Darren Hayes is a man of many talents; singer, songwriter and producer. Now adding acting and improvisational comedy to his skills, the Australian is taking a step back from music to concentrate on one of his first loves; the theatre. Though forging forward, the Brisbane native is also looking back, as Savage Garden – the multi-million selling act that he formed in 1996 with Daniel Jones – prepare to release ‘Savage Garden – The Hits’ in celebration of their twentieth anniversary. Here in the first part of a special two-part interview, Darren talks about life after Savage Garden, his sexuality, and going it alone.
Hi Darren, how are you today?
I’m quite good. My husband and I, Richard moved to America three years ago. We live in Santa Monica, and we’ve had an amazing adventure, doing a lot of studying comedy improvisation and acting, and just doing things that aren’t music. It’s been a lot of fun.
Comedy improv is a new area for you, isn’t it?
Yes, but when I first started off, when I was seventeen or eighteen, I auditioned for a pretty hard to get into musical. They only cast like fifteen actors, and I got in. I had a girlfriend at the time, and the two of us were going to go off and go on this journey together, but she failed the audition, and me being the soft-hearted idiot that I am, I turned down the position. So feels like it’s part of my skill set anyway, but I can understand for other people it might look like; “oh god, there’s a musician trying to do other things!”
So for you, things are coming full circle?
Yeah, the universe always manages to call you to whatever the path is. You can deny it – in my case; I was probably the last person to realise that I was gay. I mean seriously, it just didn’t seem convenient to me! And similarly with music, I genuinely feel that it wouldn’t have mattered what I did, I was always going to end up meeting Daniel. Also, I was always going to end up moving to America, meeting Richard. They’re just gut instincts that you listen to and follow. Every time that I followed those instincts; nothing but happiness. Every time I ignore it? Disaster!
Coming out was a big moment for you.
The timeline of it is really interesting. I started to realise that I was gay, and I did the right thing. I was married, and my ex-wife is still a dear friend. It was like; “I think I might be gay”, and I didn’t want to be, but my sexuality obviously expressed itself through my fashion and my image. I related to people like Michael Jackson and David Bowie, George Michael and Madonna; people that sort of played with sexuality. That was a real escape for me, and honestly, I always thought I would be outed. It was almost annoying for me that I had to say; “by the way, I got married last week… to a man”!
Was that a source of frustration for you?
I don’t know; I just think that people were very nice to me. I was never somebody pretending to be something else. I went through a huge journey, and I was confused for a long time. Then what happened was a dear friend of mine whose partner died of HIV-related cancer, he kind of gave me that ‘pick yourself up’ tough love speech. He said, “you’ve got everything going for you, and if it takes you the rest of your life to meet the love of your life, so be it, but get up, choose to be happy and get on with your life.” That was eleven years ago, and I think about a week later I met Richard. I feel very lucky, for sure.
You must have gotten a lot of female attention in Savage Garden. It must have been quite the juxtaposition for you.
Oh, I loved it. It’s hard for people to understand because, look, I’m gay, and I have no problem with understanding or owning that, but I think back then I was still working out who I was. I think sexuality can be quite ambiguous; I find women really attractive. I found the attention really lovely, and I obviously didn’t take advantage of it. I never slept with a fan, but I certainly appreciated that connection.
I studied pop music; I looked at how people performed, and I really understood that young women connect to young men in pop music because it kind of is a way to be sexual without it being threatening. Without rewriting it, I was presenting this feminine masculinity. I liked it, and you know, I was just as innocent as they were. Looking back now, had I realised that I could have maybe dated some of the handsome men in the audience? Who knows. I was more of a mystery I guess.
You quickly launched your solo career after Savage Garden split.
For me, it was never a question of stopping. I had to grow up so much, and it was not easy; launching a band and getting to the top of the world, and then all of a sudden having that carpet ripped out from under you and starting again. No one wanted ‘Darren Hayes’; they wanted ‘the band’, and so I really had to develop a thick skin. I still wanted to do it, even thought it was a hundred times more difficult, but because I did that, I developed in life; other relationships, other skills, producing, writing songs for other people, performing. I feel so much more confident now and comfortable on stage.
It must have been difficult initially to pick yourself up from the split.
Willie Williams, one of my best friends in the world – he’s the guy who produces and directs all of U2’s tours – he did the ‘Affirmation’ tour with Savage Garden. He sat me down when the band split and said; “listen, you just have to accept that that’s probably going to be the most successful thing that you’re ever going to be associated with. Now just turn a corner and continue on. Don’t compare yourself to that, don’t live in the past”. I just tried to make peace and take that advice.
In 1999 or 2000 when I knew the band was ending, I just went; “well, I’m starting again”, and this could be awful, it could flop, but if I’m going to sit here and be resentful and look at my record sales in the way that a label would, then why do it?
Your debut solo album ‘Spin’ was particularly well-received.
It’s funny, as it’s my least favourite, but yes. At the time, it was considered a flop. I don’t know what it’s done now; I think it’s about five million. It’s not small in 2016, but after Savage Garden, you come off the back of, at the time twenty million albums; that’s devastating.
The record company in America just went; “wow, this is a big failure”. But it was helpful to me because I had to feel what failure felt like. And then to still decide to do it, to still go into the studio and make a record? The record I made after that got more and more experimental and strange. And you know what, I’m just glad I was never on ‘Celebrity Big Brother’.
It never reached that point!
Believe me, we all get offered it, every single year! But, for me that’s not what I’ve ever been about – I’m an artist and I’m proud of the success. I’ve never stopped singing the Savage Garden songs. I’m never someone who goes; “oh, I don’t want to talk about that”. Half the people come and see me in concert want to hear the Savage Garden songs. I get that, and I’m never going to be a d**k about it because I understand it. There’s a legacy involved in that that I’m proud of, and it’s why I’m doing this, it’s why I talk about it.
Finally, I wanted to ask you your reaction to David Bowie’s passing.
I’ve been trying to put it into words. There’s just such a sad poignancy to the way that he died. The fact that he died as an artist, and he orchestrated and was in control of his passing was devastating for me. It was beautiful, but also so sad. I think in some ways I really admire that he didn’t let the world know that he was so ill. I was a kid that was called a faggot, and I was tortured and teased so much at school, and people like Bowie, Prince, Michael Jackson – that androgyny, it saved me. Bowie made it okay to be whoever the hell you wanted to be. It’s a huge loss.
To read ‘Part Two’ of this special two-part interview click here.