'80s - Wang Chung (2009)
'Still Havin' Fun!'
The London-based new wave group Wang Chung had a handful of hits in the mid-'80s, achieving their greatest popularity in the U.S. Originally called Huang Chung, the band consisted of vocalist/guitarist Jack Hues, bassist Nick Feldman, and drummer Darren Costin.
Huang Chung released their first single, "Isn't It About Time We Were on Television?," in 1980; the record led to a contract with Arista Records. The group released their first album, Huang Chung, in 1982. By the time they recorded 1984's Points on a Curve, the band had changed their name to Wang Chung.
"Dance Hall Days" was a small hit in Britain, yet the band hit the Top 40 twice in America - "Don't Let Go" made it to #36, while "Dance Hall Days" reached #16. From this point on, Wang Chung concentrated on the U.S. "To Live and Die in L.A.," the theme song from William Friedken's thriller, just missed making the Top 40 in 1985. That same year, Wang Chung switched from Geffen Records to A&M and Costin left the band.
Hues and Feldman continued as a duo and released Mosaic in 1986. The album was their biggest hit, launching the #2 hit "Everybody Have Fun Tonight" and the Top 10 "Let's Go!" Wang Chung returned in 1989 with The Warmer Side of Cool, which spent six weeks on the charts, spawning the minor hit, "Praying to a New God."
After a relative period of downtime, and the release of two greatest hits albums, the group quietly stopped touring and recording, until today; when an album of brand new material, Abducted ... By The '80s has been promised for early 2010.
Chatting now one-on-one with both Jack Hues and Nick Feldman, I first asked them at what point had Huang Chung (the literal translation being Yellow Bell) become Wang Chung (which translates to Perfect Pitch), and why?! [Jack] “Well, the name Wang Chung is Chinese. I was checking with our drummer whose traveled a bit in China and he was talking about Cantonese and Mandarin and he thinks it should actually be spelt Zhoh Chung! Which would be even more confusing,” he laughs. “I think when we signed with Geffen essentially this name was something we didn't quite know what to do with yet. We even thought about changing it for a while. But they were keen for us to keep the name, but just spell it more like it’s pronounced. So Huang Chung to Wang Chung, that’s how it got there. But it’s effectively rendered senseless in terms of any Chinese translation. Which we’re fine about,” he again laughs. “It wasn’t the point to have a Chinese name that meant something.”
But where were the origins for the specific name born for you? [Nick] “’Cause we’re weird,” he now laughs. “Jack was reading this pretentious book about Stockhausen and there’s this footnote about this Huang Chung, this kinda Chinese musical thing. And I don’t know why it appealed to him, but he kinda sheepishly suggested it one day to me. And thinking I’d probably go, ‘What?!,’ I actually quite liked it. It appealed to me, I don’t know why really. So we just kinda went with it from there.”
Looking back, isn’t it crazy to think that your only Top 40 hit back in the UK was ‘Dance Hall Days’ (#21 in ‘84) … while in the US you got five (5) Top 40 hits!! [Nick] “I think it was probably two things. Firstly, I think we were lucky there was this kinda British Invasion of America, as it was called. So, there was a bunch of British bands already doing well in the States, like Tears For Fears, The Fixx, Depeche Mode and others. So, there was a kind of openness to this post-punk, new wave music that mixed synths with guitars. And so we fitted into that really well. Plus, we were actually signed in the States to Geffen so inevitably they focused more on us in North America. Having said that, we may have only got to #21 in the UK, but it was a real slow burner as it took forever to get to #21. So, it was in the charts for a very long time.”
[Jack] “We actually did Top Of The Pops twice with it and so got some great visibility from it. I think being signed to Geffen, which was affectively a small American label at that time, they possibly didn’t have the promotional budgets or whatever. They just weren’t geared up for driving a hit in the UK. But like Nick said, the single took a long time to go up the charts, and then took a long time to come back down again. But it did very well in Europe as well.”
And so, your biggest hit to date, and one that still has everyone singing it at the tops of their voices, ‘Everybody Have Fun Tonight’ came out in 1986. So, what was the inspiration behind that song? [Jack] “Well, Nick and I used to get together in his flat and play through ideas, fragments of songs and stuff. And one day he came up with this idea of ‘Everybody have fun tonight.’ Which amazingly really appealed to me,” he laughs. “I heard it as something quite ironic and proceeded to write this song which we demo’d as a ballad almost. It was this melancholy kinda song at the time.”
“And it was when we started working with Peter Wolfe on the ‘Mosaic’ album, as he was the producer, he was really into that song, but he was like, ‘take out the irony.’ And he was also into this little ad-lib that I did near the end of it about ‘Everybody Wang Chung tonight.’ And so when he started on about that I was like, oh my God, I can’t really do that. But, of course, he has a lot of energy. And so whilst we were in the studio we re-wrote the song in lots of different ways and ended up just creating this track.”
Are you still surprised today that it turned out to be the monster that it became? [Jack] “I suppose so, although there was a certain amount of design about it. I mean, we’ve subsequently designed other tracks that have gone nowhere,” both he and Nick now laugh together.
[Nick] “We constructed it in the studio and I remember us thinking that this would either be really good or really bad, and we honestly didn’t know which. And out manager came over from the UK, as we were recording in Vienna, and he arrived, listened to the track, and he went absolutely mad - like, a positive mad! And then everybody we played it to went absolutely berserk for it. And so we quickly realized that it was definitely good. I don’t think we could have predicted it would have had the effect that it has had 25 years on though.”
In the early days you all changed your names to pseudonyms, but subsequently you, Jeremy/Jack, are the only one to have kept the fake name! Why? [Jack] “I don’t know. I think it just kinda stuck, really. Nick was always still Nick even if he was Nick DeSpig and I kinda met everybody professionally as Jack. And even when I met my wife I told her she could call me Jeremy or Jack and she called me Jack. It’s really only my parents who call me Jeremy.”
[Nick] “It still really freaks me out when people call him Jeremy,” he heartily laughs.
Does it bother you that ‘Dance Hall Days’ was used in the video game ‘Grand Theft Auto: Vice City’ (especially in the scenes whenever the player requests a private dance from the strippers at the Malibu Club!) and then ‘Don’t Let Go’ was used in ’Vice City’s prequel, ‘Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories’ And you‘re OK with this?! [Nick] “I tell you one thing, that’s the first time my son has been impressed with me in a long time,” he laughs.
Do you get money from that kinda of thing? [Jack] “They give you this up front payment, but you don’t make any royalties, no. But, that’s fine. It’s more to do with the fact that it increases the awareness of the music and the band.”
[Nick] “I think I inadvertently got us on to ‘Grand Theft Auto.’ I used to work at Sony as an A&R guy and Sony did this deal with Rockstar Games to release the CD of music from the game. It hadn’t really been done before so they made this big presentation to the company, before the game was even finished. And so they were obviously talking about the fact that it was an ‘80s soundtrack and I wondered if ‘Dance Hall Days’ was going to be on it. And so I went up to the guys and introduced myself and so gently suggested it and they were like, ‘Wow, that’s an interesting idea.’ So, I don’t know if that actually helped it or not!”
Will anything from The Intellektuals, 57 Men, Music Academy, and Promised Land ever see the CD light of day, perhaps? [Nick] “Oh, that’s an interesting question. Well, funnily enough our ex-drummer, Darrin Costin has done this slightly interesting project. He used to be in another band that rehearsed next door to The Intellektuals and so he and his band became slightly obsessed with what me and Jack were doing. And so all those songs have been kinda locked in his brain … and much more than they are in ours,” he laughs. “And so now he’s done this album of all this old stuff that we did, that we wrote, and he’s re-created it and performed it himself. And it’s called ‘Dave In The Life.’ It’s a loose concept record like ‘Tommy’ … but, instead of Tommy it’s Dave!
And so, there is finally word of a new Wang Chung soon-to-be-released album entitled ‘Abducted by the 80s’ coming out in 2010. Please tell us more [Jack] “Yes, it’s a new Wang Chung soon-to-be-released album coming out in 2010,” he laughs. “See, you didn’t know that, did you! Yep, we got a lot of tracks, more than enough tracks for an album and we are basically in the next couple of months going to sort out some kind of deal. We’d like to do some kind of label deal so that it comes out in the old fashioned way, like a standard CD format early next year. And then come back here and do more touring in support of that.”
Finally, what was this massive tabloid rumor that surrounded your possible involvement in ‘Blanket of Secrecy’?! [Jack] “That was an old friend of mine, Pete Marsh who’s a singer/guitar player/songwriter who’s been in the business for ages and he got this band together. He made this album and Nick and I contributed a song to the album and I also did a string arrangement for him. A very good string arrangement, I might add,” he laughs.
Interviewed by: Russell A. Trunk
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