Gary James' Interview With Colin Hay of
Men At Work
"Wayfaring Sons" (M.C.A. Records) marked the debut of the Colin Hay Band. You may remember Colin Hay as lead singer of the early 80's group - Men At Work.
On his own and out front again, Colin Hay once again prepares to take the music world by storm.
Q - Colin, where do you call home these days, Australia or someplace in the U.S.?
A - Well, home really is Melbourne (Australia). That's where I have a house. My parents and friends are there. I was actually talking to some friends of mine the other day here in Los Angeles and it's funny, because I go to a lot of places and feel like I'm going home. When I come to Los Angeles I feel like I'm coming home in a sense, because I know people here. It's very familiar. If I fly into New York, I feel like I'm going home because I lived there for a year. If I go back to Britain or Scotland, I feel like I'm going home as well. So, I have a few homes I think. Melbourne, Australia is where I've spent the last 20 odd years. So that's home to me.
Q - You've toured Australia with your new band. What was the reaction of audiences to seeing you on stage with a new bunch of guys and hearing your new sound?
A - I don't think we ever did a show with this new band that wasn't exciting in a lot of ways, from our standpoint and the audiences standpoint. It's completely accepted across the board. I have a new band. The only thing is the audiences we played to weren't very large in numbers. We were playing to quite small crowds. When I say small, I mean a few hundred people wherever we played, which is small relative to the old days with the old band. It was a very good thing for me to do. I discovered what kind of an audience I had, which wasn't a big audience, but it was very good for the band. We grew as a group of people during that year. We didn't have a record to promote. The only thing we were doing is getting to know each other, on stage and off.
Q - Isn't it hard for you to have to go out and in a sense start all over again?'
A - I don't have to do anything in a sense.
Q - But it all helps out.
A - It all does help. I chose to put this band together and do it this way. So, it was a decision on my part. I think it would've been harder any other way to do it. I'm a lot happier than I was when I was in the old band. The most frustrating thing with the whole operation is having a record you wholeheartedly believe is your best record and not being able to get it across to your audience, which is out there. It's a matter of getting to them. It's an incredibly frustrating thing.
Q - Why is it frustrating?
A - I think there's some kind of resistance to play my records. I'm not actually sure of the reasons why. This is where the hard work comes in, planning a small club tour to start with. Make people aware of who the band is in a "live" situation, which I'm looking forward to.
Q - There was the Mersey Beat and the California Sound, but has there ever been an Australian Sound, and how do you identify it?
A - I don't think it's that simple as far as Australia is concerned. I think Australian bands tend to have a very, kind of rough quality to it; there's usually a "live" quality to it, due to the fact they've played in front of pub crowds. I think in Australia, bands have very differing sounds. They've been influenced by lots of styles of music. I don't think you can really say that's an Australian Sound. My first band had a song called "Down Under". So it was very obvious. We were very obviously from Australia.
Q - Greg Ham and Ron Strykert (from "Men At Work"), were important collaborators with you. Who do you write with these days?
A - I don't really, to be honest with you. I tend to write pretty much by myself. I always did that anyway. I used to write with Ron Strykert 'cause he was the only guitarist and we played well together. We lived in the same place. I would play a certain style and he would kind of dance around what I did, in a sense. I learned from him and also vice-versa. With this band, I think I bounce ideas off everybody. Perhaps on the next album they'll be more collaborative stuff, but for the last 2-3 years, I've been pretty well writing by myself.
Q - Wasn't the release of "it's A Mistake" off the Cargo album, a big leap for Men At Work considering the success of "Who Can It Be Now?" "It's A Mistake" is clearly sending a political message.
A - I never considered it to be. We actually released "Who Can It Be Now?" and then I think we released "Down Under" and then "Overkill" and then "It's A Mistake". But to me, they weren't that different at all, really. People's perceptions of other people's songs are very different. To me, all music is political in one way or another, either obviously or not so obviously. But "It's A Mistake" was a very Dr. Strangelove kind of thing. Men At Work were sugar-coated in lots of ways. In another light we were more subversive than a lot of people gave us credit for.
Q - "Who Can It Be Now" went to Number One in Australia and New Zealand. Had that record never charted in those countries first, would your record company have released it in America?
A. I have no idea really. It really happened in lots of places before America. America was the last place to pick up on the band. It was actually about a year after the record was successful in other parts of the world that the American record company released it. They certainly weren't looking to Australia for guidance as to what was going to happen in America. It was only really after it started to sell records in different parts of the world and people started playing it in America, that the record company decided that they could make it work and released it. But, I don't really know about things like that, what would've happened if that hadn't happened, what wouldn've happened then. I don't really tend to think much of that, because I actually go on what did happen. But we were very confident because we could feel it right from day one when we could play in front of people. People liked what we did. It was very simple, we had a very simple approach.
Q - The "Who Can It Be Now" video was pretty inventive and original. Did you have a hand in creating that video?
A - In those days that's what we did. There was no person going or magical hand going "OK, we're going to do a film clip and this what you have to do." We collaborated with the two guys who did most of our early film clips. It cost a pittance, $6,000, to do those film clips. So, when you have very little money, you have to be inventive.
Q - Between the release of "Business As Usual" and "Cargo", Men At Work toured extensively. Some people feel that band fatigue contributed to sales of the "Cargo" album, not being up to par. What do you say?
A - I think we made the classic mistake of releasing "Cargo" too soon in America. But, we were being loyal to all our fans. We'd been loyal to our Australian fans 'cause our first album had been out for a long time. We felt we should release the second album because people wanted it.
Q - You say egos broke up Men At Work, one member refused to work with another. Yet, in the beginning, everybody worked together, right?
A - They did, but it was never very easy. There were some very strong, underlying problems that we really didn't address.
Q - On "Wayfaring Sons" you are listed as co-producer. What was your job? What did you do?
A - Well, I co-produced the album. That's what I did. Once I got in the studio, I worked with Elliot Scheiner who's a great engineer-producer, and we produced the record together. Every single day - what we're gonna do, how we're gonna do this song, how we're gonna record it, what instrumentations to use, whether the arrangement works perfectly and what kind of over-dubs to do, what kind of vocal performances work. Really making a record to me, is just about collaboration.