The Australian new wave band Men at Work topped the early 80s pop charts with tunes like “Who Can It Be Now?” “Down Under” and “Overkill”. The band’s frontman Colin Hay recently finished “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself,” a new album of favorite 60s pop classic covers, including The Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset,” The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” and Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman.” The album releases on Aug. 6.
Ithaca Times: I love the song selection on the new album. If you could do a Volume 2, what songs come to mind?
Colin Hay: Well, like you say, as soon as you start thinking about songs, there’s literally hundreds of thousands you could do. But the reason I chose the ones on this record was just because they had some kind of impact on me at various stages of my life. So that’s really why I put those on there, but I haven’t started to think about what I would do if I was gonna do another one. I’m certainly not thinking about it at this point.
IT: Songs like “Wichita Lineman” and “Waterloo Sunset” sound simple, but they’re not that easy to get right.
CH: Yeah. That’s right. A lot of seemingly simple songs are trickier than you think. “Waterloo Sunset” - that’s a top one.
IT: I love your guitar sound. What was your first guitar?
CH: My first guitar? Well, I can’t remember the brand name, but it was a nylon-strung guitar, and I got it from the shop. My mother and father had a music shop in Scotland before we went to Australia. I think I was about 12. So I played this nylon-string guitar for a while. But when we went to Australia, I took this — it wasn’t a particularly good guitar, but I liked it. It was an Italian guitar called an Eko; it was a semi-acoustic guitar with one pick-up. I used that to learn chords and stuff. I didn’t take the nylon-string to Australia. My mother and father said, “Look, you can take one guitar, but that’s it. We don’t have room for any more.”
IT: I’d love to know about the homegrown Aussie scene of the late 60s and early 70s that spawned so many amazing musicians. You and the Young brothers and Bon Scott were Scottish emigrants who wound up stuck in Oz when your home country and America were going through an explosion of art and creativity. What was that like and how much frustration played into the blossoming of creative talent in the 70s in Australia?
CH: I don’t think it was really frustration. I think it was really just the fact that there were a lot of emigrants that went down to Australia from Britain and continental Europe as well…especially if you went into the hostel system — they had hostels for you as a temporary accommodation if you didn’t have a house or you didn’t have anywhere to go. I think those places served as a kind of breeding ground for people to get together and play music. I think that’s what the Young brothers did. But there just were quite a lot of emigrants, and they all seemed to put bands together. Everyone was in a new country, so it was kind of exciting rather than frustrating, you know.