A MAN AT WORK
Colin Hay is a lucky man. As an 80’s staple, he helped introduce plucky, calypso rhythms and Vegemite sandwiches to the original MTV generation as the voice of Men at Work. But while many of his counterparts faded into obscurity or boarded the nostalgia train, Hay forged ahead unapologetically with his solo material. Much of it was well-received, some less so. Regardless of Billboard numbers, Hay kept it business as usual, partly because he enjoys it and does it well, but mostly to keep from doing anything else.
“I suppose I reject all those ideas about being an artist or being this or that. I’m just like a person walking around. I’m lucky. I write songs. I like writing songs. I’m just trying to avoid the workforce for as long as possible. I’ve tried to avoid the straight world because I don’t like it. I don’t like insurance salesman or realtors. I was always very suspicious of young men in suits, and that world you’re supposed to join and become successful, so I’ve just tried to avoid all that. And really, I got lucky. I wrote some songs. I was in a band that did well and made some money, and I didn’t have to go to a job where I had to go ‘hey Bob, love your new tie. That’s a nice polka dot. Oh, it’s a blue one today. That’s nice’,” he says.
Hay will appear Feb 22 at the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall in support of his new album Fierce Mercy out March 3. EU Jacksonville had the chance to chat with Hay about writing songs, UFOs, and the value of kindness in a desperate world.
Men at Work’s debut album, Business As Usual, was released in the states in 1981, spawning hits like ‘Down Under,’ and ‘Who Can It Be Now’ that helped define the era. Their 1983 sophomore release, Cargo, featured the massive hits ‘It’s A Mistake’ and ‘Overkill.’ But two years later, the band’s third album, Two Hearts, failed to maintain the momentum. By the time of Two Hearts’ release, Men at Work was down to the duo of Hay and Greg Ham and disbanded for good shortly after.
While Hay has never denied the significance of his contributions with Men At Work, he isn’t defined by that period in his career. Hay has continued to release solo material beginning with 1992’s Peaks & Valleys that showcase his distinctive vocals and insightful songwriting. Many of his solo songs, including ‘Waiting For My Real Life To Begin’ and ‘Beautiful World’ have become as much fan favorites as his Men At Work classics.
“I was always very ambitious. I loved The Beatles, and I loved the way ‘Good Vibrations’ sounded, and I wanted to live where Joni Mitchell lived. I wanted to tour the world in a great rock band and do all that stuff, and I fully expected that to happen. Lo and behold, it did,” says Hay. “I suppose on some level I did think I would still be around doing this because I never really thought that I would do anything else. There are other things I wouldn’t mind doing. I mean, I like cooking, but not for a job.”
As a performer, Hay is warm and inviting like a toasty kitchen and his live shows are intimate conversations like sitting around the table surrounded by good food and good friends. He is a gifted storyteller who enjoys making a connection with people after a show. He is always looking for the good in people and, often, he finds it.
“I can see why people would want to keep some kind of distance or maintain some kind of barrier between performers and their audience. I understand that, because people can be really horrible, and you let them in and they’ve got no boundaries, do you know what I mean? But I quite enjoy talking to people after the show,” Hay says. “There’s some kind of nourishment to it and connectedness to other people and to the fact that there are good people out there that have kindness and compassion in their hearts. That’s what I’m trying to remind myself.
Fierce Mercy explores themes of love and loss, mortality and the odd UFO sighting with the perspective and wit that defines Hay’s work. He wrote most of the songs on Fierce Mercy at home in his studio with friend and frequent collaborator Michael Georgiades, who lives just up the road.
“He would come over and we would just sit around and try and come up with songs that we like. We would bicker with one another and argue about things, and eventually we came up with these songs,” says Hay. “Sometimes we gave each other a specific brief. He had this musical idea about how not to be such an asshole. It’s called ‘The Best in Me’.”
“I’m quite happy with the planet as it is. I find it incredibly beautiful. It’s just a shame that we’re making such a mess of it. As a species, we’re in big trouble, really.”
Some of the songs are deeply personal. ‘She Was the Love of Mine’ was written in honor of Hay’s late mother. Others highlight Hay’s penchant for storytelling. ‘Frozen Fields of Snow’ tells the story of war veteran who is the last living member of his fractured family returning to his childhood home. “Sometimes lyrical ideas will come into your head, so you follow them and see where they go,” Hay says.
That’s how the song ‘Blue Day Moon’ came to light. “Michael came ‘round, and he had this musical idea, but he didn’t really have any lyrics or any idea about what the song was about. He just had Blue Day Moon. He said ‘I just have these three words, Blue Day Moon, and I kind of like how they sound. I said ‘well, I think it could be about a strange little town called Blue Day Moon’. It’s an odd, little place that’s hard to get to, it’s hard to find. There are no signs. It’s just one of those little towns along the course,” says Hay. “There’s a young guy that walks around that one night saw these lights over the Blue Day Moon. He knows he saw a UFO. That’s all it could have been as far as he could tell. He’s trying to tell people about it, but he felt slightly ostracized by his family. But it was one of the most quintessentially important moments of his life, and it was a solitary thing. He didn’t really get to share it with anyone.”
While Hay has never had any direct experience with any kind of extraterrestrial craft, he doesn’t rule out the possibility of other life out there or the vulnerabilities of an interplanetary colonization. It’s his perspective of what is happening to life here on Earth that troubles him the most.
“You can say it’s a nice idea, and it might be. But it might be a horrible idea. I’m quite happy with the planet as it is. I find it incredibly beautiful. It’s just a shame that we’re making such a mess of it. As a species, we’re in big trouble, really. In some ways, there are people that are doing great work. There are people who have wonderful compassion and intellect, but as far as people who are running the show, it is pretty desperate,” says Hay.
“I don’t believe in the big propaganda machine. When you look at what’s going on, it’s all about disconnection. So everything I do is to counter that. It’s very small, but humanity is worth believing in. I think that’s why I do what I do, because I still want to believe that it’s true.”