(This interview was originally published August 30, 2013 on the now-retired Kickin' it Old School blog. It is one installment in an incredible series of interviews we are republishing on Rediscover the '80s for posterity and your enjoyment. These are more than just interviews in a way; they are more like '80s timelines or oral histories on their respective subject matters. Please keep in mind the original date because some content could be specific to the time of the interview, though the majority should be timeless and totally rad.)
When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the '80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.
This time that awesomeness is Clark Datchler. He is best known as the singer/songwriter for Johnny Hates Jazz who had a late-80s worldwide hit with “Shattered Dreams“. After achieving huge success, he left the band in 1988 but has recently reunited with original member Mike Nocito to have success again with a new Johnny Hates Jazz album in 2013. Find out a little about him, Johnny Hates Jazz, “Shattered Dreams” and much more as we get on to some selections from my interview with Clark Datchler…
Q: When did you know you wanted to be a professional musician?
Clark: I wanted to be a musician for as long as I can remember, although initially I wanted to be an archaeologist. I had been to see the exhibition at the British museum of Tutankhamun. I was very enamored with the idea of being an adventurer and archaeologist. Really I made the clear decision to become a musician when I was about eight years old. In part, that was being inspired by my father [Fred Datchler] who was a professional jazz musician. I loved hearing all of his stories about working with Sinatra and The Beatles and Petula Clark and all of these amazing people. I think I just wanted to be part of that world.
Q: When and how did you get your own start in the music industry? Please tell us a little about what you did earlier in your career prior to Johnny Hates Jazz.
Clark: So I was in school bands and eventually I started to record with whatever money I could scrape together, recording in little local studios. Then eventually my Dad paid for me to do a full-fledged recording and through that recording I was signed to a small Soul label in London called Bluebird Records. They released my first single which was called “You Fooled Him Once Again”. I was 17 years old and that was a great experience. I did my first radio interview and a lot of performances on the club scene in London. That led me to work with Rusty Egan (one of the founding members of Visage) who saw something in me and began to produce for me. I got into electronic music at that same time. From that, I got a deal with Warner Bros. in the U.S. as a writer in Los Angeles. But that wasn’t opening the doors that I wanted it to since I wanted to be an artist in my own right. So I came back to Britain and answered a newspaper advertisement in the Melody Maker to join a band called Hot Club (which featured Glenn Matlock of the Sex Pistols, James Stevenson of Generation X and Calvin Hayes, who ended up being one of the other founding members of Johnny Hates Jazz). They were signed to RAK Records which belonged to the legendary record producer Mickie Most. I auditioned to become singer for this band even though I wasn’t into being in a band or particularly enamored with the music, but I thought it would be a good thing for me. It was interesting because we put a record out and although it didn’t do great, I was able to get to know Mickie a little bit and he signed me as a solo artist to RAK Records. In that process, I not only got to know Calvin, but Mickie suggested I work with a young engineer and producer at RAK named Mike Nocito thinking we would make a good combination. Mike began to engineer and produce some of my demos and solo singles. Little by little, it became clear that my relationship with Mike and with Calvin was going to lead somewhere. And eventually it did, to the formation of Johnny Hates Jazz.
Q: How did Johnny Hates Jazz come to be? Where did the interesting band name come from and is there any particular meaning behind it?
Clark: Mike and Calvin had begun work on a track called “Me and My Foolish Heart” and originally it was to be sung by Phil Thornalley who was co-writer on the song. Phil was unable to sing on the record because of other production commitments he had. So Mike and Calvin asked me if I would consider singing on it and, though I was very much into just singing my own stuff, I agreed to sing on the track. It sounded good and we put it out as a single on RAK Records [in 1986]. It wasn’t a commercial success, but what it did was spur me on to start writing songs for this new entity called Johnny Hates Jazz, the three of us. It was then that I went away and came up with a song called “Shattered Dreams”. Mike and Calvin’s natural thing was being a producer and mine was being a singer/songwriter. “Shattered Dreams” went on to really change our future. A real game changer.
The band name came about because Johnny, who is a real person and Mike’s brother-in-law, used to absolutely detest jazz. One of the stories is that someone put on a Dave Brubeck record at his home and he raced over to the record player, took the record off and smashed it over his knee. And someone exclaimed, “Wow, Johnny hates jazz!” Mike heard this story and thought, Johnny Hates Jazz, what an interesting name. It came up in our band name discussion and got the vote. As far as any particular meaning behind the name, no, my Dad was a professional jazz musician and I grew up listening to jazz. One thing I can say about that is when my Dad found out that was going to be the band’s name; he didn’t speak to me for about a month. He was very upset, but only superficially since he became one of the great supporters of the band.
Q: Please take us back to when “Shattered Dreams” was written and recorded. What is the back story about how that particular song was conceived and written? How long did it take to write and how did it evolve? What inspired the lyrics?
Clark: I wrote “Shattered Dreams” in my parents’ front room where I had a little studio set up (an upright piano, a 4-track portastudio, a drum machine, a keyboard). That was the closest you could get to a home studio because there was nothing like the computer-based recording we have now. It was very rudimentary yet a little difficult to get because it was expensive. I was fortunate to have this little studio set up.
The song came together quite quickly. It took a while to finish the middle section which ended up becoming a bongo solo. I knew I was really on to something when my Dad came in while I was writing it which he normally didn’t do. He would always give me advice or feedback if I asked him for it, but he would also always give me my space. But this time he came in and asked what I was writing and I told him it was a new song called “Shattered Dreams”. He said, “I think you’re on to something. I think you’ve written your first hit.” My father was the first person who identified it as a hit and, amazingly, there were very few others who thought it was going to be a success before it actually did. There were many more that thought it would be an abject failure. Another who thought it would be a hit was our A&R man at Virgin Records, John Wooler, who is now our manager. Another was Caroline True who was in the video department at Virgin Records and was very important to getting us signed to Virgin and getting “Shattered Dreams” released.
After singing on “Me and My Foolish Heart” this was just my interpretation of the direction the band could take (even though the two songs are very different). And it really did set the tone. Obviously when I wrote “Shattered Dreams” I had it in mind that it would revolve around divorce, not just a relationship break-up but something a little bit heavier. But actually, the way I think people relate to it is that there are all kinds of shattered dreams that we experience on an individual level or in partnerships or as a people, as a nation, as humanity. We are facing some very serious shattered dreams right now whether that be environmental, or economic, or philosophical even. There are ways that “Shattered Dreams” reaches out and touches people when they are going through difficult times. And in some ways, it’s not necessarily a very hopeful song. But I think the energy of the song is still quite bright which makes it an interesting combination. It’s kind of opposites of each other, but that is something I tend to do lyrically and musically, having serious subjects with more up-tempo music.
“Shattered Dreams” was released as a single in March of 1987 in the UK, but wouldn’t be released in the U.S. until the following year in March 1988. It went on to become a worldwide hit reaching the Top 10 in at least nine countries including peaking at #2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. It also reached #1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart in May of 1988. I remember it getting lots of radio airplay especially that summer of 1988. It was the first single off of the band’s debut album Turn Back the Clock which was released in January 1988 and debuted at #1 on the UK album charts. “Shattered Dreams” earned Datchler a BMI award in 2010 for the single being broadcast over 3 million times in the U.S. alone. Here is the music video for “Shattered Dreams” by Johnny Hates Jazz…
Q: Did you have any feeling that “Shattered Dreams” was going to be something special when you wrote or recorded it? What were your feelings about the song when you first released it?
Clark: I did a demo of “Shattered Dreams” and it just sounded good. I’m not saying that because I’m so wonderful because I did plenty of demos that didn’t sound so good. That particular demo sounded especially good. We took the demo and used it as a basic template, though the recording took on a life of its own, but it was rooted in that demo. The bassline was different and we wrestled with that bassline. I was responsible for the basslines on the album because that was something I was good at (and still am) playing the bassline on keyboards. We wrestled and wrestled with “Shattered Dreams” and finally got it right before it was due to be mastered. It took ages.
When we released it, I think we all thought it had a good shot, but we knew we were going to have to work it hard. There’s a whole other story for another time about what we did to support “Shattered Dreams” because not everybody at Virgin thought it was going to be a success. I will also say this, hats off to Virgin Records because they gave it a shot.
Q: What are your feelings regarding “Shattered Dreams” now over 26 years later?
Clark: I’m very proud that “Shattered Dreams” is still played so much. You may be aware that it has been played on the radio in the U.S. three and a half million times. That’s a lot of airplay, let alone the rest of the world where it still gets substantial airplay as well. I received a BMI award for that which was a great honor. I’m humbled by that because I never thought about such a possibility when I wrote it. I thought it was going to do well, but you never really conceive of things that far into the future in that way.
Q: You worked with David Fincher on your music video for “Shattered Dreams”. What can you tell us about Fincher and your experience working with him? Would you have predicted to go on and have such great success directing feature films in the future?
Clark: David Fincher was very confident. He was a young kind of upstart. Quite brash and good humored. He knew what he wanted and was confident in his ability to deliver it. We got along well with him. It was a good feeling working with him because we were a lot like that in the studio in as much knowing that we were good at what we did. He certainly knew that he was good at what he did. And he had some good ideas for the “Shattered Dreams” video and the “Heart of Gold” video. We did a video for “Shattered Dreams” in the UK when it was released there in early 1987 that we were never happy with. It was one of those things that we got used to, when you read a video synopsis and it sounds incredible and marvelous, but when you come to do the actual video it’s nothing like that at all. That’s how we felt about the first “Shattered Dreams” video. Whereas the way that David Fincher described the second version, the black and white one that we filmed in the States, was more true to what he conjured there and then. It was a good experience working with him, but we kind of got spoiled. He went on to have a brilliant film career but got his start doing music videos and we were very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with him. Yes, it was very clear that he was going to go on to do well. It was one of those things that when we actually watched the videos back we were just delighted. The video really encapsulated the nature of the group.
Q: Speaking of music videos, what are your thoughts on the impact that music videos and MTV had on music in the '80s, especially in America? How do you think MTV and your music video affected the success that “Shattered Dreams” and Johnny Hates Jazz had?
Clark: I am not sure the music video had a great impact. I think it was mainly radio driven. “Shattered Dreams” was a success in the UK despite no TV exposure. We couldn’t get on the TV. We couldn’t get arrested until the record reached about #18 on the chart and then we were invited to perform on Top of the Pops. Then slowly but surely, we got TV appearances but all through that time it was driven by radio. It was a tough thing to keep radio playing it because it crept up the charts in the UK very slowly before it jumped up into the Top 5 and stayed there for quite a while. In the U.S., I am sure the video helped without a doubt, but again the primary driver was radio play. We just had a huge amount of support from radio which is still continuing to this day with our new album Magnetized and a wonderful thing.
I think that was true of the time. Music videos were incredibly important and I remember that, as they became more important, there were many musicians who were unhappy about that. They didn’t like the idea that they suddenly had to become actors when really they were in music to make music. They wanted to be on stage performing, but they didn’t want to be in front of a camera performing. And I can understand that. Music videos had a benefit in as much as they elevated music’s importance even further. Concerning Britain’s impact, pop/rock music was Britain’s second biggest export in 1980s. It was incredibly influential and videos were definitely a part of that. I think they’re still a positive thing, but videos started to have so much money spent making them especially by the big record labels that you could not compete with artists like Michael Jackson, Madonna, Bon Jovi and the like. They were pouring tens and tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars into the making of a video. So I think it got a bit out of hand and almost overshadowed the making of a record. In fact, it probably did. So they were a bit of a mixed blessing. On the other hand, it was a way to get music out into the world and I am in favor of any way that gets music out into the world.
Q: After breaking through and achieving worldwide success, what caused you to leave Johnny Hates Jazz in 1988? Were there any regrets about that decision? I was surprised to find out that there was another JHJ album released without you.
Clark: When I left, I decided not to contest the name. There was a lot of pressure on me to go to court and try to get the name for myself because I was the singer, I was the songwriter and the name became very much associated with me. That’s not what I wanted to do. It was traumatic enough for all of us that I was leaving and I wasn’t going to make the wound any deeper by trying to claim the name. I didn’t think that was right for me to do. So that’s why another album came out under the name Johnny Hates Jazz without me because that’s what Mike and Calvin wanted to do. It certainly wasn’t a pleasant experience. Mike and I didn’t end up speaking to each other for 21-22 years after that, so obviously there were some bad feelings.
I’m not going to get into the nature of those bad feelings and who said what and all the rest of it. Really what happened in retrospect, we were subjected to incredible pressures at that time very quickly. And although we had all been in the music business for some time before that and we thought we were prepared, in some ways nothing can prepare you for the kind of success we experienced all at once all over the world. After a while, I found that difficult and it colors the way you see people. Besides that, I would say that at the same time as we were promoting Johnny Hates Jazz, I was becoming more and more acutely aware that there were problems that the world was facing that actually gave us greater commonality with one another as human beings no matter where we grew up or no matter where we called home. One of those issues was environmental in nature and what we were doing to the planet in order to overexploit resources, in order to generate power, in order to create product. I became much more concerned with this and I felt that I wanted to express that more musically. It is something that I had historically done writing songs with statements in them, though not all the time, and it was something I really wanted to write about. It is something I think is important to write about. And at that time, I didn’t think I was going to be able to in staying with Johnny Hates Jazz. That contributed to my perception of what was going on then.
As far as regrets, there was always the sense of what might have happened if I stayed. And of course there is part of me that thought we would’ve gone on to do great things. Having said that, we were at the end of the '80s and there was a seat change in how the music business operated. All of the major independent labels, of which Virgin was one, were getting sold off. Then the major labels were getting sold off to big media conglomerates. I think that was, in some ways, the beginning of the end. The music business was tough enough as it was, but as soon as those media enterprises swallowed up the record labels as they were, you had a situation where the music business became dominated by other kinds of people, perhaps people who were most concerned with getting the most profits possible and controlling the means, controlling the music that was released to the world in order to guarantee those profits. It didn’t actually end up being that way, as we know, but the music industry still suffered greatly as a result of that. It makes me think that I’m not sure Johnny Hates Jazz would have survived anyway. That change was pretty drastic and a lot of bands from the '80s found it incredibly difficult in the '90s, and some horrendously so, to have their music heard. You would’ve really had to have established yourself some years before to survive that. Depeche Mode and Duran Duran are great examples of bands who survived and they had been around a lot longer than we were. Perhaps if we had risen in the mid-80s or early-80s we could’ve survived it, but you never know. Sometimes I have regrets about leaving and other times I think it was absolutely the right thing. I released a solo album called Raindance and Mike and Calvin released Tall Stories. I think Mike feels, in retrospect, that it really wasn’t a Johnny Hates Jazz album because Johnny Hates Jazz was a certain combination of people. Essentially now, we very much see it as that combination of Mike and myself that goes back to the 80s even before Johnny Hates Jazz came into being. They were just two albums, neither of which really surfaced, and that is why we consider Magnetized  as really the second Johnny Hates Jazz album because it is back to that classic combination of Mike and myself.
Q: What do you remember best about the decade of '80s music? What lasting impact do you feel music from the '80s has made?
Clark: What I remember best is that it was an incredibly interesting time in that we all grew up in the '60s and '70s and most of us musicians that surfaced in the '80s were steeped in melodic songwriting, an eclectic view of music and high production values. You know, we grew up listening to The Beatles, to Genesis, The Moody Blues, Fleetwood Mac, through to the punk era. Then there was the soul side of things that I was very much into as well, like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Steely Dan, The Isley Brothers, The Doobie Brothers, my goodness the list goes on. All of these artists were very influential.
Then the 1980s arrived and technology really took off in the '80s. It was the first time that drum machines and synths became so accessible. They were there to a lesser degree in the '70s with some brilliant people doing some brilliant things with them. But in the '80s, there was suddenly a proliferation of those instruments and electronic music really brought it to the forefront. So it was a fantastic time of very often very good songwriting. I think back on some of the Tears for Fears records and Talk Talk and one of my favorite albums from the '80s was Forbidden Colours by David Sylvian and Ryuichi Sakamoto. It was just beautiful music and they were made very much with the technology of the day, the drum machines and synths. Remember it was not really computer-based recording as we know it today, so there was a lot of playing still going on. Like on our Johnny Hates Jazz albums, we’d play everything. We didn’t put into a computer program to tighten everything up and make it absolutely perfect. It had a human quality to it. And that was the 80s; it was human and machine meeting and combining to form this interesting time in music.
I think one of the most important things that the 80s did was that it continued the tradition that was born in the '50s and '60s of music having something to say. Music not just being about relationships or even the disco era which had an overemphasis on dancing and parties. There was still beneath that an underlying theme that music was an instrument of change, socially relevant. We felt that pop music was a means through which to express your thoughts, feelings, concerns and hopes and fears, and that you could have an influence. It was a valid tool to say, “This is what I think, what do you think? Do you agree with that, does that spark any thinking on your part?” I think that was lost after the '80s and I think it might be still lost. I’m not saying that artists today don’t have something to say in their music because some do, but I don’t think it charts now. I think it’s on the fringes and that is a sad thing to me.
Q: Please tell us a little about where your music career has taken you since the '80s. How have your priorities or goals changed over the years? What are some of your proudest professional accomplishments?
Clark: I made a couple albums in the interceding years. The reason I only made two, since I actually recorded a lot more material than two albums, was that I really became involved in the environmental movement. As I have explained earlier, that was something that was already brewing in me when I was in Johnny Hates Jazz. At the same time, I became interested in how to express that interest and care for the Earth through music. So I started delving into different musical forms especially World Instrumentation and I based myself at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios in Bath. Then I became involved in the Native American culture and Native American philosophy as really a way to find some answers to the ecological tragedy that was unfolding around us and continues to with the ever-increasing threat of climate change. In that process, I started an album called Tomorrow which became my second solo album.
Tomorrow is an album that I recorded in many different parts of the world. I really wanted to go out on to wild lands and set up studios and in cabins in very remote places to see how that might influence the music. Look, I am still a songwriter and I always was through that process, so it was very much song-based, but some very interesting music came out of that. As a result of that, I was asked to get involved with an environmental awards ceremony in Berlin, Germany. One of my proudest moments was at the first GreenTec Awards in 2008. All of these environmental luminaries, scientists, designers, politicians, were getting awards and I performed since I was part of starting them. At the end, I was asked up on stage and given an award myself in recognition of my personal dedication to the subject. I was really moved by that because the audience was full of some pretty important people and I didn’t really view what I was doing as nearly as important. But it was nice to be recognized in that way because musically and lyrically I was very much delving into that realm.
Q: After 20+ years of not speaking, what caused you and Mike Nocito to get Johnny Hates Jazz back together? Please tell us about your new album Magnetized and any details you want your fans and listeners to know about the new album.
Clark: I got back in contact with Mike really knowing that at some point I wanted to. We had been really good friends in the '80s and it didn’t sit well with either of us that there had been this stony silence between us. I think also that there wasn’t some angst that had continued to fester in the interceding years. I think what happened is that life happened. We both got involved in different things. I had thought at some point I wanted to sit down with Mike and say let’s put the past behind us, celebrate what we did together and be friends. Actually what happened is that I started to work on a song called “Magnetized” which I thought would be part of my next solo album. But the more I wrote it, the more I thought that it sounded like a Johnny Hates Jazz track. It sounded like what Johnny Hates Jazz might be doing now, what they would sound like in the 2000s. So I decided to contact Mike to just say hi and see what happened. It wasn’t really a premeditated thing to play him this song, but I had thought if we got along alright that it would at least be worth him hearing it. I gave him a call, it was very natural, Mike was very pleased to hear from me. We met up in a cafe in Cambridge near where Mike lives and it had been just like there had been no time gone between us, from the time we last saw each other in 1998 and then (which was in 2009, I think). So we got along fine and eventually we talked about whether we should do another Johnny Hates Jazz album. “Magnetized” was the key. He heard it and really liked it and wanted to know what else I was writing at the time. I played him some other stuff and it became clear that we both wanted to do this.
Anybody who likes Johnny Hates Jazz is really going to enjoy this album a lot. It is Johnny Hates Jazz in the 2000s. We are people of our time. We are not locked in the 1980s, we can’t be. We’re alive here and now, and you can’t help but be influenced by the way the world is now. It is very much Johnny Hates Jazz in 2013. It is a fresh approach to something that I think people will have a familiarity with. I think they’ll hear “Magnetized” and think that can only be Johnny Hates Jazz. But I have always been very eclectic in my musical tastes and how I’ve written songs, something Mickie Most pointed out many moons ago when I was signed to him as a solo artist. He would comment that I would never stick to one kind of music, that I’d do a soul track, then an electronic track, then a reggae track, then a classical instrumental piece, then a rock track. In his mind, I needed to hone in on something, just focus on a sound, and in many ways he was right. Actually what happened is that I just found a way to do different things within the context of Johnny Hates Jazz as well as what I did on my own. I feel that is very much true of the album Magnetized because there are different grooves, different rhythms and lyrically it is deeper of course because I am older and hopefully a bit wiser now. I think it’s quite a mature album. With all of that said, there are some really memorable songs on this album or at least that’s what I like to think anyway. It’s certainly accessible, but for people wanting let’s call it intelligent pop, that’s what you’re going to hear on this album.
Q: What else is Clark Datchler up to nowadays? Musically and otherwise? What can we expect in the future? Any remaining ambitions or regrets?
Clark: I have many ambitions. My sense is that the best is yet to come. So there is a lot of music to be made. And I think that will be Johnny Hates Jazz and beyond. I think there’ll be other projects that I will get involved with. I’m already thinking about them, but I don’t want them to compete with Johnny Hates Jazz because Johnny Hates Jazz is my main thing right now, absolutely.I’m still very much involved in the GreenTec Awards and I hope I can play my part, even if it is a small part, to bring about a more balanced relationship between we humans and Earth and all other life forms on the planet because it’s majorly out of balance at the moment. But I’m very hopeful. I think we can do it. It’s just going to take time and we have to hope that we have enough time with the threats we are facing.
I’m writing new songs for a new Johnny Hates Jazz album. Mike and I are preparing to do some live shows. I’m looking forward to doing that very much, taking Johnny Hates Jazz out on the road. I think it’s going to become an important touring outfit and that’s what I hope to see Johnny Hates Jazz become. It will combine the hits from the 80s with the new stuff especially now that Magnetized has done so well in the UK. “Magnetized” is actually one of the most-played songs on UK radio this year. It will be great to combine the old and the new.
You can expect a lot. Clark Datchler in many different guises is going to be a very busy bee. I have a lot to say for myself whether people want to hear it or not.
I am so honored that Clark was able to take some time to answer some questions so I could share them with you here. Special thanks to Jeremy Williams and Kathy Medcalf for helping to coordinate this wonderful opportunity. You can keep up with him and Johnny Hates Jazz on his official websites at ClarkDatchler.com and JohnnyHatesJazz.com websites. I want to take this occasion to again thank Clark Datchler for his contributions to '80s pop culture especially through Johnny Hates Jazz and, even more, for going back to the '80s with us here for a little while as well.