Synth-pop pioneer Howard Jones scored numerous hits in the 1980s like “No One is to Blame,” “What Is Love,” “New Song,” “Life in One Day” and “Things Can Only Get Better” (heard recently in season three of “Stranger Things”). Jones brings his all-acoustic trio to Ithaca for a show at the Hangar Theatre on March 13.
He spoke to the Ithaca Times about his current tour, not looking back, and the appeal of music videos.
IT: Where is the tour right now?
HJ: We’re in Park City today, up in the mountains of Utah, with a snow storm going on outside.
IT: And this tour is an all-acoustic version of what you do?
HJ: Yes, that’s right, it’s just the trio. So I have Nick Beggs (The Mute Gods, Kajagoogoo, Belinda Carlisle) playing mainly chapman stick; he’s one of the few people who can play that instrument in the rock and pop world. And then Robin Boult (Roger Daltrey, Dave Stewart), who’s on guitars. It’s a really unusual line-up. It just sounds so cool, and I really enjoyed making those three instruments work, in the arrangements. All the percussion comes from what we’re doing, provided in the grooves by arranging everything sort of intricately. It’s a lot of fun.
IT: People really enjoyed you previously at the Hangar Theatre; had you ever been to Ithaca before those shows, back in the first days of the career?
HJ: No, I don’t recall making it to Ithaca, but I have one of my best friends who lives there with his wife. And so I get to visit him quite often, really, because I go to see them. I really like the place. There’s some amazing places to eat if you’re a vegan and vegetarian. I remember going to a restaurant last time and there was a small string orchestra in the foyer, just come together to play music together. To me, that’s the flavor of Ithaca, really. It’s a very unique place.
IT: You started out in the era of MTV and having not just a cool song but a cool video. Was the whole music video thing a blessing or a burden ultimately?
HJ: No, it was very exciting. The way I started was with a one-man electronic band, you know. And we always had visuals onstage. At the time, we had two ordinary TVs that were hooked up to a VHS player, and we made videos to go along with the music. I was also joined onstage by a mime artist. We used to come up with characters that would reflect the ideas of the songs. And so the whole thing was a very visual concept, and so videos were like, “Ah! Let me at it!” [laughs] It was another creative outlet for me, and I really enjoyed all the videos that we did.
IT: What do you miss most about the 1980s?
HJ: [long pause. Laughs] I’m not really the sort of person who looks back much. Obviously, I acknowledge everything that happened at that time and it’s where my career started, but it’s what you’re doing now really that’s important to me. I think the ‘80s was an amazing time ‘cause there were so many new things going on. You mentioned already the use of video visuals that we really got to use for the first time. Everyone got to use that. And there was a fantastic variety of genres of music going on in that time: the electronic element, and indie rock, the glam/metal, reggae, ska. Lots of people were having lots of hit records, and it was a very exciting time. But I mean, any era can be exciting. It’s just up to the artist to create something new and think differently and break some new ground.
IT: Is there a song you feel like, if you didn’t play it, your fans would miss it?
HJ: Yes, I’m very aware of that. There’s certain songs, especially ones that were big hits on the radio, that people really want to hear. And it would be really mean of me not to play them. [laughs] I’m always looking at ways of presenting those songs in a slightly different way, like with the trio. That’s my thing, I wanna keep it interesting for me. And I think that’s the trick, really.
IT: Is there good camaraderie between the British 80’s bands?
HJ: Well, we see each other now more than we did in the 80s because everyone was busy doing their thing. I’m good friends with Midge Ure (Thin Lizzy, Ultravox) and Nik Kershaw (“Wouldn’t It Be Good?”) and Martin Fry (ABC). They’re not gonna stop because the big spotlight’s not on anymore. This is what we do and this is what we love, and that’s my contribution to the world, to give people a nice time with music, and encourage people, and give them a break from all the difficulties that modern society presents.