Cobraside Men Without Hats are back! Yes, you read that correctly. The…
- Posted on Jun 15th 2011 11:19PM by Lonny Knapp
Courtesy of Men Without Hats
Back to the future, for the first time in nearly two decades, Montreal's Men Without Hats have reformed for a summer concert tour, after a successful one-off gig at SXSW this March. In anticipation of the New Wave group's appearance at Toronto's North by Northeast music festival, Spinner caught up with vocalist and only original member Ivan Doroschuk to chat about interfacing with machines, dancing with dwarfs and performing for teens.
When you released 'Safety Dance' back in 1982, did you imagine that 30 years later the song would still be getting airplay?
No way. But you want every song you write to be a super hit. It's all been a great blessing and I've really enjoy all the uses that have been made of it. It's all been good fun. It seems that 'Safety Dance' is used every time a television show does an '80s nostalgia episode.
I've caught the track on 'The Simpsons' and on 'Family Guy,' where else has the song been used.
Matt Groening is a big fan so it's been on everything he's done; it's been on 'The Simpsons' three times, and once on 'Futurama.' It was on 'Scrubs.' 'That '70s Show' used it for an episode where they go into the future, and the movie 'Hot Tub Time Machine' used it when they go back into the '80s. Actually, someone just sent me a Lipton Ice Tea commercial that has Hugh Jackman doing a huge dance production to the song. It's just crazy. My son found out about it from the Crazy Frog video on the Disney channel.
Last year, it was featured in an episode of 'Glee.' Many artists get all precious when it comes to that show. Did you have any reservations?
No, not at all. It's the top show in the world and I'm deeply honored that they chose my music.
Speaking of TV, Men Without Hats found success around the same time that MTV launched. The video for 'Safety Dance' has you dancing with a dwarf around the English countryside. What impact did that video have on your career?
It was a weird scene. It was the beginning of video, and I'm on tour in America and someone tells me I have to fly to England to make a video, and I was like, "What's this all about?" I had never heard of it. The next week it was all over MTV. And at that time they only had about ten videos to play. I was getting recognized everywhere I went, the video really put my face out there. It was life-changing. It was a precursor to the YouTube generation.
So, what was it like to be a huge rock star in the '80s?
It was a whirlwind, and I was living in New York. You have to imagine, it was New York in the '80s [laughs].
The '80s are remembered as a time of excess, did you experience all the perks that come with fame?
No more than anybody else [laughs]. The '80s were fun.
Men Without Hats emerged when New Wave and synth-pop were at its peak. What made you want to put aside guitars and interface with machines?
I'm a classically trained pianist so the move to synthesizers was pretty natural for me. I was really into prog rock bands like Genesis and Pink Floyd, but I was also hitting the discos and grooving on Barry White and Donna Summer. New Wave music is a blend of progressive rock music and disco, that's why I think new Wave and '80s music is making a comeback. It's dance music first of all, and I think people are attracted to that side of it and always will be.
Before the computer became a music production tool, you were making music with analog synthesizers. How does that differentiate your early records from modern dance tracks?
Let alone no computers, we didn't even have sequencers. I think that's what gave the first few Men Without Hats records that organic bounce. We were playing all those bass lines, sequences and synth parts by hand -- it's not machine-perfect like modern music. We were using machines but it moves and retains a human feel.
In the '90s there was a backlash against keyboard-driven music. Was it bizarre to go from pop star to pariah?
Every era there's a backlash to what came before. The music industry is very cyclical.
So many modern acts such as Crystal Castles, Hot Chip and Miike Snow are directly influenced by a genre you helped to make mainstream. Did this '80s revival prompt you to put the band back together?
That's one of the reasons I'm getting back into it. I listen to the radio and I hear '80s influences in so many new artists, and the fact the 'Safety Dance' and 'Pop Goes the World' are still being played at radio make it it feel like the right time.
The tour in Canada has been well-received and I've heard that the crowd is skewing younger. What's it like to see people singing along to a song that was released before they were born?
It's great. Our old fans are still there, and a lot of them have introduced their kids to Men Without Hats. It spans generations now.
'Safety Dance' is a song that is forever associated with an era. Is this tour some sort of attempt to cash in on '80s nostalgia?
Even though we are putting on a greatest hits package, we aren't on the nostalgia bandwagon. Younger fans are telling me that the music is relevant to them. A lot of it was fluff but some of what we were talking about is still relevant today -- 'Pop Goes the World' has an ecology theme that is very relevant today.
Do you have plans to record new material, and can fans expect a new album?
Yes. It took getting back out and playing shows to get back in the Men Without Hats framework. Now the songs are just coming out, and we are already sprinkling new songs in the set. After the Canadian tour we are hitting the States with the the B-52s and the Human League. Straight after that we are hitting the studio, with hopes of having a record out by the New Year, or even earlier.
The industry has changed a lot since your heyday, does it seem alien to you?
I'm excited about the 'new' industry. You don't have to wait to have 12 songs to release new material; with iTunes you can release a song at a time and reach people so much quicker. These days there are different and exciting approaches to a music career.
Speaking of aliens. I read that you once started a concept album tentatively titled 'UFOs Are Real.' Do you have any plans to finish that album?
I don't foresee that. I've got a good dozen records in the can, but I don't usually go back that far and retrieve things.
Do you believe in aliens?
I'll believe in anything.
What can fans expect from your showcase at NXNE.
At NXNE we are playing a huge outdoor free concert. For us it's all about the exposure. It's a great way to announce that Men Without Hats are back.
Men Without Hats play Younge-Dundas Square on Saturday, June 18 @ 8:00 PM-8:40 PM