Use the links below to check out my interviews with authors, musicians – anyone who has anything to do with the 80s!
Interview with Nick Feldman of Wang Chung
I hope you’ve enjoyed Wang Chung Week! Today I’m excited to bring you my interview with Nick Feldman, the band’s bassist and guitarist. Wang Chung have a new album out, called Tazer Up!, and I asked Nick about their new work, their old stuff, and being a musician in the 80s.
Pop Eighties: Can you describe how your sound has progressed from your 80s releases to your current album?
Nick Feldman: Our current sound, apart from being a product of the influences and talents that made up our sound IN the 80s, also takes in the influences of the new music we’ve been listening to along the way SINCE the 80s. Both Jack and I have been active in music in our separate ways since the 80s. After collaborating with Jon Moss of Culture Club on a project called Promised Land, doing some film and TV scoring, I then worked for Warner Brothers and then Sony Music in A&R for many years. Since then I have also been working on the TV show the Voice and have managed, produced and written with younger artists.
After Wang Chung, Jack collaborated on Tony Banks of Genesis’ solo album, scored another Friedkin movie, recorded his own solo album and since then has been lecturing at Canterbury University on song composition, has been playing and recording with his jazz band The Quartet and also produced some artists for me when I was working at the record companies.
These activities have kept us both abreast of whats happening on the front line of music and aware of newer and more diffuse music, and this we have co opted consciously and subconsciously into our current sound, compositionally and production-wise.
On Tazer Up!, what we have tried to achieve in it’s general concept is a nod to our 80s roots but at the same keeping the album sounding current and relevant.
Pop Eighties: What would you say is your standout track from Tazer Up?
Nick Feldman: They are all total masterpieces completely outdoing anything ever written by anybody in the history of all music. They are all so perfect, it is literally impossible for one to stand out from the other. Apart from our ridiculous talent, we are the very epitome of modesty and humility, don’t you think?
Pop Eighties: Was there any difference in the way you approached writing and recording your new music?
Nick Feldman: Wang Chung have always constructed our recordings bit by bit, layer by layer, playing many of the instruments ourselves. We rarely set up and just bashed it out as a live band, when recording in the studio . . . we would program some of the parts using sequences and synths and then overlay guitar and bass parts and vocals etc. In the old days we used to demo our songs in small studios or at home on rudimentary recording equipment. Then we would go in to a big proper studio with an engineer or producer and record the album over one concentrated period. As was the way then, the big recording would be very expensive and would have to be financed by the record company. These days, with technology developing as it has, it is so much easier to record on our computers and laptops at home, using sophisticated but reasonably priced software. Also the advent of the internet, which didn’t exist in 80s, means we can send recordings of parts to each other over the net, allowing us to construct the tracks without always being together in the same room.
Of course we did get together every now and then over the recording of the Tazer Up! album, in a small studio space we hired in London, and we worked there with our friend Adam Wren, a talented engineer/producer. This is where we assembled everything with Adam and where we did final mixes of the album.
The other difference between the old and new approach is that these days the palette of sounds, instrumentation, textures and beats etc is so much broader and at our fingertips because of the sophistication of affordable music software available now. You just call it up on your laptop and off you go. Having said that, the effective application of those sounds is still a music skill that cant be sidestepped.
Pop Eighties: On Tazer Up you include a remix of Dance Hall Days (my fave song of yours!) and also a song called Abducted by the 80s. Although the 80s have been having a resurgence in popularity, it seems many artists aren’t happy with their association with the decade. Do you have fond memories of being a musician in the 80s?
Nick Feldman: Of course it was a decade that put us on the map and gave us the recognition we had worked so hard for and dreamed of for many years. For that reason alone we have fond memories of it. It was a decade that allowed us to travel the world and play to appreciative audiences. It was a time of new technology in the studio like sampling for instance, as well as synths and drum machines etc. These things excited us as musicians as well as on the visual side, the phenomenon of MTV broadened our artistic sphere of activities.
These days the 80s seem to be a big influence on many cutting edge and interesting contemporary younger artists both in music and fashion, so whats there to be unhappy about? It’s important to us to keep moving forward and take in new sounds and influences and not just be 80s dinosaurs but we are proud of our background and have wanted to co-opt it into our overall sound.
Pop Eighties: A lot of my readers will be primarily familiar with your most enduring hit, Everybody Have Fun Tonight. Can you say a little about the idea behind the song, and how you feel about its firm place in 80s pop culture?
Nick Feldman: The song started when I played Jack the chorus, which I’d written a few days before that. It was quite slow and pulsing and slightly funky in feel. To my surprise Jack really liked the idea, both lyrically and musically. He then developed it into a kind of Hey Jude-type piece, which we then roughly demoed in my front room. Whilst recording the vocal, he ad-libbed the line ‘Everybody have fun tonight, Everybody Wang Chung tonight’ as a one off. When we later played it to our producer Peter Wolf for consideration for our next album, he loved the idea of the song, loved the adlib and thought it should be a fundamental part of the chorus. He also encouraged us to rework the track in a much more uptempo way, which we did after we had started the recording session for the album. It was one of the few tracks we’ve written and developed in the studio after starting recording an album. You can hear the original demo, which is called ‘Everybody have fun Tonight: The Early Years’ on our Greatest Hits album.
We enjoy the impact it’s had on the culture. It’s namechecked in so many very high profile tv shows and movies, from the Simpsons to Austin Powers to 2 and Half Men and loads of others. In fact ‘to Wang Chung’ became a figure of speech and is even in some dictionaries as a saying or a verb!! It helped to make us a household name.
Pop Eighties: What are the major differences between being a musician in the 80s and releasing music today? Has the Internet age made a difference in the way you approach releasing your music?
Nick Feldman: It’s very different. The means of distribution used to be very much in the hands of the record companies and they exercised a good deal of control on what went on. Record sales were the driver and touring was more of a way of enhancing awareness and sales of your record. Now, it is almost an opposite situation. Record sales have declined, especially albums, and they’re more about helping the draw of the act live. The internet has liberated musicians to be able to distribute their own music worldwide, without relying on record companies and affordable music software also has made the recording process viable for everyone. The downside to that is that there is so much music available online and so much of it is not very good, so the challenge now is to get noticed above the general noise.
I believe that cream rises to the top and if you keep making your music available and keep the quality high then in the end people will want to share it with each other and your profile will rise and in the end it will be successful.
So the internet has democratised things and allows us the musicians to do our own thing in our own time, but it is much harder to crossover and get the world to know what you’re doing. Also, the Internet’s pick ‘n mix approach to music sales is killing the concept of the album, where you used buy a Cd to get the single you heard on the radio. Now you just get the track you like and often don’t buy the album. I think it is pushing things in a different direction in the record release pattens of artists. Going forward, we are thinking more in terms of releasing small clusters of tracks, but more often. In many ways it is more spontaneous and gratifying to be able to release stuff closer to when you have written and recorded it instead of having to wait for major label schedules to give a window for release.
Pop Eighties: Over your career you have worked on a lot of soundtracks. What was your favourite movie out of the bunch?
Nick Feldman: To Live and Die in LA. It was great doing the whole instrumental score and working with such high calibre people on it, like the director William Friedkin (the Exorcist, The French Connection to name just a couple).
What had drawn him to us was the track ‘Wait’ on our ‘Points on the Curve’ album.
The brief was so great too, as Friedkin just wanted long stretches of instrumental music that created certain moods as opposed to us having to spot cue to existing rushes. We did do a bit of that later on but the general process was designed for us to be as spontaneous as possible. They even cut some of the film to our music as opposed to the other way round. Ironically it was us who wanted to add some songs and not Friedkin. The record company wanted us to get the project out the way and record our next proper album but we pushed to make the soundtrack our next album proper and it became one of our best selling and most respected albums.
I think the other soundtrack moment that has given me the most pleasure was getting Dance Hall Days into a high profile spot in the massive computer game, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. The reason for this is that it was the first time my young son realised that maybe his old man was a bit cooler than he’d previously been aware of!!! haha!!
Pop Eighties: What one thing do you miss most about the 80s?
Nick Feldman: Being younger!!!!