Interview with Howard Jones
Anyone who lived in the 80s, knows Howard Jones’ music. You may not realize it…but you do! Remember “No One is To Blame” or “Things Can Only Get Better” or “Life In One Day”? Well, that’s Howard Jones! I guarantee you that if you check out the Howard Jones section at your local CD store, you’ll recognize his tunes. A wonderfully poignant songwriter, HoJo has never been given the credit that he deserves in the industry. Perhaps he was bigger than the era or perhaps he was ahead of his time, but his music will live on as an important part of the 80s. Howard Jones is an artist in the truest sense of the word…a sensitive, emotive, soft-spoken man who is appreciative of his fans and of his success so far. HoJo’s new album, Ordinary Heroes, is his most heartfelt, emotional album to date. Full of life experiences, heart-wrenching situations, and positivity in the face of adversity, Ordinary Heroes is an album that should not be missed! On the heels of the release of Ordinary Heroes, I had the opportunity to talk with Howard about his new album. Meet Howard Jones!
Jen: It’s wonderful to meet you and have a chance to talk with you!
Howard: Oh, thank you…and you as well!
Jen: You just have had an album named Ordinary Heroes released in the States. This is being touted as your “most personal album to date.” Can you tell us why the album is so personal to you?
Howard: The album has two sort of main themes to it. There are some sort of very personal things to it that happen to be very heartfelt things. A song called “You Knew Us So Well” is all about a friend of mine who took his own life. He was a member of my band, so he was a very dearly loved and close friend. I’ve very rarely written a song that was so from the heart as that one. Then another song called “Soon You’ll Go” is about my daughter leaving home to go to college in America…songs that basically when you are writing them, a lot of tears are shed! There are others…somewhat straight ahead and about having courage to overcome obstacles and knowing that you have the strength in you to deal with any situation that comes around…and you can turn it around and you can make it a positive experience, whatever it is. Those two themes are running through every song, really. That’s why people are saying it’s the most intimate, personal album to date…
Jen: Well, I’m sure that we’ll shed tears along with you. So thanks for that, Howard! (both laugh)
Like you mentioned, the album is very focused on storytelling…about people you’ve met and things you’ve gone through. You have said that you really focused on the lyrics and getting your story across on this album. How was that different that anything you’ve previously done?
Howard: I’ve always been a lyrics person…that’s the thing that I care about most. If I wasn’t a musician, I would be in one of the other arts so I could get the ideas across. I’m fortunate to be a musician, but I would be happy with any other form of expression…but lyrics always come first, even in the beginning. So really, this is just me getting older…I’ve been at it a long time, so hopefully I’ve learned a few things along the way that I can really get these ideas over in a meaningful way…
Jen: As a fan from way back, the lyrics are what I love about your music. You were focused on the lyrics, and as a complement, the music is more stripped down so it wouldn’t detract from the lyrics…how did you achieve that?
Howard: Yeah! Well, the approach I had was to keep it simple…the piano part, drum part, guitar part, bass part, the string quartet and then a lead vocal and one backing vocal. I stuck to that plot pretty much exclusively…except for one track. That way, there’s no big production thing going on…no huge keyboard sounds coming in the middle. It’s straightforwardly presented…honestly presented and that seemed to go well with what the songs are about.
Jen: As you were recording, you recorded in a studio, you recorded at home, and you went to Wales to work with a choir. Tell us about that..
Howard: That’s the exception where I actually broke my rule! (laughs) I recorded the song, “Soon You’ll be Gone,” with the cello and the vocal. I could just hear a Welsh male-voice choir coming in the third verse…it just wouldn’t get out of my mind! I just did what everyone else does and I got on the internet, found the website and got a number from this choir I’d heard as a child…and in fact I’d seen them as a child performing. I phoned them up and said, “Would you sing on my song? Can I come down and meet you and would you consider singing on this song?” So I played the song for them down there and sort of gave a presentation to them! (laughs) This is a world famous Welsh choice that doesn’t take any prisoners…they’re really well respected in the whole world…
Jen: But you’re the world- renown Howard Jones…
Howard: (laughs) Yeah, that might be something for other people but for me, I’m just Howard Jones! (laughs) I stood in front of them and asked them if they would be involved and they really, genuinely wanted to be involved. This song is about a daughter leaving home…they’ve been through that and they’ve felt that. During the recording, the men with tears streaming down their faces singing this song…it was incredible! It was a wonderful experience!
Jen: All of these songs are personal to you, so do you have a favorite to perform or one that has special meaning? Obviously your daughter would have special meaning…
Howard: Yes that one…it’s really difficult to get through that one when I play it. I do one of the songs called “Straight Ahead”…I’m the musical director of a choir and I work with them once a month. We sing that song and I always said to them, “That’s the best version! It’s like 60 people singing it all together…so that’s one of my absolute favorites!
Jen: How will you be supporting the album in the States?
Howard: I’m doing a 12 day tour in the UK in September. Duncan Sheik, my really good friend, is joining me on that tour. Once we start doing it, I’m going to talk to him about possibly us doing something together in the States, because it would be a lovely combination, actually. So we’ll probably try to plan something for next year.
Jen: That would be great! Now, a couple of questions about your pop hits from the 80s…your 80s hits are timeless, even today. Do you have a favorite song from your past?
Howard: It’s always great for me when I play “No One is to Blame” when I’m in the States! Everyone knows it! Even if they don’t know that it’s me who sang that song, they know the song. It’s such a wonderful thing! Wherever I go, anywhere in America, everyone knows that song! It feels like that in a small way, I’ve become a little part of American culture and I feel very proud of that!
Jen: Everyone knows that song, it is amazing! You’re right, though, people may not know who sing it, but they sure know the song!
Howard: Yeah, that’s right! That interests me that people love the song and they don’t necessarily know that it’s me…it’s quite pure in a way! (laughs)
Jen: I saw you several years back with Human League and Culture Club…it was so nice to get to see you again!
Howard: I’d love to do one of those tours again, but it’s quite hard to get them together. I’m doing a lot of gigs over here with Boy George, Human League and ABC. It’s thriving over here but we can’t seem to get it together to come to America…
Jen: Those testy Americans… (laughs)
Howard: No, it’s not the Americans…it’s probably…I don’t know what it is… (laughs)
Jen: Can you tell us something we’d be surprised to know about you?
Howard: Ummmmm, I don’t know that you’d be surprised, but I’m a big fan of Formula One motor racing which, I suppose, is a bit surprising for me! I’ve been to quite a few races. I’ve never had the need to get in the car and do any racing, but I do enjoy watching the teams and the cars.
Jen: That is a little surprising, I guess! Is there a person you’d most love to meet?
Howard: I’d love to meet Nelson Mandela. I would love to meet him…I think he’s an amazing man! I’d love to pay my respects to him.
Jen: Is there a new band or new artist that you are interested in or enjoy their music?
Howard: I’m a huge fan of an artist called Laura Marling! She’s a young, new folk artist in the UK and she is amazing!
Jen: Finally, what would you like to say to your fans?
Howard: I always like to say thank you for supporting me for all of these years. I can’t do what I do without you and thank you for sticking with me! It’s great to be doing this together. I can’t do it without them. It’s great having this long legacy together!
Jen: Howard, thank you so much for your time…
Howard: Thank you very much, Jen! It’s very nice to meet you also!
What an awesome man! So now, be sure to check out Ordinary Heroes! This album will definitely be on my Best of 2010 List! And while you’re at it, check out Howard’s back catalog of music! You won’t be sorry!
Photo by James Cumpsty