Last week, progressive rock fans had a chance to read our exclusive talk with writer Jon Kirkman about his upcoming book on Yes, Time And A Word: The Yes Interviews. Well, the prog doesn’t stop at Biff Bam Pop, as I was very lucky to conduct an email interview with former Yes lead singer and current Mystery frontman (and fellow Canadian) Benoit David.
As many classic rock fans know, in 2008 Benoit David stepped in as an understudy for ailing Yes singer Jon Anderson. Discovered by the band after seeing a video of David fronting a Yes cover band, David managed to ably cover Anderson’s parts, while adding some much needed energy into the band. With the new vocalist firmly entrenched, in 2011, Yes released Fly From Here, their first studio album in 10 years and (in my opinion), their best since 90125. However, the constant touring proved difficult on David, who became ill last November, forcing the band to cancel concert dates. Unsure of when he’d be able to return, David vacated his role in Yes earlier this year.
However, Benoit David’s musical career is far from over. As a member of progressive rockers Mystery, alongside Michel St-Pere, is still making great music. The band’s latest studio album The World Is A Game was recently released and is a fantastically melodic album, mixing shorter songs with some gorgeous epic length tracks. For fans of Yes and prog rock generally, there’s much to love about the new album.
Take a taste of The World Is A Game and then dive into our interview with Benoit David after the jump!
Benoit David: Much better, thanks. It’s a long recovery process, but the buzz around the new Mystery album and my return to the choir “les Voix-Ferrees” give me all the oportunities to work my instrument and eventually get back to full vocal shape.
Andy Burns: Over the past two years, you’ve been a part of two wonderful progressive rock albums, Yes’ Fly From Here and Mystery’s The World Is A Game – I’m wondering, how much of a prog rock fan were you before you began singing in bands that played that style of music?
Benoit David: Honestly, before I started singing in the Yes tribute band Close To The Edge, I wasn’t too keen about the style. I was 28 years old when I was properly introduced to prog. At that time, I was mature enough as a musician to appreciate the intricacies of that style of music.
Andy Burns: I was very impressed upon my first listen of The World Is A Game – Michel’s guitars are so melodic and your voice is so perfect for the material. Could you explain your involvement in the creation of the album – do you have room to improvise and try out melodies while recording, or are things fully formed when you enter the studio?
Benoit David: Michel always arrives in the studio with songs fully written. However, he encourages me to be creative in my interpretation.I try to record different versions of the same parts to give Michel as much material to work with when he mixes, I also very often question certain aspects of the writing like lyrics or arrangements for Michel to convince me or open the way for changes.
Benoit David: At this time, I am totally in love with The World Is A Game. I can’t think of a favorite moment, That would mean there are parts that I would like less than others However, I can tell you that I’m totally mesmerized by the the way Nick D’virgilio played the drums and the way Antoine Fafard responded to that in his bass playing.
Andy Burns: Did your approach to singing in the studio change between recording Fly From Here and The World Is A Game?
Benoit David: We are talking about two two totally different approaches. The Yes album was a long process that included a lot of sitting and waiting for the others to record their tracks. I also had to be away from home for many months. Trevor Horn was very specific about the way he wanted me to sing although he thought it was important that I sounded like myself and not like Yes’ previous singer. When recording with Mystery, I do whatever I feel like doing.
Andy Burns: Both the title track to Fly From Here and Another Day are these brilliant, epic-length tracks – as a singer did performing these pieces offer you a specific sort of challenge at all? Are longer pieces fun for you?
Benoit David: Epic songs are for me the definition of prog-rock. The expression of brilliant intelligent song writing. However, there is a major difference between a twenty minute song composed of 5 or 6 pieces cleverly mixed together and a 20 minutes piece that is made in one solid block.
Andy Burns: Over the course of your time in Yes, you got to sing some of the greatest progressive rock songs of all time – did you learn anything specific as a vocalist performing those songs that you could bring to Mystery?
Benoit David: I can’t say I did. It’s all in the writing. Yes has a specific style and Mystery’s got it’s own.
Andy Burns: As a longtime fan of Yes, I’m of the opinion that Fly From Here is one of the best in their entire catalogue, and certainly their most accomplished since 90125 – did you know when you were making the album that it would resonate so strongly with fans and be a high point in the bands catalogue?
Benoit David: The reason why Fly From Here sounds so true and accomplished is Trevor Horn. He was able to get the best of everybody. Believe me, it is not easy to bring everybody together focusing in the same direction in this band but his talent and personality was exactly what Yes needed to find the perfect direction needed for a great comeback.
Andy Burns: What is the plan for Mystery when it comes to live shows?
Benoit David: Go out there and give everything we got!
Andy Burns: Quebec has always been regarded as the prog rock capital of Canada, if not North America (you guys get all the best shows; I even travelled from Toronto to see Transatlantic back in 2010) – why is Quebec so open to that style of music?
Benoit David: There are many differences between the province of Quebec and the rest of North America. We are different. Unique.
Andy Burns: Finally, is there anything you’re listening to, progressive or otherwise, that Biff Bam Pop readers should check out?
Benoit David: I really like to listen to Porcupine Tree, Transatlantic, Marillion and others. No surprise there. There is also a bunch of kids based in Quebec city that call themselves Inner Odyssey that tickle my fancy. I guess progressive rock is good for another generation!
Thanks to Benoit David for taking the time to talk to Biff Bam Pop, and to Michel St-Pere for helping make it happen. Find out more about Mystery and order the new album The World Is A Game at Unicorn Records.