Polari Magazine talked to Darren Hayes at the Hospital Club in London on the eve of the release of ‘Bloodstained Heart’, the third UK single from his latest album, Secret Codes and Battleships. A few weeks before, on January 28, Darren had invited fans to Somerset House for a hug-in, a video of which was then released. Polari talked to Darren about that day, and about what it had been like to release a record with the backing of a record company again after he had gone it alone for the previous album.
What was the inspiration for the ‘hugs’ video?
The hug video was spontaneous, and a little bit naughty. Sometimes I do things on Twitter where I write things I’d love to be able to post, then I think, “I can’t really say that”, so I delete it. But I was feeling a bit cheeky, it was such a random thing, and I said, “I’m thinking of giving out hugs and I’m just seeing if there’s any market demand”, or something like that. And lots of people responded, and it gave me that idea.
I was thinking a lot about John and Yoko, and their Love In, and their Peace In. I thought that maybe I could do something like that. It ended up promoting something but it wasn’t intended to. It was a social experiment.
The truth is that the day is happened I wasn’t sure anyone would turn up. I had Richard with me, friends who were going to film, my PA; and we’d hired a security guard, which was hilarious. I thought, “What if there’s lots of people and what if there’s someone who’s a bit scary?” I don’t check in, I don’t ever say where I am, for safety reasons. It’s one of the only times in my life I’ve been somewhere in public at a certain time on a certain date without it being on a stage.
And so we sat in a café across the street and watched people turn up and started to think “thank God”. And it was beautiful. It was the sweetest thing. The furthest away someone had come from was the Philippines. There was someone from Thailand. There were people from Europe. They’re those moments when you go, “I’m so lucky to have this job, and that my audience have stuck with me. Because they’ve turned up and spent money on a hug. So I hope it’s a good one.”
And in the end for me I came away from it thinking I was the lucky one. I was reminded that even though my job is often very difficult – it’s very hard to succeed in our industry – so many people have got my back, and so many people want me to do what I do. That was really beautiful.
Were there any scary moments in that process?
No. Here’s what really incredible. As a whole I thought it was a very attractive crowd.
We’ve got our friends, the Marks, who are a couple. They’re the kind of couple that’ll tell each other “isn’t he cute”. They were just flirting with all my fans, which is a bit weird. People smelled good, people dressed well. People hugged well. And people were really respectful too.
I had to walk into Somerset House, there were hundreds of people, and we didn’t have permission. I had to say, “this is how it is going to work; I’m going to hug you and then if you could then leave because we want to film you and film something beautiful and it’s only going to work if you do this.” And no one took the mickey; no one threw both limbs or legs around my face. It was really lovely.
There were no awkward hugs. Apparently there’s a scientific equation for how long the perfect hug is, I think it’s about 3 seconds. And they were all about 3 seconds. I don’t know if I was driving the hug but they were all about 3 seconds and they were all really good. Sometimes they involved the touching of extremities.
No one pinched me on the bum.
Were you disappointed by that?
Well, yeah, I think you always want to get pinched on the bum. I think if I was a Disney character at a theme park you’d want someone to pinch your bum.
They do something that I learned. If you go to a theme park and you hug Mickey or whoever, at the end they give you a little squeeze. And I’ve been doing that my entire career, which I’ve just admitted here. If I take a photograph with somone, when it’s done there’s a little flex and we both know it’s time to move on.
After self-publishing your last album, what has it been like to have a record company back on board?
I started an independent label primarily because I didn’t ever want to be in a position where a record company could say “we’re not releasing your album”. That’s what happened with The Tension and the Spark, essentially. That’s what severed my relationship with Columbia Records. The UK released it. Australia released it. And in the US, one of the largest markets in the world, and certainly where my career had been, they literally locked the record in a cupboard and say “no thanks, we’re not going to release it”. Any artist will tell you that’s a really horrible situation to be in. Especially to look back on the record now and how important it was for me, and how my audience views that record. So I started a label so I would never have to be in that situation again.
However, my god it was expensive. Really expensive. And really difficult. I think what’s been the challenge for artists who’ve had a career like I’ve had in the past that was very commercially successful, you need that arm, you need a marketing arm, you need the money that someone can spend to let people know you’ve got a record out. And that was a hard lesson to learn.
This time around it’s a combination. I own the record, it’s still on my label, but basically I went into partnership in Australia with Universal, and here in the UK and the rest of Europe it’s distributed through EMI – which I love because I get to go to their fantastic offices and I get to pretend that I’m on the same label as Kate Bush. But I retain it and own it so what I get is their infrastructure, I get them to put the record into stores. I get their expertise. But no one has had any involvement artistically in terms of artwork, song selection, single choices.
I’ve still retained all that creative ownership but I have a big brother I can go to and say “can you help me?”. I think it’s a unique situation in that if you are just starting off it would be hard to leverage the relationship that I have at the moment. I think there’s a certain expectation that I will sell at least a certain amount of records so a big company can think, “there’s some money in this, we’ll get involved”. Thankfully it isn’t that cold. The people that have the record love the record, which is really great.
You mentioned picking singles … how difficult is it to choose the right one?
I’m terrible at picking singles. I’m the guy who very famously thought ‘Truly, Madly, Deeply’ was going to be a bonus track. I have a gut reaction when it comes to songs emotionally, and ‘Bloodstained Heart’ for me was always the stand out, the high point of the record. But we were nervous about releasing it first, I think because I was worried that it would get lost in the undertow, and if your first single doesn’t really work, unfortunately the way the music industry runs people would assume the record is over. So we threw a lot of songs into the hat and got people’s feedback.
I don’t even think I’ll sing ‘Talk Talk Talk’ on the second leg of the tour. I sang it on the tour because it was the single and I love it on the album but I never loved it as a single. But I understood why it was a single choice. Certainly in Australia it’s opened me up to pop radio again, and it was an unexpected choice, so it got people interested in the record, but I was really keen for people to know the record’s really emotional. Songs like ‘Black Out The Sun’, that’s a nice marriage for me because that’s one of my favourite tracks on the album, and it was a single. As an artist that feels good when you’re promoting something that you think “yeah, this represents me”. It’s tough and I’m glad it doesn’t all fall on my shoulders because I can blame people if things didn’t work in the end! But it’s a record I’m proud of and I’d be proud to release anything from it as single. But obviously my choices are often a bit sketchy.
To watch a video of this interview click here.