Peter Steward's Web Site
Interview with John Howard
John Howard continues to produce excellent music that deserves to find a much wider audience. In January 2011 he kindly took some more time off for a further interview with this site where he discussed his forthcoming release along with thoughts on his fan base and the use of technology to bring music to a wider audience.
Q. A new album is due out in the New Year. Can you tell us something about it and the songs that will be included.
A. The album is called 'Exhibiting Tendencies' and is due out online (from iTunes, Napster, emusic, Amazon MP3, we7, 7Digital etc) on February 13th and on CD in May 2011. I wanted this LP to have a 'live band in the studio' feel rather than being simply a pianist/singer album. So I have incorporated a lot more acoustic instruments and percussion than I have done previously. Everything is played by me but it was all recorded in real time, no samplings, no 'spinnings in'. I used 'proper' instruments, bongos, marracas, tambourines, guitar, harmonica, piano, and all the vocals were also overdubbed in real time as well. This meant that each track took a long time to do, and in total the album has taken me over a year to record. The songs are written from an observer's or an objective point of view, rather than the personal insights and experiences which Navigate Home was made up of. So the situations in each song are told from memories or observations of things that happened to people I know or memories of events I saw or experienced years ago. Each song describes 'a tendency' of behaviour or character, hence the title. They are all like little scenarios of their own, and we are watching from 'across the road' as situations unfold.
Q. Does your new material continue to be influenced by your life experience and/or current environment?
A. I guess it has to be influenced to a degree by who I am and where I am now, or in the case of this album by my own memories. My songs all begin as I sit at the piano doodling with a riff or a tune, and the words come from my brain, so things I recall or feel are bound to seep through.
Q. You recently said that you were happier now than at any other part of your life. Is this still the case?
A. Oh yes, definitely. I feel Whole now, if that makes sense. Being creatively fulfilled again has given me a part of my life and myself back which I had missed, without realising it, for a long time.
Q. You have really embraced new technology. How important is it to you and where do you see it taking you in the future?
A. I only use new technology where I think it will improve what I do. I would never want to use loads of samples or digital techniques like the dreaded vocal autotuner you hear on so many pop records now. I still like things to sound real and human. So if I'm putting down a rhythm on a track, it would never be with a drum machine or a tambourine sample set to a click track. I would play it in real time, and overdub it in real time, so any slight tempo alterations which occur stay, and that all goes to make a recording sound grounded and true. Not perfect, but I love imperfections. 'Happy Accidents' are things of beauty!
Q. Is the CD on its way out as more and more people turn to downloading?
A. Not an easy question to answer. People said vinyl would completely die out when the CD came in but there are still music buyers who prefer LPs and enjoy the process of putting the stylus on the record, preferring the actual sound of vinyl as well. Certainly most young music buyers are more into downloading and streaming than buying physical CDs but there is still an older generation that likes to sit with a CD booklet, reading the lyrics as they listen to an album. I think watch this space on that one, Peter. Let's review that in 20 years' time!
Q. You seem to be totally at home speaking to your fans through e-mail, Facebook, YouTube etc. How important are these mediums to you?
A. They have completely revolutionised how an artist can communicate with his or her fans. The internet has given us a much greater control over our music and how it's sold. When 'Kid In A Big World' was first released in 1975 I had to rely on what my record company told me in terms of how it was selling and where, and usually got very little info at all, and I only saw a music magazine review if it was pointed out to me. Now, you just Google any of my releases and there are pages of information about each one, where you can buy it, who has reviewed it, what people think of it. My online label www.awal.com provide all their artists with a day-to-day rundown of every download each track has had, where, how many and from which album. If only I'd had that kind of input and output when I was phoning staff at CBS for updates and sales figures in the '70s! I am now getting some of my tracks up on YouTube, currently 'Be Not So Fearful 'and 'The Dilemma Of The Homosapien' are on there with more to follow next year, and while I resisted Facebook for a long time, thinking it was akin to the tedious Twitter (which I am not interested in at all) I have found it a great tool for getting my music across to a global audience, and have made a lot of new fans on there who have become online friends as well. I enjoy chatting to people on Facebook and like the interactivitiy of it, how you can put in your two penn'th on sites like Blog On the Tracks, for example. Sharing music with other musicians on My Space and Facebook as well is a joy. But like any of these things, one has to be selective and not obsessive. It should never rule your life and become a replacement for one-to-one human contact.
Q. What do you think of manufactured music shows such as X Factor?
A. Don't get me started! Oh, go on then! X Factor has one goal, and that is to make one man very rich and very famous for doing very little except exploiting young kids who dream of fame, instant fame, not fame they've worked years for, dangling before their wide-eyed wondrous faces the promise of riches and seeing themselves on every tabloid cover. For a short time, anyway. It's wrong that a major TV station gives so much airtime simply to promote and make a lot of money for one record label for the reward of higher ratings. How can that be right? I believe this year's winner has been around for quite a long time, and so he probably deserved to win (I didn't see it, I avoid the show like the plague). But so was Steve Brookstein (remember him??) and what's happened to him? It's very strange that last year's winner only releases their second single almost 12 months since their first heavily promoted release along with an album which sneaks out with very little media activity just a couple of weeks before the new series of X Factor begins. This of course results in their single and album being buried under all the pre-new-series media hype, and so ridding the label of any need to resign the artist for any more releases. As a friend of mine said, for every Leona Lewis there are four Leon Jacksons. I despise X Factor and everything it stands for. There's a song on my new album called 'Tales & Fabrications' which covers this very subject. So thanks for the unintended plug, Peter!