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Q&A: Howard Jones

Howard Jones' acoustic trio tour offers fans a stripped-down trip through his nearly 40-year career, complete with stories behind the inspiration for many of his hits and life on the road.

G.K. Hizer
January 28, 2020

By most accounts, Howard Jones was a crucial figure in the ‘80s pop scene. Aside from landing firmly on the pop charts (with 15 top 40 singles worldwide between 1983-92), Jones was essential in establishing the synth-pop movement and incorporating electronic music elements into the pop spectrum.

While his debut album, Human’s Lib (1984), was initially a bigger hit in the U.K., the signature single “What is Love?” and “New Song” both reached the top 40 in the United States. His follow-up album, Dream into Action (1985), established him across America with radio hits “Things Can Only Get Better” and “Life in One Day,” as well as lesser hits “Like to Got to Know You Well” and “Look Mama,” landing the album on the U.S. top 40 charts for over a year. A re-recorded version of “No One Is to Blame,” featuring Phil Collins on drums and backing vocals, was released on his next album, One to One (1986), and reached No. 4 on the singles charts.

After his contract with Warner Music Group ended in 1993, Jones focused his efforts on production and songwriting, having a hand in creating hits for several other dance artists in the early ‘90s. He then started his label, Dtox, initially selling his music at live concerts and through his website before branching into digital distribution, remaining active as a musician and performer for the better part of four decades.

Most recently, Jones has released expanded remasters of his first two albums, and an album in 2019, Transform, that saw him return to form in the electronic music field to the delight of longtime fans. This winter and spring, Jones returns to the U.S. to revisit his catalog with a new twist — touring as a trio, to give the songs a more personal and intimate reading.

Before setting off on tour, which brings him to The Vanguard Feb. 27, he took the time to discuss the tour and reflected on his career.

Q. What’s the thought process behind doing the trio tour, and how do you approach your songs differently for something like this?
A. I like to do different things all the time. I’ve been out with a full band and done the electronic thing, and I’ve toured solo, with just a piano and the songs. It’s really about keeping my interests piqued.

I like the idea of a trio because it’s an unusual take on my songs. Nick Beggs [Kajagoogoo, Belinda Carlisle, John Paul Jones], Robin Boult [Roger Daltrey, Dave Stewart, Fish], and I have been terrific friends for two or three decades. It’s about stripping back the songs and giving them a new twist. I’ve got roughly 100 songs in my canon, so it’s interesting to provide them with a new twist, and I’m choosing songs that fit the format. Also, it’s so much more fun to tour with your mates, and I feel like I should keep touring because that’s my unique contribution to the fans. And for me, this will be my first time to come to Tulsa.

Q. What led you to go the independent route, and how has that changed how you approach the music industry?
A. It was organic. I did five albums with Warner Brothers with worldwide distribution and promotion. I appreciated it, but they didn’t want to re-sign me, and I didn’t want to stop making music. Being independent and owning your label means you become more hands-on, and it just suited me very well. I had a fantastic opportunity with the spotlight on me for that decade, but I didn’t feel like I could continue that way, because the spotlight is very intense. The change suits me. I also wanted to maintain the quality of the work and respect the loyalty of my fans.

Q. What continues to inspire you to create new music?
A. I can only speak to Transform, but I knew the fans were keen on me doing another electronic record. I was ready and excited. It felt like the right time, and I had some things I wanted to say. Also, I met BT [American musician, DJ, singer, songwriter, and audio engineer], whose work I’ve always respected. We got along well and collaborated on three songs. Once we got on a roll, it became fascinating. It turned out well, got reasonably good reviews, and a good response from the fans. That said, I’ve no idea what’s next.

Q. In 2018, remastered versions of your first two albums were released with additional tracks. How did that work out?
A. I had mixed feelings with that because I’m not much for looking backward. When I got down into it, finding different mixes and releasing something a little different, I quite enjoyed the process in the end, but they had to persuade me to agree to it. I think going back and listening made me reconsider what the magic ingredients were when I started.

Howard Jones
The Vanguard
222 N. Main St. | Tulsa
Feb. 27: 8 p.m.