As one half of the Australian pop duo Savage Garden, Darren Hayes chica-cherry-cola-ed his way up the charts and into the hearts of teenage girls -- and gay men -- the world over, eventually selling more than 23 million albums. In 2001 he went solo in order to venture into an edgier, more electronic and personal direction, but didnt find the freedom to produce exactly the kind of music he wanted until he left Columbia Records. Then he was able to write and independently release last years epic double disc This Delicate Thing Weve Made, travel the world with his theatrical Time Machine tour and, this coming November, put out This Delicate FILM Weve Made which features animated versions of the albums songs inked by his partner, Richard Cullen.
Out caught up with Hayes and chatted about what its like to be possessed by the spirit of Kate Bush, being banned from dancing in his own videos, and Savage Gardens lingering mixed blessings.
Out: Every one of your interviews seems to start off talking about Savage Garden. Does that get to you or have to come to terms with it?
Darren Hayes: You know, I think its the latter. I was talking to my good friend Willie Williams. Hes really a mentor to me. His day job is designing U2 stadium gigs, and he does all these tiny other things that people dont even know about. Willie made me realize that just in the way that U2 will always be the thing that people associate with him, Savage Garden will probably always be the thing that people will associate with me. You really just have to make your peace with it. Its just the way it is -- like Madonna and her Sex book.
Your solo work sounds very different from what you did with Savage Garden.
Yeah, well the thing is that it wouldnt exist without Savage Garden. Savage Garden was phenomenally successful, and yet the music I make today really doesnt sound anything like that. Thank God I sold all those records. Also Im 36 -- I was 24 when I got a record deal and was flown to New York by Clive Davis and auditioned. That was my first time in Manhattan. I was green -- and thats a compliment, I guess, because that means the music was very green and innocent.
2007 was a big year for you -- you released This Delicate Thing Weve Made and you hit the road with your Time Machine tour.
Well, I think the biggest thing for me was that I was independent. I had been signed to Columbia Records for a decade and this was the first record I was putting out on my own. I look back now and think I was sort of crazy not to anticipate how hard it was going to be. Im not Radiohead. I dont have this massive, massive following as a solo artist to really promote a record the way that it needs to be promoted. Not only does it cost a lot of money, but it also costs a lot of time. And Richard and I are coming up on our third anniversary, and were going to enjoy this one -- no stress this year.
You worked with your husband on the animations for the videos from This Delicate FILM Weve Made. Blissful or stressful?
Its amazing. I think it helps because Richard was a theater director before he moved into film, and hes used to working with actors. [He's] not threatened by an actors or singers or a celebretypes need for attention. And likewise, I really love giving over control to someone I respect. What I love about this experience with Richard is that hell listen to some of the important themes. There are some videos that hes made that I was very specific about what the song was about and what it had to be, and he was very sympathetic to that. But he wasnt a sycophant, so he would still make it his thing. Or there are other moments that were completely his take on the song and I'd think, God, thats exactly what its about but I would never have written the treatment that way and I would have never developed it that way. Theres a lot of respect that goes on. And it feels like a kind of temporary farewell, I think. For me this album was such an extravagant experience -- and in retrospect it was probably way too long. But this animated film will be something that will be around forever. Im doing the things that Ive always wanted to do and getting it out of my system. I know that the next thing that I do will be much quieter and much simpler. This record was all about over-design and hyper-punctuation.
Is it true that the album was inspired by -- or even in conversation with -- Kate Bushs Hounds of Love?
I can honestly say that I felt like I was a little bit possessed by the spirit of Kate Bush. I had a fascination at that time in my life with reminiscing, really looking back at my childhood and reconnecting with friends through Facebook and MySpace. Suddenly I was reconnecting with childhood friends I hadnt seen in 15 years and making my peace with my past and where I grew up. I had a couple trips home to Australia, where I had done everything I could to run away from the boy who I was. And Id gone out to the world and made it, you know, Id really made it -- and yet the happiest Ive ever been is the past couple years, when theoretically I shouldnt have been. I was marginalized by being a gay artist, I didnt have a major record deal and Im certainly not selling the kinds of records or playing the same kinds of venues that I used to play. But I guess I was just so grateful that I had learned so much. I was catching up with this decade of my life that I had given over to the pursuit of fame and the pursuit of success. A part of that was revisiting old records, and two things that I did was fall in love with Hounds of Love all over again, and the other thing was that I bought a Fairlight synthesizer, which was the instrument that she used to make that album. I kept saying to a lot of my friends, "I almost feel like Im picking up where that album had left off." She obviously continued to evolve and become extraordinary and she left that technology behind. But there was something kind of sappy and a bit sentimental, and a bit magical, about saying, Im going to use this technology from this particular year -- which was 1983 -- and maybe Im going to use that as a time machine.
And yet the tracks on that record dont seem dated at all. They sound a little like fellow Aussie Kylie Minogue or Daft Punk -- dancey and electronic.
I hope so. The thing about wearing your influences on your sleeve, I think the only way you get away with it is if youre honest about where youre drawing your influences from and you do something relevant. I dont kid myself and think that Im ever cutting edge but I think it is important to make sure that youre relevant. Theres no point in making an imitation or pastiche, because then its really just a career for the sake of your own ego -- you might as well be a karaoke artist, really. Secretly, Ive always had this idea to make an album called 1983 and literally just re-record all my favorite 80s songs. But then every time I think about doing them I think, Well, whats the point? Its really just an ego trip for me to reminisce.
The videos for the album are really dance-heavy.
[Laughs] Do you know why? Im dancing because Columbia Records never let me. Its interesting because the rumor was Donny Ida, the president of the label, saw some edits from a video that I did called "Insatiable." I was openly gay, I hadnt held a press conference about it but everybody at the label and everyone in my life knew I was a gay man. I guess I swayed my hips a little too much for him, and he freaked out. Apparently there was this internal memo, like the opposite of Elvis -- I can only be shot from the waist up, and I cant move in videos because Id be too gay. Once I didnt have those shackles on, I thought, You know, I want to do this. And part of it is a little indulgent, really. I grew up watching Michael Jackson, Madonna and Bowie and people of that era who were performance artists, and I thought I wanted to do that. But I dont think for one second that Im Justin Timberlake. It was really nice to be able to move and work with a choreographer to make a video as opposed to hearing, Just stand there and look dreamy.
So youve naturally always been a dancer? Or did you work with choreographers?
Oh, for sure. When I say choreographer, let me clarify: in both of the main performances in On the Verge of Something Wonderful I didnt work with a choreographer. In Me, Myself, and I, Im kind of freestyling a little, but I was also doing some kind of Kraftwerk-inspired really robotic stuff. I had to work with a choreographer with those moves, because I think Ive got some natural rhythm, but Im not good with actually remembering steps. When I was 15 I used to live in a garden shed on the property for a year while we built the main house, it was not glamorous, lets put it that way. Every night I would go up to the site of the house because it was a big open space. The walls were just the wooden structure of the walls and the roof was all glass and you could see right through it. And I would dance up there, I would dance to Michael Jackson. My dad said to me one day, Ahhh, Ive been watching you dance on TV. I said, What do you mean, dad? What TV? And he pointed to the house at nighttime, and at nighttime its completely illuminated and he said, The big TV, and I just about died.
You went from Columbia Records practically locking you in the closet, and being married to a woman, to headlining London Gay Pride at Trafalgar Square -- sounds like quite a trip.
I think theres a huge difference between coming out and being a celebrity who is out. To be frank, its limiting. Whether or not my music is any different, the way I get reported about, the way Im spoken about, everything from the moment you come out publicly onwards is always prefaced with the word gay. Gay is -- its a broad spectrum, there are all shapes and sizes of gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender people, its not just this stamp. I think for me I kind of shied away from those kinds of events because I think in a way it kind of confirms those limitations. My sort of involvement in the gay community tends to be more in fundraising things like the Trevor Project, which is something I feel very passionately about. But in terms of being politically responsible, I just try to be very open about my life. My marriage is a huge political statement. Richard and I had a marriage ceremony before it was legal, because emotionally that was more important for us. But we got a civil partnership just because I felt it was important to represent somebody who wasnt 60 and completely unshaggable. Someone who still had some of his life ahead of him. I wasnt pushed out of the closet, I wasnt blackmailed, I didnt end up on Perez Hilton. I just got to a place in my life where I was really happy, happy as a person, and I just thought, Yeah, this might be a nice thing to admit. So how was it for me at Pride? Fine? I dont know. I love gay people -- I dont know if like gay politics. I think in general the idea is beautiful, but I think everybody should be able to perform at those events, not just gay artists. Thats my thinking.
Are there gay artists that you admire?
Definitely. Michael Stipe. I think hes an extraordinary creature. I dont really think too much about what his sexuality is, I just love how liberated and undefined he is. I think hes really inspiring. Theres a Broadway actor that I adore called Cheyenne Jackson who I adore -- Ive seen him in Xanadu about a gazillion times, and he completely inspires me. I think hes part of a new breed of performer who just happens to be gay. I think thats extraordinary, and I think its a very positive image to send. My main problem in myself in coming out, and the media -- its not us. And I want to clarify my issue with Pride: its not us, its not gay men who do this, its the media bubble. We have to compartmentalize everything and put things in categories for people to understand. I think growing up there were these two clichs, there were the overtly camp men who were ultimately dying of AIDS -- like Liberace -- or there was the hunk who had hidden his sexuality all his life, like Rock Hudson. Neither of those examples made me want to run screaming out of the closet. And then you have a situation in pop culture in the media where being gay and coming out is sort of a lynch mob mentality where theres this sort of Ha Ha! Got ya! aspect to it which only reinforces the shame about sexuality. So I love these people who just kind of walk backwards out of the closet accidentally without thinking about it. Both of those people I mentioned did that, and I love that about them.
Whats up next for you?
Im just writing. Im going to L.A. to work with a writer called Rick Knowles, who I adore. Ricks done all kind of records. My favorite thing that hes ever done is stuff that hes done for Madonnas Ray Of Light album. He had three or four songs on that record. Im writing songs for other artists for most of this year and renovating a house. And thats it!
So I guess youll just go wherever the wind takes you in 2008 and 2009.
Yeah, Im kind of taking a pause. I was sort of on the run since 1996, and it sounds cheesy but I was really relieved last year when I visited America three or four times, just playing little gigs, and I was selling out. It made me feel like people remember you, and I dont really need to churn stuff out in order to have my career going. I want to make sure that I churn good things out. I want to wait, really, I want to wait to see where the music industry goes. I think everyones so afraid at the moment, and Im not at all.