- - Thursday, April 9, 2015

For over two decades, Colin Hay has been turning raw emotion into musical inspiration as the lead singer of quirky ‘80s Aussie band Men at Work, and then as respected solo singer-songwriter. His music has appeared in TV shows and films such as “Scrubs” and “Garden State.”

Along the way, the Scottish-Australian has released well over a dozen albums of pure pop. His latest, “Next Year People,” showcases a maturity in songwriting about heartbreak and hope.

Mr. Hay reflected on his former band and the music that inspires him.

Question: How did you transition from being “the guy from Men at Work” to a modern-day troubadour?

Answer: I think when I figured out that it was pointless for me to transition at all, because I will always be “the guy from Men at Work.” [I’m] happy to be him. You really can’t get away from it. You might as well just embrace it.

Eventually, people just get it. They say, “Oh, it’s that guy, and he’s doing this now.” If they like it, they come along. If they don’t, they don’t.

Q: Did [multi-instrumentalist] Greg Ham’s death in 2012 signal the end of Men at Work?

A: It ended in 2002. We started touring [again] in 1996, just Greg and I with three other guys. It wasn’t the original band, [but] we did that for six years.

Greg and I always wanted to try and make a new record, a new Men at Work album. That never happened. After six years, it was becoming a nostalgia act, which was fun to do on a certain level, but it took up a lot of energy and time.

I dearly loved my friend Greg, but we never did come up with new material. He was struggling. Of course, when he died, it was horrendous. I always thought we would work together again.

Q: What did the copyright lawsuit over “Down Under” cost?

A: The case, legal fees and such, cost $4.5 million. In the end, [the plaintiffs] were awarded about $100,000. They wanted 60 percent of “Down Under,” which was ludicrous. They won, but they actually lost when you look at all the costs. There was enormous loss to do with that case, and the money was the least of it.

Q: A lot of your solo albums are acoustic-based. What is the appeal of the acoustic guitar?

A: I think the impression that I make acoustic records is because I go out and play live acoustically. I love the sound of the acoustic guitar. It sounds natural to me. It is the instrument I started on. I have an affinity [for] the acoustic guitar.

Q: Did you grow up on folk music?

A: I grew up on pop music in my father and mother’s music shop that we had before we went to Australia — all the music of the day, the hits of the day. Whether it was The Beatles or The Kinks or Elvis or Rolling Stones. Petula Clark. [laughs] Then my brother started playing me Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Booker T & The MG’s.

Between the ages of 5 and 14, I grew up in this music shop. It was a pretty remarkable childhood.

Q: With over a dozen albums, how do you decide what to play live?

A: I tend to favor the latest record that I’ve done, because it’s always good to play new music. Then I just kind of pick songs that I particularly like from my records. After the first week of the tour, a set list tends to present itself to me, and that is what I end up playing most of the tour.

I always have to play “Overkill” and a couple Men at Work songs. There was a time, a few years after Men at Work broke up, when I didn’t play them. I think there was some kind of emotional baggage. I’m over that. Those songs were very good to me.

Q: This summer, you’re touring with Barenaked Ladies and Violent Femmes playing outdoor theaters?

A: Yes. That is something I haven’t done in quite a while. I’m looking forward to that. I am the opening act. Just me and an acoustic guitar. I get on there for a half-hour, then get off and let them do their thing. I’ll play a couple hit songs, then I’ll bring it up to the present. I’ll do 35 years in 35 minutes. [laughs]

Q: Why were there four years between your last solo album and “Next Year People”?

A: Because I’m lazy. [laughs] No, I was on the road all the time and was trying to find time to do a record. It didn’t really seem like four years.

As you get older, time seems to go by really quickly. I went out on the road on the last record in 2012 and 2013. All of a sudden, another year had gone by. Finally I said, “OK, I have to get off the road.” I got off in April of last year and just stayed at home in the studio. Even though I’m signed to this label out of Nashville, I’m pretty much a one-man operation. Things take a little bit longer than if I had a team of people. But mainly because I’m lazy.

Q: A lot of your songs seem to blend sadness and hope.

A: I think that is what we all feel a lot of the time, don’t we? As you get older, mortality is more apparent. There is an inherent nagging feeling that death is unavoidable. You have to make the best of it while you’re here.

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