They say the old is new again and that remains as true as ever when it come to Men Without Hats. Even after a decade-long hiatus from performing, it’s as if lead singer, Ivan Doroschuk never left. Sitting in on part of the band’s sound check for their much anticipated comeback tour, Doroschuk’s strut across the stage is as fierce as ever, the sound of his signature low baritone is as intense as ever, and that grin of his with its boyish charm is still as magnetic as ever.
Along with their new tour, Men Without Hats released a new album, Love In The Age Of War. The band retains its famous synth pop sound with ten heart-pounding, danceable tracks. They’re now hitting the road, eager to please new and old audiences alike. It seems that the old is not only new again, it’s back and better than ever.
Your new album is titled, Love In The Age Of War. When you speak of war, do you mean that literally or metaphorically?
In both ways. The song, “This War”, it’s the second single off the album and we open the show up with it. That’s a metaphorical war that’s going on inside us, but Love In The Age Of War reflects what I see going on around me – everyone is looking for the same thing, everybody is kind of malaise and it’s going on around the world. People are sort of banding together. There’s a movement happening, something going on. I don’t think people are trusting elections anymore. When was the last time you’ve heard of a landslide? It’s seems funny that for the last twenty, twenty-five years, every election everywhere, it’s always forty-nine to fifty-one per cent. Any kind of poll taken, they’re always setting one half of the popular against the other in everything. People are waking up to that. Life’s gotta be more than peat oil and mortgages and inflation. That’s what people are looking for. They’re looking for love.
For the song “Live And Learn”, I translated it as having no regrets. Is that what you wanted to communicate to people?
It’s funny, my son asked me the other day – I have a nine-year-old son, he asked me, “Dad, do you have any regrets?” I found it a strange question coming from a nine-year-old, but he hangs out with me a lot so he kind of knows me, so he knows I’ve been up to a bit. I thought about it for quite a while too trying to think of something I regretted, but I can’t. Every moment that I went through led me to who I am. If I regretted something, it would mean that I wasn’t happy with who I am and obviously there are certain things I’m not happy with and everybody has things that they are unhappy with and trying to work on, but I am quite happy with what I did, with what I’ve been through, the ups and downs and being able to come back up again – it’s great. I find myself really lucky to be able to do this again, this point in time in my life. I had to say, I don’t have any regrets. Live And Learn was about that.
The lyric from that song that stuck out is, “to sing the song that saved the world.” What’s a song that stands out for you and changed your world upon first listen?
The song that popped right into my mind is, “All The Young Dudes” by Mott the Hoople, written by David Bowie. What I was trying to convey with [the lyrics] whether consciously or subconsciously is what songwriters are trying to do. They’re like painters trying to paint the picture that’s going to open everybody’s eyes to the other side. What musicians do is try to have that song that makes it all okay. Everybody will sing it. I find that I’m always trying to solve the world’s problems with my songs, with my music. It’s the only weapon I have.
No matter what the lyrical content of your songs, it seems to encourage dancing. Is that what you think about when your write and record a song?
I’m a child of the 70s and the 80s. For me, my first eye-opening experience with music was the early 70s with prog rock. I was a big fan – Genesis, Pink Floyd, anything that had keyboards. I grew up taking piano lessons. My mom was a music teacher.
Disco came around mid 70s and I was front-and-centre for that movement too, let me tell you [laughs]. I always thought that the 80s new wave music was a combination of prog rock and disco. That’s kind of what I brought to the table anyway. I brought those two knowledge’s together and had the very synthy, progressive music – 150bpm and that’s what I want. I figure there’s a place for everything, but I think my role is to keep those bpm’s pretty high.
You’ve mastered that signature synth pop sound for so many years now and you’ve got lots of bands trying to replicate or sample from it. Which bands in your opinion does synth pop justice?
Oh there are a lot of bands. That’s one of the things, I can name tons of them like Metric – another Canadian band that’s doing a good job. That’s one of the motivations that brought me back, is hearing a lot of those influences on the radio. Hearing all these new bands and it’s like, “hey, synthesizers are back.” For the nineties, we were banished to the farthest regions. We’ve been clawing our way back in this new millennium. That was one of the things that got me to thinking, “wow, it might be time to come back and try this again” – that and the fact that I was a stay-at-home dad for ten years and I’ve been itching to get back on the road anyway.
Being in the industry for so long, you have a huge fan base of old fans, but you’re constantly gaining new fans too. What is it like getting on stage and looking into the audience and feeling that energy now?
I love it. Talk about motivation to come back. When we went out to tour last summer with The Human League, I just got this wave of love from the crowd. It was like people have been waiting twenty years to see that band and at the end of the tour I was like, it’s almost my duty to come out and play these songs. It makes people so happy and realizing how happy it made people and seeing the cross-generational thing, we played open-air festivals and people were there with their families. My son found out about us through Crazy Frog on the Disney Channel and then there’s the whole Glee era and The Simpsons and so on. I’m blessed many times over.
Is there a secret to longevity in the music industry?
Hard work. I am so fortunate to have been able to take such a long hiatus and am able to come back to do this. It’s not a given and I look at people like Madonna, who has been working hard the whole time and has kept her own. That’s what it takes. There are young artists who come up and you can tell the ones that are really working. Even Justin Bieber, man he’s a hard working kid and more power to him. It’s a hard business and you have to make a lot of sacrifices. I’ve said this before because people always ask how it feels to be a one hit wonder or two hit wonder. I say hey, any hit wonder is great. I am so blessed. There are so many bands out there that just never get heard. I’m a fan of 70s music and through the Internet I am discovering so many bands I’ve never heard of before, but they were there.
Where is the strangest place you’ve heard “The Safety Dance” get played or the most interesting rendition you’ve heard get performed?
Somebody told me they were down in Jamaica and there was a bar and a seventy-year-old Jamaican played a rendition of “The Safety Dance”. He was taking request and somebody shouted out, “The Safety Dance” and so he started playing it. I’d love to hear that one. That’s the strangest one I haven’t heard yet.
In terms of hearing my music in strange places, I think “Pop Goes The World” has been taking up a soccer chant all over the world. I get videos every week from Portugal, from South America, from Italy, even Toronto. They take “Pop Goes The World” and add their own words to it so that’s pretty cool.