Trevor Rabin's "Changes" delivers the range of his solo career

Goldmine gets inside Trevor Rabin's mind as he explains the effort behind his latest 10-CD box set, "Changes," and the secret to his lifelong success.
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By Alan Brostoff

Trevor Rabin signing copies of the box set "Changes" Publicity photo

Trevor Rabin signing copies of the box set "Changes" Publicity photo

Having the opportunity to sit down and talk with an inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is always an honor, but when that person was a member of one of the most successful bands in Prog music, and has over 40 soundtrack credits, 11 BMI awards and a new 10-CD solo career retrospective out, it becomes a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Trevor Rabin was nice enough to talk to Goldmine and share a little about his past.

GOLDMINE: What can you tell us about your 10-CD solo collection called Changes

TREVOR RABIN: Well, it’s quite a funny thing. Rob Ayling, who runs the record company (Voiceprint Records), had released some things of mine before and some movie score albums. He came up with the actual idea to release my demos that I wrote for 90125 which was called 90124. It was quite an interesting idea. So, when he came up with the box set idea I was not sure about how good an idea it was. It was really his baby, he put it together. Obviously, I was involved in the “what and how,” but it was his idea and I think it turned out well.

Trevor Rabin's 10-CD box set, Changes, is autographed and numbered.

Trevor Rabin's 10-CD box set, Changes, is autographed and numbered.

GM: Is the '90124' CD From this box set the same that was released years ago? 

TR: It’s the same album.

GM: Changes is being released as only a CD box set. Any thought of a vinyl release?

TR: Yeah, you know, it’s funny that you brought that up, because just the other day I was thinking, maybe a vinyl thing could be a good idea. I could be talking about that in a couple of days.

GM: I understand that you are also working on a new solo album. 

TR: Yea, I’m just a little bit behind. I’d started out on the album and then I did a couple of years touring with Yes. I took a break from film scoring and toured for a couple of years and started the album, and was really hard into it. Then a friend of mine, I had done a number of movies for him — The Exorcist (2004) and Deep Blue Sea and other films ... Renny Harlin, the film director, approached me to do an album almost a week before the virus hits and lockdown happens. I agreed to do this film. It’s been a peculiar situation, you know, sitting alone. One of the things I love doing is writing for orchestra, conducting and all that stuff. On this one it's been completely electronic, because of the virus and just working at home has been quite weird, but I'm right back into the album now. I would say I've got about halfway there.

GM: How has the pandemic impacted your work? 

TR: You know, compared to some other guys who are really hurting from it, it really hasn't impacted me much at all. When I’m outside scoring an orchestra, which is usually a couple of weeks of the time I spend on a movie. The rest of the time I'm at home writing and producing the stuff, so I'm not really doing things much different.

GM: You've scored over 40 feature films. 

TR: Yeah, I think it's reaching close to 50 at this point. 

GM: So, what is it harder for you to sit down and score a movie from scratch or to try and come up with an original song for you to play on your solo albums? 

TB: It's such a completely different skill set. it's a very different thing. In some ways it's a lot, lot harder. I mean it's very specific. You're writing very specifically to that picture. I mean, it's quite funny some people who don't understand what it's about said to me, “I see your writing some songs for a movie and this and that.” It’s a very different thing. This is writing what is basically the heart of the film and your writing to every inch of the picture where I decided. We do what's called spotting session, that’s when the director and I would get together, play the rough cut of the movie and decide when and where and where not music should be. Then I go away, write the things, different characters and scenarios. In that way its been pretty challenging. The schedule is very challenging. It’s not like making an album where you can decide, “I’m not feeling it today.” Even if you’re not “feeling it,” you better get going. With an album it’s a very different thing. Its hard because you are writing to an idea. For a movie you are writing to a picture, which can be an asset. Especially when all goes right.

GM: If I can go back to your earlier days. You wrote most of 90125, which went on to be Yes’ biggest selling album. But when you were writing those songs, were you writing them for Yes? 

TR: No, I was writing for a solo album and I won't go into the whole history of it, because it's kind of long and boring. But I came to America to pretty much write for a new album and I signed to Geffen records for that purpose. It's quite ironic because at a certain point they were quite excited about the material and thought it would be great if I got together with some name guys and some big guys in the rock world and do it together with them. I was dead against it, so they dropped me. It was quite ironic that I ended up working with Chris Squire and Alan White. I didn't even want to call the band Yes. The band was running under the name Cinema and then when the album finished, Ahmet Ertegun, who was still alive back then and running Atlantic, was quite excited and wanted to call it Yes. He was the one who talked me into it.

GM: I have one question that I have always wanted to ask you: When 90125 came out, during the peak of the MTV video years, Yes had an insane amount of videos for the song “Leave It” (18 different ones). What was the concept behind that?

TR: Yea, it was directed by Godley & Creme, and I really ... I mean, I'm going to be really frank, I pretty much hated doing videos. The only video I ever loved doing was the video for "Something To Hold On To," because the director really knew what he was doing, Really kind of got what the song was about; the pictures he had in his mind really translated well. But, for example, the video for "Owner of a Lonely Heart," I just don't understand what it is. When I looked at it, I said, “Well, if there's anything to turn me off from buying this record, this would be It.” So, I am not a big fan of that and I don't think we made one decent video. Unfortunately, the worst of them was Godley & Creme's attempt with "Leave It." They had this really weird idea, where they were going to record us in suites without much movement, and then do it upside down. We will do a whole bunch of them and people can try to recognize the little difference in each video they can win something. I just hated it.

GM: How did it feel getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017? 

TR: It was, you know, obviously as the cliché says, was a great honor. But, I must say, the actual event was extremely long and tedious. It's great to be included in that group.

GM: Do you remember the first time you heard one of your songs on the radio? 

TR: It was a long time ago in South Africa, and I thought once I have a seven inch single — you are probably too young to remember those days — but it was just amazing to get that seven-inch single. It had a A and B side. Then hearing it on the radio. Being on the radio was the one thing we cared about. As you get into it, all of these things just become part of your life. It’s not a big deal to hear things anymore, but it was so exciting the first time. Then the first album was another exciting thing, and then writing something that was a hit. And then production and writing for orchestra. When you consider that the whole thing started when I was 17 to 18 years old, I was asked to do sessions, and before long I was working constantly as a session musician for a couple years, and then playing at a club with my band at night. It was pretty tiring and eventually one had to go, and then we had a hit record with the first album and that was exciting as it went Platinum. Obviously, I stopped doing sessions at that point.

GM: Who would you still like to write or record with? 

TB: I did some really quite a bit of writing in in the early '90s with Roger Hodgson from Supertramp; we've become very close friends. We just never got to finish the project, but we were both really into it and really enjoyed doing it. I'd love to finish that, but you know sometimes things just don't work out schedule wise. We're still very close friends.

GM: Do you expect to tour to support the new solo record, when it comes out? 

TR: Well, you know, with this whole Covid thing. I mean there was very strong talk about touring, I guess this year and also next year, with Yes and touring on this album. But who knows what is going to happen with touring. I'm certainly not done.

GM: What are you currently listening, too? 

TR: You know it’s a really strange thing. In the early days when I was 16-17 I listened to a lot of classical music and The Beatles and things like that, but then one of the guys I did sessions with was the incredible keyboardist Hennie Bekker, who is in Canada now. He’s about 15 years older then me, so he is getting on in age, but he was just a brilliant jazz pianist. He had a jazz club and played in a jazz band that was probably the premier jazz band in South Africa. I was very lucky that he Invited me to play with him, and he taught me so much about jazz and rock, but mostly jazz. So I listen to a lot of that. Mostly right now, I listen to classical music. And I don't listen to Mozart, because I had to study him so much in my earlier years. I'm sick of him.

GM: Can you tell us about your record collection? 

TR: Sure, the funny thing is it's underneath the staircase right now. There's a couple of, I don't know, probably 500 to 600 (albums). It's not really a very extensive collection and it's not really a planned collection. It's just things that I accumulated over the years. A lot of it's my stuff and stuff I produced, and people I have written with. Occasional there is something I wanted. I remember ABBA’s Arrival, and the Steve Wonder album with “Living in the City” (Innervisions). I’ve got a lot of old, old records. Some that haven't even been opened.

GM: What is the best way for people to purchase the Trevor Rabin box set?

TR: From what I know, the best way to order it is online ... [Note: The box set is limited but it is still available here.] (Ayling) has done a great job with it, it’s just a beautiful creation. 

GM: And everyone of these box sets some with your autograph, correct? 

TR: My hand is still sore. 

GM: You also get some books and posters correct? It’s much more than just 10 CDs. 

TR: Yeah, you know it is quite amazing. At one point I said “Look, I've got a meeting with a director in the studio, so I'm gonna have to leave you. Do you want to watch TV or just give me a while?” And he said, “Well, do you have any magazines or stuff you've done where I can rummage around and look? I came back and he organized this whole thing. I mean he found a whole lot of pictures which the engineer from the Wolf album had taken, and there's some really great pictures of me and Jack Bruce , who was the bass player on the album ... and Simon Phillips was the drummer and Manfred Mann played keyboards and Ray Davis produced it with me. There's some amazing pictures of that whole album. It was it was quite amazing that he found that. You know, there's so much stuff which is just lying around which I never looked at and I probably would have lost it by now but my wife keeps it safe.

Changes box set contents:

Disc 1 Beginnings Disc 2 Face to Face Disc 3 Wolf. Disc 4 Can’t Look Away. Disc 5 Can’t Look Away + bonus tracks Disc 6 90124 Disc 7 Live in Boston 1989 part 1 Disc 8 Live in Boston 1989 part 2 Disc 9 Lost Soundtracks Vol. 1 – Jack Frost Disc 10 Lost Soundtracks Vol. 2

Signed and numbered certificate, 24-page A4 photo book, “The Making of Wolf” 24-page A4 photo / scrapbook, A3 Poster 4 x 10” x 8” reproduction promotional photos.

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