Wang Chung's Nick Feldman brings retro back to the future with new release
After musical partners Jack Hues and Nick Feldman released ‘The Warmer Side of Cool’ in 1989 upon conquering American radio with a sequence of perfected pop singles, they detached from pop music altogether, bidding adieu to the Eighties while forsaking their band. Wang Chung became archived with the decade that brought them fortune and fame. While vocalist / guitarist Jack Hues explored an inconclusive solo career and equitable soundtrack work, Nick Feldman (bassist, co-vocalist) became a successful scout for talent, heading A&R divisions for Warner, then Sony.
Reuniting for one-offs here and there, including ABC Television’s ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time' in 2005, Wang Chung have reacted positively to their fans, touring the States twice and dropping an EP of new material and re-recorded singles, including the top 5 smash 'Everybody Have Fun Tonight'. However, with other projects evolving from the talents of the band’s core members, fans have questioned whether or not Wang Chung are serious about reclaiming their position as masters of alternative pop or are they simply chasing a retro past to fulfill their own mid-life crisis?
With their first full-length record in nearly 25 years, founding member Nick Feldman sets the record straight in an effort to ‘Tazer Up!’ the band’s reliability and resuscitate the power of a Wang Chung.
1) JK: Well it’s finally arrived. How does it feel to release a full-length Wang Chung record again? Was their an official toast to celebrate this special occasion?
NF: “It’s about bloody time we put this record out! I think we had a drink, maybe. It was also coincidental that all of our (backlog) albums were released digitally (on the same day) as well. But that’s fine with us. There’s always been a strong interest around in what we do and what we’ve done. It’s still gratifying that people are still interested and seem to respond so well. With the Internet now, that whole sense of the ‘big launch’ is less important than it used to be. In a way, that’s good because the Internet is like a trail of bread crumbs. If someone discovers one crumb, then another, they follow the trail of crumbs and discover they’ve entered into the world of Wang Chung, or whoever it is. In some ways, these things find their own speed and slowly they build and suddenly, when enough people are aware, the momentum gets bigger as opposed to being all hyped up on the first day as it used to be. Things find their natural level now. Unlike before, after the big launch, if the record isn’t well received, it isn’t buried by the record company. Now your album can be discovered a year later and I think that is very healthy.”
2) JK: The new LP is titled ‘Tazer Up!’. There must exist a profound story behind its name. If I may guess, does this have anything to do with the use of tazer stun guns by police forces in America?
NF: Laughing, “I think you’re giving us far too much intelligence to our intention. It’s basically inspired by a painting in a gallery window that Jack saw in his hometown of Canterbury while walking. The painting features this colorfully, psychedelic ray gun that Jack really liked so much he took a photo of it and shared it with me. We both thought it would make a cool image to use as the cover of our EP (Abducted by the Eighties). Obviously using a ray gun, there is a sense of alien abduction, so it seemed like a logo-istic shape to create. We ended up changing all of the colors for the cover. However, Jack actually bought the original painting then we decided to actually use the painting’s image as it actually was. Hence, the name ‘tazer’ and so we included ‘up’ just to give it emphasis. We purposely changed the spelling of ‘taser’ to ‘tazer’ as a result of being pretentious, similarly as our band name Wang Chung.”
3) JK: Like many of your Eighties contemporaries, Wang Chung’s music is often layered with orchestral synthesizers and highly-engineered production techniques. Do you find synthesizers to be resourceful tools or do you find them challenging to integrate due to their complex capacities?
NF: We’ve always liked being at the forefront of new studio and music technologies, even back in the Eighties. We’ve always been into sampling, even some of the earliest sampling using the Fairlight and Synclavier. So we’ve always been attracted to that sort of mixture of synths & guitars, technology and real-time, programming and real-play. It’s a lot easier to do it now than it used to be of course. Obviously you can dial it up on your laptop these days with all of these easy-to-use software that we can get to produce just about any sound you want and much easier to manipulate. In the old days, it was definitely more problematic. Yet it was more exciting, learning from all of that. I think we sort of naturally find that hybrid between synths and real instrumentation useful as we construct. In the studio, we construct records brick by brick, piece by piece, layer by layer; we don’t just go into a (studio) and set up our instruments and play like a live band. We mold and shape (each song), which for us, is a natural state of creativity. I may be exaggerating here, but generally speaking, most of the guitars are played in real time although we can manipulate some of the recording of the guitar. Some of the bass is synthetic, some isn’t. And a lot of the drums are programmed. Vocals are definitely real! That’s generally how it is for us.”
4) JK: How risky is it to financially invest in the time to write, produce, and record new material as an independent artist? What advice would you give to some of your Eighties contemporaries on the verge of stepping out of retirement?
NF: “Well, everything is cheaper these days. I mean, you can record an entire album on your laptop. Also, you can make your material available to the world without having a record company. You can just stick it up on the Internet and the whole world can access it. The trick is of course to make aware that it exists. That’s the hard thing these days. Making music available and distribution, well that’s all easy compared to the old days when you completely relied on a record company to get your stuff out. As for advice, I’d say that you have to be realistic about it. I mean, the album (in terms of sales) is under siege because of iTunes and the Internet. This has allowed people to become accustomed to picking and mixing their selections. They’ll buy a track or buy a couple of tracks, but less likely to buy a whole album. Certainly the younger people are like that. It’s all been reversed. It used to be all about the album sales, and touring was a way to promote the album. Now, you release music to spread awareness of what you’re doing, then that will hopefully bring people to your shows. Whereas the record labels used to force consumers to buy the whole album based on one or two radio singles, it was album sales that drove the industry. The album certainly generated more money, so from that sense the labels and the artists themselves were financially better off from the sales of studio recordings. Today, however, an artist can’t rely strictly on album sales. It’s more democratized now for the consumer. They can buy whatever track they like without buying the entire album. There is also the advantage of being able to release music faster and closer to when you actually recorded it. No longer do you have to wait through the favor of some big corporation. So, if you’re realistic about how things really are in the music business as it is today, then I would say to any Eighties act interested in getting back together, go for it because it is incredibly gratifying. Releasing an album (independently) today allows an artist to put themselves in the context of their audience, with immediate feedback and reaction, and that, as an artist, is immensely rewarding.”
5) JK: I find ‘Tazer Up!’ to be a non-experimental Wang Chung LP with many parallel similarities with past recordings. For example, the hook n’catch chorus of ‘Rent Free’ might have easily appeared as a B-side to any of the singles from ‘The Warmer Side of Cool’. Were there any moments of déjà vu when you listened to the final edit?
NF: “Kind of. I think with the new album, we wanted to get that sense of acknowledging our past, in our style, yet we tried to make a record that stands up as a contemporary record. When we play ‘Rent Free’ live, it always gets a great response. People who have obviously never heard it before, have told us that it fits in quite well with our older stuff. Of course, we are the same two guys (from Wang Chung) you know, and we can do what we do without trying too hard. Every track is reflective of those intervening years as we’ve taken on much more contemporary influences, so there is a good mix of the old with the new. Wang Chung has always been difficult to pin-down because we’re really quite eclectic and I think this album certainly reflects that side of us. We hope it all hangs together as Wang Chung.”
6) JK: What should fans expect from Wang Chung in 2013? Are you making plans to tour the new record, perform on late night talk shows, and film any videos to support any forthcoming singles?
NF: “We’re going to be putting out more stuff later in the year. We’ve got more material that we want to make available. So we’re either going to put out volume II of Tazer Up! or maybe release smaller clusters of tracks and drip feed them over the next year or so. We haven’t quite decided what to do yet. But there is some pretty cool stuff yet to come. (As for touring) Yes, it’s definitely in our plan to tour the States. Our agent is looking into possibilities at the moment in North America so you’ll see us somewhere on the road. Whoever wants to give us a gig, we’ll have a go at it.”
7) JK: Your biggest hit was recorded over 25 years ago. Inarguably, ‘Everybody Have Fun Tonight’ is one of those one-in-a-million hits that propels a band into a status that has a life-cycle of rewards that could still benefit financially for years to come. Like some artists, such as David Bowie, have confessed, do you have a love/hate relationship with your biggest hit?
NF: “It’s more love than hate I assure you. To me, I don’t have a problem with it. I think it’s great, you know. As you get older and time passes, you come to appreciate what a song like this has done for you. That track literally made us a household name. We’re name checked everywhere; I mean, that’s quite amazing. Just our band name alone has had an influence on the culture and it’s still happening now, right up to the present day. It’s still ongoing. Seth McFarland tweeted about us the other day. For me, I’m delighted about it. Sure it’s earned us a few dollars here and there, but the profile we’ve received from it is just great. Wang Chung has even been added to the Urban Dictionary
8) JK: When you both quietly disbanded by 1990, did you ever think to yourself that Wang Chung’s time had simply expired? Or perhaps, was it a master plan to quietly exit while you were ahead?
NF: “We knew that there was still good will towards us, but then again we thought we’d run our course with each other. We both wanted to do our own thing which we thought we’d be better doing other things. Maybe we’d peaked and it was downhill from there. So we just went our separate ways, but still worked together on some things apart from Wang Chung. When we heard that Geffen wanted to release a greatest hits record in 1998, we thought we’d get back together to record one song for the compilation. We wrote and recorded it quickly, sent it to Geffen, they really liked it and they included it on the best-of. That track, ‘Space Junk’ was recently used in the Walking Dead and we’re just delighted because it has brought loads of interest as a result.”
9) JK: In 1992 Jack recorded a solo record (The Anatomy Project) that unfortunately remains locked in a vault of unreleased material while the jazzy, dream pop record you made with Jon Moss of Culture Club called Promised Land has been long out of print. Are you interested in making either of these records available in the future?
NF: “Yeah I think we are. We both did our separate projects at the same time really. Jon and I were neighbors and we’d learned to play about the same time. We then became friendly rivalries, competing to see who would make it first. Unfortunately he won. But I wouldn’t say that (Promised Land) is jazzy though; rather it’s electronic, sort of blissed-out, atmospheric and mellow with a lot of synths. It hasn’t really dated for me personally; it still sounds very contemporary, very chilled-out. We had some really big club hits with it, but we kept fairly anonymous, hence it was sort of a mysterious project for me. We ended up signing with Epic in the States and made a good album I think. I’m definitely going to make that available again. I think people will enjoy it as being ‘themeatical’. And I’m sure Jack too would want to do something similarly with his solo record as well. Although I don’t know Jack’s solo record that well, in contrast to Promised Land material, his record is closer to Wang Chung with rocky-poppy sort of songs; very melodic. I’m sure you’ll be hearing more of it.”
10) JK: With all of the demands of being a parent, bombarded with the responsibilities that take precedence over pop music, what is the rationale that keeps you and Jack motivated to carry on as Wang Chung?
NF: ”Well I think it’s the sheer enjoyment. That’s the primary reason. It’s fun to play live. Jack and I are creative guys and we really love making records and to know that people are interested to hear them is the ultimate motivating factor; we’re not just pissing into the wind. Thank God people seem to like what we’ve done. We’re very lucky. As you get older, when you’re on the road, you’ve got to be careful when burning the candle at both ends. The hangover is that much worse; the capacity of physically dealing with it is much more difficult. I suppose as you age, the desire to be more ‘rock n’roll’ diminishes anyway and other things are (revealed) as more important.”
11) JK: As a successful artist who broke it big in the Eighties, what do you consider to be your greatest constraint in 2013: Finding the time to make music, budgeting the cash to record, tour, and promote, or defining your scope (songwriting, genre-style, audience)?
NF: “There’s so much music being released all the time because of the Internet. I mean, every Tom, Dick, and Harry puts their stuff up, so there’s a hell of a lot of noise. Therefore, it’s quite challenging to cut through all of that and make people aware of what you’re doing to sort of catch their attention, then keep it. It all seems to be working for us. Again, we are realistic – meaning that there are very few crossover hits anymore. The days of the big ‘smash’ hit are over. All of these songs that are supposedly (chart) hits today aren’t even known by a general audience. We’re just happy to be hitting on our niche.”
12) JK: One attribute that sets Wang Chung apart from other established bands is your accessibility and enthusiasm to connect with your fans on a personal level. Were you always this accessible back in the ‘80s? In hindsight, how has fame affected you and do you value it today? How serious do you take your celebrity status?
NF: “We’ve always felt appreciated in North America. Feeling like a celebrity? I don’t know. We’ve been around the block too many times to start getting carried away with how fantastic our legacy can be, do you know what I mean? It’s quite easy to lose contact with fans or not have enough access to them personally, so it’s great to meet them after shows and talk to them. I mean, these are the people who you are communicating to in your music and I value what they really think about the stuff you’re doing now. It’s very illuminating in a way, having a dialog with your fans and I’d like to have done more of that in the Eighties if been given the chance. I will say that it’s great the way you can directly communicate these days without having someone from the record company standing in the way. We make a point to. It’s so easy to do it, I mean with the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, Skype and so on. It’s really rewarding, more so than it used to be in many ways. It would be very pretentious to believe we were social networking geniuses, but we are pretty hands on. We respond to people who reach out to us; we’re in control of it and we know how important it is. We do this because we love it. We’ve really enjoyed ourselves the last few years, still going out and playing live in parts of the world we’ve never played before. For instance, we played in Singapore a few months ago and a couple of gigs in the far East and everywhere we were, they just went completely mad! We are very lucky to have our success and very grateful that people are still interested in us after all of these years.” Laughing, “If you had told me that this was going to happen 25 years ago, I’d thought you too to be completely mad.”
13) You’ve toured the world and played in hundreds of US cities in your career as a musician. As a celebrity guest to our city, what sets Atlanta apart from the rest?
NF: “There’s so much history. Gone with the Wind & Margaret Mitchell. It’s very southern & sweltering. As for an English boy, there is an atmospheric romance to Atlanta with a lot of color, which I like. The whole Chastain area is just beautiful. For us, Atlanta is a very cool place.”
14) JK: In closing, it’s always intriguing when artists share their personal thoughts on each of their records. As if a parent describes their children, please do us the honor and share your brief thoughts on each chapter of the Wang Chung library.
1982: Huang Chung
NF: Our first album. Trent Reznor is a big advocate for this one. When I listen to it today, it still stands up for me. We’re actually going to start playing songs from this one live for the first time in over 30 years.
1983: Points on the Curve
NF: Facing the end of our career, we looked back at our 15 minutes and said, well, I guess this is the end. But like the cavalry coming over the hill, the Phoenix rose from the ashes, it saved us. On the verge of being dropped, we suddenly found ourselves signed to the coolest label in the States, a country of where we’d never been. In the misery of failure, we found ourselves in the American charts. Recorded at Abby Road, we went into another studio and replaced some of the parts, including the bass line. I’m left-handed so the engineer ran to grab me a left-handed bass. I was stunned when the grip returned with a lefty bass; that grip was none other than the one and only Paul McCartney.
1985: To Live and Die in L.A.
NF: After our first big chart success with Points on the Curve, the record company were putting out a vibe that our material wasn’t up to par. Then out of the blue, we were invited to be spontaneous, with instrumentals and songs. It was ironically us - Jack & I that decided to put some of the proper (vocal) tracks on that one, in spite of what director William Friedkin wanted. So we turned a soundtrack job into our next proper album. It’s become the most respected album that we ever did. We really got out of jail with that one.
NF: After having explored another side of Wang Chung with the last album, I think there was this sense to jump back on the horse and write some real crossover pop stuff again. Having said that, there are some ambitious tracks as well on that one. We recorded it in Vienna, London, and Los Angeles. It has a true international sound. Jimmy Swaggart’s sample seems appropriate doesn’t it? Samples of cartoons, cheers, and such. We love it.
1989: The Warmer Side of Cool
NF: A very intense album where Jack and I both had opposing views of where we wanted to take the next record. While we were working together, we are also working against each other, you know what I mean? You can hear that in the music. The first half, Jack is more dominant; I on the second half. I had been quite ill before the recording, so I was very fragile. Jack had his own dental problems, so he had his own physical discomfort as well. Having said that, I think there are some fine moments on it. We reoriented the band a bit, bringing in amazing musicians and guests, rocking out in reaction against Mosaic in a way. If there were any regrets, it would be that the poppi-ness of Mosaic may have lost some of the credibility with certain fans, so I guess with this record we wanted to sort of claim that credibility back. Maybe we shouldn’t dismiss it.
2010: Abducted By The 80's (EP)
NF: It’s like, “We’re Sorry”. I mean, we’re sort of apologizing for the Eighties. It’s sort of Back to the Future – going back but in a futuristic, conceptual way. A very loose concept; It amused us.
2012: Tazer Up!
NF: It really dates back to Hit Me Baby One More Time. This is where the comeback journey begins for us. I’m really pleased with it. I recently listened to it on Spotify, without concentrating on it as I was doing other things, so it just came at me. I thought it came together nicely. I enjoyed listening to it. It was a good bit of work, and all of that effort was worth it. So, I’m relieved to like it.
Nick Feldman, January 2013.
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