Colin Hay | Working From the Heart

“It originated from having to call tech support late at night. We wrote the song about the human condition and the importance of human contact in the least likely of places.”

 


 

The last time I heard the Scottish burr that greets me on the other end of the phone, it was coming out of an old Zenith color television tuned to some new channel called MTV. While many stars from the era of headbands and parachute pants went the way of that old Zenith, those with something to say managed to stick around long after the winds of time swept all of that video-sheen glitter away. Even at their peak in the ‘80s, Aussie rockers Men at Work were still something of an anomaly—talented musicians playing intelligent pop music, with no pretense. The only rule they laid down was that they weren’t going to let style dictate their musical decisions. The songwriting engine that drove that machine was Colin Hay, whose instantly recognizable voice helped Met at Work sell millions of albums, win a Grammy, and tour the world.

Hay will be coming to The Old Rock House in St. Louis on Wednesday, May 4th in support of his most recent solo album, Gathering Mercury; a song cycle inspired by the recent death of his father. Many artists have made career-best recordings exploring this subject matter, and Hay is no different in this regard. It’s a remarkable piece of work, and what’s particularly interesting given the subject matter is that it is neither morbid nor downbeat. “Well, he wasn’t a morbid or downbeat guy, you know?” Hay says. “Everyone has tragedy in their lives, and that was my first real tragedy, really. The universe is set up with that basic injustice; that we have to lose people who we love. I think about him every day, and he was as good a father as I would hope to have.” When I ask Hay what his father thought of his success in music, he pauses for a moment before responding, “He was always very happy for me. He was actually a singer in a band and had a great stage career when he was a teenager. So I felt in a way, I was carrying on for him.”

As Hay carried on, his solo career took him on many unexpected detours, not the least of which was a couple of turns in Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band. In fact, it was at a Ringo Starr sound check that Hay began working on the music to “Far From Home,” a track from the new album. “We were playing a piece of it before the show, and I called him up after the tour to see if he wanted to work on it,” Hay explains. “He said, ‘No, it’s your song; you did most of the work.’” What was Starr like to work with? “Oh, he was great. I mean, if there was anyone who was an inspiration, it was The Beatles, definitely.”

Hay’s solo career was given a further boost by a famous fan, Scrubs actor Zack Braff. “He would come see me play before he was on the show,” Hay recalls. “Once he got the Scrubs gig I had my CD sent in there, and they used some songs.” Hay also appeared in front of the camera on Scrubs and made a very well received contribution to the Garden State soundtrack, sounding right at home alongside artists such as Iron & Wine, Coldplay, and The Shins.

One of the high points on Hay’s new album is the leadoff track “Send Somebody.” Like the best of his work, the song acknowledges the folly of the human heart and the need for some kind of connection in the darkest of days. “I wrote that with Michael Georgiades,” Hay says. “He had a musical piece that I really liked, and I sang a melody over the top of it. Then, we worked back from there. It originated from having to call tech support late at night. We wrote the song about the human condition and the importance of human contact in the least likely of places.”

Discussing the momentum of his solo career over the past few years, I mention that more people are beginning to know him from his post Men At Work material. “I feel like a late bloomer, and I always feel like my best stuff is ahead of me, so I just keep plugging away at it,” he explains. “In a way, I feel like I’m just getting the hang of it. I like doing it for a job, I like doing it as a pastime, I like being in the studio messing around, writing songs.”

As we talk about his favorite new artists (he digs Swedish chanteuse Lykke Li and loves the new Strokes album), I ask Hay to describe his favorite memory from the past few decades of recording and touring. Was the Grammy win, playing stadiums, or all the attention gleaned from his solo career?  Nope. “Last night, pretty much,” he says. “The highlights for me are always the most recent thing that I’ve done.” | Jim Ousley

Colin Hay will be playing on Wed., May 4th at The Old Rock House, 1200 South 7th Street St. Louis, MO 63104. For more info call (314) 588-0505. Tickets are $38.00 reserved; $22.00 General Admission. Door is at 7:00. Show is at 8:30.

 

 

 

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