Posted by: pop-break | February 8, 2013

Interview: Wang Chung

brent johnson has fun tonight …

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Wang Chung’s music has popped up in a lot of places over the years — movies, commercials, a horde of TV shows. Sitcom characters from Frasier Crane to Homer Simpson to Two And A Half Men’s Alan Harper have quoted the British pop duo’s 1986 smash “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” during episodes.

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But one place lead singer Jack Hues never expected to hear one of his songs playing was over a zombie attack.

Airing Halloween night 2010, the first episode of the popular AMC drama The Walking Dead ended with sheriff’s officer Rick Grimes trapped in a tank with an army of zombies clawing to get inside. The soundtrack? An eerie, electronic, little-known Wang Chung song called “Space Junk.”

“That isn’t how I imagined it when I wrote it,” Hues says with a laugh. “But I really like the atmosphere it creates. It’s zombies eating flesh, then it pans way back, and it turns into a wide shot. It’s very cool.”

Wang Chung in the '80s: bassist Nick Feldman and guitarist Jack Hues.

Wang Chung in the ’80s: bassist Nick Feldman and guitarist Jack Hues.

Consider it part of a Wang Chung comeback.

The duo — consisting of Hues and bassist Nick Feldman — was ubiquitous on American radio during the Reagan decade. They scored the 1985 film To Live And Die In L.A. They nabbed major hits with 1984’s “Dance Hall Days” and 1986’s “Let’s Go.” And they forever entered the pop-culture lexicon with a self-referencing command in their biggest single: “Everybody Wang Chung tonight.”

Hues and Feldman parted ways in 1990, occasionally making brief reunions. But in December, they released Tazer Up!, the first new Wang Chung album in 23 years. A tour is likely to follow this summer.

Pop-Break’s Brent Johnson spoke with Hues on a transatlantic phone call about the reunion, the stories behind “Dance Hall Days” and “Everybody Have Fun Tonight,” and why their next album may feature a cover of Nelly’s “Hot In Herre.”

Pop-Break: It’s 6:30 in the evening in New Jersey right now — which makes it 11:30 at night in England. What are you doing up?

Jack Hues: I’ve just poured myself a glass of cognac. It’s quiet in the house. It’s kind of nice.

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PB: What about the album are you most proud of?

JH: The last time we released an album was 1989. I’m just proud of the fact that we managed to get a new record together. It has songs on it that go back to the late 1990s, like “Stargazing.” But there are more recent songs, too. I think when people hear it, they’ll think it’s a mixture of classic Wang Chung and something that works in today’s climate.

“Stargazing” is a much more extended, proggy kind of track. I like that. I like all of it, really.

PB: Where was the last place you heard one of your songs play?

JH: Living in the U.K., I don’t hear it so much. I don’t really recall the last time I heard something. Our music gets heard a lot in movies and TV adverts. Online, we have video clips that are like an assembly of all the places and programs that have mentioned Wang Chung — The Simpsons, Cheers, Two And A Half Men.

PB: Don’t forget The Walking Dead.

JH: In fact, we have half a million hits on YouTube for that tune. That was amazing. Frank Darabont [the Oscar-nominated filmmaker who developed The Walking Dead for TV] said he always heard “Space Junk” as the music to close the first episode. My kids were incredibly impressed he would know such an obscure track.

PB: My favorite Wang Chung song, however, was your first hit in America: “Dance Hall Days.” What’s the story behind that?

JH: That was the song that got us signed to Geffen Records. It’s hard for me to think about these things; it was such a long time about. I learned to play guitar at 8. And my father was a jazz musician. He used to play in this dance hall in the town I grew up in. It was a leftover from the ’40s — a provincial town, way out of fashion, somehow this music continues. It was an old dance hall called the Pavilion. I was 13 or 14 playing in the bad. I played bass guitar. I could read music a bit by then. I’d watch the keyboard player’s hands to read the bass parts. It helped my ear. That dance hall maybe was subliminally in my mind when I was writing it.

Musically, I was very into Adam & The Ants — that sort of chunga, chunga shuffle kind of thing. In the back of my mind was Little Feat, as well — how they would use shuffles. Some of the chords have a kind of Lowell George connection.

PB: Why do you think your music have been successful in the U.S. than your home country?

JH: I think it’s to do with the fact that it’s got a sort of funky ingredient. It doesn’t have that sort of bland indie thing U.K. music has. I’ve never quite figured it out. I know Nick and I were always interested in bands that could really play — Little Feat, The Tubes. In the U.K., critics always mistrust a band if there are musicians in it. They like guys that wear jackets and look skinny. [laughs]

PB: Did you expect “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” to be such a massive hit?

JH: We did design that song to be a hit single. That’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? It wasn’t a heartfelt outpouring. I think at the point we released it, “Dance Hall Days” was a pretty good hit. But we did [the soundtrack for] To Live And Die In L.A., which was much more of a curveball. Geffen were a bit dubious. Back in those days — it’s hard to imagine now — but a movie soundtrack and a pop album didn’t really go together. When a movie soundtrack came out, it didn’t always have a hit. When our accountants looked at the bottom line, they said, “Guys, we have to make some cash.”

So we had to focus on a proper Top 40 hit. “Everybody” was a plan. I think you’re always surprised when something does take off, though. So many things have to be in the right place. We really got luck with that record.

And I love “Everybody.” Especially looking back on it, it’s actually quite a cool dance record. I’m also a big fan of the video. It helped us break though.

PB: But have you heard the story that some places wanted to ban the video because its jittery concept caused epileptic seizures?

JH: I have. It was banned by the BBC in the U.K. because of that. It was a bit of a drag. In the U.S., everybody heard the song, everyone knows that line. In the U.K., the record didn’t get an airing. The BBC banned it because they thought it could cause epilepsy. [laughs]

PB: Do you ever wonder what you would have become in life if you weren’t a musician?

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JH: Good question. Sometimes I think I’m sort of a bright guy. I probably should have been a doctor — where I could really help people instead of messing around with music. But it’s hard to imagine. Music is so much of my life. I teach music a university in Canterbury. I teach songwriting.

PB: Is songwriting something you can teach, or is a talent you’re born with?

JH: I do say to the students in the first class: The sad fact is I can’t teach you how to write a song. I don’t know how music is taught in the States, but in the U.K. there was a big revolution in the way visual arts were taught. It all became about self-expression. Music in the 19th century, the way it was taught was by doing exams, jumping through hoops. I see songwriting as a way of looking at music as a creative field. You don’t need to be a great guitar player. It helps to be a decent singer. But it’s about being creative with music. In a sense, in the ’60s and ’70s, all the great musicians went to art school. None went to music school. None of them knew what they were doing in terms of knowing music properly. They all just had great ears. Now, it’s about teaching students to get outside their comforts zones. Just have a go.

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PB: Why come back to Wang Chung?

JH: I think it sort of went away for both me and Nick for a while. 1989 was the last release we did, and we didn’t really touch it again until 2005. We were doing other things — having families, Nick was working for the record label, I did a lot of producing. [A reunion] was partially for pragmatic reasons — publishing deals. But we also had the time again. Nick was no longer working for the record label, and I think we were both ready to have a little Wang Chung again.

It really started in 2006, when we did a TV show called Hit Me Baby One More Time [in which older artists reunite and perform two songs, one of their hits and a modern cover]. We did “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” and Nelly’s “Hot In Herre” — which I thought was a funny choice. People who were hip I think saw the charm of that. We have that recorded.

We are planning to do another album as quickly as we can. We might use the Nelly track.

PB: What is the difference between your version of “Hot In Herre” compared to Nelly’s?

JH: I guess his version is classic hip-hop. It’s all about delivering the lyrics. I love the way his sings it. It’s such a challenge for me. We put some extra chords in it and loosened up the rhythm.

PB: Why was that TV appearance a catalyst?

JH: It got me and Nick in a hotel room again talking about Want Chung. Also being in L.A., people met us to talk of touring. It was just a nice thing to do. We realized we kind of enjoyed it again.

Wang Chung’s latest album Tazer Up! is available on iTunes and Amazon.

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