Colin Hay; Still At Work

Growing up in the 70s and 80s, through my student life years, I’m quite partial to the music of that era. I spent my first two years of college in 1983 and 1984 in a small college in North Carolina. My freshman year especially, was quite profound and exciting. It was the early days of MTV, and we still listened to our portable music on cassette tapes and boom boxes. My dorm mates and I had four albums that made up the majority of the sound track of those freshman days. Gap Band’s greatest hits, Alabama’s greatest hits, Yaz – Upstairs At Eric’s, and Men At Work – Business As Usual. We wore those cassettes out. I remember one particular Friday afternoon, riding with a buddy in his convertible MG Midget, top down, road tripping to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, with Men At Work blaring all the way there and back. To this day, it is a very nostalgic record in my personal library.

When the opportunity arose to speak with Colin Hay, lead singer of Men At Work, I was thrilled. Colin’s response to my praise for that pivotal record; “It is a really good driving record,” he quipped, and we had a chuckle.

“It was a very exciting record for us to make,” he continued. “It only took 10 days to record the whole thing. But things were different then, you know? We just didn’t have that much time. We were on the road a lot. And we had a studio that wasn’t the best. I think we had a week or 10 days of pre-production, which was really an important thing; whipping the songs into shape before we actually went into the studio, that really helped a lot.”

Early Success
The band had been together for about two years before they went into the studio to record the Business As Usual record. “It seemed like a long time back then,” Colin said. “You know, when you’re younger, two years is a long time. We were playing at least four or five nights a week all over the city and surrounding areas. We always had aspirations of making it, and touring internationally, and having a record deal. We had our aspirations of greatness for sure. And CBS Records (which went on to become Sony) were the only record company that was interested in us, which was handy for us, because that’s the kind of label that we wanted. It turned out to be a horrible deal, but you know, at the time, we just wanted to make a record,” Colin recalled.

Of course anyone who grew up in the 80s is familiar with the songs of that record – it seemed like they were on every channel you turned to. With hit singles like, “Who Can It Be Now,” “Down Under,” and “Be Good Johnny,” Men At Work established themselves as a top performing act of the early-80s, and Business As Usual was one of the most successful albums internationally by an Australian group.

Riding the success of that album, Men At Work cut a few more records before parting ways as a band. That was nearly 40 years ago, but for Colin Hay, the music never stopped.

‘Is it hard to believe it’s been that long?’ I asked. “Yes. And no,” he exclaimed. “When I think what’s happened since then; I came to live in the United States in ’89 or ’90, and continued making music. That was the most momentous thing that I did in terms of uprooting everything. I couldn’t really imagine doing anything else. I never really particularly wanted to do anything else. I’m lucky because I get to do what I’ve always wanted. I don’t really look back that often in terms of what if … what if this happened or this didn’t happen. That band was quite short lived. I always had great aspirations to be in a great band. And I think that we got close in a way. We made a couple of really good records, but we just didn’t stay together. That’s really what you have to do if you want to solidify everything as a band. As a group of people, you either kind of grow together and figure things out and you get stronger, or you don’t. That band was just short lived. We perhaps could have done a bit more if we had stayed together. But that’s just not what happened. So after the band was over, I just pretty much started again on my own, and have been on my own ever since. But for sure, that music has held up quite well.”

Not Quite Solo
Doing it on his own doesn’t always mean solo, although he does that quite often as well. There is a new iteration of Men At Work that he also frequently performs with (Colin as the only original member), as well as being a member of Ringo Starr and His All Star band. “I’ve done that since 2003,” Colin said. “I’ve done four or five tours with them up to this point. It’s fantastic. Edgar Winter’s back playing in the band again. Steve Lukather from Toto has been doing it for a few years now too; and Hemi Stewart from The Average White Band; so a lot of great songs get played.”

And of course Colin has a new record of his own, Now And Even More, coming out this March (2022). “Due to the lock down, I had more time to be at home, which was quite unusual,” Colin said. “I don’t normally have this much time at home. So I also recorded a covers album as well, which came out in August called, I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself.”

New Music
Regarding the record of original material, Colin said, “I just record what I think are the best songs that I’ve got at any particular time, but I think this is definitely the best offering today of what I have. Of course everyone says that, but you want every record to be better than the last one. I had maybe 20 new songs that we recorded, so I’ve got a bunch of songs left over, which I really liked, but we used what we though fit on this one.”

As for the future; Colin loves making music, so he says he’ll continue to write and perform. He’ll be on tour with this new album through November of 2022, including a solo set at Merlefest in Wilkesboro, NC in late April. “I have some stories I still want to tell,” Colin said. “So there are a lot of things I’d still like to do in my career. But mainly what I’m really trying to do is just become a better guitar player. That’s a lifelong thing. I really like playing the guitar, more now than ever. I just like it. And I like practicing. I like playing and messing around with different teachers online and stuff like that. You get to pick up so many different things that way. Plus, it’s just good for your brain as you get older.”