Jack Tung: Guerrilla Recording, Hardcore Skateboarding, & Faye Wong

Interview by Joseph Kim, 1/12/2005

I’ve known Jack Tung since this past summer through mutual friends. He’s real laid-back and unassuming- the kind of guy who most likely has a lot to say, but won’t really say much unless you ask him. He invited me to come see him play one night deep in the boonies of Long Island, NY. A friend and I braved the torrential downpour to a tiny dive in the middle of nowhere. The opening act was an inept punk band whose best song was a cover of Greenday’s “American Idiot” which had just come out. The bar patrons- young, hoodied, and suburbanly bored to the max, all seemed severely disinterested in the proceedings. It was in this context that Jack quietly setup, unnoticed in the back of the room. His soft-spoken introduction into the mic was a dud- the thing wasn’t even plugged in! But it didn’t matter. Once he started playing, heads began to turn. How could one guy with a guitar, drum machine, sampler, and a stack sound like twenty different people at once? He lulled us with ambience, and ripped our faces off with evil precision riffage. He was in total control of every layer of sound. The cute bespectacled bartender chick was watching in disbelief. (Okay, I wasn’t paying 100% attention to Jack.) That night, Jack sold quite a few cds and made some fans, myself included. Now, it’s one thing to hear or read a description of what Jack does, but truly, seeing is believing in this case. Zeus-willing all the world will know of his immense talent- one dive bar at a time.

Give us a brief bio. Where were you born? Where’d you grow up? Things like that.
I was born in Taiwan, moved to the US at age 5, and spent most of my life on Long Island, NY. My father decided to open a stationary store where I got a daily dose of 101.1 CBS FM [oldies], LOTTO, and all the free candy in the world, it seemed, at a very young age.

What's your history as a fan of music? What’s the first music you liked- and take it from there.
Skateboarding actually had a lot to do with how I became a musician and a fan of music. When I got into skateboarding in the late 80s, one of my favorite skate videos at the time was “Santa Cruz: Speed Freaks” which had just about every band of the SST label and early Dischord Records as its soundtrack. I was introduced to loud, fast bands like Minutemen, fIREHOSE, Minor Threat, Black Flag, and Bad Brains. But what hit me the hardest was actually Dinosaur Jr. “Freak Scene” was the first song I ever heard from the band, and the guitar solo made me want to play music that was just as chaotic and fuzzy.

What are some of your other influences? Musical and also non-musical, whatever you feel applies.
Lots of post-hardcore punk bands like Statue, Into Another, Embrace, Rites of Spring, and many more. Their riffs and energy were so new, inventive and unusual to me. And to this day, I still return to those records for inspiration.

Films definitely influence my music. For instance, the song “Focus” was inspired by the Sophia Coppola film Lost in Translation.

What is your musical performance history? What bands have you been in?
I wanted to play music that was loud and fast, emulating that same kind of excitement from skateboarding. So the first few punk bands I played in (EBT, All Rights Reserved, Dead Clients Don’t Pay, Heart Work) were very fast and screamy. Although, the most recent band I played in was this really cool post-hardcore punk influenced band called The Golden Ratio.

How did you end up doing what you do today musically? How did you discover your style?
Well, after the breakup of The Golden Ratio, I took a long hiatus from playing in bands and began working alone. I buried myself in my room with my records and began formulating new ideas. But I didn’t really plan on playing shows or end up as a solo act. I really just wanted to have fun. But that slowly began to change as I started making more and more songs.

Where are you headed artistically, and what are your goals?
Nowadays, I’m very unsure. At one time I wanted to pursue a career in writing musical scores for film. Who knows, that still might happen. However right now, I just want to concentrate on playing shows and continue writing music.

Talk about the recording of your cd. How did it come about? What was it like? Any stories from the studio?
My brother David actually encouraged me to record my songs. He offered his studio to record for an evening. So our plan was to go into the studio (guerrilla style), record a demo and then leave. We were both new at this recording experience so it was actually a lot of fun. We spent 8 hours in the studio and came out with 8 songs for my demo.

There’s one very funny story about the recording. After spending the entire night at the studio, we found out later that our car was towed to the west side because we parked in a no-parking zone. Since it was a Sunday, everything was closed. So we had no choice but to leave all my equipment at the studio, go home and wait until Monday to resolve everything. It was a nightmare. So it was because of this incident that I named the cd demo, “9, Operator” which was what we had to dial (for information on the towing company) several times on the phone from the studio.

So what did you do after you had this recording? How has it been trying to promote yourself?
Promoting is never easy. And playing the ‘right’ kind of shows is even harder. But you never know if what you’re doing is the right thing or the wrong thing. As long as you believe in your work and work hard to make it the best you can, everything will follow through. Everything will be okay.

You took me to a screening of a short film that you did the soundtrack for. How did that come about? What was it like working on that?
BEAT was an idea that came up around the time I recorded my cd demo. The filmmaker literally just asked me one day if I’d be interested in working on the score. And of course I said yes! The great thing about the film was that it was pretty much a silent film, since the main actor was deaf. So I felt obligated to create something that complimented the story and the visuals. I loved how it eventually turned out.

Talk about your compositional process. How does it get started? Do you hear things in your head? Are you able to do the things you imagine?
Like films, I want a beginning, middle, and end to a song. The beauty of writing instrumentals is that it can really be whatever you want it to be. There’s no conventional way of writing. I like being in that state.

What are you listening to these days? What are you a big fan of currently?
I absolutely cannot stop listening to Deerhoof. They are amazing in every way. I love classical music as well, like Debussy. Jay-Z’s Black Album is genius. Faye Wong is another artist I cannot stop listening to. She’s a popular Chinese singer from Beijing that sounds very similar to the Sundays and the Cranberries. I love her music.

Website: http://www.jacktungmusic.com

K.O.A. Zine