Former Yes guitarist and blockbuster movie soundtrack composer Trevor Rabin recently released Rio, his first vocal-led rock album in 34 years. MetalTalk’s Robert Adams caught up with Trevor to talk about the album, soundtracks, his time with Yes and his plans for the future.
The first thing I said to Trevor was to thank him for releasing such a wonderful album as Rio. He was genuinely touched when I told him I said in my review of Rio that it was a major contender for my album of the year. “Wow, thank you so much for saying that,” Rabin says. “It makes all the hard work I put into the album worthwhile when I hear comments like that.”
I asked him how long it took from start to finish to complete the album. ““”I started noodling ideas around ten years ago, but my soundtrack work kept me so busy that I couldn’t fully commit myself to making an album at that time. Then I was asked to do some shows with Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman, and what started as five or six shows ended up being 200.
“That tour certainly got my voice back into shape and my guitar chops. When I got home after the tour, I had a couple of soundtrack jobs to complete, and I told my manager not to put me up for any more soundtrack jobs as I was going to concentrate all my time on completing a new vocal rock album. So, to answer your question, it took around 17 months to complete once I started full-time on it.”
I reminded him that it’s been 34 years since his last vocal rock album.
“I know, that’s insane,” he says. “I just haven’t had the time to do one! I love doing soundtracks, and the work just kept coming in, which I was grateful for.”
We spoke about specific tracks on the Rio album, and I started with Oklahoma. “I had just become an American citizen around six months before the Oklahoma bombing,” Trevor explains, “and I remember watching the horror unfold in front of me on the television. It deeply affected me, and I scribbled down some rough lyrics that came to me and then put them to one side.
“I thought people might think it was crass or insensitive to release a song about such a horrific event so soon after it happened. When it came time to do the Rio album, I thought enough time had passed for me to write a song about it.”
I said that Oklahoma made me feel very emotional, from the lyrics to the gorgeous music that accompanies them, especially the strings that come in halfway through the track. “Thank you so much for saying that,” he says. “You’re very kind. The orchestration was an extension of a piece I composed that was used as the intro for the ARW shows. I love working with orchestras, and the feeling you get when an orchestra is in full flow is magical.”
Trevor has an instantly recognisable guitar tone, and I asked him about how he achieves that sound. “For the ARW tours, I used Fractal amp modellers, which were around ninety per cent of the sound I was looking for,” Trevor says. “For live work, they are fantastic as it’s the exact same sounds every single night once you’ve dialled in the settings.
“You don’t have to touch it again for the rest of the tour. For recording, I still love the sound of my Strat plugged into a Marshall and cranked up. There’s nothing like feeling the air move from the speakers as you play.”
I was delighted to hear that Trevor still plugs into a real amp when he’s recording. I told him that I interviewed Chris Squire just before the release of the Talk album by Yes and asked him how he felt about making history by being one of, if not the first, band to record an album fully digitally. He laughed and said that it was all down to Trevor.
“I remember that well. It was such a crazy experience as I had people constantly writing new computer code as we were recording as the program wasn’t quite finished. Also, the computers kept crashing, and that was a pain, especially if you just got a great take. You would have to ask them to go again as the computer hadn’t recorded it. I’m still very proud of the Talk album, and I still think it stands up today.”
The closing track on Rio is Toxic, which is a wonderful clash of musical styles. I asked Trevor if it was intentionally written and arranged that way. “I had quite a few musical ideas for that song,” he says, “and decided to see where it would take me. It was definitely a case of going down the rabbit hole to see what was at the end.”
There are many wonderful surprises to be found in Rio, and I told him one of the biggest was his chicken-picking country playing on Goodbye. “When I was doing session work back in South Africa in my late teens and early twenties, you had to be very versatile to get jobs,” he says. “One day, it could be plain pop. The next could be country. I just love the way those country players made their guitars sing. I got myself a B – Bender Fender Telecaster, which I used all those years later on Tumbleweed.
“Also, when I was doing sessions, sometimes the bass player wouldn’t show up, so I said I could do that as well. Being a session player when I was young certainly made me a much better musician, as you had to know pretty much everything.”
Are there any plans to tour in support of Rio? “We are in the very early stages of talking about that possibility right now,” Trevor says. “I’d love to play some of the songs on Rio live alongside my other work, so watch this space.”
Special mention must also go to the crazy a cappella intro to Tumbleweed. “That intro took about a week to get done,” Trevor says. “There are 16 different voicings in that, most of which is me singing in different keys. There’s no fancy pitch modulation or autotune shenanigans going on there. It’s all just the sound of human voice and a lot of takes, multi-tracking, frustration and finally joy.”
We get around to talking about Thomas Weber of InsideOutMusic. “I first met Thomas at one of the ARW shows,” Trevor says, “and got on very well with him. When I finished Rio, I didn’t shop the album around the labels. I called Thomas and told him I had just finished recording a new rock record and wondered if he would be interested in hearing it.
“He said yes straight away, so I sent it to him. He called me back a couple of days after he received it and told me he loved it and asked if I would be interested in InsideOut releasing it. The label and Thomas have been incredible, doing tons of work on promotion for me. I’ve got absolutely no idea how to release a rock album in 2023, as it’s been 34 years since I released a rock album.
“Back then, there was no YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and the internet was just getting started. Thomas and his team at InsideOut know exactly how to release albums in 2023, and I left all of that in their capable hands.”
Our time draws to a close, and I sign off by thanking Trevor for his time and to please continue what he’s doing. “Thank you so much,” he says. “You have no idea what it means to me to hear you say that. I promise there will be another rock album in around two years’ time. I’m not getting any younger, so I want to do another one sooner rather than later.”