Interview – Howard Jones

hjones-2014-08-23_2999-editThe musical movement, New Wave, rose to popularity during the 1980’s as an exciting fresh, artistic expression through the use of advanced technologies and synthesizers. Among those talented musicians to lead the revolution was UK songwriter Howard Jones who produced a slew of hit singles which are still adored over three decades later. Considered by many as a vital figure to what is now called Synthpop, Jones stays true to his vision all these years later releasing new material independently, and touring regularly around the world with extraordinary live performances. Recently we sat down with Jones for a personal look at the years past of his career, his plans for the future, performing live, and much more. – You have been actively involved in music for over three decades now.  In that time you have accomplished three consecutive top-selling records, toured all over the world, and have hit tracks still heard on radio all these years later.  Looking back in retrospective, how would you describe the successful ride you have been on?

Howard Jones – I am very fortunate really, it is a rare thing to be able to have success with your music and to be known around the world. So yes, I think it is a rare thing and I am very grateful, because I got to do what I really wanted to do and it gives me a platform. I was speaking with Midge Ure when we were in New York and there are lots of people busking on the street. We are the very fortunate ones, we get to go on the stage and perform to people in that way. That could have been us, performing on the street. I feel very grateful. – Yes that is something to really cherish.  You came onto the scene at the peak of the New Wave and Synthpop with so many great other bands.  Tell us a little bit about the classic Alternative scene during those special times?

Howard Jones – I did not think of myself as part of a scene; I was just running with the new technology. I was a keyboard player. It was great to use synthesizers and drum machines and doing things in a completely different way.  I started off as a one man band, which would not have been possible in an earlier time. I did not really feel part of a wave, until I realized, when coming to America, that I was part of a scene that was using synthesizers and all the new technology.

WEA/Elektra – Yes and it really has developed in a wonderful movement of music.  Your debut album Human Libs actually recently celebrated its 30th anniversary.  That record produced four amazing singles.  The following year you released Dream into Action which was an even more successful release.  That time frame seems awful short to pump out two quality records.  Did you at all feel pressure during the writing process going into the second album or did the material flow relatively naturally for you?

Howard Jones – I think I had been waiting so long to actually have a record out when the first album was so successful I was absolutely determined to follow it up with something really great. So although I was touring, and I was working every single day, I took a little studio with me and I wrote and arranged everywhere I was. I was able to produce another set of songs. I think it was the fear that it was all going to disappear in front of my eyes that spurred me on to do that.

Elektra/WEA – So you really wanted to capitalize on the fact that you had this opportunity and it really worked out well.  People seem to take a long time between records today. You do not see people put out records in consecutive year like that anymore.  Back in 1994, you actually went out and developed your own record label called DTox.  Having gained the experience you did a part of a large label as long as you were what inspired you to decide to dive into things independently?

Howard Jones – I think it was coming to a time when you could establish yourself as an independent artist away from the major record labels. The internet was really starting to take off. It meant you could contact people who supported to you all over the world yourself. That was the first time you could have a website where you could have shop and people could buy your records.  You did not have to be part of a huge corporate record company business. A lot of people followed that model. It worked very well for me. I was able to set my own agenda and release the records I wanted. I realized  I would not play on the radio with my own label but I was going to be able to continue my own career and work with my fans and give them new music regularly while having a very productive career in the end. It was only because of the growth of the internet. The fact that you could contact them and communicate with them through that. Otherwise, it would have not been possible.

DTox – That is very interesting that is the birth of the internet back then.  So you really got in on the ground floor of what the internet has become

Howard Jones – I saw that as being a real opportunity to be an independent artist and set the agenda yourself. – That is very interesting.  Since that time you have been active releasing plenty of new material including the 2009 album Ordinary Heroes.  Being that technology in music  has changed over the years what has that changed who you write as a songwriter?

Howard Jones – Well, I always try and write in a different way.  For instance, Ordinary Heroes was all written at the piano. I specifically wanted to do that. I wanted it to be a very intimate affair, very personal, and the piano was right for that. Then the new album I have got coming out in February, it is called Engage and it is written for live performance, so it is very electronic. It has got digitals integrated; a lot of audience involvement. It was written as it involvement rather than as an album or a piece of music. It incorporates Contemporary dance and short ballet and cinematic references. I think whatever the project is, I will have a very different approach to how I develop it.

Koch Records
KOCH Records
DTox – You mentioned you have a new record in coming out in February 2015. This is your first record since 2009, so it has been a while. Tell us a little about the record and writing process of Engage.

Howard Jones – It was very different to anything I have done before because I envisioned it as a show. It was written to really get people going in terms of what they would experience live at the show. The visuals were conceived at the same time as the music. I was working with lighting people and video people at the same time as the writing. It will be released as a DVD and a CD together. Really, the only way to experience it fully is to go to the show which will be probably sometime in February as well. I think people today are less interested in recorded music, but they love going to shows and love going to gigs. That is what I was thinking; make the gig the most amazing thing you can.

desktop – That sounds like an interesting concept.  That is something for fans to look forward.  What is really interesting is that synthesizers dominated popular music during the 1980’s and it seems in recent years a lot of Rock bands are interjecting Synth elements once again.  How do you feel about the modern music scene?

Howard Jones – I thinks it is a very different situation now. A lot of artist are local and independent. There are very few artists that have global appeal, maybe one or two, it is become less and less. It is more fragmented and everyone has their own following and they have their niche. At one time in the UK everyone knew what was number one on the chart. Now a days nobody is bothered or interested, they just follow their own particular artists in their particular niche. It has changed very much. There is more opportunity for people to do things on their own; they do not have to be part of a major label to get their music out there. That is a huge thing and that is a good thing, but it also means there is a really lot of bad music out there; very poor quality, a lot of noise. It is harder to find the really good stuff. You have to do work and do your search. You cannot rely on it landing in your lap like we did in previous times.  Finding good music means a lot of effort from the listener. – You are very right.  Back in ’80s and ’90s everyone did know the popular artists but it is a very different era now.  In 2013 you took part in the Regeneration Tour which has been renamed to the Retro Futura Tour in 2014.  The lineup this year featured a lot of great artists including Katrina and the Wave, Midge Urge of Ultravox, China Crisis, and Thomas Bailey.  How did the tour go?

Howard Jones – The tour was great. We did our first show in New York and it went really well. Yes, it is a great lineup; fantastic music. I am really enjoying it because I helped choose the people who are on this tour. They are some of my favorite artists so it is great.

hjones-2014-08-23_3263-edit – You did a great job choosing the line-up. You brought to the forefront some of the artists that people who are fans of the music have wanted to see for a long time. What are some of your musical influences?

Howard Jones – I have kind of been influenced by so many different things. Classical music was a big influence on me because I was taught piano from an early age. I love Jazz Rock, Donald Fagen is my favorite artist of all time. I really like Stevie Wonder, and I really like Dance music. It is just a bit of everything. Whatever is done really well, I like to listen to and I have been influenced by.

Warner Bros
Warner Bros – Good music is good music; it does not matter where it comes from.  My last question for you is pertaining to movies. covers music and Horror films.  If you are a fan of Horror films, what are some of your favorite Horror films?

Howard Jones – I am not a fan of Horror film (laughs).____________________ – That is perfectly ok, they are not for everyone.  Have you seen any films you really enjoyed lately?

Howard Jones – I saw the latest Planet of the Apes (2014) and that was a really great film. I was a fan of the original with Charleton Heston; I saw it in the cinema and I loved it. I have seen every single one since.

20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox

Support Howard Jones new project, Engage, at PledgeMusic

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Feature image artwork credit: Steve Cripps

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