Cobraside Men Without Hats are back! Yes, you read that correctly. The…
- Posted on Jun 17th 2011 5:15PM by Have Not Been The Same
Courtesy of 'Have Not Been the Same'
It's a summer night in 1990 and Les Foufounes Électriques, Montreal's premier venue, is packed full of sweaty bodies. The full house is there to witness a rebirth of local favourites Men Without Hats, who rose to international fame in the early '80s as a synth band. Surprisingly, Men Without Hats leader Ivan Doroschuk takes the stage with a guitar slung around his shoulder. Aside from some incidental keyboards from Ivan's brother Colin, Men Without Hats have arrived with a full-on guitar attack to launch their new album, 'Sideways.'
Flanking the lead singer are two notable guitarists from the city's underground scene: John Kastner, leader of the Doughboys; and Felix Matte, lead guitarist of francophone alternative darlings Idées Noires. Behind the front line is Ivan's youngest brother Stefan Doroschuk on bass, and prog-metal demigod Michel "Away" Langevin of Voivod on drums. Throughout the humid evening they run through some new material, as well as revamped versions of some of their electronic greatest hits including 'The Safety Dance' and 'Pop Goes the World.' Even Montreal's Madonna-esque pop tart Mitsou, for whom Ivan had written songs, makes a cameo in her go-go attire to romp through a revved up version of her dance hit, 'Bye Bye Mon Cowboy.' Here on the same stage is the spectrum of Montreal's musical extremes: symbols of punk, metal, pop, electronic, dance and rock co-existing. Then again, this is Montreal. And Men Without Hats were the improbably thread between all those scenes in the mid-'80s.
Men Without Hats actually started as a noisy guitar band at the tail end of the punk explosion in 1978, while Ivan worked part-time as an orderly at Montreal General Hospital. By 1980, Ivan was inspired by Kraftwerk to ditch the guitars and started writing songs while trying out equipment at local music stores. Various musicians entered and left the fold, including musicians who would go on to form the Box and Rational Youth. "The people that would be brought in from time to time all wanted to be chiefs, not Indians," Stefan Doroschuk says.
'The Safety Dance' became a massive electro-pop hit, selling two million copies worldwide. They spent most of 1983 on the road promoting Rhythm of Youth, but none of the Hats were thrilled about playing the music business game. Colin Doroschuk remembers, "We were in the studio recording the second album when 'Safety Dance' took off. It was a year and a half before we got back to the album. We actually refused a lot of stuff. But we're musicians; we're mostly into making music. We refused [to appear at] the Grammys. We had just come off tour and we were in the studio and we didn't realize that we were offending everyone in the business. At that point the Grammy show seemed very tacky. We got a wicked backlash."
Ivan admits, "At that point, I wasn't prepared to do anything. I wasn't into being famous. I was more into making music and doing whatever I was supposed to be doing well. I should have listened to Arlo Guthrie. He gave me good advice. He said, 'Dude, space out your fights,' because he could see that I was going to get into some serious traffic jams."
One night in the winter of 1985, before Men Without Hats took a two-year hiatus, Ivan Doroschuk walked into a Montreal punk bar, the Rising Sun. L.A.'s Black Flag had just performed. John Kastner, then-singer for the Asexuals, was DJing that evening and remembers Ivan's presence turning a few heads. "The first time I ever met Ivan he gave 60 or 70 people free acid and bought everybody in the bar drinks. He was kind of this gay pop rock star whose music we all hated, but we thought, 'Wow, this guy's out there. He's got the attitude.' That was the beginning of Ivan coming on to the hardcore scene. He was really in the same headspace as all of us were."
Ivan became a valuable contact for anyone in Montreal needing a soundman, stagehands and equipment. Ivan had seen a young ramshackle punk band called the Nils play live a few times, was impressed by their songwriting and offered to produce a record for them. "That's Ivan. That's the way he was," the Nils' Alex Soria admitted in 2000. "He was always hanging out in bars and always out for a jam and working with other people. That's a great attitude."
The Nils' bassist, Carlos Soria, elaborates, "We opened for Men Without Hats in Quebec during the Freeways tour and they treated us like kings. They had nice hotels, and we'd say we're staying across the street because it's a little cheaper. He'd say, 'No, no, you'll stay with us.' He'd pay for the hotel. Every day there you'd get a knock on your door and it was his roadie saying, 'Here's your bag of doobies.'"
Men Without Hats returned to the public eye in 1987 with 'Pop Goes the World.' Ivan recalls, "It was the record that made me realize that songwriting is not just inspiration -- it's a craft. I had 15 songs written before going in for 'Pop Goes the World.' The last thing I had done was [the title track] but I wrote just the riff. I had intended it to be an instrumental, like an homage to 'Popcorn' or something like that. The guy at the record company just said, 'You have 15 songs here and they're all no good. You take that last little instrumental there and I want you to make a song out of it, and I want you to write 15 more just like that.' I moved to New York and I wrote the rest of the album holed up in an apartment."
In Canada, the single, 'Pop Goes the World' went to number 2, while the album reached platinum status. But conflicts with the band's U.K.-based manager resulted in the band not playing a single gig at home. Record company politics and payola also played a role in the album's U.S. reception. Ivan says that payola involved not only money itself, but how fast it was paid out. "These guys were taking it from anybody," he continues. "Not everybody can be Number One. It becomes who pays the most, who pays the fastest. I guess for any business dealing with that coin, you'd have to get up in the morning and be a mean kind of guy to attack it. I wasn't into the warrior aspect of it anymore. It was fun at the beginning. Punk and new wave was all brand new, but by the time 'Pop Goes the World' came around there was no scene left. That was it."
'Have Not Been the Same: The CanRock Renaissance 1985-1995' was written by Michael Barclay, Ian A.D. Jack and Jason Schneider. It was first published in 2001.