Former Men at Work frontman Colin Hay talks life, Hurricane Harvey and 'Fierce Mercy'

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Colin Hay will perform several songs from his expansive song catalog, including selections from his latest album "Fierce Mercy, at 7:30 p.m. tonight at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts' Carlos Alvarez Studio Theater here in San Antonio. (Photo: Sebastian Smith)

Like so many other people in America, Colin Hay watched Hurricane Harvey's vicious winds ravage Texas and its rain dumping trillions of gallons of water on the Lone Star State from his sofa at his home in California.

He watched the flood waters punish Houston and so many other towns, as people were being rescued from rooftops and forced from their homes by the raging flood waters, as he wondered if not only if he could but should perform at his planned concert on Sept. 8 in Houston.

“It is so mind blowing about what happened (with Hurricane Harvey). You can’t get a grasp on the scale of it while you're sitting on your couch safe at home. My job is to bring some distraction for a couple of hours to those going through such a tragedy," Colin Hay said during a recent phone interview with Sinclair Broadcast Group. "You wonder if you should go through with a concert while people are trying to repair their lives from what had just happened, but I think my job is to give those people a chance to get away from those troubles for a couple of hours. I mean how can you really get your mind off something like that? Hopefully, this will bring a smile to someone's face that is going through so much."

Hay is doing more than just performing, as he is donating his performance fee from Friday's show to the Mayor's Hurricane Relief Fund. Hay will perform several songs from his expansive song catalog, including selections from his latest album "Fierce Mercy, at 7:30 p.m. tonight at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts' Carlos Alvarez Studio Theater here in San Antonio.


Since his days as frontman and principal songwriter for the band Men at Work, Hay has kept up a rigorous touring schedule that has taken him around the world and helped building his fan base back up one song at a time.

"It's been a slow build," he said. "To be honest, I've never really understood the music business. I realized a long time ago that I only worry about the things I can control which is songwriting and performing. I've to music and the songwriting process. It was a joy to make 'Fierce Mercy' with (writing partner) Michael Georgiades and it's been great to take these songs out on the road and perform them for people. I think it surprises some people that I never really went away."

Hay's new album "Fierce Mercy" has a very cinematic approach with songs that range from very personal to novelistic, such is the case of one of the many standout tracks "Frozen Fields of Snow," which he says is the story of a war veteran returning to his childhood home after outliving the other members of his unhappy family.

"A Thousand Million Reasons" talks about us looking up into the billions of stars and planets in the sky knowing that we are all alone, but we're all alone together. And finding great comfort in that and not letting fear rule your life.

The video for the song was animated and directed by noted Cuban cartoonist Juan Padron, whose 1970s serial Elpidio Valdes entertained a generation of kids.

One of the songs off the new album, "Secret Love," takes him back to his youth and was inspired by his days growing up in Scotland. The lyrics speak to any young boy - or girl- that has had fallen in love with someone and that other person doesn't know it. The lyrics could be a snapshot of anyone's life as a youth.

I can't live without you knowing
What I've been keeping inside
My love's overflowing and won't be denied
Can no longer hide

But it was Hay's love of American music that really inspired him.

“I remember coming up with a melody (to ‘Secret Love’) that reminded me of listening to Roy Orbison,” he said. “Listening to Roy was like listening to opera or a drama because his songs always had a dramatic approach to them. My mother and father owned a music shop in Scotland and I remember listening to those songs. I loved the Righteous Brothers and Gene Pitney. I remember that big American production sound they all had and ‘Secret Love’ is my attempt at a song inspired by those songs.”

Hay's love of The Beatles has been evident throughout this career and he mentions "Rubber Soul" a lot during interviews due to his affection for this time in the band's musical journey.

“’Rubber Soul’ is the story of a band almost realized,” he said. “’Revolver’ was a step forward much like ‘Sgt. Pepper,’” he said. “The band hadn’t taken off yet. They were still on the runway. They were on the cusp of something great and still in that beautiful stage before outside forces intruded on the creative process. I had always wanted to be in a band like that.”


Men at Work was supposed to be that band.

With a mixture of infectious melody's, great lyrics and stage persona, Men at Work took the 1980s by storm, as they exploded on the U.S. scene with their debut album "Business as Usual" back in 1982. That album generated a pair of No. 1 hits in "Who Can It Be Now" and "Down Under," but that album had much more to offer than just those catchy tunes. This was one of those albums that you didn't want to pick up the needle - taking a reference to those days of vinyl.

"Business as Usual" spent an unprecedented 15 weeks at No. 1 and sold 15 million copies worldwide.

And the album doesn't suffer from any sonic novelties or overproduction that plagued so many records back in the 80s.

"I listened to the album recently and I think it holds up well," Hay said. "I'm not into whether its the 35th anniversary of the album. I only care that the songs are still being played today and people still love the music. It sure has stood the test of time."

Men at Work followed up the success of "Business as Usual" with 1983's "Cargo," which continued the hit parade for the band, as "Overkill" hit No. 3, "It's A Mistake" peaked at No. 6, while the album sold 5 million copies.

Hay and the band even played to over 250,000 people on New Wave Day of the legendary US Festival put on by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak back in 1983. Men at Work's performance was one for the ages, but Hay said the real fireworks were happening back stage before they went on.

“The U.S. Festival is the high point of the band’s career,” he said. “I was the biggest audience we ever played to. It was such a fun night. I remember we were backstage with The Clash and our managers were arguing who was going to close the show. I didn’t really care who closed the show because I just wanted to play.”

But with the highest of highs, Hay knew that at the peak of their career that Men at Work were done.

“We didn’t want to just be a pub band,” he said. “We wanted to be a success all over the world, which is what we did. But with that kind of success came the pitfalls that strike down so many bands. It’s such a cliché. Musical differences and so many other things led to us going out separate ways. We had good chemistry, but we fell apart quickly. What was pretty sad is that when we were at the peak of our success I knew the band was finished.

“I loved the music we made together. We had a band with great joy and great sadness. We made a few great albums, but we weren’t inspired by The Kinks or The (Rolling) Stones with that kind of longevity.”

After the band's demise, Hay hit the road as a solo artist and has released 13 studio albums to date and continues to hone his craft and believes "the best of me is yet to come." And with "Fierce Mercy," Hay said he's continued to strive to make albums on par with those he grew up on.

“I have a great love of albums that I listened to growing up,” he said. “This is me trying to make ‘Rubber Soul.’ I remember all those albums like ‘Sgt. Pepper,’ or ‘Blonde on Blonde’ or an album from Stevie Wonder, The Beach Boys or Booker T and the MGs. What I really love and enjoy doing is the process of writing and recording music. It is one those great joys.”

Colin Hay will perform at 7:30 p.m. tonight at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts and Sunday in Austin. CLICK HERE FOR MORE TICKET INFORMATION.


Colin Hay 'Fierce Mercy' Tour Dates

Sept. 07 - San Antonio, TX - Tobin Center for the Performing Arts

Sept. 09 - Dallas, TX - Majestic Theatre

Sept. 10 - Austin, TX - Paramount Theatre

Sept. 12 - Nashville, TN - Americanafest

Sept. 28 - Seattle, WA - Benaroya Hall

Sept. 29 - Seattle, WA - Benaroya Hall

Sept. 30 - Portland, OR - Revolution Hall

Oct. 13 - Norwood, MA - Norwood Theatre

Oct. 14 - Concord, NH - Capitol Center

Oct. 15 - Northampton, MA - Academy of Music

Oct. 16 - Long Branch, NJ - Pollak Theatre

Oct. 18 - Port Washington, NY - Landmark on Main Street

Oct. 19 - South Orange, NJ - South Orange Performing Arts Center

Oct. 20 - Wilmington, DE - The Grand Opera House

Oct. 21 - Washington, DC - Lincoln Theatre

Oct. 22 - Tarrytown, NY - Tarrytown Music Hall

Oct. 25 - Ithaca, NY - Hangar Theatre

Oct. 26 - Oakmont, PA - The Oaks Theater

Oct. 27 - Cleveland, OH - Music Box Supper Club

Oct. 28 - Royal Oak, MI - Royal Oak Music Theatre

Oct. 29 - Cincinnati, OH - Taft Theatre

Nov. 01 - Grand Rapids, MI - 20 Monroe Live

Nov. 02 - Milwaukee, WI - Pabst Theater

Nov. 03 - Madison, WI - Barrymore Theatre

Nov. 04 - Minneapolis, MN - Pantages Theatre