The Return of Howard Jones
1980s British rocker with many hit songs will perform songs from his huge new Engage CD and DVD.
Electronic music pioneer Howard Jones recently released “Engage,” an ambitious multimedia music experience incorporating live performance, dance, smart phone apps and extensive audience interaction, captured as both a CD and DVD release. Following the recent, theatrical performances of the show in London and Los Angeles, he has embarked on a more stripped-down North American concert tour supporting the Engage release as well as featuring many of his classic 1980’s hit singles, such as “No One is To Blame, “Things Can Only Get Better” and “Life In One Day.” On Thursday, March 12th he brings both the electronic and acoustic aspects of his 30-plus year career in popular music to the Northern Lights theater at Potawatomi.
Q: How did the idea for the “Engage” project come together?
A: At this point in my life, I wanted to challenge myself to do something more than I’ve done before, give myself a real difficult thing to achieve. I didn’t want to do just another album. I wanted to reflect all the different kinds of music I really love and the art forms I love. I wanted to have pop music in it, electronic music, ballet and contemporary dance, classical music and references to the cinema and really think of it as a live show rather than as a studio album. So I conceived it as a live experience… and the CD and the DVD would be the secondary way of enjoying it.
Q: What were the biggest technical challenges in putting it together?
A: Well, with this I’m working not just with the music, it’s about the visuals as well and about building a great team to be able to do it all. I was working with Stephen Tayler who was coming up with ideas for the visuals as the music was being written. Then I was working with producer Robbie Bronnimann on the music and then thinking about the live show and how to actually implement that and also organizing a ballet to be choreographed. It was a much bigger team of people involved in this than in just making an album.
A: Yeah, we just did the Saban Theater in Los Angeles and that really was ideal because it has the right size stage, and has very good sound and also has a screen at the front of the stage that slides up which really worked well for our projection. It needs the right kind of venue to actually put the show on.
Q: Are you hoping to stage more “Engage” shows at some point beyond the two that have recently taken place?
A: I would love to do it more. I’d like to do one in New York before the end of the year and we’d like to take it to Japan and possibly Australia. We’re just looking at the possibilities of that at the moment. It’s quite an expensive show to put on, so that’s a factor. The shows I’m doing now [on the remainder of the U.S. tour] I’m doing a few tracks from “Engage” and where we can, projecting the visuals as well. So it’s sort of a hybrid version of the show that we’re taking out.
Q: Does it feel less exhilarating to go back to a more traditional concert structure after building towards “Engage” over the past year or more?
A: Well, everything is constantly evolving and we’re doing different songs. It was wonderful working on “Engage” and it’s all there in the repertoire now. But I think the great thing is it kind of informs my other work. The influence of “Engage” you can see in the other work now.
Q: I understand that you experienced the passing of your parents within the past year. I was wondering if there was something of a catharsis in the “Engage” project in that there were so many aspects of your life being drawn into this project.
A: That’s a really good question. I do think there’s a relation between those two things. With both of my parents passing in quite a short time, it brings into focus the fact that your own death is coming up and you need to make sure you don’t leave anything in the locker room. There’s no time to waste. It’s like you just have to get on doing things you really, really want to do. I think “Engage” is really an example of that for me. I’ve always wanted to do something a bit more ambitious and bigger in it’s scale. So I do think the two things are related.
Q: Back in the 80s you were known as a big proponent of vegetarianism. Is that something you are still passionate about?
A: Yes, I’m still a vegetarian after, I think, 39 years. I can’t believe that! My focus has shifted a bit as I used to be more militant about it. Now I’m much more interested in the way that people treat each other and respect between human beings. That’s what I think needs to come first and then other things like being a vegetarian fall into place.
Q: The language that people like you and Paul McCartney use about vegetarianism always seemed to be more educational and supportive in tone. Whereas, somebody like Morrissey has always been very confrontational and almost demeaning to people who are not vegetarian. Do you think that sort of detracts from what you’re trying to get across?
A: Well, I think both things can work. You have to think of the character that Morrissey is and that’s the way he does it. I know Chrissie Hynde [of The Pretenders] as well and I’ve been with her when she’s gone into a buffet after a gig and overturned huge trays onto the floor because she was so annoyed that there was no vegetarian choice! [Laughing.] The chef came out… you can imagine! But it’s not my way to do it like that. I think respecting people’s views is the way to do it.
A: No, I don’t! Obviously, this is a big can of worms really… I’m fine because I’m doing my own work and do my own shows and playing the 80’s festivals is really good fun and helps to pay for my overambitious work on my own. Rock n’ roll has always been down to what’s called ‘cool’ and cool is another word for prejudice. [Laughing]. That’s all I’m saying!
Q: Last year you toured with Tom Bailey [of The Thompson Twins] and Midge Ure [of Ultravox]. Tell me about your role in getting Bailey back into action after not having performed Thompson Twins songs for 25 years.
A: I thought Tom would be really great on that tour and I thought it would be a really good mix. I knew Tom from the early days and always liked him a lot. A very nice man. So we went for an Indian meal in London and I said, “Tom, it will be great, you’ll have a great time. It’s fun and loads of people will want to see you.” I wasn’t sure he was going to do it but then he phoned up and said ‘I’m gonna give it a go.’ Once he was out on tour he absolutely loved it.
Q: How would you describe your relationship with your fans at this point?
A: It’s better than ever. It’s really strong. I just finished the PledgeMusic campaign for the “Engage” project, so I’ve had to be really hands-on about that. That has brought me much closer to the fans than ever. It’s a really good place to feel that responsible for the product that you’re putting out and also the fans know that I actually do need their support to keep going. It’s a really great time for that, I think. It’s a new era.