Colin Hay is on the move, driving away from his home in Topanga Canyon, Calif. His momentum is his own, he says, not necessarily—as some perceive it to be—a boost from his appearances on Scrubs almost 10 years ago. He’s moving on the strength of his music, whether it’s his string of hits with Men at Work during the 1980s or the 11 solo albums he’s released since 1987.
In 2004, Zach Braff included Hay’s solo song “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You” on the Grammy-winning soundtrack to Garden State. That same year, Hay appeared—again, at Braff’s urging—in the first episode of Scrubs’ second season, “My Overkill,” performing Men at Work’s hit “Overkill.” Both make you think how Hay’s introspective, spot-on songs would make great soundtrack fodder—and whether he might enjoy scoring films.
“I’ve never scored a movie,” Hay says. “I’d like to. One of my friends scored movies, but I took a different path, going on the road years ago.”
This is post-Men at Work. The band, of course, toured extensively behind No. 1 album Business as Usual (1981), which contained the hits “Who Can It Be Now?” and “Down Under.” They also covered a lot of ground with Cargo (1983), which spawned the hit “Overkill” and “It’s a Mistake.” It was after the band broke up in 1986 that Hay decided to hit the road.
“If you score films, you stay home and record music,” Hay says. “You tend to have to be in one place to do that. But it’s not so much that I wanted to go on the road. It was just a way of getting yourself out there.”
Hay remained with Columbia Records for his 1987 solo debut, Looking for Jack, and its 1990 successor, Wayfaring Stranger. By 1992, he’d gone completely independent, but kept churning out masterfully crafted albums. But this was before being indie was as (comparatively) easy as it is today.
“Once you’re dropped from a major label, you’re on your own,” Hay says. “I spent 15 years trying to find an audience. When you saw me on Scrubs, it was after 15 years of working to the point that anyone paid attention.”
It’s not a complaint, although Hay admits it sounds like one. He’s grateful that Braff came to his show and later dropped CDs on Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence’s desk, leading to Lawrence writing the episode “My Overkill.” But he doesn’t think it would have happened if he hadn’t kept up his forward momentum. “All those things happen when you’re moving,” Hay says. “You can’t sit around waiting for things to happen.”
Now, Hay is touring behind his 11th album, Gathering Mercury (Compass Records). Like its predecessors, the album reveals Hay as a crafty lyricist with a knack for melody. And although you’d never call the Men at Work material immature, Gathering Mercury is definitely older and wiser music. Hay balks at considering how he’s progressed as a songwriter, however.
“I don’t see a point, to be honest,” Hay says. “The songs I wrote in Men at Work, I’m proud of them and what we achieved.” Songwriting, he says, is simply what he does.
“You gotta do something after breakfast. I like going in the studio and writing songs. I don’t have any hobbies. I don’t think about how I’ve progressed. I just try to make the next album better than the last one. I would put ‘Overkill,’ which I wrote in 1980, up with anything I’ve written lately. I don’t believe quality necessarily follows the passage of time. It’s more like a zigzag pattern. Sometimes you hit veins of gold, and others you’re scratchin’ around; you can’t do shit.”
w/ Vikki Thorn of The Waifs
The State Room
638 S. State
Wednesday, April 17 , 8 p.m.