Like Totally 80s Interview with Jack Hues
of Wang Chung
By Alli Denning
December 12, 2012
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.
Today is a huge day for you. Your new album,
Tazer Up, releases today. What can long-term fans expect from
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
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
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
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.
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
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,
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
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.
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?
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
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
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
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
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.
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