By Alli Denning
December 12, 2012
It was our extreme pleasure to talk with Jack Hues of Wang Chung yesterday, on the day of the release of their new album, Tazer Up. Wang Chung hit the 80s music scene in the mid-80s with Top 40 hits, including ‘Everybody Have Fun Tonight,’ ‘Dance Hall Days,’ and ‘Let’s Go.’ We discuss the new album, what it means to ‘Wang Chung’, shoulder pads, and what accounts for the lasting appeal of 80s music.
LT80s: We posted a question to our readers and asked them to submit questions and comments for you in anticipation of the interview. We received a lot along the lines of this one, I’ll just read it.
“Pass on my thanks for the great tunes they’ve put out over the years. Many years later, I still love listening and dancing to them.”
What does it mean to you that 30-plus years after you started making music you still have that kind of impact on people?
Jack: It’s very important and gratifying. As an artist, I think that sort of communication is probably the most important thing, really. The fact that the communication lasts over time is just fantastic.
I know people, when they’re looking at music, they think about a career or making money out of it. Making money out of it is great, but I think most musicians do it for precisely what we’re talking about; this connection with people and the fact that it’s going to last in their lives and mean something to them.
LT80s: Today is a huge day for you. Your new album, Tazer Up, releases today. What can long-term fans expect from it?
Jack: I think what we did when we sat down and talked about this album is that we wanted to make an album that has an 80s aesthetic to it, if you like. What does that mean? It’s like the 80s when we had drum machines, synths, electric guitars, and obviously vocals, but we didn’t have drum loops or samplers and all the kind of post hip-hop stuff that goes on, so we tried to stay away from that stuff when we were making the album. We were trying to stick to that 80s aesthetic of using the drum machines and stand away from the sampling and looping. We do that most of the time, however, there’s a couple of places where we cheat. We always cheat.
LT80s: Where did you cheat?
Jack: There’s a song called “Driving You”, and that has a drum loop that’s sort of underpins a lot of the song. In other ways, that’s very 80s, because the way the bass works, and stuff. That’s probably one of the more 80s sounding tracks.
LT80s: I really love “Rent Free.” That’s such a great song, and it seems to be the perfect combination between the new wave sound and something very fresh.
Jack: Great. I’m glad you hear it that way. That was a song that connects with a lot of people. We’ve been playing it live a fair amount the last couple of years, and “Rent Free” is a song that we play that always goes down as good as the old stuff, really.
LT80s: That does not surprise me at all. Tell me about the writing of that song.
Jack: Nick and I, when we write, we usually write separately and then we collaborate on the finish of things. “Rent Free” is one of Nick’s songs, and I think he’s writing autobiographically as usual.
LT80s: I wondered if there was a story there.
Jack: Yes, I think there’s a story.
LT80s: We’ll have to let Nick tell that separately. As a part of the new album, will you be touring the US?
Jack: That’s the plan. Realistically, that’s going to be in the summer of 2013, because it’s no fun touring when it’s snowing. We’d love to be touring the US pretty extensively this coming year, in 2013. Keep your eyes on WangChung.com.
LT80s: One of the recurring questions that we got from readers is probably the question that every single person asks you in any interview ever so we’re going to take a slightly different tact.
Instead of asking you what Wang Chung means, I’ll narrow it in a bit and say — when it’s a verb, what does it mean to do? Is it a specific action, or is it a state of mind?
Jack: A lovely question. When we chose the name, I think we were probably being mysterious, enigmatic, or something. I don’t think we were terribly clear about what it means. It’s like asking, “What does the G major chord mean?” It’s just a G major chord.
I think over the years, especially with “Everybody Wang Chung Tonight”, people have grown with it and made it their own … the fact that it means all these different things to all these different people; I love that. I’m keen that whatever it means to you is just fine with me.
LT80s: What does it mean to you, though?
Jack: What does it mean to me? Oh, God. Wang Chung is … I guess it’s my pathway to a new life; a pathway to my life in a way. I can’t tie it down. I think that one of the things that a couple of people said about the new album is … one guy said to me, “Dang, this new album is all over the place.” I said, “All over the place is one way of looking at it, but eclectic is another way.”
I think we do hop from one genre to another on this album. There are lights, electric pop, some quite hard rock, some piano ballad, and all kinds of different stuff.
I like to think that the Wang Chung sound connects it all together, but I think when I was growing up listening to music, that’s what albums were. There was a little variety on them. Bands had their sound, and they had a go at all kinds of different stuff; the Beatles being the obvious example. With Sgt. Pepper having “Within You Without You”, “When I’m Sixty-Four”, “A Day in the Life”, and “Lucy in the Sky”; those songs on paper really don’t fit together, but when the Beatles are doing it, then it does.
So this whole modern way of thinking and defining bands by genre, is to me really looking at the wrong end of the telescope if you know what I mean. I think that’s much more to do with how you sell bands, rather than how bands actually operate as artistic entities.
All this is a very long-winded way of saying that Wang Chung is all about eclecticism, follow your bliss, and be what you want to be. That’s what Wang Chung means to me.
LT80s: I read somewhere that you wrote “Dance Hall Days” in about 30 minutes when someone didn’t show up for their music lesson. Is that right?
Jack: That’s kind of right, yeah. I certainly got the basic ideas, the “take your baby by the hand” and the chord sequence. That all came during that 20-minute guitar lesson when this kid was supposed to be there but didn’t. I should probably thank him very much.
LT80s: That was going to be my next question; does this guy have any idea?
Jack: I’m sure he doesn’t. It’s probably just as well, actually, otherwise he’d be claiming the royalties.
LT80s: Are there any plans to remaster or expand editions of your albums from the 80s, Mosaic, for example?
Jack: I would love for that to happen. In a way, that would be the ultimate achievement of doing the new stuff. It would be just to focus our fan base and be able to talk to Geffen who still owns those masters, about doing proper reissues.
Also, Nick and I have been through a whole load of tracks that were never released at the time. There are some demos and finished tracks, and they were great to do … either spread those demos across the album remasterings, or do a separate release of all the stuff that never came out back in the 80s.
LT80s: You are a classically trained musician. What impact do you think that’s had on the pop music that you’ve made over the years?
Jack: Again, it’s back to the genre thing in a way. For me, there’s just music. There’s the classical thing; that’s had a big impact on me. What I think it gives me, really, is the ability to stay in music with an objective ear.
I think some musicians; they can do the one thing that they can do. Maybe they do it really well, but they’re trapped in that. I think maybe that trained eye to music which enabled me to range over the pop music stuff, but also I have a jazz project as well. When I say “jazz”, it’s more like Miles Davis, meets Soft Machine.
LT80s: What do you think accounts for the enduring appeal of the 80s? We’re well in the middle of an 80s revival. What do you think is the lasting appeal of the 80s, musically and culturally?
Jack: I think the interest of the time when bands were really trying to write great songs. Especially with the emerging technology of drum machines, synths, and computers – that it would be possible to write a perfect pop song and make the perfect record, which was of course, utterly deluded thinking.
I think it just means that people have this all very respectful attitude to the craft of songwriting. When you think back to some of the U2 songs, to the Elvis Costello songs, and writers like Scritti Politti … and stuff, they made some serious music and really beautiful songs.
I think the quality thing appeals to people, but I think also the music we grow up with remains with you in a powerful kind of way. I grew up listening to the Beatles. I’ve just got all the Beatles albums on vinyl, they’ve just been released, so I bought them yet again. That music is so important to me.
Maybe every time you get 20 years from a kind of cultural revolution, then the revival kicks in after about 20 years.
When you’re talking about the actual content of the music, the cultural content, there may be … yeah, I think the music of the 60s, 70s, 80s, was crucial in defining what pop culture was.
I think by the ‘90s, you’re already in a slightly retro kind of phase, and certainly in the ‘00s. I think it’s become … I don’t want to bite the hand that feeds me, but I’d say that it is too consumer oriented, and not enough freedom is given to the artist to just do what they want to do and lead it. You’ve got to give freedom to the artist, I think.
LT80s: How do you feel about the way that the music industry has changed; buying songs for $0.99, or not paying for them at all, and how that’s affected creativity?
Jack: I think when it comes to pure creativity, I think the artist that are writing the songs, they’ll just write them anyway. Certainly, the attitude that you just share everything, I think that’s very cool that you want to put everything out there.
In the 70s and 80s, when the record companies ran everything, it was all very locked down and shut down. You couldn’t put anything out until it was ready. That still affects my approach to things in not a very helpful way I think.
The more modern thing is, you’ve done a track, you record it, and you put it out straight away. That’s helping them.
I think there was a sort of cultural cutting edge in the 70s and 80s, possibly the 60s as well. I think that’s lost when the orientation is around, “What do people want?” because people don’t know what they want. I say it’s like, “What do people need?” That’s what they need, is music. That doesn’t necessarily come from the way that things are organized at the moment, where it’s all just a click away.
LT80s: For you personally, thinking about the 80s, what did you like most about the 80s?
Jack: What did I like about the 80s? Shoulder pads. It was an exciting time. When you’re inside it, I think you don’t quite see it perhaps as other people see it. As an artist, I guess I am a bit into insular, but these days, I don’t really watch TV and stuff.
I like to feel I’m in touch with music, because I teach at the university in Canterbury where I live, so the students always bring me their songs and playing new artists. I keep in touch with all of that stuff.
I think even in the 80s, I was just doing my own thing all the time. I’m just avoiding your question, aren’t I? Shoulder pads is probably the best answer, isn’t it?
LT80s: Do you ever get tired of playing your hits? Some 80s bands, who I’ll leave nameless, actually refuse to play them now live. How do you feel about that?
Jack: I think because we were away for so long—Nick and I split around 1990, and we really didn’t gig at all until about 2008 or 2009. I remember standing … we were doing a gig in Milwaukee, actually, Summerfest, and we played our set.
I think the ultimate song was “Dance Hall Days”. It’s probably a few thousand people, but I could see that this tent that we were playing in was really filling up as we played. By the end, there were a lot of people in there, and they all went crazy when we finished up. We kept thinking, This is what people would literally give their right arm for — this immediate feedback from the audience, this love, if you like. I’m more than happy to play “Dance Hall Days” and “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” for two people or ten thousand people; I’m always happy to play it.
LT80s: Aside from music, what else are you up to? What do you like to do? What does your non-Wang Chung life look like?
Jack: I have three children. They’re not children anymore, they’re all grown up. Two of them are actors, and one of them is a restaurant manager. I love hanging out with them. They all live in London, so going up to London then is just bliss. Harry always knows the great restaurants to go to and can get us a table, and Jack and Violet are always doing interesting things.
I have this jazz project. I have a band called The Quartet based mainly in London and Canterbury. I’ve done a couple of albums with that band in the last few years with my dear friend Chris Hughes, actually. Chris is producing these crazy jazz records as well. I love doing that.
Like I said, I teach song writing here at the university in Canterbury, and I love doing that as well. It’s a real nice feeling being able to give something back, actually, because music has given so much to me. It’s nice to try and help people without the commercial pressures there, if you like; you can just help them with their writing and expression. It’s interesting to see what they go on and do.
LT80s: Have you had any students that have gone on to do music that I might have heard of?
Jack: There’s a band call Syd Arthur. They’re based in Canterbury, and I taught two of the guys in that band. They’re doing well, actually. They’ve put an album out this year, which has had great reviews in the British music press. They’re trying to do South by Southwest, so I’m hoping you guys in the States will get to hear them.
LT80s: I love the new album, and I am very much looking forward to your coming back to the States this summer. I will be there.
Jack: Great. I really appreciate your enthusiasm. I can hear it in your voice, which is great. Thanks for the interview.
Connect with Wang Chung:
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/wangchungband
- Official Site: www.wangchung.com
- Twitter: twitter.com/wangchungband
- YouTube: www.youtube.com/user/WangChungTheBand