Catching Up With Colin Hay

Everyone has that band or performer that represents in his or her life a particular time and place. Colin Hay for me is one of those artists.

It was the mid-80’s, and I was a college radio DJ at St. Mary’s College of California. These were the pre-Internet days, and in our lives music was the predominant force. CDs were slowly emerging, but vinyl was still king. We would spend long nights spinning records in the KSMC studio and discussing the artists on the air, while the rain beat quietly on the windows.

A frequent flyer on the program was Men at Work’s new wave masterpiece, Business As Usual. The better known hits were “Down Under” and “Who Can It Be Now?”, but the deeper tracks like “Down By The Sea” more often made the list. The latter in particular was a perfect showcase for the vocal range of lead singer Colin Hay, whose music videos and theatrical skills had made him a star on MTV. But eventually I graduated, Men At Work disbanded, and college faded in the rear view mirror as I entered the working world.

(Ed note: As interviewer Bill Wright suggests, “Everyone has that band or performer that represents in his or her life a particular time and place. Colin Hay for me is one of those artists.” The same is true for me only in a very different way. I had been unceremoniously dumped by my longtime girlfriend around the time Business As Usual had been released. I was a devasted basket case. When I asked friends for whom I’d been dumped I was told it was for a promo man who’d lost his job at a major label but that he’d found work doing indie promo for Men At Work. Every club, bar, diner, Ben Frank’s I’d walk into there it was “Who Can It Be Now?”. I knew the answer and it taunted me for around six months. So yes, Colin Hay “is one of those artists”, but I’ve long since forgiven him and my ex-girlfriend as well, who went on to a great career in the music business. Sorry to interrupt, Bill.

Fast forward twenty years to a recent rainy night in San Francisco, and I am listening to the soundtrack of the movie Garden State. The Colin Hay song “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You” comes on, and his voice is instantly recognizable. It took me right back to those carefree college days, but this was an acoustic piece, with a more introspective and heartfelt approach. It was clear we’d both grown over the years, and it drew me to his new work.

When I heard he had a new album called I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself, I had to give it a spin. The album, crafted during the pandemic, is comprised of some of Colin’s favorite songs by other artists. On the Compass Records website it was available on variety of formats (colored vinyl, CD and downloads), and for a short time a signed test pressing was available.

I immensely enjoyed the album and a number of key tracks, particularly his cover of Blind Faith’s/Steve Winwood’s “Can’t Find My Way Home”. It’s a great rainy day album, and also ideal music for working from home. The sound quality combines detail and warmth, plus excellent bass—a perfect combination for the largely acoustic material. Hay’s guitar playing abilities are usually overshadowed by his distinctive vocals, but as you’ll discover, he’s highly accomplished in that area as well.

I decided to reach out to Colin to get his thoughts on the production and process behind the album and this is what he had to say.

Bill Wright: Colin! How are you doing?

Colin Hay: Very well, thank you.

BW: I think we spoke once about 10 years ago at the Red Devil Lounge in San Francisco. Doubt you’d remember, but we had a chat about rugby after the show, as I recall.

Colin: Oh, yes. I remember it well.

BW:That venue is closed now, but it was very unique. Beautiful neighborhood and locale. In two of the last three times I was there, we had altercations with a few characters. Some very drunk individuals behaved a bit badly on both occasions.

Colin: As drunk individuals do.

BW: And the reason why I point that out - your show was the first time I went where it was absolutely peaceful. There was such a joyful and respectful vibe. I want to thank you for that one lasting memory of that place (laughs). It was a wonderful show.

Colin: (laughs) So greatly appreciated!

BW:You’re in Alexandria, Virginia, right now, I believe. How's the tour been going, given the pandemic?

Colin: A bit strange, because of the obvious - you've got to be very careful, you know, and the audiences have been very good. In some places, very few people have been wearing masks, which is a cause for concern. I think a lot of the venues are stepping up because of that. The incidence of Covid has increased in some areas lately, so I think venues are going to request vaccination status, and ask people to wear masks.

BW: I think it's going to be a necessity. But the energy that comes with human interaction, it just has a whole different quality. What is it like for you performing in front of people again? Is it giving you that added quality, or given the situation, does it add a little anxiety?

Colin: It's good fun. (dog barks) Oh, and as you can tell, my dog’s here with me. But I have a lovely band, and we have a lot of fun playing together - we're playing new songs and it's great to play with people. It's so good to play for audiences. But know, you just kind of lean into it. It's exciting to do it again. But it's got that slight stress of Covid, which is inbuilt into whatever stage you’re on right now, you know.

BW: We’ve all been locked up, and I should say thank you for being willing to perform. That’s something we've all been waiting for, and really need at this point.

Colin:Yes, it’s great. I think there's something to be said for patience. People don't seem to have a lot of it in this situation, you know. But it's better than the alternative.

BW: I think everybody's lost somebody or knows of someone who has, over the last year.

Colin: And I think that I think that a year ago, that wasn't the case. You know, just over a year ago you were kind of doing well, did we even know someone who had Covid? But now you do know - your neighbors have had it, or someone just down the street, so it's becoming more pervasive as opposed to the other way around. It's what the scientists have been saying all along, and the thing you can really do is get vaccinated and wear a mask and wash your hands off and practice social distance. I mean, all those things are just really obvious. And I think that if everyone did that, we would have knocked it on the head, you know, but people just have this weird idea about individualism as opposed to the common goal or the common good. And it makes no sense to me, but then, a lot of things don’t.

BW: It's been hard for everybody. And having your dog with you must be wonderful. Our kinship with animals has been one of those things that helped us get through it all. I've got an old French bulldog sitting next to me as we speak.

Colin:It's strange you should mention that. My wife and I inherited our dog about a year and a half ago, just before the pandemic, literally just before everything locked down. And it was the greatest gift in the world, you know, because all of a sudden I'm home, I'm in the studio, and when I'm not messing around with ideas, I'm just throwing the ball around with the dog, you know? And it just made life quite simple in quite a profound way. I just got this this wonderful entity to look after, and I hadn’t had a dog for many, many, years, so having him to go to the beach with, and just spend time with him was incredible. And still is. It's the greatest. You know, we love him so much.

BW:It's almost like they're emissaries from the animal kingdom, to remind us that we're not alone. There's such a depth of emotion and awareness.

Colin: Yes, it’s true.


pchristian's picture

I am in that certain age where Men At Work were everywhere. I always liked that album, and as a drummer, I always thought the drums sounded great. Glad to read that Colin feels the same way. Speaking of drummers, when Chad says"...I was the drummer in this band called School of Fish..." I felt the need to comment. IMO School of Fish was a seriously under rater band. They should have been much bigger than they were.

Nice interview, and the album sounds great - streaming via Qobuz thru Roon.

mariakenneth's picture

Colin Hay's music has a timeless quality that resonates with fans across different stages of their lives. His ability to evoke nostalgia and introspection through his songs is truly remarkable. Listening to his music can transport you back to specific moments, much like a conversation on omegle unexpectedly connecting you with someone who shares a similar memory or appreciation for his work.

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