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Advice

Jeff Moehlis: Former Man at Work Colin Hay to Share Stories and Hits at the Lobero Theatre

He came from a land down under, couldn't get to sleep, and told Johnny to "be good, be good."

Who can it be now? Colin Hay, of course, singer/songwriter for Men At Work, the Australian band that burned bright for a few years in the early '80s.

After Men At Work stopped working, Hay continued sharing his music with the world in an acclaimed solo career, which got a nice boost from having his songs used on the TV show Scrubs.

His most recent solo album, Next Year People, came out earlier this year, and we have a chance to hear some of these songs, some old favorites and some funny stories when he performs at the Lobero Theatre Saturday, Sept. 19, as part of the always hot Sings Like Hell series.

Tickets are available online.

Hay talked to Noozhawk about the upcoming show. 

Jeff Moehlis: What can people look forward to at the upcoming concert?

Colin Hay: I'm suspecting that they're looking forward to being entertained and hearing the reproductions of songs that they already know.

You know, unlike jokes, if somebody tells you a joke you think, "OK, that's a good joke." If somebody tells you the same joke, you stop them and you say, "Hey, I've heard that joke. Don't bother."

But it's different with songs. You know, people like to hear songs over and over again. So I tell stories and sing songs. That's what I do.

I'm going to have a little band with me this time, which I don't always have. I'm going to have a guy called San Miguel Pérez-Rodríguez on tres guitar, a bass player called Yosmel Montejo — two Cuban guys who are fantastic musicians — and a drummer called Charlie Paxson, and my wife Cecilia Noel. So they'll come on, and it'll be like a little acoustic band.

Former Men at Work singer/songwriter Colin Hay.

JM: I saw you do a solo show here in Santa Barbara in 2008 at a place called SOhO. You just mentioned jokes — I remember one story in particular that you told that involved goats. Any chance that we'll hear any goat stories when you return to Santa Barbara this time?

CH: So you're redefining my theory? You want to hear the jokes again?

JM: I do!

CH: There you go. See, I'll have to rethink that.

JM: I grew up when you guys were on MTV, and I always enjoyed when your videos came on. What are your reflections on the first Men At Work album, Business As Usual, and that era of music videos?

CH: Well, obviously for us it was a very exciting time. I mean, that period for me was an extremely exciting time for many different reasons. For one thing, you know, I was 27 or 28 years old, which is a pretty exciting time in your life. You're not a teenager, but you're not middle aged. You're kind of in this growth period.

I think that time in your life seems to be quite a natural time for making some kind of mark on the world, if you're going to make it. What I mean by that is just really establishing a relationship with yourself in a way, and just thinking, "OK, what am I going to do with my life?" and then going for it.

During that time, I realized that the songs I was writing I thought were getting better, so I hit this kind of growth spurt, which coincided with the band. Everything seemed to be synchronistic. All the dots joined.

It seemed like a period for me where, you know, you're in it and you're creating it, but on another level you're just really trying to stay on the wave. You're being swept along by something which was really beyond human endeavor and understanding, in a way.

We met up with friends of ours who made videos. We didn't have any money, so we just had to inject some kind of personality into them. We had a great American record producer (Peter McIan) who produced the songs in a way that gave them a shot.

They sounded good, they sounded accessible, but still hopefully with the integrity of the band intact, which I think happened. Everything happened in a very, very exciting way, so I have great memories from that period.

You know, there was lots of other things going on. Of course, the MTV thing started, which really made it undeniable for us, but before that we were being played on the radio a lot, and we got a tour opening up for Fleetwood Mac, so it was a fantastic time for me. Very exciting.

JM: Fast forwarding a bit, it was cool to see you pop up on the TV show Scrubs, somewhat unexpectedly. One of the songs that was on that show, and on the soundtrack CD, was "Beautiful World." Can you tell me the story behind that song?

CH: I was driving across Topanga Canyon, and I wrote the song in my head. It was really to do with giving up drinking and having a lot of time on your hands and having to look around yourself and be more aware of the present moment and trying to ritualize the simple things in life.

It's almost like going through that process where you rediscover things. To some degree you're looking at the world in more of a childlike way, in a sense, instead of through an alcoholic fog.

I came over to the States — I ran away from Australia to some degree — and it was really about starting again and wiping the slate clean and rediscovering who you are, and all that, and trying to give myself a reboot.

JM: I'd be happy if that makes it onto your setlist in Santa Barbara.

CH: Yeah, people like that song. I always play that song. I play it because it just floats along, it kind of works in many different ways. It's always fun to play. A lot of people know it. So it always makes it to the setlist.

JM: What are your plans, musical or otherwise, for the near future? Are you writing new songs already, or are you focused on touring for now?

CH: Yeah, I'm doing those things. I'm going on tour, and I'm writing songs and trying to enjoy myself. I have a little time off, and I rarely have time off, so I'm trying to get used to the idea that I actually don't have to get up and achieve something every day.

I can relax for a couple of weeks. There's new songs poking their head up, but nothing's forced. I'm going on tour with Barenaked Ladies to Europe, and I'm doing a fall tour.

Things are just kind of cruising right now.

Click here to read the full interview. 

— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.

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