Wang Chung lead vocalist Jack Hues is enjoying the latest resurgence of his band like a fine, aged wine. Speaking to Live Rock Journal just weeks following the release of their first new album in more than twenty years, the debonair Hues reflects on past successes and sips in the new.
He’s not surprised Wang Chung is engrained forever in pop culture, but he’s certainly not without gratitude either. The singer shares experiences from his music career and looks toward a possible 2013 tour.
This must be quite a time for you, the first full length Wang Chung release in over 20 years just came out last month. How has the reception been so far?
I’m really just very pleased and grateful that people are willing to listen seriously to a new Wang Chung album after 20 years. We tried hard with this record, and we wanted to release a full album of new material. We do begin with a remix of “Dance Hall Days”, but that’s just sort of context, if you like. But what we wanted to do was lay out a brand new album of 10 songs. There was a lot of attention to detail and quality control. I feel very proud of the record. I’m glad people are really getting into it because there’s more pressure on people to like it these days. There’s no big ad campaign, people just like it or they don’t. So I’m very pleased.
What sums this album up best in my view is ‘creative, but classic’. Did the recording process feel a bit like picking up where you left off?
Not quite. Nick [Feldman] and I both had several projects in the time leading up to the record. Nick worked for record labels for 10 or 15 years after we stopped in 1990. I was producing bands for a while as well. Some of these song ideas date back quite far. In fact, “Star Gazing” dates back to the end of 1990s when I first moved out of London. The songs are from a fairly wide slice of time, which helps with quality. It’s like a band’s first album when you have so much good material to draw on, because you have spent your life writing it. The second album can be more difficult, because you have six months to write it. But for this one, we had twenty years.
I appreciate you saying it’s creative. Nick and I have lost none of our enthusiasm for new music, and I still believe in music as a really strong and important thing in people’s lives.
You can really hear the sounds of your previous work coming to life again. Was that the intent in this record?
It definitely was. The track “Abducted by the ’80s” was written with a Back to the Future mindset. What would happen if Wang Chung was suddenly projected 20 years in the future. What the hell would they do, you know.
In practical terms we tried to work with the ingredients we used to make ’80s records. So we used drum machines, electric guitars, synths, vocals obviously. But we didn’t use drum loops, auto-tune, or any of the paraphernalia from certain modern pop records. We do cheat on a couple of tracks. Theres’ a loop on “Driving You”.
But that was the aesthetic we tried to stick to. Take “Stargazing” for instance. When I first demoed that song it had a big, sloppy drum beat on it. But we ditched that in favor of a very sparse sounding drum machine. I think it gives the track some character.
I want to talk about your voice for a moment, because it’s evident on this album you’ve retained every bit of that smooth sound. Do you chalk that up to good genes or good habits?
A bit of both, probably. I’m a pretty clean living guy, so not too much wear and tear. And probably not too much singing in 20 years. The last three years or so, we’ve been touring, and I must say I’ve really enjoyed singing a lot. On one of the tours we went to Graceland. This may sound weird in way, but I really became inspired by Elvis’s voice, and the power of the voice to hypnotize. I’m not saying I’m in that category, but it was an inspiration to take things seriously.
I do think my voice is rather instantly recognizable, but it’s just God given. There’s nothing magical I do to cultivate that.
You talked about touring. Last year you played the ’80s Rewind Festival in the UK. That had to be a great experience.
It was wonderful. In Scotland, everyone backstage was a bit shy, really. But it was fun hanging out with all these musicians from that time. There was a sense we’ve been around the block a few times, and there are no more rivalries.
What’s remarkable to me is the way in which Wang Chung became an iconic fixture in pop culture even while the band itself was dormant for a decade and a half and others were very active. How do you explain that phenomenon?
The music you listen to and grow up to, is important, whatever that music is. In the United States, we were a part of the early days of MTV, and I think that fixed us into the consciousness in a way that was very powerful and gave us a real advantage. I can remember attending the MTV Video Awards when “Dance Hall Days” was up for an award. MTV was really important for us. It linked us with TV culture, if you will.
On our website you can see a video compilation of 30 or 40 different mentions of the Wang Chung name in every conceivable sort of sitcom or movie you can imagine. Even shows I have never heard of.
How involved were you in the creation of the music videos and the direction they went?
It would vary from video to video. “Dance Hall Days” is a pretty camp video, frankly. [laughs]
I think it’s fun.
It is very fun. It was done by Derek Jarman. He was a very avant-garde English filmmaker who made movies and then rock videos. In the video there’s a lot of synchronized swimming and archive footage, which actually was shot by his father from a World’s Fair in Chicago I think in the 1930s. The little baby in that footage is Derek.
Another video I’m really proud of is “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” which was done by Godley & Creme. We did have a fair degree on input on that one. For the rest of them we essentially showed up and let the directors go where they wanted to go. Those are good memories.
I’ve been fascinated by the lyrics of “The Flat Horizon” from Mosaic, which came out in 1986. What was the inspiration?
We recorded part of Mosaic in Vienna, Austria. Partly because our producer, Peter Wolf, came from that city. I’m a huge fan of classical music and of course Vienna is the home of much classical tradition. But I was also very intersted in the paintings of Gustav Klimt, and I would spend many hours looking at them in the galleries there. “The Flat Horizon” comes out of studying those pictures and what it would be like to paint a picture of somebody as a love song without actually writing a love song about them.
I was recently reading an interview with your bandmate Mr. Feldman online and he sounded quite optimistic about a tour in the United States this year. Any tidbits you can share?
Nothing firm yet, sadly. I wish I could give you the list of cities. We’re still looking into it. We have been asked to do several festivals. But because we’re based in the U.K., we have to have a string of dates to make it financially feasible. I think February or March is when these things usually come together. I’m really hoping we can visit some of the big cities and do some festivals and fairs as well.
Wang Chung really does do well in those types of shows. I remember a show in Milwaukee a few summers ago. There’s a big outdoor festival, and when we started off there were maybe 5,000 people or so in the crowd. But I noticed as we played, more and more came in.
We save “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” and “Dance Hall Days” for the end, but in between we have “Let’s Go”, “Hypnotize Me”, and “Wait” and all these other songs. You could see people thinking “I hadn’t connected that these guys have done all these songs”.
It really built into this crescendo and we finally played “Dance Hall Days”. I remember the crowd just went mad at the end of it. I stood in the middle of the stage and just drank that in. I was thinking “Jack Hues, remember this.” Because people would give their right arm to experience this feeling.