The album sees core members Jack Hues and Nick Feldman reunited for the first time since 2012’s ‘Tazer Up!’ and features new versions of staples like ‘Dance Hall Days’ and ‘Everybody Have Fun Tonight’ alongside The Walking Dead featured ‘Space Junk’ and other selections.
Jack Hues kindly spoke to The Electricity Club about the band’s early years, Hollywood soundtrack experiences and of course, their ‘Dance Hall Days’…
It’s a little known fact that HEAVEN 17’s Glenn Gregory used to be in a band with you prior to you guys forming WANG CHUNG, how did the first incarnation of the band get together?
Glenn Gregory was with us in 57 MEN which was in fact the second incarnation of mine and Nick’s projects together. The first was THE INTELLEKTUALS. I can’t remember how we met Glenn. Word of mouth I think. At that time, Nick and I thought of ourselves as writers really, rather than performers, and Glenn was quite glamorous and could sing….
Were you disheartened that your eponymous debut album failed to make much of an impact?
Probably… but because we hadn’t known “success”, for want of a better word, we didn’t know we didn’t have it… so we just kept going. Also, as an artist, your work is a sort of catalogue of errors so you are not sitting back thinking “this is going to have a big impact”. That first album was such an incredibly steep learning curve, I just wanted to apply the lessons learned to making the next one.
Your breakthrough second album saw you working with Chris Hughes and Ross Cullum who also produced TEARS FOR FEARS’ ‘The Hurting’. ‘Points On A Curve’ was released a few months after that, how did the pair juggle the work on the two projects and what did you learn from working with them?
Chris and Ross had completed their work with TEARS FOR FEARS so we had their full attention. Working with them was a quantum leap for me and gave me an entirely new way of thinking about music and life. I learnt how to watch television and then talk about it, I learnt how to talk to a sommelier, the best Italian restaurants in London, how any food that is shrink wrapped is not worth eating, that making records takes a long time.
The album was recorded at Abbey Road studio, how was this experience?
Growing up listening obsessively to THE BEATLES as I did, it was a dream come true, quite literally. I loved working there and Chris and Ross were fully aware of what we were doing. I recall it as a magical time.
When you wrote ‘Dance Hall Days’, did you have any inkling of what an important track it would be for you?
No, it was just the next song I was writing. But in retrospect I think I was absorbing so many new influences at that time – really hungry for change and to reach the next level – I was creating the music but the music was also creating me. So the experience with creative work is never a straight line of intention to planned outcome but more like a feedback loop.
There were two different promos made for ‘Dance Hall Days’, the first directed by filmmaker Derek Jarman and the second by Daniel Kleinman. What was the reason for this and do you have a favourite out of the two?
We were signed in the US to Geffen Records in Los Angeles – we weren’t signed in the UK – and when the Americans saw Derek’s video they couldn’t deal with it! So we had to make a “proper” rock video. It was a different time! I liked working with Derek. Again he was a fascinating person, talked about art and literature and theatre and movies in a totally new way for me. He was an artist and very inspiring.
What did you think when ‘Dance Hall Days’ appeared as accompanying music for the male stripper scene in the lesser known Tom Hanks film ‘Bachelor Party’?
I thought, that’s a nice synch…
The Godley & Creme directed ‘Everybody Have Fun Tonight’ promo was interesting, innovative and possibly dangerous if you were epileptic! What were your memories of making this?
I remember the video for ‘Fire In The Twilight’ from ‘The Breakfast Club’ entailed me running through West Hollywood all day, so ‘EBHFT’ was a lot easier as I had to sing the song to camera 7 times and move as little as possible. They were interesting guys to work with. They had just made a documentary about the JFK assassination and showed us the trailer which was very powerful. It was a fun video to make and I liked their rigorous way of working.
‘Everybody Have Fun Tonight’ made a big impact in the US and was in the 1997 film ‘Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion’ alongside ‘Dance Hall Days’, did you see this as a sort of artistic vindication after the challenges in the UK?
I never had any sense of needing vindication in the UK or anywhere else. In a way, working in the USA and coming home to my family here and being relatively anonymous was a good scenario. I never felt we were struggling to make it in the UK. It was what it was.
Director William Friedkin was incredibly influential in bringing greater exposure to artists like TANGERINE DREAM and MIKE OLDFIELD by using their music in his films. It must have been an incredible break to get asked to write music for ‘To Live & Die In LA’ in 1985, how did this happen?
It certainly was. Bill phoned us out of the blue at a time when we were struggling with the follow-up to ‘Points On The Curve’. I had an hour long conversation on the phone with him – we were in London and he was in LA. Essentially he was a big fan of ‘Points On The Curve’ and loved the song ‘Wait’. He was using that as a temp track to watch the day’s rushes and he told me he wanted an hour of music like that that he would then edit into the movie.
When you watch the opening credits the tempo of our music and the speed of the printing press are almost identical. That was a complete coincidence! Just one of those magical projects where everything fell into place. Working with Bill was amazing and he remains a good friend to this day.
Friedkin’s work with soundtrack composers (and actors) was often notoriously unorthodox, how was the working process with him?
He gave us complete freedom to do what we did best. Like all great collaborative artists, he knows how to get what he wants but doesn’t limit you to his will. He gets right out of the way and somehow attracts what he wants – like Miles Davis. As I said, we were not writing music to picture. He actually edited the picture to the music in places – which is the best way to work. Movies that do that have a much better pace than those that have scores that slavishly try to keep up with the action. He was extremely generous to us and encouraging.
How would you compare writing film soundtrack music to the construction of normal album?
To the extent that soundtrack music doesn’t require lyrics it is much more free. It is very different from making a normal album. Much more freedom to experiment – however the discipline of a song based album can induce creative solutions in the studio. I wouldn’t want to be without either. We were definitely thinking of music on a bigger scale with ‘To Live & Die In LA’.
The song ‘Space Junk’ works superbly at the end of the pilot episode of ‘The Walking Dead’ (and also in lead actor Rick’s final episode, bringing things full circle); how did this particular song find its home here?
Again it was unexpected. ‘Space Junk’ was a bonus track we recorded for a Greatest Hits album in 1998. It’s a great song but received no attention at the time. Frank Darabont, the director of ‘The Walking Dead’, apparently loved the song and always imagined it as the music to the final scene of Episode 1. So we were very fortunate to once again have the attention of a great director.
‘Tazer Up’ brought an end to an almost 20 year hiatus, what focused the band to get back in the studio again?
Various business things came up in the mid-noughties. Nick stopped working in A&R and was therefore more available. I had done a couple of jazz records and so was more ready to do WANG CHUNG again. Nick and I remained great friends through the hiatus so it was nice to think about working together again. Plus we had a bunch of good songs lying around so recording them with Adam Wren (with whom we had recorded ‘Space Junk’) was an exciting prospect. And some touring opportunities came up, so fate drew us back on the WANG CHUNG trail.
Thank you! There isn’t a typical process. We rarely write together these days but we “get” each other and critique each other, make suggestions.
The ‘Grand Theft Auto’ computer game franchise seems to be the de rigueur way of introducing kids to classic pop music. How did you feel when ‘Dance Hall Days’ was featured on the Flash FM channel in ‘Grand Theft Auto: Vice City’ game and have you seen an impact on your fanbase by having it featured here?
Yes, it brought a whole new generation to our music. It was incredibly important in getting into that new generation’s consciousness and I’m sure is significant in accounting for the continuing popularity of 80’s music in movies and with new bands.
With streaming being the main outlet for public consumption of music these days, The Electricity Club has noticed that WANG CHUNG don’t have much material on platforms such as Spotify, is there a specific reason for this?
Neglect – but we are remedying this. This year will see the re-release of deluxe editions of all our albums from the 80’s including our first album, ‘Huang Chung’ and the noughties’ ‘Tazer Up!’ And of course our new orchestral album.
With MIDGE URE, A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS and VISAGE all bringing out orchestral albums, was there one particularly that influenced you to bring out your own?
We know Mike Score from A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS and he was enthusiastic about his experience. It just seemed a good thing to do in and of itself.
John Bryan who runs August Day, the label that has done these projects in the past is a good guy and drives us along to get things done. It’s been an enjoyable process and a fabulous opportunity.
What were the challenges of re-recording the songs for the album?
Singing them was a challenge! Nick and I wanted to really make use of the orchestra rather than doing the songs again with a band and having the orchestra in the background sounding like an expensive synthesizer. Some songs need the energy of the rhythm section but where it works we have let the orchestra take centre stage. Getting the arrangements right was a challenge.
WANG CHUNG have always had an electronic technology-based slant to their music, what sort of kit are you using at the moment, and how does it compare to what you were using back in the day?
With ‘Tazer Up!’, we consciously thought what makes an 80s record? And it’s basically mixing drum machines, synths and guitars. And these days the synths are there on every computer on the planet. It is actually easier to make an 80s record now than it was back in the day when everything was so expensive and difficult to use.
Out of all of the renditions on ‘Orchesography’, do you have a favourite?
We have done a new version of the original demo of ‘Everybody Have Fun Tonight’. We recorded the original on a little 4-track in Nick’s flat on Finchley Road using very basic sounds to emulate an orchestra. Now we’ve been able to realise that with the real thing and it sounds great.
There are lots of things I feel have been lost – music was the absolute centre of my life – still is, more so than ever – and was so for many people, but now it has been marginalised by, in my opinion, vastly inferior forms of creativity.
I also detest the way music is defined by “genre” these days when genres should be merely at the service of artists who are adventurous enough to want to soar way beyond such limitations.
But there are wonderful things about where we are now – I have released a “jazz” album recently – JACK HUES & THE QUARTET featuring Syd Arthur and a version of BECK’s ‘Nobody’s Fault But My Own’. We pressed up some vinyl, it’s on Spotify, we’re doing some gigs in April – so you can get your music out there, have total autonomy in a way that would be inconceivable back in the 80s. Reaching an audience is the challenge, but then it always was…
The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to Jack Hues
Special thanks to Lisa Freeman at Quite Great PR
‘Orchesography’ is released by August Day Recordings in a variety of formats on 10th May 2019
Text and Interview by Paul Boddy
29th March 2019