While the band Wang Chung was one of pop music’s most popular acts during the 1980s, its two primary members — Jack Hues and Nick Feldman — have remained in the music business for 30 years and recently released a new album.
CANTERBURY, England — Musicians who, by choice or by popular demand, build a following around a “signature song” often develop a love/hate relationship with that song.
Post-punk British duo Nick Feldman and Jack Hues, who as Wang Chung stamped their own indelible mark on the ‘80s, largely due to the popularity of the enduring hit “Everybody Have Fun Tonight,” have such a relationship with the No. 1 smash from 1986.
“We do have a bit of that with the song,” the erudite Hues said during an exclusive phone interview from his home in Canterbury, where he works part-time as a music professor. “The success of ‘Have Fun Tonight’ created an expectation for us in the music business, an expectation that we were unwilling to meet. I guess you could say that’s the song that made us and un-made us.
“Still, though, we’re glad that people got into the song. It exposed us to a much wider audience. Plus, it’s a fun song, and we still enjoy playing it live.”
Hues and Feldman kept Wang Chung on the charts through most of the 1980s with five albums and such Top 40 hits as “Dance Hall Days,” “Don’t Let Go,” “Let’s Go,” “Hypnotize Me” and “To Live and Die in L.A.” And even after their refusal to do variations on the “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” theme to please record company executives dimmed their star, the pair remained connected with the music business through the ‘90s and 2000s.
Now, some 30 years after Wang Chung released their first album (1982’s “Huang Chung”), Feldman and Hues are back with an 11-song disc (“Tazer Up!” on the DSR label) that includes new material written for the project, “stuff we had laying around” and a fresh remix of “Dance Hall Days” that proves the hit was deserving of its Top 10 glory — and may even have been a little ahead of its time — when released in 1983.
As Wang Chung consider a possible tour in support of “Tazer Up!” and work to complete a second album of new material set to be released in 2013, the ailing Hues, hit with a touch of food poisoning the day before, took time to phone The Herald to talk about the band’s plans.
THE ALBANY HERALD: Congratulations on the release of the new album. What’s the story behind you guys getting back together to release new material?
JACK HUES: We were invited to do the (NBC) reality show “Hit Me Baby One More Time” (in 2005), and on the show we did one of our songs and a cover that they asked us to do. We did “”Everybody Have Fun Tonight” and Nelly’s “Hot in Herre,” and we realized there was a lot of affection still for this band. We started talking about recording again; it was as whimsical as that. We took some songs we had laying around here and there and got with (producer) Adam Premiere and started working on them sometime around the start of 2007. Last year we began navigating through the Internet, looking for the best way to get an album out, and we were given an opportunity to have more control over how the project might look.
AH: Except for “Dance Hall Days,” this is new, unreleased material, right?
JH: Yes, but all of it is stuff written by ourselves.
AH: I was particularly taken with the song “Abducted by the Eighties” and the recurring lyric “Everybody’s moving on.” Is that your take on life in the music business?
JH: We got that sense of “everybody’s moving on” back in the ‘90s. We were the first British band signed to Geffen Records — to much fanfare — but in the music business labels are always looking for the next big thing. Moving on ... It’s not just the music business; that’s the way life is. It’s not a bad thing.
AH: You and Nick, even when you weren’t doing Wang Chung stuff, have kept your hands in music. Now you find yourself with a career that has been going on for 30 years. Did you foresee that?
JH: When I was a kid — and I started learning the guitar when I was 8 years old — I only wanted to be a musician. I guess I’ve always seen music as a long-term investment. We’ve just gone on exploring in this endless quest.
AH: For a lot of people, music is just about “making hits.” What’s been the best thing about your career?
JH: Discovering music and musical artists in depth is so important to me. Because I’m really into music, all of (what we’ve done) is success to me. I do a little teaching at the University of Canterbury — I teach songwriting — and I can’t really listen to a lot of the popular music now. It’s so geared around consumerism. I don’t think for any of the true artists I’ve met over the years that there’s a great deal of interest in money. It’s about touching people over a period of time, being a part of history.
AH: Wang Chung never settled into any one comfortable musical genre. Did you consider yourselves strictly a rock band, or punk, post-punk, any of those other labels the media and A&R folks tend to stick you with?
JH: The only thing we felt strongly about was the music. Genre is secondary to an artist, and we certainly popped from one genre to another. There was an eclecticism to how we functioned, and to focus on any so-called genre missed the point. As a matter of fact, I think you have genres created when bands immitate what others do.
AH: I listen to bands like Green Day, the Killers and some other modern bands and I hear a lot of what you and Nick did in Wang Chung. Do you feel you’ve done your part for your musical legacy by perhaps inspiring other musicians?
JH: I’d like to think that, but I’m not under so many delusions.
AH: Who are some of the musicians that inspired you?
JH: The Beatles, of course. In fact, I just treated myself to a big box of Beatles albums on vinyl. There was also the prog thing with bands like Yes, and you have to look at a much bigger canvas with us because punk was just getting started and we were listening to people like the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Tubes, Television, Talking Heads, David Bowie.
AH: “To Live and Die in L.A.” is my favorite Wang Chung song. If I see that movie on TV now, I have to leave it on until I hear your song. Was that song written specifically for the movie?
JH: It was. (Director) William Friedkin asked us to write the score for the movie, and we wrote it based solely on his description. We did the instrumentals and Fed-Exed them to him in Hollywood. He loved it and flew us out to L.A. — one of the few first-class transatlantic flights we’ve ever been on — and said he wanted us to write a song for the film, but he said he didn’t want a song called “To Live and Die in L.A.” I looked out at that surreal orange sky, and I couldn’t help it. But he loved the song and decided to re-shoot some scenes to get it into the movie. It was a wonderful experience.
AH: “Tazer Up!” has been out a few days. Any feedback on the new album?
JH: I’ve never been one who got into sales figures or that kind of stuff. But the feedback we’re getting on Facebook and Twitter has been incredibly positive. I’m really pleased with the range of the fans who say they’re turned on by the music, older to younger.
AH: You guys are planning another new album next year, right?
JH: Yeah, we have a few more songs that we didn’t put on this one. We’ve re-recorded “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” and collected a few bits and pieces from over the years. We’re actually working on more new songs, too; it’s a constant journey.
AH: Do you plan to tour with the new material?
JH: I’d love to. We did some shows in 2009 and 2010, and I enjoyed it more so than when we went out in the ‘80s. I think we’re a lot more relaxed now; we enjoy singing and playing live more.
AH: You’re teaching now. Does your career with Wang Chung win you automatic respect from your students?
JH: Actually, the band does not have as high a profile in the UK as we do in America. We’re quite anonymous here. There are some students who Google me up, though, and go, “Oh, wow.”
AH: Are there artists out today that you particularly enjoy listening to?
JH: Radiohead are phenomenal, and the instrumental and soundtrack stuff (Radiohead guitarist) Johnny Greenwood does is quite good. DJ Shadow is also quite good.
AH: Thanks so much for your time. I have a 10-year-old who loves your music, and I can’t let you go without asking you a question for her: What’s the story behind “Wang Chung?”
JH: (laughing) That’s funny. We usually get, “What does Wang Chung mean?” For your 10-year-old daughter then: We found Wang Chung to be mysterious and enigmatic and rock and roll. I found the term “huang chung” in a book I was reading by a German electronic composer. I wasn’t quite sure what it actually meant, but I took it to Nick and told him I liked the way it sounded and he said, “Fine.” It’s interesting to read the meanings that people have created for the term over the years. I guess it means whatever it means to them. Personally, I’ve always thought “wang chung” sounds like a Chinese guitar.