Jack Hues: The Culture Brats Interview

Wang Chung will be releasing Tazer Up!, their new studio album, on December 11, 2012. We caught up with singer Jack Hues on the eve of its release and spoke about the album, the five songs that define Wang Chung, touring, scoring movies, and, of course, the phrase "everybody wang chung tonight."

Your latest album, Tazer Up!, is coming out on the 11th. I think it's a great album. It has that Wang Chung sound, but with a modern feel. Where does the name come from?
The perennial question. It came from Nick and I, having had various bands back in the late '70s and early '80s, trying to get a record deal. We decided instead of getting a bunch of musicians together and gigging and having the labels come and see us, we thought we'll just do it ourselves, basically. We managed to get a little independent deal. I guess we were in that space where we were trying to keep things enigmatic and under the radar. Part of the thinking was Huang Chung was that it was going to be this really mysterious thing that nobody would quite know what it was, so mystery was always a part of it. We got a deal with Arista in the U.K. and put out an album under the name Huang Chung.

But at that point, we realized that nobody could pronounce it. So we really thought about changing it when we hopped over to Geffen. It was really David Geffen who said, "No, it's a great name. You should keep it. But just respell it so that it's not so alienating." That's where it came from. As to what it means, that's a whole different thing.

What I was really asking was where did the name of the album come from?
Oh, Tazer Up!? Tazer Up! is really just coming off the artwork. It's what we're using for the cover, that sort of ray gun thing. I saw this painting in an art gallery where I live here in Canterbury in the U.K. I just really liked it. I took a picture of it with my phone. Very naughty. I sent it to Nick and a couple of other people and said, "This would make a great cover." At that time we were talking about Abducted By The '80s being the album title and I looked at it and thought, "Oh, 'take me to your leader' this looks like with this little ray gun thing." But talking to the artist, the painting's actually called Tazer. We put out an EP last year called Abducted By The '80s so we had to think up something new for this one. So I thought Tazer Up!. I guess my thinking was along the lines of when this album comes out, it's gonna kick off a bit and we need to get ready. Tazer Up!

There you go! What song on the new album are you most proud of?
That's an interesting question. I like them all in different ways. I guess "Driving You" I really like from a musical perspective. Probably "Stargazing" I like as a long-form piece. It justifies its long stay. So those two tracks I like a lot.

I like the song "Why?" because it sticks out so much from everything else.
It does.

Who's singing the "any more of your strange behavior" bit?
I'm not sure. The track was something that Nick was working on. Nick's much more interested in more contemporary songwriting techniques than I am, sampling the hell out of everything. I think he found this no-copyright sample that was on the internet, so he was messing around with that. He'd be able to answer that question much better than I could.

I've heard you have plans to tour the United States in 2013. Do you know who will be on the road with you?
No idea. It's all very up in the air at the moment.

When you play shows like the Rewind Festival, what's it like backstage: a lot of nostalgia sharing or backbiting?
The first one we did was up in Scotland. Frankly, I felt like with English bands, they all keep to themselves. Everyone just stares at the floor and doesn't look at anybody else. Even when you see people at breakfast the next morning, there's no communication. When we did the one in London, I thought, "I'm not gonna have this." When we work in the U.S., everyone's so friendly.

I really noticed that in the '80s. We worked in London studios and everyone's in their little box and no one speaks to each other, don't look at each other in the canteen. When we were recording in L.A., it's like, "Come listen to what we're doing and I'll come hear what you're doing!" So on the London Rewind, I made a point to going up to people and just saying, "Hello" and hanging out with them a bit. It felt much friendlier.

Actually, maybe it's me who's staring at the floor.

Most people know that you guys did the soundtrack to To Live And Die In L.A., but some might be surprised to discover you also did the score for The Guardian. Which was more difficult?
Probably The Guardian, to be honest because To Live And Die In L.A. was very much an intuitive thing, when you get on a roll with something and it just flows. I did what I wanted to do and Friedkin (William Friedkin, director of To Live And Die In L.A.) loved it and that was great. The Guardian was after Wang Chung had broken up. I went over to L.A. and had this studio over in the valley. Friedkin used to come over some evenings and listen to what I was doing and go, "We're gonna re-edit that scene." I'm really not interested in sitting and scoring pictures. I think that's a waste of time. I think music works if the director knows the composer he wants in terms of what that composer does, then he should let him write a bunch of music and he should cut the film to the music. That's what I think.

You and Nick have thirty years experience in the music business. Would you rather be a band starting out in 2012 or back in 1980?
Definitely 1980.

How come?
You knew where you were in a sense. There was one hole to jump through and that was getting a record deal. If you could do that, then you were on the first rung of the ladder. Sure, you had to negotiate the whole greasy pole that that was. But I think it was more defined and by the time we were signed, record deals were relatively fair. Publishing deals were actually pretty good and you were in a position where you could have enough money to live and just do music. Right now, I think it's just tougher to make music. Some good friends of mine here in Canterbury are in a band called Syd Arthur. They put out an album this summer which is amazing. It got four-star reviews in all the classy music magazines here. I think they're going to be doing SXSW this year. But they struggle to actually make any money out of what they do, so consequently they have to have jobs.

"Everybody Wang Chung tonight" is more than just a lyric. It's a permanent fixture in our pop culture lexicon. What has been your favorite use of the phrase?
I think the Frasier one is the one I love best. It's when Fraisier is in Cheers and I think that was one of the earliest uses of it. He come all blustering through into the bar like he does and I just remember one of my kids phoning me up and going, "I just heard about Wang Chung on Cheers!" It was all really great.

Which five songs do you feel define Wang Chung?
I guess "Dance Hall Days" would be one corner. "To Live And Die In L.A." is another. I guess "Everybody Have Fun Tonight" would have to be in there. You can't run away from it. "Space Junk" is a track we recorded at the end of the '90s as a new track to go on a greatest hits package that Geffen wanted to do. I think that's an interesting transitional song. "Rent Free" on the new album.

We've got two questions we ask everybody. The first one is what was the first album you purchased with your own money?
It was Please Please Me by The Beatles.

Finally, you're in charge of your own music festival. You can get any five artists, living or dead, to perform on the bill with you. Who do you choose?
I'd have Cream. I'd have DJ Shadow. I'd have Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I'd have Joni Mitchell. And... well, it's got to be The Beatles.

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