Originally formed in 1986, Johnny Hates Jazz are an Anglo-American band who had a succession of worldwide hits in the late 1980s. Songs like ‘I Don’t Want To Be A Hero’, ‘Turn Back The Clock’, ‘Heart Of Gold’, and especially ‘Shattered Dreams’, will instantly spring to the minds of anyone who was around back then. Now on tour, with new music coming out this year, we were honoured to have the chance to speak with singer songwriter and keyboardist, Clark Datchler.
EP: I believe you’re both [Clark and Mike Nocito] from musical families – do you feel that you literally had no choice but to go into music? Did you try to do anything else?
CD: Yes, both of us had a choice. A love of music can never be forced on a child – it literally is a calling. In that way, we felt compelled by our own volition. That said, my father – who was in a very successful jazz group – was incredibly encouraging. Most of the jobs I had before becoming a professional were in record shops. It was a way to feel connected to the music world.
EP: What are you up to these days? You’re touring, releasing music, talk us through that.
JHJ: Yes, we’re on the road at the moment. We’re playing small theatres, from Southampton to Edinburgh. It’s a great band and the show is full of positive energy. It’s great to combine the classic JHJ tracks with some of the newer ones, such as ‘Magnetized’ and ‘Lighthouse’. We’re also performing two tracks from the ‘Turn Back The Clock’ album that we have not performed for nearly 30 years!
A nice focal point is an acoustic session on Radio 2, which we’re doing in the morning of Sunday March 20th. We’re going to perform a surprise song in honour of a musician who greatly influenced us, but who passed away recently. In between all of this activity, I’m writing new material for a JHJ EP, which we will start recording in Spring.
I have also been co-writing the forthcoming Mike and The Mechanics album with Mike Rutherford, which has been an inspiring experience. I loved many of their records – especially ‘Silent Running’. The chance to help sculpt the next album is a real honour.
Mike [Nocito] has been producing some other artists, and I’m sure you’ll be hearing the results of this soon.
EP: How has the music industry changed for you? Is it easier or harder nowadays than it was in the 80s?
CD: As Quincy Jones said when he was asked the same question: “What music industry?”
It has changed in so many ways. You could say that it is more egalitarian now, because many more musicians have the possibility of being heard via digital distribution and social media. On the other hand, it seems that literally anyone can be heard, no matter their level of ability and innate talent. In that sense, the bar is lower than it used to be and this has had the most profound effect on chart music. I have never known a more ‘safe’ era in the history of pop music. Outside of the charts, a lot of great creativity is happening.
I think the thing that concerns me the most is the lack of social or philosophical statements in contemporary music – and that is the fault of the major labels, and many of those involved in writing/production teams whose only aim is to serve the needs of major label performers. In the 60s, 70s and 80s it was commonplace for songs about war, inequality and the environment to be in the top 10. For example, Marvin Gaye’s ‘Mercy Mercy Me’ remains one of the most potent songs to advocate the protection of the planet from environmental degradation. Our own single ‘I Don’t Want To Be A Hero’ was one of many anti-war songs to become a hit in the past.
If you even mention writing such a song to the aforementioned groups of people these days, who are looked upon with incredulity. It seems that chart music must only be about the tried and tested subjects of love, sex and partying now. As a result, music has been relegated to just another form of entertainment, instead of being the force for change that it traditionally has been.
EP: What can fans expect from your tour?
CD: I answered this earlier on! It is a 70 minute show which requires a lot of audience participation! I also tell stories behind some of the songs, so the whole experience ranges from the intimate to the riotous!
EP: If you could turn back the clock (see what I did there) what would you, if anything, do differently, and why?
CD: I really don’t know, because a single choice has a domino effect on other aspects of our lives. If I had remained in Johnny Hates Jazz, would I have become a father? Would I have studied indigenous philosophies in the way that I did? Would I have built my solar-powered studio in the South West of the USA? There are plenty of things I could have done differently, and I do regret certain decisions and actions. But I am grateful for my Life, and I feel incredibly fortunate to walking the path that I am on.
EP: Similarly, what would be your advice to anyone getting into professional music now?
CD: Learn your craft. Find a way to do an apprenticeship with an older, experienced songwriter, musician, producer or engineer. That is how everyone learned from the 1960s through to the 1980s. I received so much musical input from my father, and also from record producer Mickie Most who signed me as a solo artist in early 80s.
I would question the current “requirement” of going to a performing arts school. They certainly teach good techniques, but I am not sure if they produce so many unique talents. Every person must make their own decisions here, but the nation produced some of the greatest music the world has every known before the invention of these institutions. In other words, you don’t need them. What you need is passion, creativity, skill, individuality and experience.
EP: The album, ‘Magnetized’, is a very contemporary album – yet the title track seems like it a lot of that 80s feel – was that deliberate?
CD: It didn’t start that way. Originally, I had written the song ‘Magnetized’ with the idea of it being more like ‘We Are The People’ by Empire Of The Sun. I then came up with an instrumental theme at the beginning, middle and end of the song, and that pointed it in more of an 80s direction. Both Mike and I were not sure how far down this road we should go, so we tried to find a balance between staying contemporary, while still having a direct relationship with the band’s musical origins.
EP: Clark, you were seriously unwell after the release of that album – are you fully recovered now? Do you feel ‘Magnetized’ could be/should be re-released and given the promotion it deserves (because it’s a brilliant album!), or do you think that’s in the past, it’s done with now?
CD: Excellent question! ‘Magnetized’ the single was being played incessantly in radio in both Britain and Germany, but just as we were preparing to release a second single, I collapsed with internal bleeding. It transpired that I had a rare from of cancer that would not respond to chemotherapy. Fortunately, I had an operation and made a full recovery (for which I am eternally grateful to our incredible NHS). I’m healthier now than I have been for years!
However, this brought the promotion of the album to an end, and by the time I was performing again, we had lost a lot of momentum. The fact is, ‘Magnetized’ (both album and single) was only ever formally released in Britain and Germany. It remains largely unknown to the rest of the World! Considering the fact that our fan base is fairly global in nature, I think there is a case for maybe adding some new tracks to the album, remixing the existing material and rereleasing it. We’ll see.
EP: For you, what is The Road Not Taken?
CD: I have several examples of roads I chose not to take, so there is no single example. I will say that I don’t think I spent enough time with my father when he was alive (he passed away in 1998). I certainly did not fully understand how much he had supported me throughout my life, not just as a parent, but also in my quest to become a successful musician. He never doubted my ability, and was an unending source of encouragement. I would like to have shown my gratitude as the man that I have become. Had he still been alive, I think we would have a lot in common.
EP: What question do you wish someone would ask you in an interview, but nobody ever does?
CD: The one you just asked me!
I always appreciate the chance to talk about the Earth, and the environmental degradation our planet is facing. There is no greater challenge we must rise to than this, and I am dumbfounded by the lack of songs being written with this subject in mind. I released an album with an environmental theme (‘Tomorrow’) in 2007 and as a result, I was closely involved in the founding of the GreenTec Awards in Berlin which celebrates advances in clean technology. So this subject is something I am keen to talk about, and sing about, whenever possible.
But beyond the physical destruction that is being wrought upon the planet by humanity, there is a spiritual loss we must contend with. I am someone who seeks solace and inspiration in the wild, as have poets, writers, musicians and other artists throughout time. In my opinion, the more we encroach on these magical places – forests, deserts, meadows, mountains – and wreak havoc on the many species who live there, the more we distance ourselves from appreciating the fact we are alive at all.