RTH: How bad was the timing for the formation of UK? It seemed to me you were one of the last truly idealistic prog-rock bands to form in the ’70s, just as punk rock was hitting from the underground and corporate AOR was taking form in the boardrooms of major-label record companies.
JW: Well, punk was only hitting in its most commercial form, it never dealt any lasting damage to the hierarchy of behemoths that it threatened in 1976. Those bands just got bigger, and punk barely had the time to wipe the vomit from its chin before the record and movie industries joined forces and MTV was born.
RTH: Getting back to a similar theme I raised regarding your early years, if you read enough rock encyclopedias and hang with enough rock nerds there’s a notion that “Progressive Rock” and “Art Rock” are not quite the same genre. Crimson would be categorized as part of the former group, while Roxy Music would be lumped in with the latter. (No one’s ever sure where Pink Floyd belongs.) As few years later the Art Rock group would mostly be celebrated by punk and new wave artists, while most of the Prog-Rockers would be considered pariahs. As a musician whose work and relationships straddled those scenes, did you and your mates ever sense a stylistic spectrum from “cool” Art Rock bands to “outdated” Prog Rock dinosaurs?
JW: I always think of Art Rock as 10CC, XTC, Styx—good pop songs with 6th form lyrics. Prog was always more enigmatic and self-indulgent to the n’th degree.
RTH: In 1981, after a decade spent replacing key members in bands, you finally got to take the lead in a brand-new band, the supergroup Asia. Were you prepared to be a bandleader? Did the success of the band affect your personal life?
JW: I had oodles of material; I was very confident. To all intents and purposes had the world at my feet, but I had a major flaw. I am an alcoholic, and unbeknownst to me, that disease was progressing in me like a tsunami. Regardless of whether I was butcher, baker, or candlestick-maker, the result would have been the same. Towards the end of my 20s, my drinking was remarkable, by the time Asia hit, 4 years later, it was to become far more public. It got worse and worse and worse, until it stripped me to the bone, and nearly killed me. I don’t drink today, and I’m better by far for it.
RTH: With the progressive rock genre pretty much exhausted, did you and your bandmates feel Asia had to walk a tightrope between the expectations of loyal prog-rock audiences and the pressures of AOR marketers?
JW: No, the songs I had collected for Asia were concise, and fairly commercial—that’s really what I brought to the table, anyway–even in King Crimson. They were ideal to propel what would have been another prog amalgam into the stratosphere. The other factors were to be found in the fact that the band looked great, it sounded great on the radio, I had found a tremendous writing partner in Geoff Downes, and our trump card was Mike Stone, who knew exactly how to record the band.
On the next page John sits through a handful of Dugout Chatter questions, which demand gut answers to some hard-hitting questions!