Music preview: Joe Jackson is in vintage form on 'Fast Forward'
October 22, 2015 12:00 AM
By Scott Mervis / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Joe Jackson first hit the scene as a rocker in the British New Wave, but over the years the academy-trained musician has jumped around the musical landscape, venturing into elegant piano pop, jump blues, jazz and classical, likely picking up new fans and losing others along the way.
His latest album, the sprawling, 16-track “Fast Forward,” finds him in the pop-rock mode that made him popular while also continuing to explore, musically — and geographically. It was recorded in sessions divided evenly among New York, Berlin, New Orleans and Amsterdam with, in some cases, songs that relate to that city or reflect on its musical heritage.
Where: Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall, Munhall.
When: 8 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets: $39.50-$55; www.ticketfly.com.
In New York, he rips through Television’s “See No Evil” with guitarist Bill Frisell and drummer Brian Blade (one of two covers on the record), and addresses the ups and downs of fame in “King of the City.” In NOLA, he gets a little funkier with members of Galactic. The Berlin session brings an angry rocker about political division and a specific act of terror, “If I Could See Your Face,” along with German cabaret song “Good Bye Jonny,” while the four songs from Amsterdam are a bit less site-specific.
He considered doing them as four EPs, but at the end of the day, they were packaged together as one long record that he believes stands with the best of his work. You could certainly slip a number of these songs onto a best-of compilation without anyone blinking an eye.
When he plays the Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall on Sunday, the 61-year-old piano rocker will play a handful of the songs, along with favorites like “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” and “Steppin’ Out” backed by longtime bassist Graham Maby, guitarist Teddy Kumpel and drummer Doug Yowell.
Earlier this week, he talked about “Fast Forward” and also looked back.
I was just reading the music blogs you write on your website. I rarely encounter artists from your generation who keep up so much with what is happening.
I guess I just still have a passion for music. But I have to say, I don’t think I’m keeping now as much as I was in the ’90s. I think that is because there’s not a lot of interesting things happening. Or not as much. I don’t think it’s just because of age. In the year and half I’ve been writing it, I haven’t talked about many new albums. I’ve talked about early jazz from the late ’20s, Latin music from the ’80s. My taste in music is very broad. It’s always hard to answer the question, ‘Is there anything new that I’m listening to that I like?’ And I think by new they mean newly released, but if I discover something, I don’t really care when it came out or whether it’s cool or not.
Some musicians will say they don’t pay much attention to what other artists are doing. It doesn’t seem to affect you much in terms of influence. Like jumping on trends.
I think it did early on. My first couple of albums were definitely influenced by what was going on in London in the late ’70s. But I think after that, I wasn’t much influenced by what my peers were doing.
On your Wiki page, the first genre listed for you is punk. Did you see yourself that way when you started?
Nah, I was overqualified to be a punk. I had already been to the Royal Academy of Music when punk happened. Whoops.
Did you feel like you were rebelling against anything musically?
In some ways, yeah, I think I was rebelling against the contemporary classical music scene that I experienced at the Royal Academy, as a composition student. It didn’t take me long to come to the conclusion that these people are so far up their [behinds] that I didn’t want to follow them.
Did you foresee being able to explore so many different genres and styles over your career?
I don’t know. I don’t know really what I was thinking. I don’t think I really look too far ahead. The way I work is very intuitive. I never think, ‘Now, I’m going to do so and so for such and such a reason.” It’s not planned or contrived.
You have a line on your blog “Old rockers never die, they just get less media coverage.” Do you worry making an album that it will just disappear?
Oh, that’s what I expect. So, anything else that happens is a bonus. I’ve pretty much been resigned to that for a while now. I really could make the best album I’ve ever made, and there would be much less interest than when I was 25. And it happens to everyone. There are a few exceptions to the rule, a few people become iconic to such an extent that there’s still interest in them into the ’60s and ’70s. People are always going to be interested in Bob Dylan or Keith Richards, but very few of us can attain that status as being an icon.
They say we’re out of the album age, and you’ve made a very long one. ... You’re trusting listeners to be patient getting through it?
Well, it was meant to be four EPs, so it got put together as an album. I think it is quite clearly in four parts. The vinyl version, which I just got copies of, finally, is great because you get one on each side, so it works very well on vinyl. How many people give a damn? I don’t know.
How did you decide to make it one album, and were you concerned about it not blending?
I think it holds together. I don’t think there are huge differences between the four different sessions. There are different musicians and they give it a slightly different flavor. I think that’s especially true with the New Orleans guys, but they’re all my songs, and they’re all my voice, and the same guy mixed it all. It’s very diverse, but I think those elements hold it together. I envisioned it coming out as a series of EPs one at a time. It just went through a series of changes. No one involved in the project wanted to do that. Up until the last minute, we were going to do it as a double CD, break it up a little bit, but as soon as everyone figured out it was able to fit on one CD, no one wanted to do that. So, I just kind of gave in. It doesn't really matter in the end. It’s all out there, people can listen to it any way they want.
How did you decide what to record where?
In some cases, it was obvious. “King of the City” was a New York song. “If I Could See Your Face” was a Berlin story. And “Good Bye Jonny” was a German song. “Neon Rain,” I was thinking of New Orleans when I wrote it. But quite a lot of the songs could have been done anywhere. It was a question of dividing them up the best I could in terms of what musicians I thought would be the best to play those songs, and just to make a good program for each EP.
Obviously, the Television cover belonged in New York. What made you decide to do it?
It was actually my manager who suggested I do a song in each city that related to that city. And I thought about that for a while, and I already had “Good Bye Jonny.” I couldn’t think of a song that related to Amsterdam besides the one by Jacques Brel that David Bowie covered already. In the case of New York and New Orleans, there were too many, and it just seemed cheesy the more I thought about it to record in New York and do a version of “On Broadway” or do “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans,” or something. So I rejected that idea and then I thought, what about something by a classic New York band? And I put the first Television album on and I had already signed up Brian Blade and Bill Frisell, and I had the idea for a slightly different groove, and I thought they’d be great for it.
Did you have a fascination for that New York scene from across the Atlantic?
Oh definitely. I was really into Television and Talking Heads and The Ramones. I was dying to go to New York.
Tell me about the song “Junkie Diva.” Is that about Amy Winehouse?
Ha! Everybody thinks it’s about Amy [expletive] Winehouse! Well, OK. Firstly, it’s not about a specific person, it’s more about the obsessive fan than about the diva. It’s more about the way that people project what they want to see on certain figures, and the way that they live things vicariously through their heroes or idols, and they want to go places where they can’t go themselves, literally or figuratively. But that’s really what the song is about, and as far as who the diva is, when I was writing it, I was thinking about Billie Holiday. It’s pretty amazing to me that people think it’s about Amy Winehouse. We played in Denver recently, and I happened to pick up a local free paper, and there was a preview of the show in there, and it stated as a categorical fact that it was about Amy Winehouse. It’s all about the fan, not really about the star.
Your voice doesn’t sound any different than it did 30, almost 40 years ago. How have you maintained it?
I guess what I don’t understand is why people don’t sing as well as they did. There are a couple of things: One is that I don’t sing very much. I really only sing if I’m recording or touring. Another thing is that I figured out early on that I needed to learn some kind of technique so that I don’t blow out my voice, and I’m very conscientious about that. I haven’t ruined by voice by shouting and using it badly, so I think it’s just being smart with it, and I think I’m a better singer now than I was on the early records.
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg.
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