Interview with Geoff Downes (Asia)

Metal Express Radio recently caught up with Geoff Downes from Asia for what turned out to be one of his last interviews before the big Asia reunion announcement.

How did your recent UK tour go?

We only got to play 45 minutes on that tour, which is quite short for us, but that’s what we were allotted. We played all over the UK, in Sheffield, Bristol, Manchester, and places like that, and we finished at the Astoria in London. We then headed off to Europe with Heep (Uriah Heep) and this time with Dio headlining. It was a great line-up for the fans. The ticket sales were really good.

Dio was pretty heavy duty stuff but it really suited us to play with them and Heep. We’ve played with Heep before in the past, so we get on pretty well them. Dio is one of John’s favorite rock singers, so he was pretty excited about that. He’s still singing so well. You know a lot of the old rockers, their range and power diminishes with age, but Dio still has it. Paul Rodgers is another case in point, he’s hasn’t lost any range or tone. He’s been playing with Queen, which seemed a strange combination as he’s more Bluesy, whereas Freddie was more Operatic, but he’s still got a great voice.

The tour with Uriah Heep is a real treat for the fans, who are effectively getting twice the value for their money. How did this come about?

We had been looking to get onto a bill with another band rather than for us to go onto our own club dates, to hopefully raise our profile and play to people who might not otherwise come to see us, or might not actually be aware that we are still out here, and we got this opportunity with Heep and thought it would be an ideal package.

Your latest release, Silent Nation, has seen a change in direction musically, with you returning to the more Pomp/AOR sound of earlier albums. Was this a concerted effort to move away from the more mellow sound of Aura?

Well that’s right. Aura was a fairly laid back album, whereas Silent Nation is heavier. We did a couple of albums in the late 90s and early 2000s, Arena and Aura, which were kind of veering towards Jazz. I think we did that and wanted to get back to more of a heavier sound. It’s more along the lines of the first album, which was quite heavy in places. Asia’s style seems to change from album to album. It just depends on how it grabs us at the moment in time. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, though. It keeps it interesting for everyone really, and shows that we do try to go down different avenues.

It also marks a departure with the artwork and album title. Why the change?

We just wanted to make a change. We’d exhausted the fantasy artwork and that tends to get overused as a style, and that’s no detriment to Rodney Matthews or Roger Dean, as they’re great artists. We just wanted to try something a little more leftfield. The next one again will be different again. We won’t be returning to the dragons and wizards of the past covers.

Guthrie Govan really shines through on this album and contributes a number of fine solos throughout. Since Steve Howe departed, the guitarist position has been a little fragmented, with various members coming and going and guests popping up here and there. Do you feel that Guthrie has now firmly established himself in the band and made this position his own?

He’s been practicing a lot you know!!! Guthrie came in toward the end of the Aura album. He never really had the chance to show what he could do, as he was really filling in what other people had done earlier. It’s good that Guthrie has been with this album from the start, so he’s been able to stamp his identity onto it.

We had worked extensively as a live unit, and it was the logical step to take for us to record an album together.

Billy Sherwood, who was in World Trade, has co-written a couple of songs on the album. How did that come about?

I’ve worked with Billy on a few things. He’s done quite a few of these tribute albums, and I’ve just done something for a Dark Side of The Moon Pink Floyd tribute. It sounds really good too. Billy is a very creative person, and it was great for him to have been involved in songwriting for the album.

Chris Slade has now left the band … what happened there?

Chris was not totally happy with the set up. We wanted to push the boundaries a little and that’s no detriment to Chris, as he’s a great drummer. I think the direction of the next album will be different towards Chris’s style. He’s more of a powerhouse drummer. AC/DC was perfect for his style. Perhaps Asia wasn’t really suited to his style.

Jay Schellen from World Trade and Unruly Child has now joined Asia on the drums. Can you tell me how he ended up in Asia?

We’d actually worked with Jay on a couple of songs on the last album, and he was really keen on getting involved to a greater extent. Jay is a phenomenal drummer, so we’re looking forward to trying something different with him.

John joined the band in 1992, so it’s been over 13 years, which is much longer than the original line-up was together. Do you think you are finally getting the recognition that you deserve?

He’s been in a lot longer than the original band were together, but the major chunk of sales came with the original line-up, particularly the first one. I think we lost a bit of direction with the original band. Since John joined, we’ve taken it right back to its roots again.

You are in a similar position to Marillion, having replaced a lead singer who helped to define the sound of the band. Your sound has now evolved away from that of the 1st 3 albums. Were you ever tempted to change the name of the band?

The legacy is there, so it was hard to drop it. It has given us the opportunity to revisit the old stuff too. He does a great job on the older songs. He has a greater range than John Wetton. Having said that, I love John Wetton’s voice and I’m still working with John at the moment.

With your extensive back catalog, is it difficult to select a set list?

It’s pretty difficult at the best of times, but on the Heep tour, we only had 45 minutes, so it was hard trying to make it sit right. We have tended to focus on the very early stuff and the more recent stuff from Silent Nation. We did play a lot of mid-period stuff from Aqua and Arena, but with the shorter set, we thought we’d concentrate more on the first and last albums.

You have now released 5 or so studio albums with John on vocals … do you wish you could drop the material from the 1st 3 albums?

I think that’s always been a consideration, but when people come and see Asia, they want to know that it’ll have some relevance to the original Asia. “Heat of the Moment” and “Only Time Will Tell” are anthems, and really the fans expect to hear them, so we’ll still play them.

On your Armada Fan Club CD, you have given a tantalizing snippet of a couple of acoustic interpretations of your material, which worked very well, and you also have featured an acoustic set in your live show. Have you any plans to tackle a full-blown acoustic release?

I’m sure we will do that someday. It’s really finding the time to do it. We’re more focused on the next album and want to get that nearing completion.

Seeing the power that MTV has in the music industry to make an artist hit the big time, how do you feel at having the accolade of being the first ever video to be played on MTV?

At the time, I wasn’t really aware of it’s impact until much later when it really took off and someone told me that I’d been on the first ever video on MTV. It’s a nice gesture to have been the first!

Do you feel now there is too much emphasis on MTV and image in general?

It’s kind of gone from being a music station to a reality TV station. In some ways, the song hasn’t really been important as it’s a visual medium, and I think when it first started it was working in tandem with the radio.

“Video Killed The Radio Star” has turned out to be a very prophetic song!

In some ways, yes, but it wasn’t really intended to be a statement of prophecy. The lyrics were based on a short story by J G Ballard called The Sand Sweep.

I’ve just done a show with Trevor Horn at Wembley Arena, sort of celebrating his work over the years. There’s a DVD on its way for that show. We may do something for MTV’s 25th anniversary this year too.

You recently worked again with John Wetton on the Icon CD. How did that come about?

He called me a couple of years ago. He was doing his album Rock of Faith, and asked if I’d be interested in doing a couple of songs with him. We sat down around a piano and wrote a couple of songs. We had quite a few bits and pieces lying around, and he suggested doing an album. Frontiers Records came along and were pretty keen for us to release the music. He’s singing well and playing good bass. It’s been uplifting working with him again.

It has lead to the inevitable question of John rejoining Asia and big money tour offers. What are your thoughts about those rumours?

Times have changed. This is the way that Asia have developed, and we’ve made some great music over the years. It doesn’t, however, preclude me and John Wetton from working together. I think the music we play right now is a bit more mature, as you’d expect. We don’t write the big power ballad type of things anymore. We’re a bit more reflective now.

Have you any solo projects in the pipeline?

I’m trying to find the time to fit it in. I’ve some rudimentary ideas in the pipeline, but nothing concrete as yet, but I will do some more solo work at some point in the future.

You are currently working on a new album, Architect of Time, how’s it going so far?

It’s still fairly open. We’ve just started putting the skeleton together. Jay has started working with us. Some of the songs are going to be longer and more involved than some of the material we have been doing on the past few albums.

When can fans expect the album to be released?

Hopefully we should have it ready for release sometime in mid to late 2006.

Once the tour is over. do you plan to take some time off. or is it straight back into the studio?

I am doing some shows for Roland, the keyboard people in Japan. Early this year it’s back over to finish the new album, so I’m in for a fairly busy year!!!

For up-to-date Asia news, check out their Web site: Asia website, or
Geoff Downes website


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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