Men Without Hats: A Grand New Renaissance

It’s been nearly a decade since we’ve last heard from the iconic Men Without Hats. Famous for songs such as Pop Goes The World and The Safety Dance, Men Without Hats ushered modern groove and technology within the new wave movement in the early 80’s. Their brand spanking new album Love In The Age Of War has been produced by Dave “Rave” Ogilvie (Skinny Puppy, Marilyn Manson), and it presents Men Without Hats back in the prime of their musical careers. Here is an interview we conducted with vocalist and founding member Ivan Dorschuk to discuss the new renaissance of Men Without Hats as well as some of their legendary recordings and collaborations from the past. Read on…

Love In The Age Of War is your first album in nearly ten years. Why the long wait between albums and how frustrating was it to wait so long?
It wasn’t frustrating at all. I was a stay at home dad for the last ten years. I had a son and decided to do that – just stay home. I did nothing and stepped right out of the music business and did that full time. And after about ten years, I kept hearing the Hats music on the radio and in commercials, on TV and in movies and all kinds of stuff. And then on top of that, just hearing 80’s influences in all kinds of music today too. It just seemed the timing was right – and I was itching to get back into it anyway.

Is there any story or concept behind the album title Love In the Age Of War?
It’s what I see going on. There’s kind of this worldwide uneasiness. Besides the economic crisis that’s going on pretty much everywhere – the Occupy Movement – I’m from Montreal and I went there recently and there’s a big student revolt there – and it’s been going on for a while. It just seems that everybody is getting disillusioned – and everybody is kind of looking for love in the age of war. Everything is in a cloud these days. People work hard – they spend their week working really hard and then they get home at the end of the week and there’s nothing to show for it. Our society – our system is based on tangible proof of your work. Our music, our movies – everything is in a cloud. Our pictures, newspapers, magazines, bank accounts – everything is in a cloud. People are starting to wonder “what’s life all about?”  Is it really about terrorism and peak oil and the housing bubble – or is there something else in life? And that’s what I’m trying to find out on the record.

How did your shows with The Human League and The B52’s go and what were some of the highlights?
Oh, they were awesome! We went right across the country and it was just a blast! Those two bands were kind of my heroes, so it was a dream come true for me. We did some shows with Devo too, and I had a totally good time. Every show was a highlight. The highlight for me was the fan’s reaction – some fans had been waiting over 20 years to see Men Without Hats, and it was just so much fun to be able to play for them. In a lot of instances, they brought their kids too – and I was really happy to see that. There’s a cross generational thing going with the Hats these days too with being on Glee and The Simpsons. My kid just turned 9 and he found out about me through Crazy Frog on the Disney Channel. That’s when I sort of became a somebody in his eyes.

What do you think when you saw your song The Safety Dance performed on Glee?
I thought it was great! I thought it was awesome! I was honored that they would do it. I’m blown away that people are still listening to our music twenty years after. It’s great!

How does this album compare to your previous one No Hats Beyond This Point (2003)?
This album is more of a throwback to the original 80’s sound. Dave Ogilvie, who produced it – he’s more famous for Skinny Puppy and Marilyn Manson – he and I went into this pretending that we were making a record back then. So we pretended we only had a 24-track machine and that we didn’t have midi and we didn’t have computers and sequencing programs. We actually went out and got analog synthesizers – the same ones we used to make the first two Men Without Hats records. And we took it from there. So it was a real conscious effort to make it sound like it was made a week after Safety Dance. And I think just the fact that Dave was there – Dave gave it a bit of a tougher edge – a bit of a more modern sound. The topics are a bit more personal on this record than on previous records. I went through a divorce with my second wife a couple years ago. It was a good thing – it was all really, really positive – and it started me off on this journey here. Life is a learning experience and I can’t wait to see what’s next.

On the album No Hats, you have a clever, kind of cynical song called In California. Do you like California at all?
Do I like California? Oh, I love California! I was born just outside of Chicago – so I’m kind of a Northern person. My dad was going to school at the University Of Illinois, so we were all born in the States. But I grew up in Montreal. I’m kind of a North Eastern guy, but I live on the West Coast on Vancouver Island now. I think if I ever moved anywhere else, it would be LA. That’s where my manager is.

When you look back on all of the electric guitars you used of Sideways (1991), what do you think of that entire album now?
I look back very fondly on that record. That was one of the most fun records I ever made. It was just a blast! It was a fun period in music. It was the end of the 80’s and the whole 90’s thing was just starting. It was almost like the New Wave movement again. It was a new movement starting and it was an exciting time too. It was tinged with a bit of sadness, but it was still fun times.

Has Abba ever heard and commented on your cover of S.O.S. and has Abba ever influenced you or your music at all?   (Editor’s Note:  The song is from their 1989 album The Adventures of Women & Men Without Hate in the 21st Century…)
Oh I don’t know if they’ve heard our version. I’ve been loosely looking around, trying to find who else had done a cover of Abba before me. I know that Erasure and a lot of people have done it since then, but I wonder if anybody had done Abba covers before I had. But I don’t know – I’ll have to research that some more. But Abba taught me how to write a good pop song – that’s one thing – like The Beatles did too. That’s one thing I took away from The Beatles – just how to write a good pop song.

What was it like working with Ian Anderson on the song On Tuesday (from Pop Goes The World – 1987), and do you still keep in touch with him?
The last time I saw him, he was in Macys. He has a salmon fishery and he was selling frozen salmon. It’s quite a big deal actually. I think he probably makes more on his salmon fishery than he does on Jethro Tull records. But he was a blast to work with! He was a brilliant musician! He came in – he knew the part perfectly! It sounds like it’s all the same, but there’s a lot of little nuances and little intricacies in the part – he picked up and knew exactly what he was doing. He was great!

How do you feel about having your song Pop Goes The World in a Tide commercial?
I think it’s great. They are always using music to sell something. It might as well be Men Without Hats too! They’re using everything! It’s something that might have bothered me when I first started out – but a lot of things bothered me when I was younger. I’ve sort of mellowed out and understood why things are done more that I’ve lived through a few things. Like I say, like is a learning experience.

Do you still enjoy performing The Safety Dance live after all of these years?
Yeah, I do! I do actually. And the thing that makes it a lot of fun is to see how much fun it gives people. And that was one of the highlights of the tour last year – it was just seeing the smiles of people’s faces – it was amazing! I’ll be playing it for a while.

Will be another ten years before we have another Men Without Hats album again?
Hopefully not. Like I’ve been telling people, when we started the band up again this time, it wasn’t to make a new record. It was only to go on tour. I just wanted to do a Greatest Hats thing – play for the people who had been waiting 20-25 years to see us. And I was just sitting in the back of the bus on tour with my IPAD fooling around on Garage Band – the songs just started coming. So I ended up the tour with an IPAD full of songs and my manager said, “Let’s go record them.” And even when we went into the studio, we were only planning on doing an EP. And I kept on writing songs, so we ended up with a lot of stuff to chose from – so we decided to do a full record. We went back and did a session before the end of the year and then a session at the beginning of this year and put the two sessions together. And this is what the album was.

Do you have any messages for your fans out here in the LA/OC area and what are your future plans?
Hopefully we’ll see you guys pretty soon! I know we’ll be coming down to the States. We’re going to be on tour with Bow Wow Wow in the Fall in the States. We had a blast the last time we were there, so we hope to see everybody pretty soon.

Love In The Age Of War is available now from Cobraside Records!

(Interview by Kenneth Morton)

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