Songwriting 101: Colin Hay (Riffraf)

by Colin Hay, March 28, 2013

By Rick Limpert | From | ORIGINAL ARTICLE

Having just returned from playing twenty dates in Australia, Grammy-winning singer/songwriter and former Men at Work frontman, Colin Hay will bring his stories, songs and delightful sense of humor to the U.S. as he embarks on his “Finding My Dance” tour.

Recently, Mr. Hay celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Men at Work hit “Down Under” from the chart-topping Business As Usual album by releasing “Down Under 2012,” a re-recorded version of the #1 single.

Hay chatted with Riffraf about the songs he’s most proud of writing, his appreciation of the Fab Four, and his love of vegemite.

Was there a specific album, song, or group that inspired you to write songs of your own?

The obvious one is of course The Beatles. They did it for me. I grew up in a music shop in Scotland, so I was surrounded with lots of music. When I was younger, The Beatles seemed to create this whole world that I wanted to belong to. They had such a strong identity and created not only great songs but an unmistakable sound. They were the most inspirational to me.

Who is your favorite songwriter?

I liked all three songwriters in The Beatles. George, McCartney and Lennon. To me, they were so competitive. George came into his own during the end of his career. When I was younger, I wasn’t conscious of who wrote each song. They had an interesting dynamic that was organically balanced. They all had great strengths and together they created this amazing mosaic.

men-at-work-business-as-usual-vinyl-album-cover-300x300Do you remember the first song you wrote that you were proud of?

Well, not really. I guess “Who Can it Be Now” was the first song I wrote that I thought hung together real well. Another song I wrote when I was in Men at Work that I felt I had arrived somewhere was “Overkill.” I thought that was a song that had some depth. It just seemed to have something that has resonated with me.

Was it easier to write songs in the 80s than it is now?

I’ve never found it particularly easy to write songs. I think it has more to do with, not the decade…but you hit that stride. From your late 20s, you start to get some momentum going and you know you have to make your mark. You ask yourself, “How can I survive in this world?” I hit a bit of a streak when I was around 27 or 28 years old. When you are younger, you don’t have that sense of time, so it seems you kind of wait and things happen naturally.

Men At Work was known for its music videos. What kind of input and artistic control did you have?

For us, it was another way to express ourselves. We could do pretty much whatever we wanted. We never had anyone telling us what to do. They were fun to do. We tried to inject some personality into it. Wow, it was a long time ago.

What would you say to those that said your music with Men at Work has a reggae influence?

In the 70s, reggae music was very big in Australia. We are a naturally fueled groove; it’s on the off beat, especially guitar-wise. The drums were pretty straight, but we did give off a reggae flavor.

The line “He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich” sort of brought worldwide attention to vegemite. Did you realize that when you wrote it?

Well, it still happens… obviously. You just mentioned it again. And I do like vegemite.

What advice would you give to an aspiring songwriter?ColinHay_GatheringMercury

Manage your time. Prepare yourself to fail. That’s all right. After a while your brain will settle and something can come in. I’ve never really understood the business idea of making music. I was always of the mind that if you had talent and worked really hard, the business tends to find you.

What was the reception for Gathering Mercury?

People seemed to like it very much, and I think it’s the best album I’ve done. I have to really listen to my own instincts and keep on trying to make better albums. It was received extremely well.

Can I ask you about your time with Ringo Starr and playing in his All-Star Band?

It was a fabulous experience to do a couple of tours with him. I know Ringo and have worked with Ringo, and I saw him recently when I was in Australia and it was good to catch up with him.

What’s next?

I’m kind of tricking myself right now into the fact that I’m not going to be making a new record. I’ve taken my time. This tour is long one, and I’m working on songs and ideas. Hopefully soon, I’ll have something ready.

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