Colin Hay Feature
Originally scheduled to be published at Chicago Sun-Times but show got postponed…
Colin Hay Still Hard at Work Making Impact Through Music
By Joshua Miller
For former Men at Work frontman and singer/songwriter Colin Hay, most songs are not stationary or static means of communication.
“The best songs kind of live and breathe through time,” says Hay. “So, certain songs change, and sometimes how you feel at a certain time in your life is very different to how you feel now and sometimes you realize things about songs later on that you never even realized back then.”
That includes the 1980 Men at Work song “Down Under.”
“When I wrote ‘Down Under’, it was really coming from the standpoint of trepidation of really what seems to be happening more now, which is the results of labs and governments ignoring scientific research which has been going on for decades,” he says. “Pre-warning about things happening now, so, in some ways, that’s what the chorus of that song was about. Although, people took it to mean something else. But, that’s why with those songs, you put them out there into the world and people make of them what they will.”
“I’m trying to celebrate the country in a satirical way but realized the uniqueness of it in the place and realized that we have to caretake it in the best way possible that we can and not doing a particularly good job of that officially.”
The Scotland-born, Australia-raised singer is happy that songs he wrote four decades ago still resonate with people. “I had faith and belief in those songs back then and I still do now, so I’m glad that people still enjoy them,” he says.
The singer is using his current solo tour to help combat the wildfires in Australia. Fans can purchase a VIP meet and greet upgrade that benefits the New South Wales Rural Fire Service in Australia. For a number of years, Hays owned a piece of land outside the village of Cobargo, NSW, a place where he wrote one of his former band’s bigger hits, “Who Can It Be Now?”, and now is affected by the fires.
“It’s something that seemed instinctively a good thing to do because I’ve never really done these meet and greets before where people pay extra money to get to say hello and hang out for a while,” he says. “So, I just thought that I’ll sell all those funds to the economy of this town which I had a personal relationship with in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. It was literally desolated to fight the fires, so it seemed like a specific thing to do to help in the recovery of that town.”
Hays is currently touring in support of his 2017 album “Fierce Mercy” and is preparing to release a new album later this year. “I think that you try and make a better work every time you make one,” Hay says. “So, I have pretty good relationships with those songs after two years or something since it’s come out.”
For example, a song such as “Tumbling Down” off “Fierce Mercy” still works because it’s “just one of those immediate songs that people can immediately get, and they tend to sing along with.”
While he’s not sure how to describe the music on his upcoming album, Hays hopes fans are “pleasantly surprised” by what they hear.
“I’ve written a lot of them again with my friend Michael G that lives up the road from me, so we got to different places melodically than what we perhaps would have had before,” Hays says. “It will be different from the last record because I’ve written a lot of songs with him, so a lot of the music came from him, so it’s got a different sound just in that regard because a lot of the musical ideas came from Michael and all the lyrical ideas came from me.”
“Musically, we like to think we’ve been stretched a bit more with the songs,” he continues. “Certainly in terms of melody. And sometimes, the best kind of songs speak to you, they have a life of their own in a way. You’re always wanting to be responsive to the song itself, to try and let the song have its own voice. Sometimes you have an idea for how a song should sound and it doesn’t really want to sound like that, it wants to sound like something else. It wants to present itself in a different way, so you have to be open to that.”
Hays also got another chance to collaborate with Ringo Starr as he wrote “What’s My Name?” The song became the title track to Starr’s latest album. Hay has been a frequent member of Starr’s All-Star Band.
“It’s not every day you get to write a song for a Beatle,” he says. “It’s a great thing to be part of, it’s a great thing to have done 17 years ago, and it’s a great thing to be asked to do it again.”