Restless after new wave

"What we're doing now is more from the heart, not an exercise in nostalgia."

joe jackson 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
joe jackson 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Joe Jackson sounds excited. Despite a 30-year career that has seen him careen from new wave songwriter extraordinaire to world music aficionado to classical composer and soundtrack scorer, the British singer-songwriter has found something new to do. He's composing a Broadway show. "I've been working on collaborating with a writer and director over the last two or three years," he told The Jerusalem Post in a phone interview from Paris where he was performing. "It's a play telling the untold story of how Brams Stoker created Dracula. It's really cool." "People had been telling me for years to work in the theater, he explained, but I had never found the right collaborator. We're in the money-raising stage now." For Jackson, who's performing in Tel Aviv on Monday at Zappa and Tuesday at Hangar 11, the challenge of composing for Broadway is just another of many achievements the accomplished Grammy-nominated artist has undertaken. But it always seems to come back to classic pop songs, as exemplified by his new CD Rain, featuring Graham Maby and Dave Houghton, the bassist and drummer of his 1970-80s career highlight albums. "I was trying to make something timeless and indestructible, songs so strong that you could play them with just piano and they would still work. It's something I've been interested in the last few years, and I don't know why. Perhaps because in the '90s, I did some ambitious projects and maybe this is a reaction to them," he says. "I'm trying to make my songwriting better than before, and I think I've succeeded. I've gotten way better as a lyricist. I wanted to make a record that could have been played 20 years ago, or 20 years from now, and it would still have the same impact." The collaboration with Maby and Houghton is a continuation of the reunion of The Joe Jackson Band (also with guitarists Gary Sanford) which took place in 2003 and resulted in an album - The Joe Jackson Band, Volume 4. But Jackson says there's a world of difference between the goals then and those of the current album and tour. "Then, it was an exercise in nostalgia - as a one off. I've never been nostalgic, have never looked back. But it occurred to me it might be interesting to try nostalgia as a new adventure, ironically enough. It had a retro flavor to it, and it was really fun," he said. "I'm now using the same drummer and bass player, but it's not The Joe Jackson Band. We're not using the guitar player and the piano is featured much more prominently. The whole approach is different. What we're doing now is more from the heart, not an exercise in nostalgia." While Jackson shies away from sentimentality, he said that the punk/new wave explosion of the late '70s holds a special place for him, and he didn't think the feeling of something original and exciting in music had been recreated since. "I thought that hip hop in its early days was quite interesting, but it hasn't been for a long time. It's time for it to die. I'm sick of it. Some of the electronic dance music, and drum&bass experiments were also pretty interesting. Otherwise, there have only been retro mini-explosions, young bands coming out that remind me of the late-70s bands," he said. Jackson himself left most of his new wave influence behind following his initial success with albums like Look Sharp and I'm the Man. His musical restlessness found him tackling ska and reggae on Beat Crazy and swing and blues on Joe Jackson's Jumping Jive, as well as jazz and Latin inflections on his 1982 blockbuster Night & Day. Over the next two decades, Jackson diverged even more, concentrating on movie soundtracks, classical compositions and loftier themes than three-minute pop songs. "I guess I hit a wall somewhere, I think it was one big world tour too many," he laughs." When I made [1994's] Night Music, I wanted it to be gentle and dreamlike, not aggressive, in your face rock and roll, and I think it was misunderstood," he said. "Around that time, a lot of people lost interest in me. But that happens no matter what you do. If I had replicated Look Sharp for 25 years, I still would have been slagged off." However, with the sterling reviews for Rain which signifies a lean, mean return to his spiky pop writing style, Jackson's muse appears to be working in full swing.