E-Mail Of The Day
My name’s Colin Hay. My good friend Michael Georgiades turned me on to your letters.
I was in Men At Work in the 80′s, and have been living in California for the last 20 years, making albums and touring across the land, as a solo performer primarily.
Your piece holds many truths and insights, into the still exciting world of making music.
Firstly, I am very lucky. I made some money with Men At Work, so I could put not only food on the table, but put together a proper home studio, in which to write and record. I then go out and play live and sell cds, and try and constantly build my audience. It’s working. In 1983, I played with Men At Work to 150,000 people at the US Festival. We broke up shortly thereafter. After a few years of swanning around, thinking I was quite important, and drinking for Scotland and Australia, I realized I was slowly doing myself in, with the single malts and guinness chasers. Occasionally I had noticed my steel string acoustic in the corner, mocking me with it’s eternal patience and optimism. Eventually I picked it up, and ran away to live in California, to start again. I have been gainfully self- employed ever since. I started playing acoustic shows in the late 80s and that’s what I’m still doing. My first show in Melbourne after MAW split attracted 4 people. At the present time I have a new disc called “Gathering Mercury” and am on tour in support of it. Now after a decade plus, my audience has built to a massive 900 people or so in New York City, or Philadelphia, or slightly less in charming Clayton, NC. It’s good work, rewarding, nourishing and funny. After the shows I sign cds. I like it. I meet all kinds of people for a minute or so. It’s important to me because when I got dropped by a major label, my live audience was all I had, apart from my self belief, to let me know I was on the correct path. They also, for the most part, let me be myself. And isn’t that what we all want at any given moment, to be who we are, and not who someone else wants us to be.
You are correct when you stress the importance of establishing a core audience, before you go in search of radio success. My old band had massive radio success and MTV exposure to the max, and when that went away, so did most of the audience. It’s like building a house with no foundations, you can’t.
Lately, I’ve had good organic TV success. I play at Largo in Hollywood, and Zach Braff had seen me there, many years ago, before he was in Scrubs. He brought down Bill Lawrence, who created the show, and he asked me why my songs weren’t being played on the radio. This was a question I had no answer for. He said he was going to use some of my songs in his show, which he did. It has increased awareness of my music considerably. I remain in their debt.
I was on Columbia Records with Men At Work and for one ill fated solo album. I was then offered a deal on MCA Records by a guy named Al Teller. That’s a whole other story, and not particularly interesting. The most exciting thing about being on that label was being dropped by them. The relief I felt was palpable. I felt like I was floating, like I’d gotten my life back. Turns out I had. Now I make my own albums and work with Compass Records, an independent label out of Nashville. Feels good.
I take your advice, and run my own race for the most part. I enjoy writing, recording and playing music for a living. Last year I was sound checking at the Birchmere in Virginia, a delightful venue, and I was filled with an inexplicable euphoria. Its intensity lasted a few seconds but it was powerful. A simple experience, the wait staff was setting up tables for the night, the sound crew were twiddling knobs, and I realized that I was exactly where I should be, doing exactly what I should be doing, and all was well in my world.
I go out on stage nightly by myself and attempt to entertain people for a couple of hours. It’s risky, but you’re right, there’s always more risks you can take. And, I’m not talking about repairing your own roof, (that didn’t go so well).
I did make a big splash, I did descend into obscurity, and alcoholism. But, my salvation was, and still is, artistic expression, and a vague quest to strip away and reveal something essential, which is seductive, and ever elusive.
Best to you,