CN Interview: Singer Darren Hayes

Alongside Daniel Jones, Darren Hayes debuted in 1996 as the frontman and singer of the pop sensation Savage Garden, whose self-titled 1997 album propelled the duo to stardom almost overnight. Their debut record featured the singles “I Want You,” “To the Moon and Back,” and the number one hit, “Truly Madly Deeply.” The duo followed the success of their initial album with a follow-up release titled “Affirmation” in 1999, which also produced several hits, including “I Knew I Loved You” and “The Animal Song.”

In 2001, after selling more than 23 million albums worldwide, Jones and Hayes parted ways and Savage Garden was gone nearly as quickly as they seemed to arrive. One year later, Hayes decided to release his debut solo album, “Spin,” which debuted at number two in the UK and featured the hit single “Insatiable.” The album was supposed to continue the success of Savage Garden and make Hayes an even bigger star. However, it failed to meet the expectations of Hayes’ record company at the time, even though it did sell a couple of million copies worldwide. Hayes’ second solo album, “The Tension and the Spark,” marked a big change of direction for the singer-songwriter, showing him experimenting with electronica and dark, depressing lyrics. Hayes and his label were soon at odds and the two sides would eventually decide to end their long relationship.

Hayes grew up in the working class suburbs of Brisbane, Australia. He is the youngest of three children and he started performing for his mother in his lounge room at an early age. At Mabel Park High School, Hayes appeared in school musicals and also sang at school concerts before graduating in 1989. He declined an opportunity to attend a performance academy in favor of studying at the University of Queensland. It was during his college studies that Hayes responded to an ad placed by Jones, who was seeking a lead singer for his then-band Red Edge. Hayes also met makeup artist Colby Taylor while in college, and the pair eventually married. The couple would later divorce in 1999.

Hayes’ life has been filled with its share of trials and tribulations. Ten years ago, at the height of his fame, Hayes would have thoughts of suicide while driving across the Golden Gate Bridge. The feelings stemmed from years and years of Hayes’ burying his childhood, which was plagued by his father’s violence and alcoholism, as well as his own personal struggles with sexuality. While he had sensed for a long time that he was gay, Hayes confessed that the one thing he wanted more than anything was to get married, have kids and create a happy family — he wanted the life that he never had. Sensing something was wrong, Hayes’ assistant urged him to speak with someone, and he eventually sought the help that he long needed.

Hayes is now a man on a mission. Following the end of his 10-year relationship with Columbia Records/Sony BMG, he decided to start his own label, Powdered Sugar. His new label just released “This Delicate Thing We’ve Made,” a two-CD set of music that Hayes wrote and recorded over the past three years. The new release features 26 tracks, including the well-received first single, “On the Verge of Something Wonderful.” Hayes also announced that he was gay after entering into a civil partnership with his boyfriend of three years, Richard Cullen. On June 19, 2006 in London, Parliament granted Hayes with the second legal same-sex marriage since Elton John.

In a candid interview, the long private and shy Hayes discusses his childhood and past struggles, his excitement and optimism to be on his own, and his many hopes for the future as he ventures into the life that he has always dreamed of.

CN: Well much has certainly happened for you both personally and professionally in the past year. Has this been a long time coming for you?

Hayes: I’ve really appreciated my journey to this point. It’s been hard! I can’t trivialize it by pretending that it has come easily, but I enjoy a lot of freedom these days. My team are some of the kindest, sweetest and most passionate friends you could hope to work with, and together we all feel a bit like libertines.

CN: You’ve always been a very private individual, but you’ve recently opened up and spoken about your childhood in which your father was an alcoholic and was physically abusive. At the age of 10, your mom finally escaped with you and your siblings. What goes through your mind today as you reflect back?

Hayes: I’m just thankful that we all survived. My dad definitely transformed himself (sober for 25 years now) and that kind of change is inspiring. The scars run deep, however, and rather than be negative about it, I just choose to be grateful I learned how to survive, and to forgive.

CN: What were your interests as a child and teenager? You seemed to do well in school despite your problems at home.

Hayes: I threw myself into school and performance. I loved to write — and so I became quite a goody goody in the English department. Music and theatre were my guilty pleasures, but I excelled in them and soon became known as the kid who could sing.

CN: Was there any musical history in your family?

Hayes: None whatsoever. I’m just the freak of nature gene that responded to music and could not be contained!

CN: Who were some of your musical influences growing up?

Hayes: Michael Jackson and Motown. Some Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks, but mostly R&B and soul. Later, I got into Prince and pop music in the ’80s, like Madonna and Cyndi Lauper, but it was always underlined by the ‘Purple one’ and the ‘Gloved one.’

CN: In 1993, you were studying at a university in Brisbane when you read an ad that Daniel Jones posted seeking a vocalist for his five-piece band Red Edge. What do you recall of that first meeting?

Hayes: I almost convinced them not to audition me. I was very inexperienced and quite shy. But I remember Daniel saw something in me — some potential — and convinced the other band members to give me the job. The band eventually ended, but he and I had clicked and dreamed up a whole new future together as a duo.

CN: A year later, the two of you left the band to form Savage Garden together. Your debut single, “I Want You,” caught the interest of the labels in the U.S. and eventually Columbia Records/Sony BMG won the bidding war. Were you surprised by how quickly everything happened?

Hayes: I still am. I went from living in Brisbane, Australia and never having traveled overseas to living in New York, traveling the world and hitting the top of the Billboard Charts twice. Major life changes.

CN: The end of Savage Garden came about after seven years together. Why did you and Daniel decide to go your separate ways?

Hayes: It was his decision. He was not happy being on the promotional trail and giving up control of his day-to-day life to a press schedule. It was disappointing that he chose to give up what I thought was a golden opportunity, but in the end I’m so glad he did, because it forced me to reinvent myself and fight to stick around.

CN: Your debut solo album, “Spin,” was released in 2002 and spawned several UK Top-40 singles. While well-received by critics, your follow up album in 2004, “The Tension and the Spark,” did not achieve as much success. You’ve said that your label in the U.S. “just didn’t get it.” What happened?

Hayes: Well, the short story is that I changed my style and they wished I hadn’t. The longer story is that Sony and BMG merged as a company and Columbia (the label I’d signed to) essentially got swallowed. All of the people who had previously worked on my career were either fired or lost their rank and my fragile, little, strange record got ignored. I didn’t take it too personally. The way I feel now is like a libertine. No one tells me what I can or can not do. It’s bliss!

CN: So after 10 years with Columbia/Sony BMG, you parted ways and created your own label, Powdered Sugar. What was your biggest fear of going at it alone?

Hayes: That people would think I couldn’t get a record deal. I didn’t even try to. EMI in the UK approached me about a deal and I politely said, ‘No thanks.’ It was really important for me to do things on my own terms and not put myself in the position of weakness again.

CN: What’s your take on the music industry today as compared to when you first started?

Hayes: It’s all gone downhill! The record deal, as I knew it, is over. Everyone is afraid to take risks and the result is the pushing and marketing of very safe and average music that all sounds the same. I’m not interested in being in that antiquated system.

CN: You completed the album at your home in London using a 1983 Fairlight CMI Synthesizer that you purchased off of eBay. What can you share about that story?

Hayes: The album was recorded primarily in London at Mayfair Studios where Madonna is working at the moment and bands like Coldplay and U2 have made records. But the Fairlight brought with it a kind of vintage, old school vibe. It was the sound of all my favorite ’80s electronic records and we managed to capture it forever on this album.

CN: I’ve read that this album is one that you’d like to be remembered for. What did you enjoy most about this experience?

Hayes: The connections with sound. The connections with my collaborators. The emotional joy. It was pure bliss and fun.

CN: Outside of having to pay for everything on your own, what’s been the most difficult challenge of being on your own, without the backing of a major label?

Hayes: Radio airplay! But I’m kind of loving being a rebel.

CN: You are the third most popular Australian artist in history in the U.S., along with INXS and Kylie Minogue, yet many feel that you haven’t received the recognition that you deserve. Why do you think you’ve been overlooked?

Hayes: I don’t care, really. Don’t mean to be cheeky, but none of the artists you mentioned have had number ones in the States! So I know what time it is [laughs]. I’m like a good wine from a tiny vineyard. I don’t care if many people don’t know about me, as long as some adore me.

CN: At one point, you desired to be a big mainstream male superstar in the likes of Justin Timberlake. However, you’ve since lost that desire and it helped you in the making of this album. Why did you move away from your superstar aspirations?

Hayes: Because I realized it wouldn’t make me happy. I don’t want a cologne, a restaurant, a clothing chain or a movie role. I don’t want my own brand. I don’t want to be in the tabloids. I just want to make music.

CN: What are your interests outside of music? I understand that you are a “Star Wars” buff?

Hayes: HUGE Star Wars fan. I collect the vintage toys from the ’70s. We are also huge film buffs and collect vintage posters and watch, make and discuss animation and film all the time. Plus our dog, Wally, keeps us amused for days.

CN: I’ve read that you don’t consider yourself a celebrity, and it seems as if being in social situations surrounded by the likes of Victoria Beckham and Angelina Jolie make you uncomfortable. Is it a challenge for you being in the public eye?

Hayes: I hate getting my photo taken. Does that answer your question? I just don’t see myself in that light or that stratosphere. Bless the people who do. But I’m just happy sitting here watching the wheels turn ’round and ’round [laughs].

CN: One of your idols is Madonna, who reportedly admitted to being a fan of yours when you met her at a dinner party in London. Was that one of the more surreal moments of your life?

Hayes: She didn’t admit to being a fan; she admitted to knowing who I was. Yep, totally surreal. She’s stunning in real life and totally charming. Sex pot.

CN: What else would you like to accomplish in the future?

Hayes: I’d like to open a toy store. And be a dad. In that order.

CN: One of the biggest themes in your music is “what does not break us makes us stronger,” and you’ve mentioned that until you met your Richard, the ’80s were the last time you were happy. Are you finally at peace with your life?

Hayes: I’m not at peace. I don’t think I ever will be, because I strive hard to be a better version of myself constantly. But I’m happy and grateful, and that’s a lot closer to peace than I’ve ever been.

For more on Darren Hayes, be sure to visit his official website —

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