He may have come a long way in the twenty years since they formed, but Darren Hayes is perhaps still best known for being one-half of Savage Garden. Formed in Brisbane in 1996, Hayes along with partner Daniel Jones went on to conquer the charts all over the globe, selling in excess of thirty million albums and going on to become the biggest Australian musical export since, well, INXS. Celebrating the release of the retrospective ‘Savage Garden – The Hits’ album, we caught up with Darren to chat about the band, in the final part of a special two-part interview.
Can it really be 20 years since Savage Garden first launched onto the music scene? I would imagine for you; it must feel odd.
It really does. I imagine for Daniel, it must be strange because he had one experience of it and then he just essentially left the face of the earth.
The band started out in 1996; did you have any idea that you were going to be so massive, or was it a complete whirlwind?
I believe in magic, and I believe that we create our dreams. That seed was planted in me in my childhood. I had a very violent childhood; my father was an alcoholic, and I learned to escape and dream up – that was my escapism. Then growing up as a kid, getting picked on, everyone else knowing I was gay and me not even understanding what that meant, again, I had to go into that world. I had to survive, I had to dream, and by the time I met Daniel and we were releasing singles, yes, I really believed that we were going to be the biggest thing in the world. It’s not arrogance, it’s innocence; we just felt like, well, we believe in this, and this is going to happen because we’re going to make it happen.
1997 was a big year for the band, bringing international success. Was it important for you to make an impact outside of your homeland?
It really was, and England meant so much to us because England is still the coolest place to succeed in music. It’s the most competitive market, but it’s also the most open-minded, whereas it’s the opposite in America, where it takes grinding, grinding, work and if you succeed, it’s very, very rare. We succeeded in America first. Our first single ‘I Want You’, flopped the first time it was released in the U.K. It was deemed ‘too American’. We came to the U.K. and the record company were like; “oh, no, no, no! We need to restyle you”. Some of my worst haircuts are from my product manager back in 1997 who decided I needed to look like Monica Lewinsky! [Laughs]
Your second album was titled ‘Affirmation’. Was this a sign of your confidence in your abilities at the time?
I’m a melodist, and I’m a lyricist, so everything I was going through in my life went into that. I was going through a divorce, I’d moved to America, and I didn’t want to move to America, and I didn’t even want to really be divorced; I just knew that I had to save the two of us a lifetime of misery. I was really depressed actually, and it was a period where I had to find that strength in myself. The veneer of fame had worn away, so on the songs on the second record, I was really digging deep. The leap in artistry for Daniel and I on that record is something that was really important.
You must have been under enormous pressure to follow up your debut?
There was so much pressure, and it’s a really biographical record. There’s a song called ‘Two Beds And A Coffee Machine’ and I’m talking about going from motel to motel, on the run from my dad. Then there’s a song about me calling my wife up after not speaking for a year at her request, essentially saying “can I come back?”. It was a heavy, heavy record.
Did the success and fame put a strain on yours and Daniel’s relationship?
Yes. I’ve had a long time to think about this, and this is not meant to be disrespectful to him, but I realise that we were never really friends. I think we were fascinated by each other, and he reminds me of Simon Cowell in a way, in that he had this incredible ability to see potential. When he first saw me, he saw that potential. I thought we would just get closer and closer, but we didn’t. Fame drove Daniel further and further into seclusion to the point that we didn’t really hang out. He retreated, and I understand that. I was becoming everything I wanted to be with him, which was just this superhero, and he achieved what he wanted and just decided that most of it wasn’t really for him.
So you knew that the band wasn’t going to last?
I was living halfway across the world, and most of the songs on the second record we didn’t even write in the same room together. He’d send me some chords, I’d write down some ideas, I’d record vocals and send them back. That’s what the state of the relationship was. It created a great record though; that estrangement and that kind of uncomfortableness. I think it was after the album was just about to debut at No. 1 when Daniel came to everyone privately and said; “I can’t do this anymore”. So the whole time we were promoting that record and touring, I knew that it was going to end.
That must have been more than a little heartbreaking.
It was totally heartbreaking. I don’t have many regrets in life – I have some hairstyles that I regret, but I definitely regret that we weren’t united in the end about how the band had ended. I’ve always been disappointed that Daniel’s never really owned that, and I don’t know why he won’t, but for a long time it was perceived that I had wanted to be a solo artist. That was not the case. Even during the tour, at that point I thought, well, I’ll probably just write songs with Daniel. I was trying to find ways that I could still work with him, but by that time he was already gone.
Did you understand why he had made that decision?
I respected it – and I hope this does make it into your piece – I respect his choices. I don’t like the way he went about it, but I have a tremendous amount of respect for his bravery, because I know what it’s like to walk away from something that everyone thinks you should be a part of. I had to do that with the marriage, and he had to do that with fame, and he had to live with the fact that he hurt me. But there are no hard feelings, and it makes more sense to me every day why we aren’t the band anymore. It was just never really meant for him; it was a really happy accident, and I’m just glad we had the two records that we had.
There must be part of you that thinks that perhaps you have unfinished business.
I don’t. I know that people will be surprised by that. I feel Zen; let’s just say that it was a very unhealthy emotional relationship, and I love that we both have the wisdom to accept that. Ultimately, we were not two peas in a pod; we were a catalyst for artistry. I think the fact that emotionally there was a gulf between us, it was a good motivator; I wanted to impress him, and he wanted to impress me. All of it was a perfect storm, but it was never meant to last, and honestly, I feel very sure about that. I don’t lose any sleep over it. I used to, many years ago, but I honestly don’t now.
So what’s next for Darren Hayes?
I’m always doing secret things. The big thing is I’ve just taken a big step away from being a recording artist. I’m sure within a decade I’ll put a record out, but right now I just don’t feel like it. I’m working on a musical, and it’s years of work and it’s going to take me a while, but in the short term, it’s lots of acting things. I’ve got a spoof Star Wars mockumentary that I wrote coming out. I’m a massive fan, and that comes out later this week. I’d love to do some movies, but we’ll see. Music is still my life. It’s my everything.
To read ‘Part One’ of this special two-part interview click here.