Man at work: Colin Hay continues to write and tour

“Fierce Mercy” is Colin Hay’s 13th solo album.
Sebastian Smith photo

“The Beatles created a world I wanted to belong to…” says Colin Hay while he prepares to embark on a West Coast tour that will see the singer and his band played Harrah’s South Shore Room in Lake Tahoe on Saturday, May 18.

While the singer names Bob Dylan and Booker T. & the M.G.’s as performers who made him want to play music, he explains that the Beatles and his parents owning a music shop — with the constant presence of music around him growing up — that really influenced him.

Cut to the present; Colin Hay has 13 solo records and continues to write and tour. He is subject of a documentary film. His wife, Latin singer Cecilia Noël, is a part of his touring band, along with a group of musicians that Hay considers quite solid and stable. If emphasizing this stability seems like a funny way to describe his band, it takes looking briefly into Hay’s past to understand why.

In 1984, Men At Work, the band fronted by Hay that had released songs including “Who Can It Be Now?” “Down Under” and “Overkill,” was in the midst of lineup changes on its way to ultimately breaking up following tumultuous squabbling within the band. This would lead Hay to set off as a solo musician, putting out his first recorded solo material two years later.

“I enjoyed being a part of Men At Work. A lot of people don’t get to experience that, but our potential was probably not really reached. There’s a sense of incompletion about it, you know?”

Setting off on his own in his home of Los Angeles in a pre-internet era where record labels seeking mainstream domination were the primary outlets for getting your music heard, Hay was dropped from his label when his new musical sensibilities and approach didn’t seek to recreate the path of his former band. So he set out touring to get his music to his audience. Over time, his shows have taken on an intimate and joking air, with his colorful stories of the pieces put together to form the final puzzle of his song lyrics.

“It’s not that I set out to tell stories, but I started to tell the audience because there was a time where there weren’t very many people in the audience. It was kind of conspiratorial.”

Hay also mentions finding an appeal in blues-folk guitar player Leo Kottke’s storytelling during his performances. “He’s a beautiful storyteller, just an interesting guy,” Hay said.

Hay’s 13th solo record, “Fierce Mercy,” comes on the heals of a documentary film titled “Colin Hay; Waiting For My Real Life,” which beautifully captures the drama of the songwriter and the tapestry of his musical path weaving from youth until the present. It’s period where creating and playing music remain one of the only constants.

“I’m struck by the similarities in places and people, that’s my sense of geography in a way,” he says referring to his way to writing, much of which occurs during his time on the road. “It’s not a cerebral process, it’s more like these ideas pop up, and you follow them.”

And though the music is constant, the expression of it continues to weave into different territory. In describing the song “I’m Walking Here” from the “Fierce Mercy” album, Hay talks about the subject matter, the murder of Trayvon Martin. “I was incensed. There’s something horribly barbaric about that, that you could be walking and be attacked. It’s a tragedy of modern American life, or maybe I should say just American life.”

The song features hip-hop artists Deploi and Swift. While Hay admits he’s not connected to the hip-hop world, his wife Cecilia introduced him to the artists she had worked with previously, and he felt their rhymes worked well with the track.

Though it may be unlikely that we’ll see Hay rapping their lines when he performs, he nevertheless expresses appreciation for being able to add new elements to his music. He can smile at his past and relate a lifetime of anecdotes with his audience — and he can continue to tour and perform with his wife and a band that feels stable.

  • On tour
    Fri., May 3  SAN DIEGO, CA  Humphrey’s Concerts by the Bay
    Sat., May 4  REDONDO BEACH, CA  BeachLife Festival
    Sun., May 5  LAS VEGAS, NV  Brooklyn Bowl
    Mon., May 6  MILL VALLEY, CA  Sweetwater Music Hall
    Tues., May 7  SAN RAFAEL, CA  Terrapin Crossroads Music Hall
    Thurs., May 9  KIRKLAND, WA  Kirkland Performance Center
    Fri., May 10  SALEM, OR  Elsinore Theatre
    Sat., May 11  AIRWAY HEIGHTS, WA  Northern Quest Resort & Casino
    Tues., May 14  JACKSON, WY  Center for the Arts – Jackson Hole
    Wed., May 15  SALT LAKE CITY, UT  The Commonwealth Room
    Thurs., May 16  BOISE, ID  Egyptian Theatre
    Fri., May 17  SACRAMENTO, CA Crest Theatre
    Sat., May 18  STATELINE, NV  Harrah’s Lake Tahoe – South Shore Room
    Mon.-Tues., May 20-21  ORLANDO, FL  Walt Disney World – Epcot America Gardens
    Sat.-Sun., June 2  LOS ANGELES, CA  Largo at the Coronet
    Sat., June 8  MORRISON, CO  Red Rocks Amphitheatre ON

About Shaun Astor

Shaun Astor cites pop music singers and social deviants as being among his strongest influences. His vices include vegan baking, riding a bicycle unreasonable distances and fixating on places and ideas that make up the subject of the sentence, "But that’s impossible…" He splits his time between Reno and a hammock perched from ghost town building foundations. Check out his work at www.raisethestakeseditions.com

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