No longer savage, Darren Hayes tells us why solo was the way to go.
When did you decide to make a solo album?
It was a gradual process, and finally about a year and a half ago. Savage Garden, the two of us had this incredible run, towards the end of the second world tour and Daniel let me know he didn’t want to continue in the spotlight. That is when I started thinking about this.
Were you nervous about setting out as Darren Hayes and not Savage Garden?
Yep, I was terrified. There are still days where I notice there is totally different pressure and focus. There is more to lose, but there is also more to gain in so many ways. So once I got over the initial ‘oh my God can I do this alone?’ fear it became really wonderful.
What was the game plan to get fans to realize it is you?
Right now the way I’m treating this is that I’m a brand new artist. I’m that guy who sings that song. I know now it’s my first album as a solo artist, not my third album. It’s a new beginning. There is something good about that. It has taken the expectations off. So there are a lot of changes that have been great about the anonymity.
Do you ever see people like Sting who did something similar?
I look at him, Annie Lennox, Stevie Nicks, and Prince even. I think at the moment once I get past this record I’ll be fine. I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface of what I can do as a singer and songwriter. The first record is like ‘who? What’s his name again?’ I think I’ve really realized this is what I want to do for the rest of my life and I think my fans get that. When I play a show or put a record out you know what you are going to get from me.
What was it like finding new partners to work with?
I co-write. Daniel and I split everything fifty-fifty. I write melodies, I don’t play any instruments. I can mess around on guitar and keyboards. I wrote thirty-five songs, which allowed me to work out who I was without Daniel. It took a year of writing and recording to make this record feel authentic.
The first thing I noticed was your voice. “Dirty” you sound like Michael Jackson? Do you set out to sound a certain way, or does it just come out?
I never set out to do it. The great thing is that I grew up listening to soul records. Michael, Marvin Gaye, all these people really taught me how to sing. And to go to be able to work and just go for it, and doing scat, I mean sometimes the lyrics are the last thing I write. It allowed me to find that part of my voice.
When did you first know that you could sing?
When I was about five or six because when I’d sing people would shut up and listen.
When did you know you could do it for a living?
I didn’t know until I was about eighteen or nineteen. I was the youngest of three kids, I wasn’t treated as some prodigy, I was just annoying. (we both laugh) I never felt like I was all that. So when I sang in bands people would stop and say ‘wow’. Even just the other day I was singing, ironically, a Michael Jackson song and a friend of mine went ‘you are a freak’ and I asked why and he said ‘because your voice is so high’. But I never really think about it.
Is it fun to be a vocal chameleon?
To me it’s like the way you dance to music as well. When a DJ puts on a record you never think about where you are going to put your left foot, you just do it. It’s the same thing when it comes to the way I sing. It’s not premeditated, its good having falsetto and having this voice that isn’t perfect, but original and interesting. I love that I can mix it up.
Where do your melodies come from?
When we were growing up we didn’t have a lot of money and lived in a trailer park at one point. I had a record collection that was hand me downs from my family, when everyone else was into new wave we were listening to Berry Gordy producing Motown records. The songs were all about structure and melody and that went into the computer. And now the albums I buy can be really random, but what they all have in common is the melody.
Do you have to catch the ideas as they fall from no where?
Yeah. I’ll call whatever phone I’m not on and leave a voice mail message for myself. At the time it makes sense, but three weeks later its hilarious, I’ll be like ‘what is that?’ (laughs)
You seem to have some really diehard fans in the states.
I know, its great. I’ve lived in the states for the last four years now and its interesting the way the records have developed this quickly. In Australia it debuted in the top three and in the UK it debuted in the top ten but America its much more of a quiet build. To be honest I’m quite glad of that. I look at phenomenons and I don’t think I want to be that right now. I want to be here when I’m fifty. I want to be a quiet achiever and let this record sneak up on them. I want people in fifteen years to know if they come to the show they are going to hear fifteen or sixteen hits. It’s not about the quick burn so to speak.
From that note, how did you take the almost overnight success of Savage Garden?
I never really paid attention to it. When we first came on the scene the boy band thing was a phenomenon and we almost got put in with that, but I kept reminding everyone that I couldn’t dance for shit. (We both laugh) It has passed and I’m glad of that. What is funny is that last year I had groups like NSYNC and a few other groups ask if I could write songs for them, I thought that was a great compliment.
I’m curious about the feeling that you are this other person aside from the persona that people think of you, is it weird to almost lead a dual life?
Yes and no. At the moment I’m in my house and loving my life, its been a great trade off being able to sell a million records and maintain some anonymity. I never bought into the celebrate thing. I think that is what my fans dig about me, the fact that I am really just a regular guy with an incredible job. At the end of the day it’s just a job, its not my birth right. I think of Ricky Martin, he was just every where and people really got tired of seeing and hearing him. I’ve had people push me to be more famous, but I don’t want that.
Then you can’t go anywhere and your life is turned upside down.
I know and I’m sure it’s intoxicating at the moment, but I’m not sure there is anywhere else to go. That is why I want to go for the slow build.
How much did you want to be in control as an artist?
It wasn’t even a choice. I just had to. I did co-produce the record it was truly myself calling the shots. It was amazingly satisfying. Dealing with arrangements and more I feel more musically legitimate. I felt like there was more to lose and gain but it was easy because I was doing it out of love.
Is it weird to be a grown man, but then again you have interviews and stuff where you are asked ‘what’s your favorite color?’ or doing pinups?
It really is. I’ll be thirty this year and I think most people are very aware of this. I make pop music, but its weird being a guy doing this. If I was a girl there wouldn’t be the same stigma attached to it. A girl might get criticized for things, but she’d be celebrated.
I just couldn’t imagine being treated like a teenybopper at almost thirty.
I know and you know what? I know I’d be much more popular if I courted that kind of press a bit more, like the teen magazines. If they want to take my picture or print an article about me that is great, but I’m too old to compete with Enrique. (We both laugh)
What do you feel is the biggest misconception about the music industry?
That its easy and a big fun ride. I’m working the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life. I had a job when I was ten working for the milkman, I’ve been in this great band called Savage Garden and we toured the world, but right now this is the hardest work I’ve ever done. It’s absolutely grueling. You have to do this for more than the love of money because that can’t possibly keep you going.
Is it hard to be in your position as a male pop singer because you know your fan base will be mostly young girls, not because you suck, but because guys have a tendancy to be jealous or don’t want to admit to liking you?
What I do is mushy and emotional, and that is attributed to females. I know at any Savage Garden show the first twenty rows are females and behind them are their boyfriends and families or whatever. I don’t even really think about who buys my records or who doesn’t, I just make records I want to hear.
+ charlie craine