It is a long way from Colin Hay’s birthplace of Kilwinning, Scotland, to his current residence in Los Angeles, California-and it gets even longer when you make the trek via Australia. But that’s not to say that Hay is complaining. Having formed the seminal Australian pop band Men at Work in the late ’70s, Hay and his musical cohorts rode the crest of the New Wave pop insurgence all the way to the top of the American charts. Since then, Hay has forged a solo career that has now yielded nine albums (three times more than he released with Men at Work). A few years back, his career received an unexpected boost when actor Zach Braff took some time to listen. And with Hay’s subsequent musical contributions to Braff’s television series (Scrubs) and film (Garden State) reigniting his career, it seems people are starting to look at him all over again.
You moved to Australia when you were 14. What was it like to be thrust into a totally different culture at that age? It was an awesome experience, really, as it gave me a double perspective on everything. It was a very liberating thing to do at an age when you are so impressionable.
Did that experience help prepare you in your move to America? That was a completely different experience because I came over here with no master plan. I came here because things were pointing away from Australia for me at that particular time. I had a record deal that was based in Los Angeles, so I came over here and just felt comfortable. But I still go back to Australia all the time. My mother and father are still in Melbourne. So I have a foot in both places, in a way.
Australia has a very notorious pub scene. How tough was it to get your start down there? There was a kind of apprenticeship period. But everyone goes through a period where you are just part of the furniture, so to speak. I think it depends on what kind of music you’re playing and what kind of impact you have on people. I started playing when I was 14 and remember playing in Melbourne where the owner had the television going and the jukebox blaring and us playing in the corner. We asked if he could turn the jukebox off, but he thought it made for a good atmosphere.
You play everything from quiet listening rooms to outdoor festivals-how do the dynamics differ? They both have their rewards. An audience is an audience, and you play with the hand you have. When I’m playing with a band, it’s very different from when I am doing solo shows. When you’re playing a smaller room and it’s a solo show, obviously that’s going to be a lot more personal and intimate. It has a totally different dynamic, and you respond to that, whereas when you’re up on a stage at a festival with a band, that then kind of becomes your stereotypical rock show.
Your new album, Are You Lookin’ At Me?, is a lot more lush than its predecessor. Was that intentional or by circumstance? It was a bit of both, really. I have a band, and I wanted to make an electric album, so since I have a pool of musicians that I work with, it was just a matter of getting them up to the studio to work on the songs. The album I had out before that, Going Somewhere, was actually an album I did eight years ago in response to people who came to see my live show and wanted a stripped-down album, and my record company re-released it because people seemed to like it.
Your music was brought back into the limelight in a big way thanks to Zach Braff. Was it a nice avowal to have “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You” resonating so deeply half a decade after it was written? It’s a good affirmation because you create these records and work hard on them and hope that maybe, at some point, somebody will get to hear them. In this case, Zach Braff used to come and see me play at Largo-before he was in Scrubs actually-and had a copy of my album for quite a few years. He then got the gig in Scrubs and said to me one night that he would try and get some of my songs placed in the show, which he did.
Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence has been somewhat of a champion as well, correct? He also came down to hear me play and became a bit of fan. He couldn’t understand why my songs weren’t on the radio, and I told him that I didn’t understand either! So he said he was going to put some of my songs on his television show and see if it would make a difference :
And it has certainly seemed to : It has made a huge difference-especially to my live shows. It has led to some kind of resurgence in people’s interest in what I’m doing.
Colin Hay will play an all-ages show this Thursday, May 22, at 8 p.m. at SOhO (1221 State St.). For ticket information, call 962-7776 or visit sohosb.com.