by Albert Rodriguez -
SGN A&E Writer
HOWARD JONES SOLO -
THE SONGS & THE STORIES
ILLSLEY BALL NORDSTROM RECITAL HALL
If you grew up in the '80s and owned a radio, chances are you heard Howard Jones songs being played. He released a bunch of them between 1983 and 1989, including 'Things Can Only Get Better,' 'No One is to Blame,' 'Everlasting Love,' 'Life in One Day,' 'New Song,' 'Dream Into Action,' 'What is Love?' and 'Like to Get to Know You Well.' The English singer-songwriter has put out new music since then, including a cover of Donald Fagan's 'I.G.Y. What a Beautiful World,' but he's mostly known for a long string of hits from the popular '80s new wave-pop era. On January 24, he'll appear in a stripped-down acoustic concert here in the Emerald City at the Illsey Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall, located inside Benaroya Hall on the upper level.
At 6:30pm in the UK, 10:30am here in Seattle, Jones phoned me directly a week ago and we spoke for nearly 40 minutes. Not only was he very kind and easygoing over the phone, but his boyish laughter and positive spirit - perhaps, due to his many years practicing Buddhism - made me even a bigger fan than I already was. For tickets to see Howard Jones, visit www.seattlesymphony.org/concerttickets. Here's what he shared with me inside 'The Music Lounge.'
Albert Rodriguez: You're coming to Seattle to perform a show called 'Howard Jones Solo - The Songs & The Stories.' Will this be an acoustic performance?
Jones: Yes, that's right. It's just me and the piano. I'll be playing and I'll be talking a lot.
Rodriguez: Will we get to hear all of the hits, or some of the hits?
Jones: I won't do all of them, probably, because this is a chance for me to do something a bit different. So I'll go into the catalog and pull out some songs that people are not too familiar with. I will do the big hits, as well, but in a different way than people are used to hearing them, if they haven't seen this kind of show by me before. It's really fun for me because I can give everything a new twist and play something differently each night; it gives me a lot of freedom.
Rodriguez: You burst onto the music scene during the great '80s British Invasion with so many iconic artists breaking through at the same time - Eurythmics, Culture Club, A Flock of Seagulls. Did you all know each other? Were you all playing the same clubs?
Jones: No, I didn't know anybody when I started out. I didn't mix in with those people, not intentionally. Obviously, I got to know them when things took off, but I wasn't part of that scene really because I was out in the sticks. I put my one-man electronic band thing together in a place called High Wycombe, outside of London about an hour and a half. I was doing my own thing and struggled to get signed, really; I got turned down by every label and every publisher until finally somebody signed me up. But I wasn't part of that London scene, which produced a lot of artists; I've always been an outsider, I guess.
Rodriguez: What do you think about modern pop music? Does it catch your ear?
Jones: I'd love to say yes (laughs), but I find myself having to look pretty hard for something that really grabs me. I think we're in a quite unsettled era at the moment and it's not very easy for young original artists to break through. We're seeing a lot of artists that are heavily shaped by the industry and so many of their songs are written by not one voice, but seven or eight people, and consultants. It's a phase that I hope we're going through at the moment. Because I believe artists should be an original voice and express themselves in a unique way; they shouldn't aim to be the same as anyone else. My favorite albums of the year were Ella Fitzgerald with the London Symphony Orchestra and Alison Moyet, a brilliant album [titled Other].
Rodriguez: So somebody like Lorde doesn't appeal to you?
Jones: Oh, I do like Lorde! I think she's great. And the new Taylor Swift album is really great, as well. And then I'm struggling a bit after that.
Rodriguez: Two of my friends told me that Howard Jones was the very first concert they ever went to. What was the very first concert you attended?
Jones: It was when I was 14. I went to see The Who and The Troggs and the 1910 Fruitgum Company all on the same bill, if you can believe it [laughs[, at a hockey arena in Canada. It was the most amazing eclectic mix of music. The 1910 Fruitgum Company had this big hit with 'Yummy, Yummy, Yummy' [laughs] on the radio. Then you had The Troggs dressed in immaculate white suits and some of them had on blue shoes and some of them had on green shoes; I remember it so clearly. 'Wild Thing' was their big hit. And then, of course, The Who came on and smashed up all their gear. It was the loudest thing in the universe (laughs). It was a real initiation. It was the most exciting thing I'd ever seen.
Rodriguez: My favorite Howard Jones song is 'Like to Get to Know You Well.' I spent many hours of my youth, and adult life, listening to it. Do you remember exactly where you wrote it?
Jones: No, not really. Well, I was living in a flat in High Wycombe and I was doing my one-man electronic shows, so I was writing songs that I could go out and play because I hadn't gotten a record deal at the time. So I would've written it in the front room, where all my gear was stored away - and I would take it out for my gigs - but from the start I wanted to write songs that were about bringing people together and celebrated the fact that making a change is the quickest way to create a peaceful society and the more you get to know people the more you understand them.
Rodriguez: It's such a great song and it fits a lot of words into the chorus. But I really love the music around it; it's got a really good sound and there's different things going on in the background.
Jones: It's got two double-eights. It's got a double-eight twice with a different set of lyrics each time, which is quite unusual for a song. But I don't think I've ever written in a formulaic way; I love the structure of pop songs, but you need to play with them and throw some unexpected things in there, so that you keep people's attention. I've always tried to do something different.
Rodriguez: Writing songs and making music. How has the process changed from when you started out to now with new technology?
Jones: Right from the beginning, I wanted to embrace the technology of the time I was born into. I grew up playing the piano from the age of 7 and I went to music college and wrote all the musical notes and studied classical music for 14 years of my life, but I didn't want to make music in a way that everyone had traditionally done it. I wanted to be a man of the time and use all the new exciting stuff available - drum machines, synthesizers and all the new technology that was being used in the studios. But at the core of it all has been my real desire to communicate ideas and to throw out questions to people, and challenge it and also encourage people because life is very tough for everyone. At some point, everyone gets massive challenges to face and that's when music can be a real boost and help you over difficult times - 'you can do it,' 'things can only get better,' 'you'll be all right,' 'you just gotta keep going,' 'believe in yourself' and 'you will come through to the other side.' I've always tried to keep that in mind through my songwriting and try to document the things that happen to people.
Rodriguez: I know that you've performed in Seattle many times. What goes through your mind when you see Seattle on your itinerary, or hear the word 'Seattle'?
Jones: I think of the Northwest and what a beautiful environment it is. It's so grand, all those islands and the sea and then you pass the Boeing factory [laughs]; I think of what an incredibly beautiful environment that is and all the rain; it's very green. It's like landscape on a grand scale.
Rodriguez: For some artists, it's very exciting to come to America as many times as they can. For others, it's an obligation because the US is such a large market. Has the novelty worn off for you coming over to the States so many times over the years, or do you look forward to coming back?
Jones: I always enjoy coming back. Not matter how many times you go, you're always gonna be going to somewhere new and discover something different. My career has always done better in America than anywhere else, so I will always have that connection with America. It's always a sense of struggle here in the UK. I've felt that I've always been regarded as a pop artist who had a couple of hits, whereas in America I feel much more respected; that's a big draw for me, and to feel appreciated.
Rodriguez: Aside from the music, one of the signature things about the '80s was the fashion. I remember your album covers and publicity photos from back then. Did you keep any of those clothes?
Jones: Oh yes, everything. It's all stored away and my son has great fun going through it all and bringing it back to life [laughs]. It's been one of my passions, really, to have great clothes. It's really an expression of who you are. It's like wearing art, and I love art and I love artists. It's always been a big thing for me.
Rodriguez: The show you're doing here in Seattle, is it interactive? Are you doing a Q&A, or taking song requests?
Jones: I sometimes do that. I did a similar tour here in the UK last year and I asked people to email me what songs they would like me to play and tell me why that song meant so much to them. I got hundreds and hundreds of emails, and to be honest I couldn't cope with the response; I had to spend a couple hours every day going through all the emails and then rearranging the sets and then rehearse and learn songs that I hadn't played ever live. But I've just got 40 days for this tour and I wouldn't be able to keep up, but because of all that work last year I've got 50 or 60 songs that I'm ready to play. So I can draw on a big catalog of stuff to play and I'm going to make every show unique and different.
Rodriguez: Well, I'll put in my request now for 'Like to Get to Know You Well.'
Jones: Okay, it's definitely in. It's in there! [laughs]
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