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Howard Jones returns to Red Butte Garden with an electronic set of classics and new songs

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Howard Jones is embarking on a electronic tour in support of his new album "Transform." (Photo: Simon Fowler / Howard Jones)

I’ve spoken to Howard Jones numerous times over the years. He’s always been affable and honest, which is something that tends to be taken for granted. This interview is slightly different, we’re not talking about all the great Utah gigs over the years, we’re talking about his new electronic album “Transform.”

It’s May 22, 2019, the day before Howard Jones kicks off his UK tour. So, we start there.

At this point in your career are there any nerves going out on stage?

Well, yeah, because the eight shows I’m doing in the UK are the most ambitious that I’ve ever put on. We spent months working on the visual aspect of this show with with original video content that we've filmed specially and then that's coordinated with the lighting. We've got a screen that you can shine lights through.

What I wanted to achieve is not just a video wall behind you, but images that were coordinated with lighting so it has more of a three-dimensional effect.

I just saw some clips that they sent me, they were just putting up the rig and today, and it looks amazing.

I remember the last time we played Red Butte the wind was so strong we couldn't put up the screens. So, hopefully the wind will be nice and calm.

You've been here a few times over the past couple of years, but this time you’re bringing some new material. Is that exciting for you as an artist, to have something new the play?

It's really exciting actually. I'm going to play eight tracks from the new album. My plan is to have a song from the new album and then a song that everyone knows and sort of alternate.

We’ve gone back to the heritage songs and updated them so that they are more in line with my current thinking and the way I did the new album. So, it will hopefully it'll be like seamlessly flowing from one to the other. That’s the theory.

The nice thing about the new record is that it does sound contemporary, but it still sounds very much like you. There's some piano solos and things in there that are your trademark.

Yeah, I feel the same. I can't really do anything else, it’s always going to sound like me because it's just what I do. I love melodies, pop song structure and really interesting chord progressions as well.

How was the writing and recording this album?

It started when I was asked to write a couple of songs for the “Eddie the Eagle” film. The film is set in the eighties, so it got me thinking about how when I started as a one-man band in the early eighties I put the music together. It got me thinking about the synths and everything and the short sequences and the melodic lines and solos.

I wrote a couple of tracks very, very quickly. Which is unusual for me because I don’t write quickly. It takes me forever to do stuff that I'm happy with.

Having done those two tracks, it spurred me on and I knew the fans were politely asking me to do another electronic album. So, those two things really spurred me on and I guess it was [recorded] over a period of two years.

I didn't actually write the songs on the piano. I wrote them the gear and you know, with the synths and the computer. I rarely went to the piano, just to check out some chord progressions. That was very much the way I used to write in the early days.

Did you find returning to that format to be rejuvenating?

Yeah, I mean I really, really enjoyed it. I really enjoy the process. I think it's one of the best albums I've made actually and at this point in my career that that feels like really great. The reaction from the fans have been so great. I mean they, they just been raving about the album. So that's very cool.

I got to work with BT as well on three tracks. I don't normally write with other people. I very much do my own thing. But I have been huge admirer of his work as an electronic pioneer from his generation. When I finally got to meet him and then hung out in his studio for a bit, I said to him, “We really should do some tracks together, it would be amazing.” And we didn't just talk about it. We actually did it. That that turned out really well.

When I remember the first time I heard BT, it was “Blue Skies” with Tori Amos, which is who knows how many years ago now at this point. But he's always been exciting and evolving his work and soundtracks. I saw him once years and years ago. So, I am looking forward to his performance as well.

Yes, and me! Hopefully he’ll be joining me. I've got a keyboard set aside for him so he can join us on the couple of tracks in my set. So that should be really cool.

You've been pretty much touring nonstop for the past few years here. Is, is it still as exciting as it used to be for you?

I really, I really love touring and traveling and meeting new people. It’s the only way to really improve what you do. I think to be out there doing it every night and singing every night and playing and lots of new ideas come when you're actually doing it every day.

I honestly can tell you that I'm as excited to go on this tour as I've ever been. I would have thought that there comes a point where you think, “Oh, well, maybe I've done enough now,” but I still think there's still more in the cabinet for me to bring out.

Sometimes you listen to album once and you’ve figure out there's not much there. With “Transform” it feels like there's a lot of layers, a lot of things that you don't necessarily notice on the first pass through.

Yeah, there's a lot of detail in there. I always liked records where your first impression is that you like it, but you can keep going back to it and discovering little Easter eggs and things in there that only occur once. So, I love that, you know, that approach. I mean, especially on the BT tracks because he is Mr. Multi-layered. On the first track, “The One to Love You,” he included little references to my early work, I don’t know if you spotted it that yet, but that's really, really cool. They’re sort of hidden in the texture.

You have somehow managed to stay optimistic. A lot of electronic artists became a little pessimistic at one point or another. Is that something that's always been important to you?

Yeah, it is. I feel like it is important to have a hopeful outlook toward the future and to think that things can only get better. Any difficulties or any mess that we've, we've created, we can always turn it round. The story is not finished until it’s over. I always tried to, but it’s not easy to maintain that philosophy. I think you have to work on it daily to stay hopeful and optimistic.

It’s always been my thing, I certainly always want to put that in the music, you know? Because I believe that music can give people a real boost when it's needed. There are times when you think to yourself, “How am I going to get through this?” You can hear a piece of music or a line of lyric and it can help you get over that next day or so. And then, you know, then you're at the other side and you're flying. I really want my music's to help with that process.

Is that helpful for you to write those songs for as well?

Oh yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. When you start a record, you think, “Is anybody going to be interested in this?” It’s like my 13th studio album. I've been doing this for three and a half decades, is anybody going to be interested? Is it really worth all this effort? And, and of course it is worth it because when people hear it and they write about songs they love and things, then you know it really worth doing.

So, keeping up that positivity while you’re working on a record can be tough sometimes, but I will make more records. You know, I've enjoyed doing this one so much. I will do at least another two, I'm sure.

Howard Jones returns to Salt Lake City to play at the Red Butte Garden on Tuesday, June 25, 2019 with Men Without Hats and BT’s project All Hail the Silence as openers. Tickets can be purchased here. Visit the Red Butte Garden Outdoor Concert Series website for more information.