Interview: Darren Hayes chats about the making of his latest album Homosexual

Iconic pop artist and award-winning songwriter Darren Hayes has just released his first new album in a decade: Homosexual. It’s a celebration of the love and music that has influenced his career. In this interview with The AU Review, Hayes discusses the trauma of growing up gay and the acceptance and joy that he has since found in his life.

You took ten years off, so what was the inspiration for recording an album after that time?

Truthfully, I didn’t really take 10 years off. I thought I was retiring for real. I’ve been doing this since I was 15. I remember seeing Michael Jackson at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre and I was mesmerised. Life at home was not great, and that was a way to escape. I remember just looking at the effect that a performer could have on an audience, and I just thought “I wanna do that.”

Savage Garden happened. I’m 50 now. I didn’t really have a dream or anything from 15 until I was 40. I never stopped; Savage Garden ended, but that was never my plan. When the band ended, I was “Oh my God, what am I gonna do now”?

So, I just leapt right into the studio, trying to juggle the balls, making a solid career, continuing on. I was exhausted. We came to LA, and I stupidly thought that I could just turn off that tap. My husband is an ex-theatre director, he’s a screenwriter and he just said to me, after about a month, “Could you please do something, like improv class or something”? I ended up studying improv for three years. I anonymously went to improv school comedy for three years and got into podcasting. I made friends who were comedians and didn’t know what my day job used to be. I ended up writing a musical that sort of got me back into making music very surreptitiously.

Then I saw this movie called Call Me by Your Name, which is a positive gay love story, and I had an unnaturally emotional reaction to it. It unlocked a sense of grief in me, and I realised that it would be such a shame for me to have retired from music without ever really made music in an era now where gay people and queer people make records. It’s no big deal. I suffered so much coming out, my process of just accepting who I was, was just so torturous and now it’s no big deal. The title of the album is indicative of that. I was carrying around so much shame right from the 70s right from the 80s. When AIDS first arrived, I was a 10-year-old kid watching those commercials, thinking just because of the thoughtcrime of having a crush on a boy at school that I was gonna die.

So, I had a lot to say, and I think it was this urgency that brought me back to music. That was a lovely feeling; there was no plan; I didn’t even think of trying to get this record to a record company or get it played on the radio; it came from a pure urgency to kind of come back.

One song that stuck out to me was “Music Video” where you’re talking about being threatened with being beaten up for being gay when you were a kid. You’ve told a difficult story in a in a happy way.

I grew up in a violent home and I didn’t realise until I was much older that kind of an amazing way that I coped with that was by dissociation. My imagination developed in a really great way and that song is sort of indicative of that. That song is so joyful because I really did do that when I was being picked on. There were times, especially in high school, that I would have my head in my arms like this. When a teacher would leave the room, I would be called names, faggot or poof or whatever. People would roll up paper, spit on it and throw it at me. It was horrific, but I would be inside my arms. Inside my arms I would be imagining when I’m a pop star. It worked because that’s who I ended up becoming.

I was able to dream my way out of a lot of stuff. I did that as a child when my dad was being violent with my mom. I was really into Star Wars. I looked at the fables in Star Wars and it was very powerful. I now know it was based on Joseph Campbell and The Hero’s Journey, but I could look at this character Luke Skywalker and you don’t have to be Einstein to work out why it appealed to me. His father was a villain. He hoped that his father would take his mask off. I also knew that somewhere else there was a destiny for him. Those things as a child helped me survive. That insane notion that Daniel and I could become a world-famous band, the probability of that is very small. We could achieve this and that’s what that song is about.

With the song “Let’s Try Being in Love,” are you in love with the concept of being in love or you’re coming from a feeling of trying to express your own thoughts and feelings?

It’s about midlife and turning 50. As I was turning 50 it had to be explained to me that this is a stage of life. It’s an amazing stage of life. Our whole lives are about momentum from when you were born. For me, I had this perfect storm, which was the hole in my heart. You know, the “daddy never loved me” feeling. A lot of entertainers have that feeling. How can I fix that? I know, I’ll get the world to clap for me. That’ll fix everything. It doesn’t, but you’re on this momentum, this wave. The song on the album called “Hey Matt” where I’m literally talking about this stuff underneath. You’re just thinking, I’ll deal with that later, but that wave of momentum, the forward momentum of all your career goals and everything you are doing. When you’re ambitious, that’s fine; you’re on the top of the wave. It eventually must land somewhere, and the wave retracts. The flotsam and jetsam’s there and that’s all this stuff you never dealt with.

A lot of women will relate to this too; there’s this expectation and this feeling that you would just sort of stop being a bit silly now. You will be invisible, you’ll grow up. I look in the mirror and I go, who’s that? This bit used to be there. That notion of really letting go of the concept of what your youthful you used to look like. In the song I’m saying am I five decades or am I 24? I still feel young, but people don’t treat me young anymore. I don’t turn heads anymore. I don’t have this this elixir. I used to think what it was that I was just magical, but what I was, was just young. I’m not ready to just have all the colour drained from my world. I still wanna feel vibrant. I still wanna feel urgent. It’s something that even relates to my career, for example.

A lot of older artists feel this sense of ageism. I know that Tina Arena has expressed this. We make records and the response is kind of like, “Oh I love Darren, or you know, I love Tina, she’s great! Can’t play the record though”. When you’re gay it’s even worse, it’s like you become this harmless lovely gay uncle. The reason I made the video for “Let’s Try Being in Love” was I cast myself in a romantic role with another man. I made myself a romantic lead because no one would make me that. I allowed myself to see myself as a viable sexual being, because I was feeling that part of me still maybe dying.

In “Music Video” the vocals are sped up, which makes it feel like you’re going back to your youth and telling a story from a young age.

It’s a technique called Varispeed. It’s something that Prince did back then. It took me ages to really get the technique right. If you get it wrong it sounds like a joke, it sounds like the Chipmunks. It was an attempt to make this prepubescent androgynous voice, where I could tell this story. One of the tales I tell is horrific. It was a female school principal who literally took me into her office, she looked me in the eye, closed the door and she just said “You’re a little fairy, aren’t you Darren Hayes?” It was so insidious because I didn’t really know what that word meant back then, but I knew exactly what it meant. It was a threat; she smacked me full on, almost knocked me off my feet out in front of everyone, then dragged me by my arm back to the office. Now that I’m older I realised she totally had a problem with the fact that I was gay and was repulsed by me. You can imagine that feeling as a child of knowing that your formative people that you look up to, are repulsed by you. I tried to have this balance on the record of telling some of these grim stories but not making them maudlin, so that speeding the voice up gives it a delivery that I think is sort of like you have to listen.

This song has such a message behind it yet at first listen you think that sounds like just that happy song.

I’ve always tried to do that, but that’s sort of that thing about dissociation. I think my whole life I’ve tried to kind of be like “Shit, this is a bad situation, how are we going to get out of it?” It’s a glass half full kind of attitude really.

The song “All You Pretty Things” is about the Pulse Nightclub shooting and obviously the anger and the homophobia that led to that, yet you created an anthem or a celebration of their lives, forever young and pretty.

I’m sure you’ve been to wakes and funerals, and I think I’ve been to too many to realise something very necessary about that connexion afterwards. At the wake you cling to life afterwards; you make amends. Any issue you had with anyone in your life – when you see them at a wake it just doesn’t matter anymore. There’s that feeling of realising what what’s important. I was also looking at it from a bigger picture too. I lost a member of our family to suicide, and I was thinking about this idea that in gay culture in general like from the AIDS crisis, I lost one friend to HIV but I wasn’t there when that erasure of an entire generation of people happened in the 90s. I was always amazed by how disco music and dance music was this natural response in the gay community to celebrate. There was this thing of dance away the heartache. Often the thing that’s in dance music is that there’s this sadness underneath this joy. To celebrate someone is to basically say that’s how you’re going to remember them.

In the second half of the song, I have this task. I said we’re gonna dance to remember them so I’m gonna do this Giorgio Moroder break. I really spent my time and did my homework and looked at all those synthesisers and just studied what was the music. So, I looked at Patrick Cowley and Sylvester and all of the records that I didn’t grow up with but that I should know. I studied those a bit and tried to give that tribute as a kind of a DNA of what club cultures are supposed to be. They’re supposed to be a safe place. That was the violation, that place was violated, and I thought rather it not be this lecture. We all know that there’s an easy solution to gun massacres. Australia did it but you don’t need another voice saying ban guns. Let’s lift people up.

What I like about the song is that it has that extended remix feel about it. The whole album gives time to the songs to develop. They’re not three-minute pop songs, they’re stories in a sense.

That was intentional. I wanted the whole record to feel like if I had a chance to go back and make a record where I loved myself a bit more and where my coming out process wasn’t so torturous what was I listening to. I was going to Woody’s Music Store in Slacks Creek, and I was buying 12 inch singles and they were by Shep Pettibone. They were extended mixes but they weren’t those “bore a drill” through my head club mixes, they were just breakdowns. They were everything that was on the record, but the faders would come down and you hear what was in the record. I wanted to do that on the record so I’m glad that that comes through.

Darren Hayes Australian Tour Dates:
‘Do You Remember?’ Tour – 25 years of Savage Garden, Solo Hits and more
Tickets available through www.darrenhayes.com
Jan 31st, 2023, RAC Arena Perth
Feb 4th, 2023, Sidney Myer Music Bowl Melbourne
Feb 7th, 2023, Aware Super Theatre Sydney
Feb 8th, 2023, Entertainment Centre Newcastle
Feb 11th, 2023, Entertainment Centre Brisbane
Feb 12th, 2023, Convention and Exhibition Centre Gold Coast

Album Homosexual released via Powdered Sugar Productions out now

Cover image by James Reese

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