Howard Jones – The DVDfever Interview

Howard Jones

Howard Jones burst onto the UK pop scene back in 1983 with the hit New Song, making No.3, following it up soon after with What Is Love? at No.2 and a string of hits from his first two albums, Human’s Lib and 1986’s Dream Into Action, for me, both iconic albums of their time.

I played them until the vinyl almost melted, or at least until they developed irreversible scratches from the record player stylus, and have many happy memories of listening to them while playing ZX Spectrum games. In fact, I can still remember the very day I spent £10 in Boots in Stockport – £6 on Dream Into Action and £2 apiece on two ZX Spectrum games. I can’t remember which games they were, now, but those were heady days.

And it’s the first two albums which brings the reason for Howard’s new concerts, a nationwide UK tour that begins on Wednesday 11th April at the O2 Academy Bristol and continues over many gigs during the following two weeks at a number of other O2 Academy venues (see here for a full list)

A DVD of his concert at the Indigo O2, London, from last November, featuring both albums, is also now available and I was lucky enough to interview Howard recently regarding these albums and the forthcoming tour.

Q1. What’s your favourite track on both Human’s Lib and Dream Into Action? (Note that I have to cheat and say I can’t pick out a single one from either album 🙂

Howard: “Well, I suppose ‘Hide and Seek’ from Human’s Lib is probably still my favourite, and then… it changes, but at the moment ‘Automaton’ is really my favourite from Dream Into Action as it’s such fun to play. It’s sort-of a theatrical piece.”

Q2. How many songs did you have originally planned for each album?

Howard: “Well, for Human’s Lib, all those songs I’d played live in not quite the form they ended up on the album, so really that came from the live show. There were one or two that Rupert (Hine) thought, stylistically, didn’t fit, that we ditched, and he was right. And they never saw the light of day and didn’t even turn up as B-sides or anything, so we tried to get a cohesive set of songs that would really work together.

So there’s only a couple of things that we didn’t use from the demos.”

Q3. Are there any songs you wish you’d added to the track listing that you didn’t?

Howard: “No, no (laughs heartily). I’m very happy the way it went. There’s nothing that I would’ve added.”

Q4. Are there any tracks you’d go back in time and drop?

Howard: “Erm.. no, no, absolutely not. It’s all, especially because I’ve been playing them all, and I’ve been really. I mean, things like ‘Is There a Difference?’ from Dream Into Action, I thought I wasn’t going to be playing that but I’ve actually got really into it and that’s been great, so I stick by it, really.”

Q5. What gave you the inspiration to bring both of these specific albums together for one concert?

Howard: “Well, it was the fans, really, who kept saying to me that they’d like me to do it because obviously there’s a lot of tracks, over half of the tracks, I don’t play live and some of them I’ve never played live because they’re studio constructions, so the fans really wanted me to do this.

It coincided with me doing a deal with Warner Bros where I was able to licence back my work and to get access to the multi-tracks, so at that point, instead of doing an approximate recreation of them, we were able to really get the authentic sequences and to replicate the original keyboard sounds and drum sounds properly, and do all the vocal effects and all that stuff because the technology’s available to do that now.

So, yeah, it was a coincidence of those two things: the fans wanting it, and the fact that we could have access to the multitracks which meant that we could properly reproduce the albums.”

Q6. Are there some venues you’re looking forward to playing more than most, in April?

Howard: “No, I’m really happy with all of them. I haven’t played the O2 Academy gigs, except Shepherd’s Bush, so it’s going to be real fun to go there (laughs).”

Q7. What do you have lined up in terms of visuals at the concerts?

Howard: “Well, I commissioned videos for every song and the videos run in sync with the music, and even if I changed the layout of the song, you know, if I extend the chorus or the intro, the videos run in time with the music so that’s been great fun putting that together and that’s a really big part of the show, actually, with all the brand new videos.”

Q8. Are there any songs from the albums which have gone down best with the crowd when played live?

Howard: “I think people are really happy to hear, because obviously people know the whole album so they’re used to hearing the hits – all those songs people have heard me play live, but it’s the other things that people are responding to like ‘Hunger for the Flesh’ and ‘Is There a Difference?’ and the title track of Dream Into Action. They seem to be going down really well because it’s so rare that I’ve played them before. ‘Automaton’s another one that goes down really well, too.”

Go to page 2 for more from this interview.

Howard Jones

Q9. When I listened to these albums on vinyl, I played them until the discs almost melted. (Howard laughs) Which albums have you listened to the most?

Howard: “I really don’t listen to my own very much. I mean, obviously I had to get stuck in to put these two shows together but it’s really been listening to the constituent parts and trying to work out exactly what the keyboard sounds were and layering them up on my new keyboards, so I never listen to my own music.”

Q10. Are there any albums from other artists, such as those who inspire you, which you’ll listen to over and over?

Howard: “Erm, no, not really. I listen to things a couple of times and try and have a varied diet of music. I don’t kind of obsess about anything, except Donald Fagen’s solo albums. I’ve listened to those a lot because there’s so much to learn from that music, so those would be the exceptions.”

Q11. In the title track of Human’s Lib, how did the opening line come about regarding wanting to go to bed with 100 women or men?

Howard: “(laughs out loud) Well, I didn’t actually write the lyrics for that, that was written by William Bryant, so I would say I’m not responsible (laughs again).”

Q12. You never shyed away from tackling controversial topics, such as the songs ‘Assault and Battery’, plus ‘Elegy’, which dealt with incest. Was there any pressure on you to replace these with more ‘pop’ songs about love, etc.?

Howard: “None of my songs have been about love, even ‘What Is Love?’ is questioning the whole idea of love. I’ve never done normal types of pop songs. It’s not what I do. “

Q13. Will mime artist Jed Hoile, who we were introduced to with New Song, be featuring on your tour?

Howard: “I wanted Jed to be involved in this project, so what I’ve done is, in some of the videos, he makes an appearance in those in a kind of abstract, virtual form. I’m hoping that maybe for at least one of the shows, he’ll turn up and make a live appearance, but he’s definitely part of the show because he’s in a couple of the videos.”

Q14. What was it like performing alongside Ringo Starr with his All Starr Band in 2001?

Howard: “Yeah, that was fun, that was really good fun. I like Ringo a lot, he’s a lovely man and I got to play ‘Karn Evil 9‘ with Greg Lake and Sheila E, so that, to me, was the total highlight of the show because it’s the most difficult piece of music anyone’s ever written because it’s for rock keyboards.

So, literally, I spent months learning how to play that, so that was fun when we played that and the audience went mental.”

Q15. After your contract with Warner Music UK expired, why did you move into producing your music on your own independent label, Dtox, rather than seek another major studio?

Hpward: “Well, I thought that my contract came to an end with Warner and they didn’t want to re-sign me, so, it was fairly important to me, I thought what’s the best way to go forward and I thought I really want to be independent now and I want to control my own music and I want to fund it and I want to do things the way I’d really like to do it.

I think artists should be like that and having my own label and independent setup has been the best thing that ever happened to me, and it’s been very successful as well. It’s worked and I’ve developed my relationship with my fans much more than ever and I would recommend it to other artists to go that route. It’s like having your destiny in your own hands. It’s a great way to be.”

Q16. Are there any artists you’ve not worked with yet that you’d still like to work with in the future?

Howard: “Good question…

I’m just really thinking about how I’m going to find time to write new stuff. I think for me it’s about getting on with my own work. I don’t really think about working with other people, to be honest. I’m sure it’d be a lot of fun and it’d be great to do, but there’s just not time to do it. I’ve got so many things to be getting on with. That’s the truth, really.”

All photos: (c) Simon Fowler, except the live photo is taken by (c) Fredrik Svensson.


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