expect in the future?

Trevor: As I mentioned earlier, I have an instrumental album, Jacaranda, out at the moment which reached #6 on the Billboard chart. Musically, I think it’s the music I’m most proud of to date. 

I would love to do an album with my son, Ryan, at some point. However, he is very busy drumming, writing and producing his band Grouplove who are doing incredibly well. They’re awesome. 


I’m just finishing scoring a film called 
Grudge Match, starring Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, Alan Arkin and others. It’s a wonderful project [scheduled to release later in 2013]. Peter Segal is the director who is an incredible talent and a great guy. I did Get Smart for him a few of years ago, and I was excited to be working with him again. 

There’s so much still to do. I feel like I’m just starting. I am starting a new solo album as a follow up to 
Jacaranda, and Jon, Rick and I keep trying to find time to do something together. I wish there were 50 hours a day.


I am so honored that Trevor was able to take some time to answer some questions so I could share them with you here. You can keep up with him on his official TrevorRabin.Net website. I want to take this occasion to again thank Trevor Rabin for his contributions to '80s pop culture especially through “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and, even more, for going back to the '80s with us here for a little while as well.

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