Back in the late ’90s, you would be hard pressed to find a hotter duo on the billboard charts other than Savage Garden. A mix of Pop, Alternative Rock, and R&B, Savage Garden lit up the world with number one singles such as “I Want You,” “To the Moon and Back,” “Truly Madly Deeply,” and “I Knew I Loved You.” A magnificent story of success, by 2001 Savage Garden decided to part ways thus leaving a hole in the hearts of many fans. Fortunately, the leading voice and songwriter of Savage Garden, Darren Hayes, remained active as a solo artist delivering some pretty compelling music in the early 2000s.
Putting out four solo albums between 2002 and 2011, in the blink of an eye, it seems the native Australian had all but completely bowed out of music in the decade to follow. Stepping away for various reasons, the prospect of the beloved singer’s return to music was a dream in the making for many fans… but would it ever happen? Well, don’t look now, but Darren Hayes is back in 2022 with his first solo studio album in eleven long years. Entitled Homosexual, the album is a fitting return for him as he explores various parts of his personality both musically and lyrically. Released on October 7th, the album comes with a great deal of excitement, and recently Darren Hayes himself took the time to sit down and talk about his journey, self-discovery, rediscovering musical inspiration, plus a lot more.
Cryptic Rock – You have been involved in music for many years and attained a great deal of success with Savage Garden in the late ’90s into the early 2000s. Continuing to write and record through the decades, how would you describe your musical journey to this point?
Darren Hayes – Lucky is the word that comes up mostly. You have to understand that honestly, I was at the latest thirteen years of age when I decided I wanted to do this, and I knew I was going to do this. I thought everyone wanted to be a musician. I think if you look back at the earliest interviews of Savage Garden that’s what I would have said to journalists back then.
I could sing from a very young age, through mimicking really. I remember really concretely in 1987 going to see the Michael Jackson Bad Tour; that solidified it. I remember seeing him on stage, and for various reasons that I could bore your ear off with, but that was the moment where I knew. I was born in ’72, and that was ’87, so I was fifteen that I knew I was going to do this for the rest of my life.
It’s been a roller coaster and to have known in 1987 that I would do this, and that was at a venue called the Brisbane Entertainment Centre (which is an arena). Ten years later I was in a band called Savage Garden and we sold out that arena… twice! Talk about having a dream and having it come true! I started and the first thing out of the gate was this incredibly successful duo that was global.
You can say in many ways that my journey was the opposite of the way most people should go. Normally people start where I’m at right now where you make this eclectic, strange, independent, expressive record… then you make your way to the arenas, having number one’s in America or whatever. I feel like I’ve done it in reverse; I had that incredible commercial success at the beginning, and then my journey has just become more and more interesting.
Cryptic Rock – It certainly sounds like an incredible ride. In between music, you have also done other interesting things. You tried your hand at stand-up comedy too, correct?
Darren Hayes – Yes, by 2012 I had been a solo artist for a long time and had released my fourth solo album. I kind of decided to leave the music industry; I didn’t really make a big fanfare about it. My husband, Richard, started off as a theater director and he is now a budding screenwriter. We had been living in London and I just needed a break. Anyway, we decided to move back to the US where I had been living before meeting him. I was driving him crazy doing nothing is the short story. He said, “Why don’t you just do something… why don’t you take an improv class or something.” That led to me auditioning to go to The Groundlings Theatre and School; it’s an improv school where a lot of people from Saturday Night Live end up. My classmate in my first year there was Chloe Fineman; she is a current cast member and a superstar. I spent three years in class with Chloe… it’s a really competitive school, it is pass or fail every level.
That was three years of my life, I also did stand-up secretly in lots of different places; I often didn’t advertise it. I was in acting classes for years and did some community theater, and it was not really for the point of being famous… it was just to do anything other than music. It was something to expand my brain and it led to me writing a musical and doing podcasts. Making friends that were not on a payroll was the big thing. When you are in my position it’s a sad fact that most of your relationships and friendships tend to be transactional… you tend to be a boss. That’s just how it is, even some of my closest friends who I consider family. For example, I have an assistant whose name is Tracey; she’s a beautiful person that Richard and I consider to be family, but she’s still on our wage. There’s a power dynamic there that no one can ever really get away from. I think moving to LA, being anonymous, going to these classes for three years, I had to make friends in a way that I hadn’t since I was in high school or college. That was so necessary for me.
Cryptic Rock – It sounds like that was an interesting chapter in your artistic career. What led you back to where you are writing and recording music again?
Darren Hayes – A couple of things happened. One of my really good friends, Johnny Menke, who I ended up writing a musical with, he and a lot of my Groundlings friends realized in my second or third year there that I could sing. Then when I would write comedy sketches that had music in it, they were pretty good. So, I became the default guy who made tracks for people in their comedy sketches. I sort of had to become proficient in the studio. Then when I was making podcasts, I would make funny jingles for them. In a roundabout way, I was sort of back in the studio doing things. Then Johnny approached me about making a musical and I had to produce the music; he is a really good piano player and we were writing songs together.
However, it was seeing the movie called Call Me by Your Name (2017) that just broke my heart. It is a movie about a kid who grows up to be gay and his first ever realization that he was gay. It’s set in the ’80s, and I grew up in the ’80s. It touched me because I realized I hadn’t had a happy childhood and an easy road coming out. I remember running home from that movie sort of devastated and I wrote the song “Let’s Try Being in Love.” That was the first song I wrote for this new record. I remember coming out of the home studio and telling my husband Richard, “I’ve written a song.” He said, “Duh,” because I would write songs all the time, but never really for an album. I said, “No, no… I think I’m writing a new record.”
That was the beginning, it was like, I’m back and I have something to say. I found the master recordings the other day for this new record and it was July of 2021 that I finished this album; so it’s been an almost three year process of starting the demos to actually finishing the record. It’s been a long time, but that’s how it happened.
Cryptic Rock – It is interesting how new inspiration can just sneak up on us. That leads us to you writing and recording your first studio album in a decade.
Darren Hayes – Yes. I think the bigger point was it reminded me that there is a parallel in that film. No one can deny their true nature. I was born gay as anyone is. Anyone is born whoever they are; whether it is gay, straight, or whatever it is on the spectrum. You are born who you are. You can do everything you can to deny that, but sooner or later nature is just nature. That’s what my video for “Let’s Try Being in Love” is about. If you watch the music video it’s about me and a period in my life where I was trying to deny who I really was… and yet my future was coming at me like a freight train.
In a lot of ways, as an artist, I tried to turn off the faucet (or the tap as we call it in Australia) of my songwriting. Yet that’s also a true part of who I am. Seeing the movie Call Me by Your Name reminded me that there is a whole part of me which was singing, writing, and performing, that I had tried to deny. Subconsciously my body, spirit, and soul had other plans… they wanted me to make music and perform again. Even though I was saying, “I’m finished and done with this.” Inside I think it was causing a conflict and a great sadness. When we quiet the mind and really listen to who we are and what we’re supposed to do on this earth, it’s very simple. When I let that door open, I started to be happier again. It didn’t matter if I got played on the radio or if it was going to be a success. This album is already a success to me because I love it so much. That’s really the lesson I took from all of this.
Cryptic Rock – Wow, it sounds like it has been a very emotional release for you. The new album, Homosexual, was released on Friday, October 7th. You have already released some singles, but what can people expect when they hear the entire album?
Darren Hayes – It’s really cinematic. It’s an album experience. It’s really designed to be experienced and enjoyed in that old way where you carve an hour and twenty-nine minutes out to listen; if you have it. You can sit down or drive in your car and take it in the first couple of times as a whole body of work… because that’s what it’s meant to be.
It was a journey for me. It’s really about a point in my life where I was turning fifty and I was really wondering why I had a deep sadness in me and trying to get to the heart of that. The record takes the listener through that and I would hope anyone can relate to this record. Yea, it’s called Homosexual, but it’s not an album about gay people. (Laughs) It’s an album about how you can navigate through loss or shame in your life and come to love yourself. It’s about finding joy at whatever point in life you’re at and making peace with the past. That’s what I try to do with this record. I go back in time, quite literally; musically and metaphorically. The record keeps changing tense – it’s in the present, then in the past, in the present, and then again in the past.
I think the singles that I’ve released so far aren’t necessarily indicative of the whole album experience. I’m excited for my hardcore fans to hear it, because I really saved and held back a lot of songs that I want fans to experience for the first time on the album. I hate to say this, but I think sometimes I’m famous for some of my sadness. That is on this record, but I wanted to start the record off with some joy. Because I had been sad for so long and I do suffer from depression. I hate to use that word, but it’s true, some of it is very hard and sometimes I do suffer. I’m very proud that in making the record I crawled out of a very dark space and found some joy. I wanted to start off the record with some joyful moments, but it does take you to some very dark places. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s a real journey.
Cryptic Rock – From the singles that have been released prior to the album, it sounds very compelling. You mentioned suffering from depression and we all have crosses to bear in life. Do you feel as a songwriter, even back in the Savage Garden days, that writing music was a cathartic release for you?
Darren Hayes – Yea, I feel so lucky that I have this outlet, but also, that there is an audience; I hate saying the word fans, but I’m a fan, so I don’t feel like it’s an insult. I feel like I have family and a real community of people that remind me that I’m not alone. I think that’s what is really lovely about songs. There is a really old song I have called “Random Blinking Light.” The whole point of songs is that you send out a searchlight and you are hoping someone will see it. You say something that you think only you feel, and someone else says, I feel that too! That is what I love about Comedy. What I enjoy so much about Comedy is its truisms. You are saying something, and it might be a joke, but the audience is essentially laughing because they can relate to it or you could be describing them.
When I was feeling lost as a twenty-four or twenty-five-year-old, what I saw in the audience was people who looked at me and said, “You’re not a freak, I feel that too.” That had meant so much to me in my life… it probably has kept me here, and that is not hyperbole, it’s for real. Just to know that other people relate to some of the stuff that I say, validate it, and say, “You’re not strange, you’re normal.” That is what I hope my music may help convey to other people too; that if they’re feeling some of these feelings, that hey, I’ve survived this. When it comes to my depression, I’m fifty years of age, and I’ve survived everything life has thrown at me… and I’ve had a lot thrown at me. I just want to remind people that I might be up today, so I can be strong for you today. I also might be in bed all day tomorrow and I can’t get out of bed. I know that I can read a comment or receive a note from someone who is strong for me and reminds me that I’ve got this. We don’t always have to be strong, we’re all human, and we all go through stuff. We need to know that we’re not alone. I think that is really the whole point of art.
Cryptic Rock – Absolutely. Honestly, what would the world be without art? A very dull, empty place.
Darren Hayes – Yea. In a lot of ways, the human experience can be painful sometimes because we’re so aware that we’re alive. We are aware there is a timeline that on any day something could happen good or bad. We lose people that we love, and sometimes there is no logic to illness, random acts of violence, or anything. We try to make sense of it when there is no sense.
Music has always been there, it’s always that thing. When you think about it, we turn to music in times of darkness, when we get married, or when we’re driving in a car and having an amazing day. You also listen to a song when your heart is broken and you get through it. Music is a pretty sacred thing. So, to be involved in it both as a fan and as someone who makes it is pretty cool. To go back to your first question, I’m pretty lucky.
Cryptic Rock – It certainly is one of the most powerful forms of expression that helps us through hard times and lifts us up in good times. With the new album here, nothing really beats a live performance. You have three North American concerts you just announced. How exciting is it for you to get out and play shows with this new material?
Darren Hayes – Listen, I feel like I should call it the Apology Tour. For whatever reason I’ve been in this self-imposed exile in some ways; I don’t know why, maybe because people have advised me that it’s a risk or not to play. I’m always playing in the UK and Australia, but I live in the United States! Sometimes I joke and say to my US friends, “I want to play some shows in the US just so you guys know I really do have a job and I’m not making this up.” (Laughs)
I clearly know, like Robbie Williams or Kylie Minogue, that as a solo artist, I’m obviously not as successful in North America as I am in other parts of the world. It’s just a handful of shows and I’m so excited because I’ve missed playing in the US. I have such a loyal family in the US, a loyal fanbase that has gone to great lengths to fly to other countries to see me. It’s expensive and hard, I’m not going to make a dime to do it, but I really want to do it. I really want to do this though, and if anything, it’s a test.
Maybe I should call it the Do You Remember Me Tour. (Laughs) It’s really just twenty-five years of memories, I have seven albums of material to choose from. I have fans in the US who still own this music on physical formats and who have grown up with me. I know a lot of these people by name and face. Some of my fans I see on the street and I know them. I was really right there at the inception of the internet and I was so connected to US fans all these years later. Twenty-five years I’ve grown up with people who are now my age, people who have children that are twenty-five years old now, and they remember this music. That is what this is about, it is to say thanks, and play this music face to face.
Cryptic Rock – It should be very special for those lucky enough to come out to the US shows. You have such a unique sound as a singer and your songs have a very distinctive quality. That said, what are some of your musical influences?
Darren Hayes – At this point I think it’s pretty obvious I used to always wish I was Michael Jackson, Madonna, or George Michael. (Laughs) When I was nine or ten Michael Jackson was my world. When I first got into the recording studio with a producer, you can hear it on songs like “Break Me Shake Me.” All my falsetto comes from Michael Jackson as well as Motown such as Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye. I was raised on that music… I know that sounds strange from a white kid from Brisbane, but my mom was a huge Motown fan. Also, Blue-eyed Soul such as George Michael and Hall & Oates.
Then the popstar comes from Madonna and watching the Virgin Tour. Talk about knowing I was gay, I was the kid who when other kids rented a video cassette and watch Conan the Barbarian (1982), I would make kids come over to watch the Virgin Tour, and do all the dance moves from “Dress You Up.” (Laughs) That’s in my DNA. Now on this new record you can hear all that, I’m openly admitting that. I listen to 12-inch mixes, I listen to New Order, Pet Shop Boys, Eurythmics… 80’s music. That’s a part of me, it’s in my DNA and it always will be. I’m just a kid who secretly wishes he was Madonna. (Laughs)