Kanye West may be best known for saying and doing remarkably stupid things. But he also has made some undeniably great music. When anyone questions me on that point, I always refer them to the album that I consider his best, his sad but elegantly beautiful 2008 effort, 808s & Heartbreak.
Remember Jones will perform “Love Lockdown,” “Heartless” and all the other 808s & Heartbreak songs with a 25-piece band, after a set of his own music, at upcoming shows in Asbury Park and Brooklyn.
Jones says he’s not sure if he shares the opinion that 808s & Heartbreak is West’s best album. “But I consider it my favorite,” he said. “It’s an emotional album, and there’s some singing on it, that drew me in a little more than, sometimes, the rhymes.
“For some reason, I really latched onto 808s & Heartbreak when it came out, and I’ve always envisioned myself doing that album with, like, an orchestral band.”
One almost wishes that people could go to this show without all the baggage that comes with West being the outrageous — and sometimes seriously misguided — provocateur that he is.
“Obviously, that’s the thing now that, unfortunately, I’m dealing with,” says Jones. “There are so many people who don’t really know the entire catalog, and never really even wanted to dive into it, because they had an opinion of him. That’s fine. But there are so many artists in our lives who have been controversial, in the things they said and did, but wrote some incredible things, or created some incredible work.
“You know, the first time I heard (West’s 2004 debut album) The College Dropout, I thought it was amazing. Even then, he was saying the craziest things. But I really wanted to follow him. And then 808s & Heartbreak came out, and he made it very clear that this was a passion project for him. It was based on his mother passing, and him being broken up in a relationship. This was a really raw record for him, and I appreciated it.”
While Jones (né Anthony D’Amato) has not done 808s & Heartbreak before his current tour, he has a good track record in this area, having developed well-received shows devoted to Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black and Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen, in their entirety.
Jones says the main difference between this project and those is that “we’re trying to take what happened on an almost entirely electronic record, and make it live. So I’m dealing with a lot of challenges that I’ve never had before, including some of the rhymes, and some of the rhythms of the raps. And then, I’m also vocal processing for the first time, so that is another instrument for me …
“I’m a singer, so I don’t necessarily need that much Auto-Tune. So to actually get some of Auto-Tuning through, the way it needs to sound … I almost need to be not as good as a vocalist, which is interesting.”
As with all of Remember Jones’ cover projects, the idea isn’t really to reproduce the original work, but to transform it into something new.
“There are some really great songs there that, with a live band, can turn into something else,” Jones says. “I definitely understand how this might turn off some people who are fans of what we generally do, but if they come to the show, I think they’re going to be surprised at how well it fits in, live, with everything else.”
Looking ahead to July … Remember Jones’ gig opening for Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes is a full-band followup to the “piano serenade set” (featuring just him and keyboardist Mark Masefield) they did for Southside at the Stone Pony in February. “The similarities we have (with Southside and the Jukes) are a good vibe, and a big band,” says Jones. “But I definitely think we bring a lot of different things to the table, and it’s going to work really well together.”
Also coming up: Jones is putting together a ” ‘Hair’ in Concert” show, in celebration of the groundbreaking musical’s 50th anniversary, at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal, Aug. 15-16 and 18-19.
“There are a few things I can’t announce just yet,” he says, “but we’ll have a great cast, and a lot of guests, and the band is going to be playing the show, which is super-exciting, too. It will be a concert presentation, but we will tell the story, and we will have roles, and things like that. I still want it to feel like a happening. I want it to be like a typical ‘Hair’ be-in. But it’s going to be a Remember Jones show, as well.”
While doing all this — and also spending much of the summer on the road, with dates from Albany, N.Y. to Salt Lake City — Remember Jones is continuing to write and record new music.
“I think we’ll see some new Remember Jones releases in 2019,” he says. “I think this year we really want to focus on being out on the road a bunch, and writing. There are a lot of different songwriters I’d like to be working with, and a lot of people who want to be involved with what we’re doing. I’d like to see that brew a little bit, and try to release something next year.”
He says he’s questioning, though, whether it’s worth releasing full albums anymore.
“I just might release the singles,” he says. “We’re trying to find the right format, like any band is, to get this stuff out there properly.”
Making albums “is so expensive,” he says. “The return … you never make it. When you’re worried about paying musicians, and paying for the production, and the distribution of it, and the promotion … it is so expensive. And people find ways to get it for free, or they go to Spotify.
“We’ll see what happens. And for all we know, there could be a new way, next year, to get this music out there that we haven’t heard yet.”
Remember Jones and a 25-piece band will perform “808s & Heartbreak” in its entirety, after a set of original music, at the Brooklyn Bowl, May 24 at 8 p.m.; and at House of Independents in Asbury Park, May 27 at 8:30 p.m. They will also open for Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes at the Stone Pony Summer Stage in Asbury Park, July 7 at 5 p.m. For more on “Hair in Concert,” visit axelrodartscenter.com.
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