After spending some time in the acoustic world, synthpop trailblazer Howard Jones is once again knee-deep in electronics, having chosen not just to perform his first two albums — 1984′s Human’s Lib and 1985′s Dream Into Action — in their entirety, but to meticulously recreate those records’ synth-driven sounds and textures.
As he gears up to perform the two albums on an April tour of the U.K., Jones chatted with Slicing Up Eyeballs via e-mail about revisiting the songs from those touchstone albums, making the transition back into full-fledged electronic music (not to mention his dislike of the word “keytar”) — and what all that means for his follow-up to 2009′s Ordinary Heroes.
Plus, Jones — who brought the Human’s Lib/Dream Into Action tour to the U.S. last fall for a short 11-date run — reveals he’ll be playing these shores again come summer.
Below, you can read the full Q&A with Jones, and see clips from his “Human’s Lib & Dream Into Action Live at IndigO2″ DVD, which was filmed in London in 2010. Jones’ eight-date U.K. Human’s Lib/Dream Into Action tour, which runs April 11 through 21, is listed below, too.
SLICING UP EYEBALLS: While you first performed ‘Human’s Lib’ and ‘Dream Into Action’ in 2010 to commemorate the reissue of the two albums, you’ve continued doing so, taking that show on the road — with UK dates coming up this spring. Did you originally expect to keep going with the concept, or has the fan reception prompted you to keep going?
HOWARD JONES: I think that the reaction was very positive to the show at the 02, and, internationally, the fans asked if we would tour the show. It has been our intention to take the show around the world, but not with several tons of gear, which seems ludicrous in this day and age. We managed to get the gear into fly-able cases and then my G8 is kindly provided by Roland. Big sound, big show, minimum gear!
EYEBALLS: Clearly there are some big hits and beloved songs on those two albums, but has revisiting them in their entirety led you to re-discover or perhaps find a greater appreciation of some of the material that isn’t as well known as, say, “New Song” and “No One Is To Blame”?
JONES: It has been great rediscovering songs like “Specialty,” “Hunger for the Flesh,” “Why Look for the Key,” and others, and, of course, the hits have been reworked to represent the actual sounds and sequences on the record.
EYEBALLS: The converse of that, of course, is what do you get out of performing those huge hits? There must be a certain pride in singing those songs that mean so much to so many people.
JONES: It is very difficult not to enjoy playing songs that audiences know and love and sing! At those moments I feel very fortunate to be a songwriter and performer.
EYEBALLS: You’ve returned to performing electronically after a period of playing acoustic. Did that acoustic experience in any way inform how you perform electronically, or the way you do your arrangements, or is the goal now to try to recreate the original sounds and textures of those two albums?
JONES: I love the acoustic shows where the songs become elastic and there is a freedom to change them every night. The two-album electronic shows are about recreating in the finest detail the original recordings. That has been a really interesting project in itself, and has meant getting to grips with new technology.
EYEBALLS: Or, another way of putting it… does it feel good to strap the keytar back on?
JONES: Hate the word k… I used to strap a Moog Prodigy round my neck in the pioneering days! The KX5 that I use is a reduced size keyboard and seems to have the right human-to-keyboard proportions…
EYEBALLS: In all seriousness, though, I think there can be a misperception that there’s not a lot of “live” performance when it comes to playing electronic music in concert. Yet watching your new DVD it’s clear that’s not at all the case. Is that something you’ve come up against, or do you just trust that people who see you live will understand what all you put into it?
JONES: We included several videos in the new DVD that explain in some depth what is actually going on. In the beginning of my career, people did not know how it was all done… they just knew they liked the music. I think that now, because GarageBand is on every PC, that there is a lot more understanding of the tech. I have always tried to make live electronic music flexible and to give the same freedoms that you would wish for with a conventional band.
EYEBALLS: In terms of new music, has returning to an electronic-based live performance informed your songwriting, or will your next album continue down the path you started travelling with ‘Ordinary Heroes’?
JONES: Every album project has a theme. Ordinary Heroes was experimenting with string quartet and choir and the art of arranging. The next recording will be electronic, but seriously… does anybody want to sit down and listen to a whole album in this day and age? I think we need to perhaps reassess how we present work to people, and think about what they want from us artists.
EYEBALLS: What is the status of you next record? Can we expect something this year?
JONES: It only exists in the ether at the moment… I don’t honestly have a clue when.
EYEBALLS: Overall, how do you feel about the current state of electronic-based pop music? Do you have any current favorites you’d like to share?
JONES: I like Hurts. I guess we are all waiting for the post-”X-Factor” reaction from feisty young independent artists.
EYEBALLS: Finally, when can fans here in the U.S. see you again? Any stateside touring plans this year?
JONES: End of June/July being planned now.
Howard Jones’ Human’s Lib & Dream Into Action U.K tour dates:
April 11: O2 Academy, Bristol, UK
April 12: O2 Academy, Sheffield, UK
April 13: O2 Academy, Liverpool, UK
April 14: O2 Academy, Birmingham, UK
April 17: O2 Academy, Newcastle, UK
April 18: O2 ABC, Glasgow, UK
April 20: O2 Academy, Bournemouth, UK
April 21: O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, UK
Tickets: 0844 477 2000, ticketweb.co.uk
PREVIOUSLY ON SLICING UP EYEBALLS