- - Wednesday, August 2, 2017

“We can dance if we want to. We can leave your friends behind.”

Anyone with even a hint of musical acumen knows that snippet from “Safety Dance” by Canada’s greatest export of the 1980s, Men Without Hats. While “Safety Dance” was — and remains — the band’s biggest hit, the band, has released several great albums in their nearly four-decade career, including opus “Pop Goes the World” in 1987 and the deliciously synth-free “Sideways” in 1991.

After a 20-year hiatus, singer Ivan Doroschuk reactivated the band as a touring unit in 2010 and released the superb disc “Love in the Age of War.” The summer sees Men Without Hats on the road again as part of the ‘80s Retro Futura tour, playing alongside other favorites from the decade like Paul Young, Howard Jones, English Beat, Katrina (of The Waves) and Modern English.

Mr. Doroschuk discussed his love of “prog rock” and the joy of the “Safety Dance.”

Question: Is there any sense of competition when you play a tour with other bands from the ‘80s?

Answer: It used to be competition, but now it is camaraderie. There is no pressure. Nobody is vying for the No. 1 spot on Billboard anymore, so it’s a lot of fun.

The first tour like this I did was with Human League and The B-52s. Coming back after a 20-year absence to get to do that is pretty great.

Q: What did you do in the 20 years away?

A: I was a stay-at-home dad.

Q: Did you make music while you were a stay-at-home dad?

A: No, none at all. I was retired [and] didn’t foresee [the comeback].

I got a call one day from a tour promoter asking me if I wanted to do a tour [and] if I was interested in putting the band back together and going on the road. I thought about it for a nanosecond and said, “Yeah, sure.”

Q: How has touring changed after decades away from the game?

A: I joke that the biggest change is that the hotel keys are cards now. And they don’t have the room number printed on them.

The main thing is that my fans are bringing their kids. That is such a great thing. The smiles that people have, that’s our fuel now.

Q: Because the set times are shorter, is it easier or harder to play?

A: Both. It’s easier because it’s shorter, but harder because you’re just getting going. You have to sort of get going right away. With a longer set there is this pacing that allows you to sort of build up. A shorter set makes you have to reach climax a lot sooner.

Q: Why do you think that of all the songs you recorded, “Safety Dance” became such a big hit?

A: My interpretation is that it’s the message. People still need to hear they can dance if they want to. That seems to have crossed generations.

The video had a lot to do with that too. It’s the medieval thing. So there is no way of dating it.

When it came out, I think people were expecting spiked hair and zippers and pointy boots. That video threw them for a loop. That has helped it cross not only generations but all types of people.

Q: When you have a hit that big, is it a blessing or a curse?

A: Now it’s a blessing. When I was younger, I thought it was a curse. I remember getting really frustrated when I was going out on the “Pop Goes the World” tour and having the promoter using “Safety Dance” in the ads.

Thirty years later, if people are still listening to my music, then it’s only a blessing.

Q: How did your album “Pop Goes the World” come together, and how did you get Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull to play flute on it?

A: Ian Anderson came through Derek [Shulman], the A&R guy at Polygram in New York. Derek had also been the singer for Gentle Giant [who] used to open up for Jethro Tull.

When Derek saw the video for “Safety Dance,” he saw me as a sort of continuation of that “progressive rock” bloodline. “New Wave” music for me was a blend of progressive rock music and disco. He got that.

I put the record together like a “prog” record, a concept record. Like a Pink Floyd or Genesis [album]. I wanted something with a story that wasn’t told completely. A story that you could put your own narrative into.

Q: Since you consider yourself “prog,” is there any temptation to make a on “prog rock” record?

A: Oh, yeah. I listen to nothing but free jazz now, and I’d like to make a free jazz record. But no.

I think I spent my whole career trying to break away from “Safety Dance.” I ended up making a record called “Sideways” that had no keyboards on it. I think that if I had to do it all again, I would have paid a bit more attention as to what the record companies had to say as far as trying to reproduce “Safety Dance.” Because I realize now that’s what people liked me for. They didn’t like me for me, they liked me for “Safety Dance.”

That’s the confusion you get with a big hit. You think the fans like you because you’re so great. No, they like you for some song you did.

The Retro Futura Tour rolls on through the summer. For dates and details visit RetroFuturaTour.com.

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