Sunday, 15 January 2012

Howard Jones Interview

If you are a fan of Howard Jones’s hits from the ’80s, his tour this April, will be an experience you won’t want to miss - because Howard will be performing his first two albums, ‘Human’s Lib’ and ‘Dream Into Action’, in their entirety.

Photo © Simon Fowler

On the tour, Howard be singing all his big hits including ‘New Song’, ‘What Is Love?’, ‘Like To Get To Know You Well’ and ‘Things Can Only Get Better’. While this has obvious attractions, I wondered why he’s decided not to play any new material…

“Simple,” he says, “It’s because the fans have always asked me to do this. There are a lot of those songs that I’ve never performed live before. They were studio creations and the technology wasn’t available to do it. But when we managed to license back the first five albums from Warner Brothers we were able to re-master them. And that gave us access to the original multi-tracks so we were able to sample the keyboards and do everything we needed to recreate those two albums in a way that we wouldn’t have been able to do at the time. That meant we could really reproduce the stuff properly.”

The technology must have changed a lot since you first recorded those albums. Do you do everything with a computer these days?

“Actually I started working with a Mac and sequencing software in 1985. But in the early days those weren’t available. So I had to use much more primitive technology. In fact , the reason that ‘New Song’ has that short sequence is because the Pro 1 synthesizer only had an eight note sequencer in it.

“These days, when I write songs I usually start with the piano. But it’s different if I’m doing an electronic album. Now you have access to any sound you want from your computer, so you really need to define clearly what you want to do. You have to limit yourself to a set of rules so you don’t get carried away. The next album I’m thinking of doing will be very electronic with no pianos in it at all. It will all be all synthesized sounds. And some of it will be quite analogue.”

Recently there’s been a bit of a resurgence of interest in the sounds of older type analogue synthesizers. In fact, John Foxx - another great innovator in the 80s  - has even done some concerts using analogue synths. I asked Howard if that’s what he plans to do too?

He laughed. “No,” he said, “Definitely not! I’m fed up of going out with old gear and having it break down every night. I can’t be doing with that any more. I need good, modern, reliable keyboards. But even so, I can still get analogue sounds. A lot of the sounds will have been sampled from my old analogue stuff. But the old gear’s too precious now so you don’t want it to be trashed by taking it on the road. Also we’ve tried to make it so we can carry our gear on a plane and set up in any part of the world without an articulated lorry to carry everything. And we need to be able to deliver a huge sound.”

Photo © Simon Fowler

In the 80s I was a pop music journalist. In fact, I first interviewed Howard back in 1985. With the resurgence of interest in 80s music, I’m now seeing that many of the people I interviewed almost thirty years ago are back on tour again: Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Adam Ant. In fact, just last week Limahl released a single called ‘1983’ all about 80s music. I asked Howard why he thought there was suddenly so much interest in the 80s? Is it just nostalgia or are people really rediscovering the music afresh?

“A bit of both, I think. People want to hear the music they grew up with. It’s all well and good to spend a couple of years making new records, but honestly, nobody is interested in new material. What people are interested in is going out to gigs and listening to music they know, but played live. On this tour I’ve commissioned videos for each song. I want to present everything with really high quality sound and great visuals.”

These days, when you want to listen to music you can just sit down at your computer and log onto a service like Spotify or Grooveshark. In the 80s the closest we had was the radio but then you had to hope that the DJ would play music you really wanted to hear. Now you can listen to whatever you want…

“You are absolutely right. There used to be a time when everyone knew what Number One was and everyone had an idea of what was in the Top Ten. Now nobody can be really bothered about that. You can get whatever music you want any time you want, and that makes it devalued. As a result, live performances become more valuable.”

Inevitably some people must be downloading your material illegally these days – they’re getting it for free instead of buying your albums. How do you feel about that?

“My view is that if people are making money out of it – web sites that charge people for illegal downloads of music, then I’d like to see that stopped. And I’d support any legislation to prevent it. But if people download tracks because they like you as an artist, I have no problem. Young people do not see it as stealing. They see it as just being fans of the music. So really it’s for artists to adapt to that new cultural shift. Young people think music is free the way that air is free. That’s not going to change. The thing is, people have to buy a ticket to go to a gig and you can make your living from that. You can’t digitise the experience of a live show.”

I was glancing through an interview I did with you in 1985. I asked you this: “Looking ahead to the future, what do you intend to do when your music is no longer popular? In more basic terms, what are you going to do when your fans start to go off you?” And you replied: “I’ve thought about that, and I realise that sooner or later it’s bound to happen. It happens with everyone, so I’ve set myself a time limit. At a certain stage, I’m going to give up, whatever happens.” Well, you haven’t! Did you change your mind?

“I didn’t follow up on that promise, did I? You see, when my deal with Warner Brothers ran out I started my own label and began producing and manufacturing my own records. And that became very exciting. Obviously you don’t have the same high profile – with millions of people following your every move. But you develop a relationship with the people who want to be associated with you and you cater for them. They’re still excited about what you do. Yes, it’s on a smaller scale – but it’s still great to do."

Over all those years since the 80s, how much time would you say you’ve spent producing and performing music and how much time have you spent doing other things?

“I’ve been doing music pretty much continuously. I’m always either touring or in the studio. Of course, I’ve done other things too. I started a vegetarian restaurant in New York at one time. I’m working with a Buddhist choir at the moment. I’m writing a lot of choral music. I love choral music and I’ve been practising Buddhist for about eighteen years. These days, probably about half my time is involved with Buddhism and the rest of it is spent with my work. Buddhism may not have a high profile in Britain but Buddhist philosophy is gradually seeping into the way people think: the idea of taking responsibility for your life and the idea that everything is connected.”

Once you’ve finished this tour, you’ll have performed all your most popular music from the 80s. What is there left for you to do next?

“My next new work, after this tour, will be based on a large show. The show will come first. The recorded version will follow on later. My thinking these days is to create live events that people will remember.”

Sounds good to me!

Photo © Fredrik Svensson

Howard Jones performs the entirety of his albums “Human’s Lib and “Dream Into Action” in the UK during April 2012. Ticket Hotline: 0844 477 2000, Dates include O2 Academy Bristol (April 11), O2 Academy Sheffield (April 12), O2 Academy Liverpool (April 13), O2 Academy Birmingham (April 14), O2 Academy Newcastle (April 17), O2 ABC Glasgow (April 18), O2 Academy Bournemouth (April 20), O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire (April 21). More info:


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