Gimme Your Answers: An Interview w/ Howard Jones

Howard Jones
Photo by Simon Fowler

Last week, synth and pop icon Howard Jones embarked on the Retro Futura Tour alongside new wave legends Tom Bailey of the Thompson Twins, Midge Ure of Ultravox, China Crisis, and Katrina of Katrina & The Waves. Known as an artist who can write a killer pop hook and a master of playing the synthesizer, it was our absolute pleasure giving Howard a call before the tour. Dive into the new exclusive article below as Howard Jones and A Music Blog, Yea? discuss his live gear, pioneering a new way of performing, his thoughts on new bands heavily incorporating synth into their music, and industry advice. Tickets are still available from the Retro Futura Tour website.

AMBY: Hello Howard. It’s such a pleasure speaking with you today. How are you?

Howard Jones: Good, thanks.

AMBY: You soon embark on your co-headlining Retro Futura Tour with Tom Bailey and the entire line-up is great. What do you look forward to the most as far as being on the road together goes?

Howard Jones: It’s always amazing fun to come over to the States and tour those great outdoor venues during the summer. It’s always warm, everyone’s in a really good mood, and it’s sunny [laughs]. And, you’re touring around all of these beautiful venues. It’s difficult not to like it, really. It’s difficult in the winter because flights get cancelled and it does get very, very cold. Touring during the summer it’s amazing.

AMBY: I’m very excited for you to stop by in Toronto. I’ve been waiting years to see you and Tom Bailey, so a show with you both together on the bill is incredible. As of right now, what are your favourite songs to play live?

Howard Jones: It changes all of the time and depends on what renovations we’ve done on the tracks. At the moment, I think it’s probably The Prisoner and also Just Look At You Now which is from the Revolution of the Heart album.

AMBY: You are one of the pioneers for using synths and were really on the cusp of that technology. I know that you still work on synths as you worked closely with Roland on the development of the Jupiter 80. How much has your gear changed from when you first started performing to performing live now?

Howard Jones: When I first started, it was quite primitive and there were no computers involved; it was primitive sequencers and drum machines all linked together. I could use arpeggios or short sequences and no one had really done it before. I was kind of pioneering this new way of performing live. Of course, now, you have the equivalent of a computer or MacBook which could take you to the moon in those days. Technology has exploded over thirty years but has made everything full of infinite choice and infinite possibilities. Sometimes having lots of choice is good and sometimes having a few choice is good [laughs]. It really all comes down to the creative person behind it.

AMBY: As you mentioned, with all of the technology nowadays, it’s become easier and more accessible for people to create music; people don’t have to hone their skills as much anymore since they don’t have to learn to play an instrument. What are your feelings on that?

Howard Jones: If you think of technology as being another instrument, then the same things apply. If you want to be good at it, you have to spend four or five hours a day really becoming a master of your instrument. Whether it be a computer program or oboe. If you want to be average, then you would just dabble with it. If you want to be seriously good and get people’s attention, you’re going to have to spend some time to become uniquely good at that specific piece of technology you want to be good on. The piano, for me, has always been a set of keys that you press and then you press the key and get a sound. It’s how you press the keys and in which order and with what weight and sensitivity and timing… That’s the thing that takes eight hours a day of practice to get down!

AMBY: I’ve noticed that a lot of bands over the last couple of years have been heavily incorporating synth into their music. How do you feel about this? Did you foresee this happening?

Howard Jones: I think that all music is always influenced by history; in this case, the history of pop music. I think the challenge is that you listen to things from the past and take stuff from that and bring it to your own to and evolve it. I always get excited when I hear that. I don’t really want to hear things recreated, but I like to hear how people take things forward and are trying new things. That’s what really makes exciting new music.

AMBY: You are known for writing an excellent pop hook. Who have you been listening to who you think can write an excellent song?

Howard Jones: I’m more impressed by people innovating things sound-wise rather than songwriting. I think songwriting has become a little bit stuck at the moment! [laughs] I’m kind of liking people like Phonat, he’s an electronic artist who’s actually from Italy. He’s really making music like you’ve never heard before and it’s so exciting. Not so much a songwriter, but more so a sound innovator.

AMBY: I’m going to have to look into him.

Howard Jones: That’s what I’m quite struck by.

AMBY: If you had the opportunity of speaking to yourself at the beginning of your career, what advice would you have told yourself?

Howard Jones: Try to enjoy yourself more at the sharp end of it or when things are really going crazy. Try to relax. Enjoy it. It won’t be the same in a few years time. I’d tell myself to just relax and enjoy it.

AMBY: Many of our readers are in start-up or new indie bands. So for artists who are just getting to know the music industry, what advice would you give to them?

Howard Jones: The most important thing is to make a connection with other people. You can sit in your bedroom or your garage making music for twenty years, but if it never makes that leap to communicating to someone else, then you can never really call yourself an artist. When you start, make sure you’re performing straight away. Get your friends around and perform for them and get that feedback. Then, go to bigger places and play to more people. If you can hold a small room and get people excited, then you can turn to a large venue and do the same. It’s the same principle. Basically, look after the people who like your music and really cherish that relationship.

AMBY: That’s great advice, thank you for sharing that. Is there anything you’d like to do that you haven’t done in your career? Is there any kind of project or secret passion you haven’t explored yet and would like to?

Howard Jones: I’ve been working on this audio-visual experience that involves the audience, has ballet and dance, and has electronic and pop music. I’d like to be able to keep going with all of my ideas for stage shows and be able to afford to really do all of the things that I want. That’s my aim at the moment. That’s what I’m working on. How to fund big ideas [laughs].

AMBY: Thank you once again for your time today, Howard. I really appreciate it!

Howard Jones: It’s a pleasure, Alicia. Thanks for the really great questions. Thank you.

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Thank you Howard Jones, for giving us your answers!

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Interview by Alicia Atout | @AliciaAtout

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