Colin Hay feels like he has flown just under the radar for the past four decades.
When Men At Work
gave the U.S. a taste of a vegemite sandwich from the land “Down Under,” when the band took over the radio airwaves in 1981, Hay’s voice and music went household. The group was able to alternately pivot between the artistic music scene from the 1970s with the fresh new wave sounds that clipped into the 1980s, with catchy pop vignettes.
Hay remained the lyrical lynchpin to the band’s short-lived success, with hit singles “Who Can It Be Now,” “Down Under,” “Be Good Johnny,” “Overkill,” and “It’s A Mistake” coming from the first two albums. To this day, those songs remain in the permacycle of FM radio staples.
By the third album, Men At Work found themselves laid off.
Hay dove straight into a solo career that has sprouted 15 top-notch, songwriter-crafted solo albums and a devoted fan base that is thrilled to see him come full-circle, with his old band name on the marquee once again.
“I think mainly what I have really done is just went on the road 30 years ago here in the States and I just kept touring,” says Hay during a recent break on tour. “I kept making records and going out on the road. It's a rather old-fashioned approach.”
When Men At Work join John Waite and Rick Springfield Sat., Aug. 27, at Wenonah Park in Bay City
, Hay is basking in the glory of his career coming full circle.
“I'd done a little bit of touring under the banner of Men At Work in the last couple of years,” he says. “It seems to go quite well. We went to Europe a couple of years ago, before the pandemic. We did a little bit of stuff before Christmas last year. So it's not like I've done a lot of touring under Men At Work, but we just figured, well, if you're going to go out this summer with John and Rick it just seemed to make sense (to) call it Men At Work.”
Colin Hay, part of the hit-producing group Men at Work in the 1980s, has also had a successful solo career. (Photo courtesy of Paul Mobley Studio)
Earlier this year, Hay released his latest solo record, “Now And The Evermore,” along with single videos, unique arrangements, and the multi-directional songwriting that has been his staple for years. Then a call came to tour with Springfield and Waite. Completely switching gears to a solid set of Men At Work songs for this tour was a natural chasm to dive into.
“I’m the only original member of Men At Work and it's my Los Angeles-based band,” he offers. “So we just play a full Men At Work set. I do a couple of (solo) songs when we do a show just by ourselves. But when I'm playing with John and Rick, it's all Men At Work. People have been responding really well to it. I didn't really know how people would respond.”
Hay had a 2015 documentary on his life – “Waiting For My Real Life” – dive deeper into his Men At Work history, as well as his many brilliant, oft-overlooked solo offerings. That spotlight allowed Hay to fuel the fire and continue to deliver his music to the masses.
“I always figured, well, I probably wouldn’t get any help at radio and I probably wouldn't get a record that does well commercially,” he states. “I mean, it would have been nice for that to happen, but in the meantime, everyone has got all these reasons why it doesn't happen or why it does happen … and you can't wait around for things to happen! So I'm just going back on the road, attracting my audience and my audience are the ones who've kept me going all this time. And there's a growing number of them. So it's not so bad.”
Hay has also spent many stints touring with Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band, keeping the Men At Work songs alive in the epic, hit-filled sets. Ringo also plays on Hay’s recent album as well.
With the 2012 death of longtime music partner and Men At Work sax man Greg Ham, Hay continues to cherish the deep memories of his best friend.
“Greg passing away was well, it's still … I think about him all the time, every day. Gregory. It's really not the script that I had, you know. There was really no need for him to go.
“But things like that will happen. You just always feel kind of somewhat impotent afterwards, because you think whilst a lot of people weren't particularly surprised by it, you still get shocked when something like that actually does happen. It's more of a friendship than anything else. He was someone that I've known since 1972, somebody that I always imagined getting old with and just stumbling around and having a few laughs, because he was a bit special. Greg.”
Hay has a chuckle regarding his current band whom he’s spent the last six years with, as they take the spotlight on the current Men At Work tour.
“The six of us – Jimmy Branly on drums from Havana, Cuba, bass player Yosmel Montejo from Kendall, Cuba, and guitarist San Miguel Perez from Granma, Cuba. The three Cuban guys and Scheila Gonzalez, who's of Guatemalan descent, and Cecilia Noel, my wife, sing with me. She's from Peru.
“I wouldn't have really believed it probably 40 years ago, if you would have said that forty years from now I'd be touring as Men At Work with three Cubans, a Guatemalan, and a Peruvian. I would have not taken that bet.”
Hay notes that he will not be moving away from his solo career when the tour wraps up.
“I feel great about making music,” he shares. “It's the one thing that I get a lot from, a lot of nourishment and joy from. I like creating music, recording it, playing it. So the easy part is creating the music, but the hard part really is trying to get noticed.”
Now that the solo artist can coincide with the Men At Work legend, Hay might be able to rekindle a bit of what he once had.
“I think I still pretty much fly below the radar so to speak. Not that I particularly want to, but I think my music is noticed by a lot of people. A lot of people hear it, but in terms of just trying to make an impression and the so-called music business if you like, whether it be trying to get airplay or trying to get placement or trying to get people within the industry to take note of it or pay attention to it, that's pretty elusive. At least it has been for me.
“I mean, if my music can get exposed to people, then they tend to react to it very positively. I suppose that the best example of that was that song “I Just Don't Think I'll Ever Get Over You,” which was on a record of mine for I think probably close to 10 years before it was actually noticed by the public, because Zach Braff put it in his movie (“2004 Garden State.”) Then it got released by Sony as a soundtrack and went platinum. People responded really well to the song. So that's the frustration involved with what I do, it's just kind of feeling like you're doing your best work, but it's pretty much like seeing your audience through a glass wall and they can't hear you.”
Hay said he is happy to cool off in Michigan and is excited for the Men At Work fans as his current run has been a heater.
“It's been really hot, because we've been in Florida and southern states, Alabama. I think we're in Virginia now. It's a little cooler today. The audiences have been really good, everything’s been running pretty smoothly right now.
“It’s a nourishing way to live. As I see it, the audience that I've had for the last 40 years have been really great. So it keeps me moving forward.”