Colin Hay draws inspiration from the line between optimism and self-delusion
Colin Hay is no stranger to travel. As the frontman of the international pop sensation Men at Work, Hay toured the world singing still-familiar hits such as “Down Under,” “Who Can it Be Now?” and “Overkill.”
As an acoustic singer-songwriter with a 15-year solo career, Hay continues to take his songs on the road. Yet there’s something about California that makes him stay. For his concert on Sunday, Hay won’t be going far — just “down the road,” he says, from his home in Topanga Canyon to The Broad Stage in Santa Monica.
The Argonaut spoke with Hay about his latest album, “Next Year People,” and what it means to take the long way home.
— Christina Campodonico
What was the inspiration for this new album?
Inspiration is a funny thing. Sometimes songs seem to come out of the air and sometimes you feel like you’re really responsible for them. I wrote quite a lot of songs with a friend of mine, Michael [Georgiades]. He would come ‘round with musical ideas, which I find very inspiring. Sometimes he would just have a phrase or a word here or there. We would work the song from there.
If I could pick one thing really about what we were both feeling is a sense of impotence, in a way, about the fact that the world would appear to be run by mad people — to make sense of the senseless.
How about the title song, “Next Year People”?
The inspiration for that song in particular was watching a Ken Burns documentary about the dust storms in Depression era in America, when farmers had to leave their farms. And the amazing thing about the human condition is that they seemed to do the same thing every year and expect a different result. That’s the amazing thing about humans. We seem to think that things will change for the better. We like to build optimism, if you like. And I actually relate to that in my own small way.
Where do these stories of optimism come from?
There’s a song called “Did You Just Take the Long Way Home?” which is one of my favorite songs on the record. It’s a story about a man whose wife has left him and he’s sitting on top of a hill, and the realist in him realizes that she’s gone and she’s not going to come back. But then in his flights of fancy, he remembers that often when she used to be coming home, she used to take the long way home. So sometimes she would just arrive late because she had taken a wrong turn somewhere. And so he fancies that maybe … maybe that’s what’s happened. It’s self-delusion, but sometimes we do that. She’s not coming back, but he wishes that she was.
There’s a voice sometimes you hear in your head — it’s not based on any rhyme or reason, but you hang onto it sometimes. I don’t know if it’s particularly healthy to hang onto, but we do. Sometimes you hang on to a lot of things that are not particularly healthy.
Have you ever taken the long way home?
[I] went to Australia first and then I ended up in California, so that was indeed taking the long way home. When I left Australia I was having problems with alcohol, and I came to California and I liked it. I’ve found it and it found me in that particular time in my life. It seemed to give me some respite and a chance to wipe the slate clean and start again.
What attracted you to California?
My mother and father had a music shop in Scotland before I left to go to Australia, and I remember listening to “Good Vibrations.” I just thought to myself, “I don’t understand what that music is or where it comes from, but wherever it comes from I want to go there, because it sounds like a place full of magic.” And it is! I think that it’s a magical place, Los Angeles. A lot of people have a lot of disparaging things to say about it, but I find it to be quite an inspiring place.
Colin Hay performs at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 20, at The Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica.
Call (310) 434-3200 or visit thebroadstage.com