July 31, 2018 Interview – Nick Feldman of Wang Chung
It is quite easy for a snobbish music listeners to immediately discount the sounds and styles from the 1980s, but is their arrogant attitude justified? Well, that depends on who you ask, but the truth of the matter is the ’80s remains one of the most influential and inventive decades of music in modern times. Undeniable, right in the middle of it all was a band known as Wang Chung.
Born out of the UK New Wave scene, Wang Chung would go on to a mass of success in the mid 1980s with hit singles such as “Dance Hall Days,” “Everyone Have Fun Tonight,” and “Let’s Go!.” An interesting career that would include the creation of a beautifully dark instrumental soundtrack for the 1985 film To Live and Die in L.A., by the dawn of the 1990s, sadly, Wang Chung had all but taken their final bow.
Seemingly the end of an era, respective founders Nick Feldman and Jack Hues would go on to other compelling musical endeavors before inevitably bringing Wang Chung back into the spotlight years later. This is where the story draws even more interest, because in 2012 they would release Tazer Up!, their first studio record in over twenty years, and arguably some of their best work to date. So where is Wang Chung today? Still rocking and rolling of course as they tour across the globe and prepare for the release of a full career retrospective in 2019. Very much creatively engaged, Nick Feldman took the time to talk about the nonlinear career of Wang Chung, striking a balance between commercial success and creative integrity, touring the USA, plus more.
CrypticRock.com – Wang Chung was established nearly four decades ago, and during the 1980s the band would go on to a string of successful singles and international touring. Looking back, how would you describe the journey of the band?
Nick Feldman – Like everything with Wang Chung, it has not been straightforward. I think there is quite a lot of different sides to what we have done and what we do – both musically and the way we do it in the arch of our career. The ’80s is where it all absolutely exploded, but the ’90s, and about twenty years afterwards, we kind of did other things. We occasionally got together to do old projects, but essentially we were no longer together.
Everything continued, the music was getting regularly used in films, TV shows, and commercials. We were constantly asked to go out and tour. Then our greatest hits came out, we did a new song for that in 1998 called “Space Junk,” which itself was used in programs like The Walking Dead, opening up a whole new set of fans for us.
Jack (Hues) and I have done different things as well. He has a Jazz band he has been working with over the years, plus I was an A&R guy for Warner Bros. and Sony. I worked on The Voice, we produced different artists. There have been all sort of different things. I think that is sort of how our career has been, which has maybe kept it a little more interesting, at least certainly for us. It makes Wang Chung a little harder to pin down in that normal sense. I think that’s quite good. When we do our live shows, especially these days, we play all our hits and some other songs, I think some people say, “I didn’t realize, that song was there, as well as that one,” they hadn’t put it all together. It has been a varied and interesting journey, or a long strange trip as The Grateful Dead once sang.
CrypticRock.com – It certainly has been a very interesting ride. The 1984 record Points on the Curve saw its success while featuring the popular single “Dance Hall Days.” On the heels of that record, in 1985, you were brought in to work on the soundtrack for the film To Live and Die in L.A. A fantastic soundtrack, what was it like for you to work on such a different piece of music?
Nick Feldman – That’s a really good example of exactly what I’ve been talking about. The fact that one minute we are in the charts with a Pop hit, and the next minute we are doing an instrumental soundtrack to a pretty dark movie with William Friedkin. That was an absolute fantastic experience for us. You couldn’t make it up, we were recording our follow-up album to Points on the Curve, and there were the sorts of usual pressure from the record company asking, “Where’s the hit? Give us another hit!” We were coming up with some okay stuff, but we were sort of struggling with finding it, and the pressure was a bit unpleasant. Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, we got offered this fantastic project to do the instrumental score to this movie from one of our directional heroes.
It was like the cavalry coming over the hill for us, getting away from that pressure of coming up with the commercial hits and going into something extremely and artistically stimulating. It was amazing to be working in Hollywood like that. Friedkin loved the song “Wait” from Points on the Curve, it has a sort of dry, tense rhythm. He approached us and said, “That’s the sort of feeling I want in the music. Just go into the studio and give me 45 minutes of music and I will put it into the film as I see fit.” Which is an amazing break, because we didn’t have to work to picture, he wasn’t interested in that. He wasn’t interested in us coming up with songs or hits, or anything like that, he just wanted instrumental music.
It was perfect, we went in there totally inspired, sent him the music, and he completely loved it. He actually cut the movie to much of the music, opposed to the other way around, which again, is amazing. The fact that there were songs on the soundtrack was completely due to our own inspiration. We came up with the songs – he told us not to do it, but we did it. He liked it so much he put them into the movie and that became the follow up to Points on the Curve, just by default almost. It saved us of all the pressures of writing the straightforward hit that we were supposed to have done. It was a brilliant project for us.
CrypticRock.com – The soundtrack has stood the test of time. You mentioned about the pressure of writing the big commercial hits, and they did come again following To Live and Die in L.A.. It was thereafter the band received its biggest commercial success with 1986’s Mosaic album. Anchored by three strong singles, including the decade defining “Everyone Have Fun Tonight,” what was that time like for Wang Chung?
Nick Feldman – If you like, using the analogy of eating a meal – you have a rich first course, then you kind of clean your pallet with a sorbet, and that cleans your palate for the next course. I supposed To Live and Die in L.A. really did clean our palate for jumping back onto the horse to writing more obvious hits. I think because of that we were more prepared and happier to do that naturally. I think we were ready for it.
For Mosaic, we worked with a new producer, Peter Wolf. We were very inspired, we wanted to have hits, we wanted to do something different. That seemed like the logical thing to do, but it wasn’t calculated, it just came naturally because we gotten quite a lot out of our system with To Live and Die in L.A. It came along nicely with the combination of us and Peter Wolf, who was very ambitious. He is musically a very talented guy, he used to play keyboards with Frank Zappa. I am a massive Frank Zappa fan, and it was sort of the reason I wanted to work with Peter. (Laughs) It was a good creative mix with commercial intent, but also artistry as well.
CrypticRock.com – The songs are still played on the radio today, so that is fantastic. At the start of the 1990s, Wang Chung went on hiatus and you worked on several projects including one with Jon Moss of Cultural Club, and Jack worked with Tony Banks of Genesis. What did you take away from the different collaborations?
Nick Feldman – We sort of went our separate ways. As I said, we went and did our own things for quite a long period after the ’80s. As you said, I went to work with Jon Moss of Culture Club, who is an old friend, and Jack with Tony Banks of Genesis. We did not fall out, but I think we needed a break from each other at that point. I loved doing the Promised Land project, it was very different from the Wang Chung project. We started off with myself and Jon, being from big ’80s bands, Culture Club and Wang Chung, and we were quite content being as anonymous as possible, keeping our backgrounds out of it.
We did a recording of Thunderclap Newman’s song “Something in the Air” with a soul to soul beat of the time that was blowing up in the clubs around the UK. We made this record, we were anonymous, and the record became a sort of club anthem in 1990. I think we were quiet gratified by that – we even got single of the week. Had all those people who had become snobby about Culture Club and Wang Chung at that time known we were involved, they might have tried not to like it. They didn’t know and it became a bit of a classic.
Even though Wang Chung weren’t actively together anymore, when I got a job as A&R guy for Warner Bros. I used Jack as a producer. I would get him to produce some of the acts I was working with. Even though we weren’t collaborating as Wang Chung anymore, we were still collaborating in a different way, slightly more indirectly. Jack and I had sort of associated with each other in some way.
CrypticRock.com – Very interesting, and Promised Land was fantastic, especially the 1992 LP. Wang Chung did in fact reunite come the mid 2000s and you also released a new studio record in 2012 called Tazer Up! An album that should have gotten more press than it did, what inspired the new record?
Nick Feldman – We are proud of that record. We did that off our own back. I think I was working at Sony at the time and we got this request to appear on this show called Hit Me, Baby, One More Time in the USA – you do your biggest hits, and you do a cover as well. They had various bands from the ’80s appearing, it was a prime time show on ABC. I took a few days off work and fancied going out there to do it for a bit of fun. We did a cover of Nelly’s “It’s Hot in Here” and we did “Everybody Have Fun Tonight.”
The response was so strong and it was really fun. We had both been writing songs a little bit individually along the way. I think we got so warmed by that thought, we said, “We should do a new record, why not?” Obviously we didn’t want to forget our ’80s roots, but also use some contemporary techniques and sounds, try and mix the two together. It just took shape very slowly, we recorded over quite a long period in dribs and drabs. We worked with a friend of ours called Adam Wren from Leftfield. We did it with him over a long period and we finally found ourselves with an album we were very happy with.
We put it out and it was around that time we decided to go back on the road again. I decided I had enough of being an A&R guy, I had done that for 10-12 years. I was ready to go get on the Wang Chung horse again. We went out on the road, put the album out, and sort of got things back on track again. It’s an album we are proud of.
CrypticRock.com – As you should be, Tazer Up! is a very good record. That in mind, can we expect perhaps more new Wang Chung music in the future?
Nick Feldman – There will be. Whether it’s Wang Chung or whatever it is, we don’t know. What we are doing is a total and full-on retrospective of everything we have done, that is coming out next year. We did a live album two years ago as well which came out with Sony. It will include that, it will include Tazer Up!, it is also going to include every rarity we can get our hands on. It’s all sorts of bits and pieces, and we are excited about it. It will be called Clear Light Dark Matter, so watch out for that next year.
There are a few other projects we are thinking about doing as well. Jack has recorded some solo material, so I think he will be doing that next year. Plus I have a bunch of stuff that I want to record. I have been on a bit of creative up over the past 6-9 months. I am hoping to either put that out with Jack as Wang Chung, or without him, I don’t know which yet, we haven’t decided. There is going to be quite a lot of stuff coming next year, it just hasn’t shaken down yet to how it will manifest. Clear Light Dark Matter is certainly coming.
CrypticRock.com – Wow, that is all very exciting news. You just began the the Lost 80’s Live Tour. How excited are you for this run?
Nick Feldman – I’m excited. The last few years Jack has stepped back from touring. I have continued without him and I am working with Cutting Crew. Some shows I do as Wang Chung with Gareth Moulton of Cutting Crew, and other shows we have literally merged Wang Chung and Cutting Crew together into one sort of performing act where we do the repertoire of both bands. We have been touring all over for the last few years doing that.
It’s a lot of fun, I really enjoy it. The audience is very responsive and I love it. I am looking forward to this tour, I think it’s sold very well and there will be big crowds. We want to Wang their asses off! (Laughs) Jack won’t be on this particular tour, but he is going to be very active again soon.
CrypticRock.com – It will be exciting to see you out and playing some cities you have not in a while. You are playing two shows in New York, one on Long Island and one in Brooklyn.
Nick Feldman – Exactly! I haven’t been there for 5-6 years, that’s really exciting. I am really looking forward to it.
CrypticRock.com – It should be a wonderful tour. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock also covers Horror and Sci-Fi films. If you are a fan of either genre, do you have any favorites?
Nick Feldman – I do like those genres. I love movies, so I appreciate anything. Anything that I can’t really predict what is going to happen is what I like best. I find so many new movies so formulated that it’s so easy to see what the plot twists are going to be and where they are going. I see that in Horror as well from the past. The first Paranormal Activity (2007) movie scared the shit out of me, it really frighten me. As far as Sci-Fi, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) really had an effect on me when I saw it back in the day.
I was just talking about the new Blade Runner 2049 (2017) movie recently. I thought it looked and sounded pretty amazing. I really liked it, it didn’t blow me away completely, but I loved the soundscape and the look of it visually.
CrypticRock.com – It was very engaging. The feel was great, it did not feel forced.
Nick Feldman – The feel was really good and they could have messed it up terribly. They sort of did it justice without literally making the same film again, but not quite as good. They at least tried to do something that tried to justify its existence in it.
Another one of my favorite Sci-Fi/Horror films was John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). That is a film that is slightly underrated.