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Friday, April 1, 2016

Exclusive Interview: 80's Musical Icons Nu Shooz Return with 'BagTown'

(Photo: Mike Hipple)

Some songs just have a way of dragging you back, way back to that moment when you heard them for the very first time. Those same songs are often some of the most recognizable ones in pop culture's musical history. "I Can't Wait" by Nu Shooz likely falls into this category for many of you out there, as it does for me as well. Atlantic Records actually first released the song thirty years ago this month and my memory of it is still pretty crystal clear. Back in 1986 you were at the mercy of radio and DJ's to play new music and so I had caught the tail end of it a few times but my 15-year-old self was dying to hear the whole song. I ended up driving somewhere with my dad and when the opening notes of "I Can't Wait" started, HE cranked up the volume.

(Photo: Nancy Bundt)

He also knew all of the details of the song long before I did, thanks to his "radio friends" from the station he was affiliated with. I can't tell you anything else about that car ride, but hearing that song in its entirety for the very first time is a standout memory in my own musical history. Knowing that, you can kind of imagine how thrilled I was to have a recent opportunity to interview Valerie Day and John Smith, the husband-and-wife musical life force behind Nu Shooz.

The band was first formed way back in 1979 and they were playing live gigs for years before that big breakthrough finally came. Back then Nu Shooz found it self working several nights a week onstage as part of Portland's pre-synth raging music scene. While the synth sound eventually was the catalyst that brought the bands' music to the masses (and earned them a Grammy nomination in 1987 for Best New Artist), their love for organic music and using real instruments runs deep. 1986's Poolside may be considered the most successful album for the Shooz, but their journey certainly has encompassed decades.

While on paper it may seem that Valerie and John dropped off the radar for years, just the opposite is actually true. Valerie has performed with the Oregon Symphony Pops, several celebrated jazz artists and she has co-created a show called Brain Chemistry for Lovers beside Darrell Grant. John has been equally busy and his musical genius has kept him working in the commercial industry for more than twenty years. The 80's are one of the hottest genres out there right now and last Christmas Target decided to use "I Can't Wait" as part of their holiday advertising campaign. Admit it, you were singing along every time the commercial came on, weren't you?

Five minutes into an interview with Valerie and John it became incredibly clear that these two, in spite of seeming like polar opposites, fit together perfectly. She's cerebral and fairly rooted in logic while John comes across as more of a go-with-the-flow artist. My guess is that His creativity flows and then Valerie figures out how to use it perfectly to their advantage.

Oh, and they are fun. The positive energy even over the phone was infectious and as it turns out, having a blast was exactly what brought Nu Shooz back together after a hiatus. Awhile ago Valerie and John decided to hop aboard the Freestyle Explosion, a show that turns up in cities across the U.S. every year, boasting a roster of 80's favorites. Saying yes to this tour in various cities meant that the couple was performing a set of Nu Shooz most popular tunes, while sharing the stage with the likes of Expose` and Stevie B. The result was an experience so positive that it made them decide to bring the 8-piece band back to record a brand new album.
(Photo: Phil Isley)

Valerie Day: It's amazing how strong the love for music from way back then still is. Social media also helps to keep us connected with our audience on a regular basis. It's neat to see fans from the 80's at our shows and they're now bringing their kids with them. We actually have different generations of fans waiting for autographs at meet and greets- that's a little surreal! We were told about a fun little tour (Freestyle Explosion) that would reunite Nu Shooz with a whole roster of other performers from the 80's and it's something that we've really enjoyed doing.

John Smith: It was doing that tour that actually made us want to consider coming back with another Nu Shooz album. The love for that era of music is pretty amazing and the rush for us is still the same as it was back then. We decided that it was time to take ourselves maybe a little less seriously. We're definitely more confident both as artists and as people. Plus we have a really great band to play with. We have alumni band members now that have played our style for years. The cohesive mix makes for many “Life is good” moments. It was fun to have radio hits but nothing beats playing live.

(BagTown Cover Art: Malcolm Smith)

Valerie: After making ourselves miserable musically we decided to make a record aimed at having fun and it has really worked for us. At one point John and I went to dinner with our good friends, Marv and Rindy Ross (of Quarterflash) and we were all feeling similarly about where we were at musically at that point in time. They were coming off the release of a more serious record (as were we) and Marv mentioned wanting to create an album that was just fun to play live. That idea really clicked with us and it felt like exactly what we needed to do as well.

John: BagTown is the funnest (yes, 'funnest' and 'funner' became the descriptive words for BagTown)  album that we have made, maybe ever. With every record, the process of creation is different. Sometimes it's lyrics first, other times the music is written first. We made a city of bag people and started drawing on them and all of a sudden these bags were partying. The songs from BagTown actually came from creating this city and bringing it to life in our minds. Of course music for us is a two-way relationship and so the audience ends up being an equal partner in the whole experience.

(BagTown Cover Art: Malcolm Smith

The audience will in fact get to rekindle their end of that musical relationship this May, when BagTown finally drops. Valerie and John are clearly loving the process of putting this new project together with their large band and they have actively been using social media to give fans a hint of what is to come. While taking an eight member band on a European tour might not be possible, they are always finding ways to share the latest Nu Shooz experiences with the world.

BagTown will have a CD release party on May 21 at The Star Theater in Portland, OR and this very special evening will be live streamed so that no one is left out of the fun.

It seemed only right to ask Valerie and John what they think the key to success and happiness is in this life, especially since they seem to have found their own version of it. Of course both of their answers were as organic as the music that gets them out of bed in the morning.

Valerie: Enjoy the journey. Nothing really is what you expect it to be so embrace life wholly. Also get behind what interests you because eventually, you'll see what you're doing come full circle.

John: The arts are your friend for life. No matter what else happens, they'll never leave you.

Valerie: Also, we've learned that we are best at being ourselves. No matter what you're doing, authenticity seems to work best.

Look for that authenticity to strike in a big way via BagTown this May.

In the meantime connect with Nu Shooz below so that you're kept up-to-date on everything that they're doing!

Nu Shooz Official Website

Nu Shooz on Facebook

Nu Shooz on Twitter

Nu Shooz on Instagram

Nu Shooz on YouTube


  1. GR8, &, INFORMATIVE, interview, ALL `DA WAY `ROUND!!=) BUT, jus' 1 ? pls: While I ALWAYS thought 'Da Shooz'(as I MOST AFFECTIONATELY call dem) to be an octet, like you, too, have purported them to be here; how come on Off. Site they appear to number @ 9 instead of 8 pls? Thanx, T.

    1. Glad you enjoyed this update on the Shooz! I think their lineup changes a bit. At this moment there are 8 people but by the time they hit the road in support of BagTown that could change based on their performance needs!

  2. At 2, he could make it play the 'Counting to Ten Song' and the 'Alphabet Song' as he sang along. Nevertheless, we try to keep the flashy battery operated toys to a compressor

  3. Working from this definition, most Musical Tables, and Toy Guitars with no strings and lots of flashy buttons do not qualify as musical