September 17, 2015 Interview – Ivan Doroschuk of Men Without Hats
The 1980s was an era of excess. Excessive hair spray, makeup, and most important, excessive fun. With the synthesizer widely becoming used in all formats of music at the time, Canadian New Wave band Men Without Hats came into prominence with their 1982 album Rhythm of Youth. Anchored by a single, “The Safety Dance,” the album topped charts, and the song become an iconic piece of Pop culture for years to come. Much more than just the one song, Men Without Hats attained further success into the latter part of the decade with tracks like ’87’s “Pop Goes The World,” and returned for the new millennium in 2003. Officially reactivated as of 2010, they released the well-received Love In The Age Of War in 2012, Men Without Hats continue to tour and entertain crowds all over the world. Recently we caught up with Lead Vocalist Ivan Doroschuk to talk the beginnings of the band, surviving the ’90s, new music, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – You began with Men Without Hats nearly four decades ago, and the band really broke big into the mainstream back in 1981 with Rhythm of Youth. Since, you have been considered a quintessential part of the New Wave scene. What has the journey been like?
Ivan Doroschuk – It has been a lot of fun. It is weird, as you said, it has been for over four decades. It is fun looking back on it and seeing where everybody ended up. It is nice to be remembered and it is nice that people are still listening to my music. It is great that they are because that is what is allowing me to keep going out there and playing it. It allows me to touch base with the people out there and have a good time.
CrypticRock.com – Right, exactly. You, in fact, decided to disband Men Without Hats in 1994. Tragically, Allan McCarthy passed away the following year. Was that a difficult time for yourself, being you had been working together so long?
Ivan Doroschuk – Yes, Allan was a great guy. It was a really tragic loss. The ’90s were hard for everybody. I think the ’90s were a weird time. Allan was a good friend, and we had good times together.
CrypticRock.com – I am sure you had some fond memories of him. As you mentioned, the ’90s was a difficult time for a lot of the New Wave bands from the ’80. It seems like, in the past 15 to 20 years, people have bought a new appreciation for acts that were doing well in the ’80s.
Ivan Doroschuk – Yes, I think one of the reasons is that, in the ’80s, a lot of the music was Dance music. The reason you are seeing a lot of ’80s nights happening in clubs, it is because it is reminiscent of disco night, and it is a big dance party. I don’t think that a ’90s night in a club would be the same thing, there would be a lot of junkies there or something. The whole ’80s era has a glow about it. That is what people like to touch base with. That is why the music is still there, the music is still Dance music. People need that. “The Safety Dance” message was simple, but that is what I think stuck with people – ‘”we can dance if we want to.” I think that is what crossed over and that is one of the reasons the song is still being listened to across generations.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely. After you had stopped doing Men Without Hats, you were busy with the years in between, but then in 2003 you came out with a record with Men Without Hats, Beyond This Point, and officially reformed the group in 2010. What inspired you to finally say it is time for Men Without Hats to return?
Ivan Doroschuk – First of all, hearing my music being used all over the place from The Simpsons to commercials to all kinds of stuff, it was on Glee, it was just continuously being heard. Another thing was the fact I was hearing a lot of ’80s influenced music on the radio. A lot of the songs that are out there now, the big ’80s drum sound is back, the synth is back, all that kind of processed vocals is really happening, and it sounds like the ’80s all over again. It seemed to be a good time and I was lucky that my music is still being listened. Not everybody can come back after twenty-five years, but we have been having a good time doing it, and it has been a lot of fun.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, definitely, the sounds from the ’80s are back. A lot of the Pop acts, there is a lot of synth being used and it just seems that a lot of the acts are heavily influenced by the ’80s, which is quite intriguing.
Ivan Doroschuk – Yes, like I said, it is Dance orientated. A lot of the Pop music now is Dance orientated. More so than the ’90s where there was no synth to be seen anywhere. It was not really Dance music, it was more listening music. I think that Pop music today sort of rejoins the Pop music of the ’80s that was really a continuation of Disco. I’ve always said, for me, New Wave music from the ’80s was a blend of two other influences that I had. Those influences were Progressive Rock, which gave me the synthesizers, and Disco, which gave me the Dance music. That is what I have always thought New Wave was. That is kind of going on today too. There is a lot of weird synth stuff that you would not have been hearing before, so that is cool.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, totally. In 2012, you released Love In The Age Of War. Everyone who has heard this record say it is a phenomenal New Wave record, it really is good and you did a great job with it. What was the writing and recording process like for this material?
Ivan Doroschuk – It was kind of cool because it was not planned or anything. I was not planning on making a record. I just wanted to get the band back together to do shows basically. We were going to just go out there and play our back catalogue, and that was fine. We were on a tour with Human League and the B52’s, I had just gotten an iPad, I was sitting in the back of the bus, and the songs just started coming. I just started writing songs, and after the tour was finished, I had enough for an album, we decided to go into the studio and make it. When we went in to make it, I decided I really wanted it to sound like it was recorded right after “Safety Dance,” in that era. Of course, with a bit of update obviously, and recording techniques, but I really wanted it to sound like an ’80s record, I did not want it to sound like a Dubstep record or anything too current.
I think that making an ’80s record, just with the sound of the drums and things like that, made it sound like it was a current record, compared to the Pop music out there now. So we got Dave “Rave” Ogilvie who is part of that scene, with Skinny Puppy and a couple of other New Wave bands. We just made this record consciously. We went and got all the old gear back and did the record. From what I can gather, it is the record that the fans wanted us to make too. I think the fans were really pleased with it. Like you said, everybody likes the record. We did not try and make it sound like Justin Timberlake or whoever. It sounded like Men Without Hats, so I think we achieved what we set out to do. It is good, we are just getting ready to make another record now.
CrypticRock.com – Excellent news. Glad to hear you are going to be making a new record. What can fans expect from this new record?
Ivan Doroschuk – Well this one is going to be a bit of a surprise, so I am going to keep that one under wraps. We are just about to launch the idea. It is going to be something that the fans will really appreciate. We are not going to be too far off the Men Without Hats path. It should be a lot of fun too.
CrypticRock.com – Excellent, well that will be exciting to hear, and do you know when you expect to release it? 2016 Possibly?
Ivan Doroschuk – Yes, we are in the studio and we are going to be getting it out in the new year for sure.
CrypticRock.com – Excellent. Now you are continuously touring with Men Without Hats, are there any future plans for any further touring, perhaps maybe a package with another bunch of groups?
Ivan Doroschuk – Yes, we are always working on that. We are trying to put a package together.
CrypticRock.com – That is excellent, hopefully something will materialize soon.
Ivan Doroschuk – Yes, it will be great. I have had a chance to meet all my heroes too. As I said, we went out with Human League and the B52’s. They are two bands that gave me the urge to make my own band. Devo, same thing, I was in the front-row when Devo came out touring their first record. It has been a lot of fun.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like a lot of fun. Speaking of tours, you were on Retro Futura tour in the Summer 2013. Unfortunately, there has been no North American Retro Futura tour in 2015.
Ivan Doroschuk – Yes we did a good one with Howard Jones and Andy Bell from Erasure. Wang Chung was on a lot of the bills too. They were a lot of fun.
CrypticRock.com – Now you had mentioned earlier about the track “Safety Dance,” obviously a massive international hit, still spun to this day all over the place, every where. Everybody knows the track, no matter what age they are, do you often feel overwhelmed by the success to this song, or do you really embrace it?
Ivan Doroschuk – Oh, a bit of both. Actually, a lot of both. I sometimes tell people that it is almost my duty to go out there and play the song. The song is larger than me, and it is like I am just a vehicle for this thing. It is great though, a lot of people ask me if I get tired of playing it too, and I definitely do not. The reaction of the people, the song gets everybody to their feet dancing, no matter where. Like we were saying before, it is a song that cuts across, not only generations, but there was no uniform, no sort of dress code for “Safety Dance.” It touched all kinds of people right across the board. It is great to be able to go out there, be able to play it, and still bring a smile to people’s faces.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, it is one of those songs that has and will stand the test of time, and it is a fun song. There is no other way around it, it is a fun song. You had mentioned a little earlier that you derive a lot of your influence from Disco and from Progressive Rock, do you have any particular bands in which you turn to as influences for yourself?
Ivan Doroschuk – Yes, growing up; I grew up in Montreal, Pink Floyd was a big influence, Genesis was a big influence. Then we were always close to New York City so the whole Disco scene hit Montreal like a day after New York. Barry White was big in my books, Gloria Gaynor too. The whole Motown thing as well, that was where the whole Dance thing came from. The whole Dance influence for Men Without Hats came from that whole Disco thing. Like I say, the whole keyboard influence came from Progressive Rock. Also, it came from my mother being a music teacher, making me take piano lessons all my life, so it was one of the outlets I had. That is one of the things that happen when your parents push you to play and take piano lessons when you are a kid and you do not want to practice. Sometimes it pays off.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, absolutely, it did pay off. It is interesting how you described the progression of just music in general. Sometimes people forget where certain genres come from. You talk about Motown, that lead into Dance and Disco, etc. The same thing with Rhythm and Blues into Rock-n-Roll.
Ivan Doroschuk – Yes, and even us, people always say we are the pioneer, but we are not. There was a lot of guys before me, like Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream. Kraftwerk was doing stuff with no drummer, with rhythm boxes, in the early ’70s. They were doing experimentation with synthesizers, so those are the guys that I look up to, and those guys looked up to other people before them. Frank Zappa was a big big influence on me too. The Beatles were a big influence on my songwriting. Frank Zappa was a big influence on my creativity. He just showed that things can be done differently musically and business-wise. There are lots of influences for me.
CrypticRock.com – Yes absolutely, and you mentioned Kraftwerk. They have continued their North American 3D tour coming up this Fall.
Ivan Doroschuk – They are just awesome. That is it, they are the reason why. When I heard “Autoban,” that was one of those life changing moments. For me, musically, it was something I had never heard anything like it in my life. That sort of set me on a path.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and it is great that it had that impression on you. I had one last question. My last question for you is pertaining to Horror films. CrypticRock.com covers all things music and Horror films. If you are a fan of Horror movies, do you have any favorites?
Ivan Doroschuk – Yes, I am a big fan of that genre. On a side note, I just saw The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? It is awesome, Nicolas Cage as Superman with long hair. I wish they would have finished it.
I think my favorite Horror film was Alien (1979). That movie, for me, I went to see that at the theater, and I did not really know what to expect. I was there for that whole collective gasp in the theater, when the thing comes out of the guy’s stomach. That kind of effect was done by hand. Nobody had ever seen stuff like that before. We were talking about that for weeks after that. I have to say, nothing has actually shocked me as much as that.
CrypticRock.com – Alien definitely crosses over into the Horror genre. It is a terrifying film and it is well done. Like you said, the special effects are phenomenal.
Ivan Doroschuk – Yes, I remember going with my friends. We were going to see it at the theater downtown when it came out, and we heard it was a good scary movie. It blew everybody’s mind, nobody was expecting it. It was insane.