Everybody Wang Chung tonight! Who would have thought people across the world would still be singing that song 20 years after its release? Even the hit’s writer, Jack Hues, can’t believe its cultural impact. Hues, a classically trained musician who grew up following in his father’s footsteps and listening to the likes of The Beatles and Cream, answered an ad in Melody Maker that transformed his life forever. He quickly found himself in league with Nick Feldman and the two formed Wang Chung. After nearly a decade of success, the two took a hiatus in pursuit of individual interests. Twenty-three years later, Wang Chung has reunited and will embark on a tour to support their new album “Tazer Up!” Steve Johnson of Icon vs Icon recently sat down with Hues to discuss his influences, his evolution as a musician, the current state of the music industry, and Wang Chung’s first full length album in over two decades “Tazer Up!”
We’d like to give readers a little background on you. When did music first come into your life?
I guess listening to The Beatles on the radio when I was really little, around 6 or 7 years old. Also seeing them on TV in the U.K. Of course I grew up in the U.K. They were a really direct inspiration. I also learned guitar because of them. My dad is a musician. He said, “You can have a guitar, but you’ve got to have proper lessons.” My dad is a jazz musician. I think he looked at the guitar as sort of a daft instrument and he probably thought the piano would be better, but he was supportive. He encouraged me to have lessons. I learned to read music. As a result of that, I’ve had this sort of side to my life where I’ve studied music. Classical music and that stuff. I guess I always saw it as a means to an end, the end being to play the guitar and be like The Beatles. [laughs]
You mentioned The Beatles. Are there other musicians or bands that influenced your career?
Loads! The most recent interests are around jazz musicians. Miles Davis is a huge influence. Thelonious Monk as a composer. After The Beatles, I got into Cream with Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. They were a massive influence. The fact that they improvised … I read an interview with Ginger Baker where he was complaining that he thought Cream were really the first jazz-rock band and I didn’t really agree with that at the time. Eventually I got where he was coming from. I was obsessed with Cream. Then I got into pop bands like Yes. By the time I was 18, I was really more into classical music. By that time the light had finally gone on for me. I really started to get into Mozart and stuff like that. Over the years I feel like I have pretty much covered the whole gambit of music with the possible exception of country and western. [laughs]
Tell us a little bit about the genesis of Wang Chung. How did the band form?
Like I said, I studied classical music. I did a degree in music at Goldsmith College in London. That’s where all of the British artists like Damien Hirst have gone. So, I came out of the university around 1976 or 1977, when punk exploded in London. That got me right back into rock music or punk music, whatever you want to call it. The freshness. The lack of inhibition. There was a sense that something really new was happening. It was a great antidote to those three or four years of studying the classical stuff. As much as I love classical stuff, it can get a little stuffy. [laughs] The punk stuff was a huge influence on me. It was through looking at bands and doing some auditions where I met Nick through a Melody Maker audition. Melody Maker was a music paper in the U.K. at that time. He put an add in the back of the paper that said musicians wanted. I applied and we got along great. He was writing songs that were punk. They had a lot of attitude in them. He was having problems with the chords and apparently I was the only guitar player who could pick up these chords. [laughs] I guess nobody else could play bar chords and stuff. [laughs]
Did you guys ever think your song “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” would have the success and cultural impact it has?
No! You can’t imagine that at the time. [laughs] I think we were doing our best to have a hit. My answer is probably a bit too long. Wang Chung sort of had a hit with “Dance Hall Days” from “Points on the Curve.” The label we were signed with, Geffen Records, wanted something more. Instead of doing that we did the “To Live and Die in L.A.” movie, which as far as they were concerned was sort of a flop because it didn’t have a number one single on it and all of that stuff. I think it’s still artistically our best work. After “To Live and Die in L.A.” we kind of had to tow the line a bit. So, “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” was our response to Geffen, kind of saying we have our number one record. We managed to pull it off on that occasion. If you said to me that we would still be talking about what wang chung means and the whole phrase would be in everybody’s lexicon in the first decade of the 21st century I would have laughed at you! [laughs]
Last month you released “Tazer Up!,” which is your first full length album in two decades. What have you and Nick been up to for all of those years in between?
When we split Wang Chung we both went off and did solo projects, which lasted a couple of years. Nick got into working on the A and R side of record labels. He worked for Warner Brothers to begin with and then went to Sony. He was kind of on the other side of the table for a while. I did quite a bit of producing, some of Nick’s bands at the time. He would get in touch with me if he had bands that needed a musical producer. So, we did work together through that time, but we really didn’t do anything with Wang Chung. I also developed a jazz project near my home town of Kentsbury with some London musicians and with my friend Chris Hughes, who actually produced “Dance Hall Days.” Chris had always wanted to do a sort of an art for arts sake project. So, we did a couple albums. So we did that. In 2006 we did a TV show in L.A. as Wang Chung and that was the thing the really started the, “Maybe we should do some more Wang Chung work.” He had the time and I had the time. So, yeah! Other than the work we both had families and lived life. [laughs]
For those who haven’t heard the new album, how would you best describe it?
People say that it’s of a mixture of classic Wang Chung sound with a real contemporary sound. That’s as clear as I go about it. I don’t like talking about music in terms of genre. We use all kinds of different genres on the album. That to me is really normal. All of those Beatles albums hopped from one genre to another on every album from “Within You Without You,” to “When I’m Sixty-Four,” to “Lovely Rita,” to “A Day in the Life.” I always see genre as something of an artist’s view. It’s kind of like wearing a suit of clothes rather than what defines you as an artist. So, it’s classic Wang Chung with a modern sound. A sort of genre bending freak-show! [laughs]
Do feel you evolved as a musician since starting out?
Yeah. Back in the ‘80s, as a musician, I was pretty naive in all sorts of ways. I didn’t realize what it entailed. [laughs] I think over the years producing and working on the jazz thing, and over the years becoming more and more obsessed with music … I bought a lot of music. I listened to a lot of music. I feel like I am still a student of music. I think I’m probably a better musician now than I was then.
Tell us a little about the writing process for the record. Was it awkward being back in the studio with Nick working on new Wang Chung material?
It was surprisingly exactly the same! [laughs] We both fought about the same things and liked the same things. Back in the ‘80s when we made an album, we were in a big studio like Abbey Road and we were in there for like seven days a week for six months. That was our sole focus, whereas these days we have lives and other things going on. With this album, we would work on it for a couple of weeks here and there then take a couple of months off and write some more songs. It was quite a relaxed process. We worked with an engineer called Adam Wren. Adam has done all sorts of things and he’s great. Nick and Adam worked pretty closely on the songs. I have a studio at home, so I did quite a bit of recording here. It was a bit of a different process, but like I said, it was surprisingly similar in terms of the way Nick and I function together.
Were there any challenges to making the album?
Yeah. There’s always a challenge in trying to make it good! [laughs] I guess we had the advantage of that 30-year gap, where the both of us were writing songs at the same time. Some of the songs, like “Stargazing,” I wrote in the end of the ‘90s. Some of the songs are much more recent. “Overwhelming Feeling” and “Driving You,” songs like that are from the last couple of years. When you are a new band you have that thing on your first album where you have your whole life to write the songs. With this record we had a big bunch of time for us to write songs and filter out the mediocre stuff and release the good stuff.
We understand you are going to release another full length album this year. What can we expect from that? Will it sound different from “Tazer Up!?”
Yeah. It feel a bit like a rash! [laughs] The thinking behind that was that we had more than enough stuff from this album. We wanted to keep it to a 10-track album. I think that you have to play by the rules a bit. Forty-five minutes is about right for an album. So, there are tracks left over. The idea is to take those tracks and put them on another album. We also have a bunch of remixes, stuff that’s probably a little more dance oriented than the more songwriter lyrics on this album. The idea is to use that stuff on our next album.
Do you have any idea when it will be released?
Knowing us, it will be three or four months after I say it will be out. We are looking in the summer. We want something brand new then because we plan to tour in the summer.
Some modern musicians borrowed a bit of the ‘80s vibe as of late and have created some unique stuff. What are your thoughts on the state of music today?
With the Internet it’s great and not so great simultaneously. Anybody can make a record now, write a song, and get it out there. That’s great, but it’s also a problem in that it feels like there is too much stuff. From the view of how I experienced music back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, it was really clear who the great bands were. When Led Zeppelin hit, you knew they were amazing. When you went to see Yes, you knew they were amazing. When The Sex Pistols arrived, you knew they were a game changer. It was much easier to read. Whereas now, it’s much more of a supermarket of choice. If you want a bit of folk music you can buy that. In that sense, maybe music is a little less dynamic and marginalized than it was when I was a kid. There’s still a huge amount of talent out there. One of the other things I do these days is teach at the university here in Canterbury where I live. I’m seeing guys who want a career in music. They are hugely talented and they play me stuff by bands I’ve never heard of, who are also hugely talented. There’s no shortage of great music out there that’s for sure.
Are there any bands that excite you right now?
Good question. I’m a huge Radiohead fan. I guess they’re not classified as modern anymore. I’m a big fan of them. A guy named Jon Hopkins. He supremely talented. I’d recommend those guys.
You mentioned your tour earlier. When can people see you and what should they expect from your live show?
I was hoping it would be this summer. With the last album we were more than ready, but we didn’t get to do that. I would think about June, July, and August would be the touring time. As far as our live show … We’re mindful of all the people that come to a Wang Chung gig that want to sing along with everybody to our songs. [laughs] So we’ll play the old songs. The touring that we’ve done more recently, we’ve done some of those old things, but we play some tracks from the new album. We’ve been doing “Rent Free,” “Stargazing” and “Driving You” sometimes. I’d like to start playing more of the new stuff. The year before last we had a song called “Space Junk” in “The Walking Dead” TV series. We play that tune as well. What we try to do is a live thing that is a different animal from the studio. We stretch out the songs a bit and get everybody involved. It’s a party thing, but I think with Wang Chung you always have some of a darker edge as well. It’s a pretty interesting evening.
You’ve been in the music industry for a long time. Are you still surprised by anything?
Uh … [laughs] I guess I’m surprised by the sound in music. I recently bought myself a high end turntable about a year ago. I’ve been listening to music on vinyl for the first time in years. It’s surprising to me when I think back to the arrival of CD and all of that stuff. We were all so eager to embrace it. [laughs] I think the whole digital revolution was problematic for music in terms of sound quality. People seem to be content with meager sound with iPods and all of that stuff. I kind of think that’s a bit of a shame. The purists of music went from the province of a few nerdy people to becoming like everybody’s got a big collection on their iPhones. That’s got to be a good thing, I think. I like the idea that people are carrying around a music collection that embraces jazz, rock and pop. That’s pretty cool.
Is there any chance we will get to read an autobiography about your life?
[laughs] That’s an interesting thing. I’ve been reading quite a few biographies. I read Keith Richards’ “Life,” Neil Young’s biography, and now I’m reading David Byrnes’ book “How Music Works.” So, yeah I kinda would like to do that. I think I’d probably end up writing about music a lot more than I’d write about myself!
Do you have advice for someone who would like to get into the music industry?
Be passionate about music. Be yourself. Study the greats. Learn your instrument. Those are the things that I think I can advise about. As far as the business side … Have a good manager. Some friends of mine are in a band called Sir Arthur. They come from the same town where I live. They are going to be doing South by Southwest this year. They made an album that was just superb. They do everything themselves, as bands have to do nowadays. They are definitely getting to that point where a manager would be really helpful for them. It would give them a certain sense of direction and honest feedback. Having a manager that you can trust who’s fighting in your corner from a business point of view, but also having their own love for music. I think that’s a really important ingredient. It’s something you require a little bit up the line, but it’s important to get that right.
Do you have any last words for your fans out there?
I’d say thanks for hanging in there for 20 years! [laughs] Get the new album. Please keep looking at our website, www.wangchung.com. We are on Facebook. We are on Twitter, but I can’t get my head around it. [laughs] You can get in touch with us on that. Keep getting in touch and look out for the gigs. Come out and meet us and hang out with us at the gigs. That would be great!
Thank you for your time Jack and I wish you the best of luck!
Thanks Steve. Thanks for your time. Cheers!