David Livingston, Getty Images P.O.D.'s thoroughly contemplative video for…
- Posted on Jan 4th 2011 5:30PM by Dave Steinfeld
Scott D. Smith, Retna
It may surprise some people to learn that Hay has been releasing solo albums fairly steadily for more than 20 years now. He did score a minor hit with 'I Just Don't Think I'll Ever Get Over You,' which appeared on the soundtrack to 'Garden State' several years ago. But all of Hay's albums have something to recommend them. Newcomers are advised to start with either his latest disc, 'American Sunshine,' or the great 'Going Somewhere,' which finds him performing many of his best songs in a stripped-down context. In addition, he just released a new DVD, 'Live at the Corner.'
Spinner caught up with Colin Hay during his recent visit to New York. He discussed everything from his music to the importance of family to one of his Los Angeles friends, who he described as "a special cat." One could say the same thing about Hay himself.
Tell us about your new 'Live at the Corner' DVD. What about this particular show prompted you to film it?
I had a great band, I'd wanted to film a show for a long time and it seemed like the right time, at a classic historical rock venue like The Corner [in Melbourne, Australia]. And I had a great cinematographer, Martin Smith, keen to shoot and edit the show.
I wanted to ask you about 'Oh, California,' which opens your latest album. Tell us a little about your thoughts on California.
Well, my thoughts about California are kind of mythological. To me, as well as being a real place, it's a place where people go to find something -- to find happiness or to realize their dreams. So it has that kind of quality of heroism and heartache, and Australia has that, as well. On a personal level, it's really more about survival to me. Because when I went, I was running away from myself, really. I was running away from Melbourne and I was trying to change things because I had problems with alcohol. A change in geography doesn't necessarily help. I went to meetings and to all the things that you're supposed to do, and I really wanted to stop. It was difficult. Even when you're with friends that you know really well, it's hard to change patterns and reinvent yourself. So California had that element of reinvention for me, when I first went there all those years ago.
There was a court ruling recently on 'Down Under': Apparently, the flute riff was accused of being taken from the old Australian folk song 'Kookaburra.' What's the latest with that?
It's in appeal at the moment. It came from a television show in 2007 -- a show called 'Spicks and Specks,' music trivia. One of the questions was, "What old Australian folk song was the flute line of 'Down Under' based on?" Nobody got it. Somebody from Larrikin Music Publishing -- that owns the copyright to 'Kookaburra' -- was watching the show. [He] told the boss of the show, and they listened to it and figured that they had a case, so they litigated and they won the first round.
It's been going on for two or three years and it's getting quite complicated. The crux of it is that they were trying to prove that we had appropriated a substantial part of their song and used it in 'Down Under' without asking their permission.
'Down Under' was written in 1978 by myself and Ron Strykert, the other guitar player -- before Men at Work existed. So when the song was written, there was no flute line at all. When [the band] formed and we recorded the version that people have come to know, Greg [Ham] had kind of jammed and played different flute lines, and he unconsciously appropriated these two bars. He didn't know what they were [but it] sounded vaguely Australian to him. And that last bar, if you break it down, is in fact musically like the second bar of 'Kookaburra.'
Last month marked the 30th anniversary of John Lennon's death. You were hugely influenced by the Beatles. Can you tell us specifically what you liked about John or some of his songs that stand out for you?
Well yes, it's true, I am a big fan of the Beatles, all of them. The quality of their body of work is unparalleled, in my opinion. As far as John Lennon is concerned, his writings and drawings first intrigued me and his was a world that I did not fully comprehend. But as I listened to 'I Am the Walrus' or 'A Day in the Life' or 'Strawberry Fields' or indeed any of the others, I knew it was a world in which I wanted to belong. The sheer scope of the songs both musically and lyrically, and their inspirational potential, is truly awesome.
'I Can See It in Your Eyes' is probably my favorite song by Men at Work. Did the lyrics come from anything that you experienced, or was that just pure craft?
I think it was a combination of things, but that song was definitely felt quite personal to me. It wasn't really about one thing... I mean, the girl that I was going out with, who actually became my first wife, I think some of the song was taken from that relationship. And then some of it was about coming to Australia [from Scotland] – that always seems to feature quite heavily [in my work], that move and that escapade. And there's probably a lot of my mother in there as well. My mother features quite heavily in a lot of my songs.
I think I've heard you say that 'Overkill' is your favorite song from the Men at Work days. That one does have a great lyric and melody. Can you tell me what inspired it?
When I wrote that song, Men at Work was becoming quite famous and I realized with excitement -- though not without a little sadness -- that nothing was ever going to be the same.