The Hippo


Jun 2, 2020








Colin Hay

When: Sunday, Oct. 15, 7 p.m.
Where: Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 S. Main St., Concord
Tickets: $49.50 to $62.50 at

Up from down under
Colin Hay brings solo show to Cap Center

By Michael Witthaus

 In MTV’s early days, Men at Work had a string of hits, boosted by clever videos and the novelty of a new medium. “Who Can It Be Now?” was followed by “Down Under,” also a jaunty tourism commercial. It introduced the world to Vegemite, an Australian delicacy that, according to the band’s ex-front man, is best enjoyed on thick bread with lots of butter.

“Just a smidge of the Vegemite — less is more,” Colin Hay said in a recent phone interview. There’s a video on his website explaining the process in detail.
Following a second album and another hit, “Overkill,” Men at Work broke up. Massive success, including once playing for  150,000 fans at the US Festival, was bittersweet. 
“The guys in the band knew it wasn’t going to go the distance,” Hay said. “It was not cohesive ... a very weird bunch of people, really. I include myself in that.”
When Hay went solo, he was suddenly without a brand, playing nightclubs as a virtual unknown.  
“It was like all that other stuff didn’t exist,” he said.
To adjust from playing to dozens instead of thousands, Hay developed a patter ability akin to a standup comic. 
“I found it was a way of in a sense breaking the ice,” he said. “I think people were embarrassed for how few people there were in the audience.” 
Hay moved from Australia to Southern California and continued making records. He’s released over a dozen, starting with 1987’s Looking For Jack. Early on, though the lack of name recognition made things tough. 
In the early 2000s, he received some high-profile help from Bill Lawrence and Zach Braff, respectively the creator and star of the hit television series Scrubs. The two came to see him play at Largo, a club in Los Angeles. After his set, Lawrence asked him why he didn’t hear any of Hay’s songs on the radio.
“I said, ‘Well, I would like to know the answer to that too,’” Hay said with a laugh. “He told me, ‘I’m going to use a bunch of songs in my TV show and see if that makes a difference.’” 
In 2002, it became one of the earliest examples of musical product placement on a network series; later, Hay also had a recurring role as a hippie-ish character called The Troubadour. The effort paid off. 
“It had a massive effect; TV is just so powerful, especially if it’s the right kind,” Hay said. “Scrubs ... had that combination of being popular, and it had some cred to it.”
Because Hay and Lawrence were friends for years before the show, the experience never felt forced or contrived. 
“It wasn’t really so much an industry thing,” Hay said. “It was somebody who liked my music, and was appalled that more people weren’t aware of it, saying, ‘Now I’m in a position to do something about it.’”
Hay’s latest album is Fierce Beauty, released in early March. It includes “She Was a Love of Mine,” a song written for his late mother. Its tender lyrics describe a close relationship, and final trip to New Zealand, where the two watched movies and ate room service food. Hay offered a wry punch line about the experience. 
“It’s difficult when you lose people,” he said. “It’s one of the great tragedies of life – death.” 
“I’m Walking Here” delves into hip-hop to respond to Trayvon Martin’s murder, with guest rappers Joe Manuel “Deploi” Lopez Eric “Swift” Piazza. 
“These two guys are friends of Cecilia, my wife; they worked with her a bit,” he said. “They were at the house, and I said ‘I’ve got this idea for a song.’ I took them downstairs to the studio, played it for them, and they just wrote the words and did it there on the spot.”  
Though he was born in Scotland and has spent more than half of his life in Southern California, many will always connect Hay with Australia. That’s fine, he said. 
“I spent a lot of formative years in Australia, my parents were there before they died, and my sister is still there, and my ridiculous old friends. ... I love it dearly but have not lived there for a long time now.” 

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