Colin Hay does what he wants.
He’s a man who picked himself up by his bootstraps after his band Men at Work imploded in 1985 and made his own way through the music industry ever since. He started a record label, Lazy Eye Records, to release his albums when labels weren’t calling. He’s toured (and continues to tour) worldwide. He’s got one of the most recognizable voices around, made cameos on "Scrubs" and has written some of the catchiest pop hits of the last 30 years.
Just don’t expect the guy to go big on Valentine’s Day.
The Austalian-by-way-of-Scotland (and Topanga Canyon resident for the past 20-30 years) behind such radio classics like "Down Under," "Who Can It Be Now?" and "Overkill" spoke with me on the phone on Saturday, Feb. 14 -- so naturally I just had to ask him what he had in store for the big romantic holiday.
"Just a couple kisses … nothin’ much, really," he said a bit sheepishly.
Hay (who headlines the Poway Center for the Performing Arts on Friday, March 13) goes nonstop, it seems. He’s released 12 solo albums since 1987 and his latest studio full-length, February's "Next Year People," is one of his finest. [Purchase/listen to it here] For an artist with such a beloved back catalog of work, I asked him if he ever gets frustrated having to play older songs at every show when he’s got incredible new music people should be hearing.
"I love those songs. Why would I not play them? Those songs were very good to me. But I only play it if I like it. ‘Down Under’ was a good song, ‘Overkill’ too -- the best way to approach it is just to play them and see where they take you. You can always rediscover them. After a certain amount of time goes by, whatever depth was there originally, you end up noticing more later on."
If there’s one thing I’ve noticed about Hay, it’s that he’s very reflective. And maybe because of that, the man is the consummate storyteller. Meet him in person, see him at a show, or watch any video on YouTube of a live performance, and nearly all of them begin and/or end with a story and a laugh.
"When I was young, when you went to a party or hosted one, you had to entertain or sing a song or tell a story. That was the entertainment. You didn’t have iPhones -- people barely had TVs. It was all live performance. My father was a great singer and could tell a story – but it wasn’t something I consciously thought about until I started playing out after [Men at Work] broke up, I played shows for very few people. It reminded me of having people in your house. I thought, ‘I have to entertain these people,’ but I had to entertain them for an hour and a half instead of five minutes. It can come from a position of not particularly feeling super confident about playing 15 or 16 songs. When you stand up there with a guitar, there’s an element of predictability. People are thinking, ‘He’s gonna sing another song now’ -- you know what’s coming, in a way. It was a sense of breaking up that predictability … I kind of developed it from there. Now it’s become part and parcel of what I do."
Knowing his penchant for storytelling and his lifelong affinity with the Beatles -- and that he’s hung out with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr (even played in Ringo’s All-Starr band for a while), I had to ask: Did you freak out when you first met Macca?
"When I first met Paul McCartney, it was at a small club in Hollywood called Largo. He came to the club, and he may not have been there for me -- but in my head, I decided he came to see me. [Laughs] But as I was going on stage, he was just standing there. And it was very exciting because that was the band to me, and for a lot of people as well. I don’t think anyone ever put anything together as incredible as those guys. He actually pointed out to me in one conversation, 'The coincidence of four people meeting and getting together is quite remarkable when you think about it. When you look at John, he’s no slouch, George is no slouch, Ringo is no slouch and neither am I. But having all four of us meet and come together as a band is actually rather extraordinary, you know?'"
I could’ve listened to Hay talk for hours. But hey, he’s got music to write and shows to play -- and kisses to dole out to the missus. Before we hung up, I asked him his thoughts on his career and longevity in general. After writing music for half a century, not to mention some of the biggest pop hits of our time -- does he think his best is yet to come?
“Yes. And I think I’m getting better. I’ve got a ways to go but I think I’m only getting better.”