By all accounts, Colin Hay is a quirky guy.
The lead singer of the 80s band Men at Work, Hay wrote and sang the hit song, “Down Under,” where he talks about living as an Australian even though he was born in Scotland. Sure, he moved there when he was a teenager, but still.
Fast forward to today and Hay is still as quirky as ever.
“What do you think Gazette means? Is that a French word? What kind of word is Gazette?” Hay asked. “It’s a good word, isn’t it? It’s got a nice ring to it. Gazette.”
Never in doubt, however, is Hay’s talents as a performer. The popular musician is set to play three shows at the Birchmere in Alexandria on Oct. 4-6.
Hay’s most recent studio album, “Gathering Mercury,” which was released in 2011, was deeply personal for him.
“It was quite intense [putting the album together],” Hay said. “My father had just died, so that was the emotional context of whatever was going on. So I was in the studio in 2010 writing songs and recording – his presence was very palpable. That’s really what I remember – that time when he was gone and when I would think about him it was a way of bringing him back to life in a way.
“Even if the songs weren’t written about him or about something else, it was still informed by that — that feeling of mortality.”
Hay formed Men at Work with Ron Strykert and Greg Ham in the late 70s. In 1981, they released their first album, “Business As Usual.” Even after the band broke up in 1985, Hay has kept himself busy.
“I don’t think you think in terms of how long,” Hay said. “I know I certainly didn’t. It’s moment by moment, really. … It’s getting better for me and has been for the last few years, but there were quite a few years there where I certainly wasn’t selling out anything. The 90s, especially, was very much like walking into the wilderness a bit. So there was a building process of just building an audience, which I’ve been building since that time. Fortunately, people seem to be coming along to the shows and telling their friends.”
Building a new fan base became a lot easier for Hay, thanks to the help of actor Zach Braff and Bill Lawrence, who created the TV show “Scrubs.” Hay appeared on the show three times as the “troubadour” and his songs, “Overkill,” “Down Under,” and “Waiting for My Real Life to Begin,” were all featured. Braff even used Hay’s song “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You,” in his movie “Garden State.”
“Being on ‘Scrubs’ a couple of times and Zach introduced me to that – he’s been very kind to me,” Hay said. “Also, Bill Lawrence, the guy who created the show, he came down and became a bit of a fan. He wrote an episode of ‘Scrubs’ called ‘My Overkill,’ and had me on there. As a matter of fact, [Lawrence] became a bit incensed by the fact my new songs weren’t on the radio and decided he would actually try and highlight some of the songs I was writing on his show to see if he could make a difference with my career.”
Hay is quick to point out his appearance on the show, as well as his songs, had a very positive effect on his career.
“I think over the last 10 years or so, that’s been singularly the most helpful that has happened – being on ‘Scrubs’ and also having a song in ‘Garden State,’” Hay said. “The soundtrack did very well. Yeah, the power of television is quite extraordinary.”
Because Hay hadn’t had much in the way of radio play for his new songs, being on television provided the outlet he needed to reach more fans.
“You write these songs and you think, ‘OK, well, if people were exposed to these songs, they would like them,’” Hay said. “But the problem is, if you don’t get exposure you have to figure out way to get it to your audience. My approach is pretty old fashioned in a way, which is to play live and do a lot of legwork. You just build up audiences one show at a time. Being on the television really accelerated that.
“I can’t really state enough how helpful it’s been for me.”