Trailblazing: An Interview with Jack Tung

February 24, 2010

As part of its Trailblazing Issue release party this Friday, Hyphen will present a killer lineup of live performances -- including local musician Jack Tung. A Bay Area resident by way of New York by way of Taiwan, his genre-defying wall of sound prompted Giant Robot to dub him "Jack Fucking Tung". He also wrote the score for the 2009 San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival. Jack shared some thoughts with Hyphen regarding his complex, intricately-layered sound and creative process.

Your sound is definitely unique and doesn't fit succinctly into one genre. How would you describe your music?

Instrumental rock; experimental electronic. Ambient and atmospheric with some electronic beats, hard-edged punk rock riffs and lead guitars.

As a solo artist, how do you achieve such a textured sound?

The music you hear on my website and MySpace are all recorded live. When I play live, my songs are typically about 10 minutes long. I have an old school, 90s beat box which I used to create the beats and I plug that into an amp. Then I work in the guitar loops. Maybe I'm too stubborn to move onto newer models, but my drum machine has always been my musical partner. And there's no improv live -- my songs are all written out to the T. I don't use a laptop on stage or rely in Pro Tools. I played in a few bands and after I went solo, I basically made music alone in my room, so there's no heavy computer software going on.

What are your creative influences, and who are you listening to now?

I came from a punk rock and post-hardcore background. So I approach my songwriting with the same punk, DIY aesthetic. I do find myself digging back to the old records I grew up listening to: fast, angry, screamy music. But I'm also more chill now, so I listen to classical composers like Ennio Morricone. I'm also a fan of Aesop Rock, Jay-Z, Minor Threat, Drive Like Jehu and Dinosaur Jr. I mostly listen to older rock -- it influences my guitar playing -- and wherever I go, those records come with me.

People also influence me creatively: loved ones, family, friends -- just meeting people here in the Bay Area has made me push myself more creatively, and I like to learn from them. It's a natural exchange.

How has your sound evolved over the years?

My sound has definitely changed since I started doing solo work around 2002. My songs have become more technical and complex, and are definitely more than five minutes long! I'm more comfortable with the sound I have and with what I'm capable of. When I first started out, I wasn't able to fully convey what I wanted, and what I wanted to do didn't happen immediately. Now I'm at a point where I'm happy with what I produce, instead of wanting it to sound like something else.


Can you tell us a bit about your album The Life & Times of Chengwin?

Family is really important to me, and is my creative fuel. Chengwin is my grandmother, and the entire album was worked around the concept of a tribute to my family. And I wanted it to be honest, so I decided to put a picture of my grandmother on the album cover, as opposed to some silly, confusing album cover that meant nothing.

What do you have planned for the Hyphen release party?

I'll be playing some new material. Shows can be a great testing ground, where I can gauge the reactions of the audience and also how I feel about new songs. When I'm writing -- since I'm solo -- there's no pressure to keep it as is; the songs are always evolving. So when I play a new song at a show, it may sound quite different at the next show.

Jack Tung's music is available here, and he will also be playing these upcoming shows:

9 pm at Retox Lounge
628 20th St, San Francisco
with Kite Operations, The Gold Medalists, xyzr_kx

9:30 pm at Silver Factory Studios
4310 W. Jefferson Blvd, Los Angeles
with Kite Operations, The Gold Medalists, xyzr_kx