I’ve only recently been introduced to the music of Jason How (cheers Joe Whyte). I’m so glad I am no longer a stranger to his music. Jason is a prolific songwriter, releasing an album per year over the last 4 years.
It would be difficult to pin Jason down to a specific music genre or style as there is a great variety of influences across the albums. His influences are apparent in the music, US West Coast psychedelia standing out, but also with the influence of 70’s punk/power pop and 80s indie.
Certain elements come together and bring to mind different bands and/or singers. Sometimes the combined elements together sound like Buzzcocks, others reminiscent of purveyors of perfect Punk/Power Pop, Duncan Reid and the Big Heads. It all depends on what album and what track you are listening to.
One thing is for certain. They all have big tunes, are hook laden, lyrically clever and sometimes eccentric and cover a wide array of subjects.
Suffice to say the fruits of Jason’s labours are eminently listenable.
Who is Jason How?
For anyone else to whom this might be an introduction to Jason and his music, I asked him to give me a bit of background on who he is:
Well my father started Rotosound Music Strings in the 1960’s and I have been Chairman since 1996.
As you say I have been around music all my life and never really been that good a guitarist so I thought I would try writing songs which I really enjoy and seems to come fairly easily to me.
I play guitar, bass, keys and vocals.
My real trade is in engineering I have designed and built most of the new string winding machines at Rotosound over the last 20 years. Following on from when my father died in 1994.
Passionate about keeping the manufacturing in the UK!
….all about the strings!
When did you first start playing music? With the Rotosound connections you obviously have been brought up close to music:
Started listening to music from an early age, my dad used to bring home all the albums by the bands Rotosound were dealing with in the 70’ s. From bands like ELO, Queen, The Jam, Wreckless Eric etc. Quite an eclectic mix.
That eclectic mix is something that has obviously influenced Jason’s own music. Jason has his own distinctive sound but you can also hear a variety of influences within the albums.
What instrument did you start playing? What was the first song/tune you played?
Started playing the guitar when I was 15. I remember that ‘A Legal Matter’ by The Who was the first guitar riff I learnt LOL! I remember picking out the guitar riff on “A Legal Matter by the Who as my brother had just lent me “Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy”, the early Who compilation.
I had an old Aria acoustic guitar, started writing tunes on my dad’s old Wurlitzer organ, just sort of instrumental things. Then started writing tunes on the guitar and finally adding lyrics.
My mate Jim Bishop and myself wrote a tune called ‘Lost my words in the mountains’ when we were about 16, then we formed a band called Wicked Cooker (terrible name) and wrote a lot of weird stuff with song titles like ‘Stop eating your chocolate biscuits’ and ‘Soapsuds in my binoculars’
Bootlegs are available for your further listening pleasure……
That would be an interesting listen I’m sure.
The Music of Jason How
Where do you get your musical inspiration to write from?
I love the late 60’s psychedelic scene from the West coast in the US, bands like The 13th Floor Elevators, Chocolate Watch Band and The Strawberry Alarm Clock. The Doors obviously.
Also the 70’s punk scene I love and a lot of underground Indie from the 80’s especially a lot of the Glasgow bands like The Close Lobsters, The Vaselines (etc) and others like The Church, House of Love and Robyn Hitchcock!
Lucky enough with my job to know some of these guys like The Stranglers, Wreckless Eric, Bruce Foxton etc….
As I said earlier, musically I can hear that range of styles/influences across the albums & just from the initial listen to “The Eve of Oban” I can see some obvious targets in your lyrics – corporate suits, political /government themes. What else inspires the themes of your lyrics?
Of late the political is as you say an easy target so I really write exactly what I think.
I do try and add in some English whimsy and create some kind of mood with the music and lyrics. Eve of Oban was a stripped down lo-fi affair that could have been done in mono for a bit of fun!
I think running the business gets you thinking with regards to politics etc…. you try and see it from both sides but is quite difficult sometimes!
You’ve released 4 albums to date. The Tall English Sun (2014), Speedboat on a Magic Sea (2015) & The Eve of Oban (2016) and the latest Viscount Spoon Plays Sounds from the Cheeky Warm (2017). What is next on the horizon for you?
Had a bit of a hiatus this year (2017) as I feel like I have gone all out over the last 5 years so have just tried to empty my head and get back into it in 2018.
Still trying to work out the next vibe for the next album. I have a lot of older songs knocking around but I hate going back to them. Would rather write new material if possible…….
I believe you pretty much play all the instruments on the albums – any thoughts of getting a band together and taking the songs out on the road?
Would love to do that at some stage I think it would only happen if the right group of people came together naturally. They would have to be into the music etc…
Doing the music alone is a double edged sword, you can do as you please but then there’s nobody to bounce ideas off and keep the quality control at the highest level.
There you go, if the right group of people are out there…
Who are you listening to personally at the moment? Any recommendations?
Sad to say I’m still listening to all my old favourites although I am having a bit of a completist moment with Van Morrison right now…. “Astral Weeks” such a classic!
Also most of my fave artists are on the website! (Read about Jason’s favourite artists on his website http://www.jasonhow.com/)
Not sad at all, I often listen to my “old favourites”. Don’t get me on completist. I’m no-where near as bad now but back in the 80’s when the record companies released a 7”, 12”, 2 CD singles and maybe even a cassette single, all with different b-sides, mugs like me had to buy them all.
Thanks to Jason for taking the time out of a busy schedule to answer the questions.
As I alluded to earlier, Jason’s albums are a joy to listen to and bring a smile to my face when listening in the car on some miserable drives to and from work.
The sunny psychedelic influences of 60’s West Coast US bands is most apparent on debut “The Tall English Sun” (also featuring Keith More and Martin Johnson) with beautiful harmonies, tambourines and song titles like “Summer in Eden”, “April Rained Forever” & Viaducts of Your Dreams” reflecting this too.
The whimsy Jason mentioned earlier is also apparent and there is a certain eccentricity to many of the songs and lyrics across all the albums adding to the appeal.
“Speedboat on a Magic Sea” continues in a similar vein where “The Tall English Sun” left off, complementing its harmonious psychedelic influences with three minute melodic power pop/punk – such as “Sunset in Deutsche Town” with the political comment starting to come to the fore in some tracks.
Songs like “Run like Falling Stars” are stand-outs with a rich acoustic intro building into a beautiful song with warm fuzzy melodious guitars and elongated outro.
Many of Jason’s songs across his output hark back to days gone by. “Looking Glass of Time” is, unsurprisingly based on the title, one of those, referencing 1969 and lunar moon landings, and spending days riding bikes and climbing trees.
Can Jason predict the future? “If I Could be President” could have been written by Trump, but with a great deal more intelligence and flair. With lyrics like “everybody’s gonna know who I am, everybody’s gonna hate what I am”, “I’d change the rules of the game” and “I’d gas all the scum, you’d be on the run” and a post punk feel, like a cross between Teardrop Explodes and Wire with its keyboards and angular sound.
Album three, “The Eve of Oban” has a melodic late 70’s punk feel a la Buzzcocks on tracks like album opener “Tricked by the Blink of an Eye” (a brilliant opening to the album with its catchy refrain) and “Decoy”.
The political and corporate lyrical influences add an edge to some songs – “F**k the Government”, “Can You Feel the Benefit” and “C**ts in Suits”- while still maintaining the stirring feel of the music and injecting a bit of humour to lighten the mood.
As I indicated, one of the key proponents of power pop/pop punk in recent years has been “Duncan Reid and the Big Heads” mastering their sound over 3 albums to date. Jason’s intonation from time to time is similar to that of Duncan and this adds to the comparison. The exuberant sound of both bands is a pleasure to listen to.
“Viscount Spoon Plays Sounds from the Cheeky Warm” is his latest album and sees a return to the more psychedelic and eccentric element of his repertoire, maintaining the power pop/pop punk leanings. Jason is in reflective mood on this album with the subjects for many of the songs harking back to the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.
“Records from the Past” makes me want to do exactly what he says in the song “I just want to spend my Sunday afternoons, listening to records from the past”. It sounds like a perfect Sunday. Throughout the song there are references to a variety of the bands Jason has liked over the years from 60’s (Velvet Underground), to the 80s (The Smiths via House of Love). While slow burner “Badge Boy” builds into a melodic 60’s treat to the eardrums.
On “I Used to Think I was Mr Benn” Jason evokes memories of childhood and the aforementioned cartoon character. Anyone who reflects back now on Mr Benn will recognise the certain psychedelic element to the cartoon. Straight-laced Mr Benn in suit and bowler hat visiting a shop where “as if by magic the shopkeeper appeared” and provided him with an outfit and a magic door taking him on a variety of adventures related to said costume. Remarkable cartoon and striking song.
Linking back to 1985 again as he did on “Records from the Past”, Jason is in contemplative mood again on, funnily enough, the brooding melancholic acoustic number that is “Back in 1985” when “all of the colours were alive”. The iconic “girl with the elegant curls” gets her own tribute on “Oh! Diana Dors” summarising her sometimes tragic rollercoaster life in four minutes of brilliance.
Final track on the album is a strangely (based on its subject matter) uplifting song “3 Day Week” about the winter of discontent. The song has a jangly guitar intro which wouldn’t have sounded out of place in the indie discos I used to attend back in the 80’s.
All told, four albums of pure pop genius. I look forward to album number 5 Mr How.
Explore for Yourself
…. All about my music! http://www.jasonhow.com/
New post Brexit demo here….
Albums available on iTunes.
“Viscount Spoon…” is available on CD and also up on Reverbnation.