Former Men At Work frontman Colin Hay.DESPITE having written plenty of amazing and iconic songs, Colin Hay still finds songwriting incredibly difficult.
‘‘I struggle a lot with writing songs,’’ the former Men At Work frontman said.
‘‘Sometimes when they pop out of the air, you think ‘phew, I’m glad that popped out’ but generally that’s the exception.
‘‘It’s not a struggle coming up with ideas, ideas are easy, there’s plenty of them.
‘‘But finishing a song, that’s the tricky part.
‘‘On my last album, Gathering Mercury, the title track … I had the music for that for … probably 10 years.
‘‘It was a cool piece, but I could never come up with the best idea lyrically, but what I ended up with I was really happy with.
‘‘There are songs that I still might record where the original idea came to me in 1976. I’ve still got a few of those hanging around.’’
Digging back into those old ideas is one of the only times Hay consciously examines his past, but he doesn’t mind conceding that his four decades in the music industry have been an interesting ride.
He began playing guitar as a teenager, but took it more seriously from 1967 when his family moved to Melbourne and Hay immersed himself in the music community.
He and his Men At Work band mates spent two years writing and performing before landing a deal to release the breakthrough debut album, Business as Usual, in 1981.
Producing the band’s classic Down Under and Who Could It Be Now?, the album went five-times platinum within the first year, won a Grammy and sold more than 10 million copies.
The follow-up, Cargo, went gold and shifted another five million copies, but disputes within the band put an end to the original line-up.
A final album recorded by Hay and saxophonist/keyboardist Greg Ham, Two Hearts, was released in 1985 before they went their separate ways.
‘‘Men At Work was a very powerful thing but it only lasted … about 4 years and then it was done, so I’ve been on my own for 32 years and that’s a long time.
‘‘The movement forward since Men At Work has been quite gradual in a way, with strong punctuation marks, like [my appearances on television show] Scrubs and things that give you a high level of prosperity.
‘‘But I’m almost 62. I could fall over any time. No one knows when that’s going to happen.
‘‘In that light I’m more concerned about [focusing on] things happening now and into the future.’’
Los Angeles-based Hay is back on home soil for a 13-date tour, including two shows at Lizotte’s Newcastle on May 7 and 8.
That will be followed by two months touring the US alongside Violent Femmes and Barenaked Ladies to promote his new album Next Year People.
‘‘The thing is I just always try to write a better one than the one before. That’s really the only brief I give myself,’’ Hay said of the album, which is his 12th solo release.
‘‘I just try to keep people coming to shows … and make people have a good time for a few hours.
‘‘It’s a good thing to do. I’m happy with my life, all things considered.’’
Since going it alone after Men At Work split in 1985, Hay has developed a reputation as an engaging storyteller, sharing anecdotes between songs about his colourful life.
Hay credits his father – and mother, too – for giving him his ‘‘musical DNA’’.
Born and raised in Scotland before moving to Australia with his family aged 14, Hay’s life was surrounded by music. His father, a singing and dancing stage performer as a teen, worked as a piano tuner and ran a music store with his wife in Glasgow, selling records and instruments.
Hay now realises how much his childhood in that shop shaped his own path as a musician.
‘‘You didn’t really think of that when you’re in the middle of it because you just think ‘Oh well, my mum and dad have got a record shop, but maybe everyone has record shops’,’’ he said.
‘‘It was a dream come true for a kid, though I think my interest in music had more to do with the DNA. The fact my father could sing well and my mother could sing too had a lot to do with it.’’
Colin Hay performs at Lizotte’s Newcastle on May 7 and 8. Bookings online at lizottesm.au.