By selling more than 30 millions records worldwide, Men at Work left a mark on the music scene. Songs such as "Down Under," "Who Can It Be Now?" and "Overkill" brought the group commercial success. In 1983, the band won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist.
Lead singer Colin Hay released several solo albums after Men at Work broke up in 1985. He contributed to the Garden State soundtrack in 2004 with the song "I Just Don't Think I'll Ever Get Over You." Eventually, he started is own record label, Lazy Eye Records.
His documentary Colin Hay: Waiting For My Real Life has had him making appearances at venues around the world. Hay's new album, Fierce Mercy, is released on March 3 and he sat down to talk about it at City Winery.
Windy City Times: To start off, people must assume you are from Australia.
Colin Hay: Well, you would, wouldn't you? When you become successful being known for a certain place the logical assumption is to be from there. I am from there but originally from Scotland. I went there when I was 14. I became an Australian if you like.
WCT: Where is the strangest place you have heard "Down Under?"
CH: Apart from my own head? I think the strangest was in LA at a Jewish wedding. It is because a man many years ago stole the music and wrote new lyrics to it. It has become another song but is still "Down Under" but called something else. I have never done anything about it.
WCT: You have mentioned in the past that Men at Work was not built to last.
CH: Well, it was but it didn't.
WCT: Was there something you would have done differently to keep it together?
CH: I think because the personalities that were involved it wasn't destined to stand the test of time. It kind of imploded. If we had done some things differently it might have lasted but I don't really think so. It just didn't feel good anymore creatively.
Sometimes in bands there is a creative tension where people don't necessarily get along but they write together and it becomes something magical. We had that for a little while.
There were six people involved with Men at Work, five musicians and one manager. A couple of people in the band wanted to sack the manager, the one person didn't like another person. It was a big thing that was kept very small.
I had been on my own for many years before. I felt comfortable by myself, so I just kept going.
It was a great time. We had a couple of great records and a couple of great tours. It was a short and explosive career. We toured for six more years as Men at Work with Greg Ham and I, but even that got tedious, He passed away.
WCT: Was there a gay member in Men at Work?
CH: Not as far as I know. We had lots of gay audiences though, especially when we started.
WCT: Are you related to the singer Sia?
CH: She is not my blood niece, but I have known her since she was two years old. I used to play with her father. He is a great guitar player and her mother is a talented artist.
WCT: How amazing is her career?
CH: Stratospheric, all of a sudden there was an explosion. I went to see her at the Hollywood Bowl and it was an extraordinary performance.
I hear the performance she did at Coachella was life-changing for a lot of people.
WCT: What have you learned from making 13 albums?
CH: Not a lot. [Laughs] I have liked making them. I learned that this is what I like to do. I like to write songs, be in the studio, and create music. It gives me great joy. I go out on the road and play it. Sia even asked me why I tour so much, but my approach is a bit old fashioned. My life is like a traveling salesman. I entertain folks and it makes me feel useful. It is like providing a service.
It can be my least favorite part because it is reproducing what you have created. It is not as exciting as when I am in the studio.
WCT: You recorded the album Fierce Mercy in Nashville?
CH: I recorded most of it at home in LA. After I went and recorded strings in Nashville.
WCT: What is the track "Secret Love" about?
CH: I was sitting on the sofa one night watching David Letterman. I always loved Gene Pitney and Roy Orbison. I loved operatic pop. I didn't know how to do it but wanted this sound for it.
I am hoping for a gay anthem. Whatever you can do I would appreciate it!
WCT: I will do my best. It seems like a very sad song.
CH: Visually, you can treat it in different ways. It struck me after it was written that a gay anthem was applicable. A song develops a life of its own.
WCT: Zach Braff is fan of your work, I read.
CH: He helped me get on the show Scrubs, then in the movie Garden State. It helped me a lot in terms of visibility.
WCT: Did someone come to you with the idea of the documentary or did you come up with it?
CH: Both. Nate Gowtham and Aaron Faulls came along with a proposal and off we went.
WCT: Did it cover things well or would you change it?
CH: I think it has a nice arc to it. There are always things to change but it was time to move on. You can't spend time second guessing what you do.
WCT: I watched the video for "It's a Mistake" today. It is still relevant and doesn't sound dated.
CH: It is a very we'll put together song and video. There was tragedy involved with that as well, because Melbourne and Victoria had just gone through Ash Wednesday. There were horrific bushfires. We went down to film after that and it looked like a war zone. The trees were still smoldering. Visually to make that video it was perfect, but it was under tragic circumstances.
WCT: When you come back to Chicago do you have any fun plans?
CH: I basically perform and eat at a few places. It is never a holiday, but I play there all the time.
Visit ColinHay.com for his doc or to purchase tickets for Thalia Hall, 1807 S Allport St., on Friday, March 10, at 8 p.m.