Ivan Doroschuk is the lead singer, chief songwriter and founding member of Men Without Hats, an act which started in 1977 in Montreal, Canada. At a time when Simon Cowell and his endless parade of addled minions are mistaking being a celebrity for being a pop star, it seems all the more pertinent that Ivan, along with a revamped Men Without Hats, has returned, armed with a brilliant set of tunes and the voice of experience to demonstrate once and for all that the reason for the success of the band was nothing to do with attitude and artifice and all about the wonderful melodies and genuine musicianship of the people involved.
A key example of this is the nostalgia-inducing hit ‘the safety dance’ which, aided by its bizarre video, took the world by storm at the time of its release almost thirty years ago. That song demonstrated that you could have an unconventional image and that you could have memorable slogans, but, more than anything else, a song survives or dies by the hook with which it is imbued, and ‘the safety dance’ had (and still has) a hook that keeps it in your brain for weeks after accidental exposure. That would, however, be entirely beside the point if ‘the safety dance’ was all that Men Without Hats had ever contributed to the pop world,, but hits such as ‘pop goes the world’ proved that ‘the safety dance’ was no one-off, and (and this is more to the point) the latest studio effort is looking likely to eclipse even those far off achievements with its cunning combination of melody, grit and hope, all conspiring to make it the most interesting pop music release you’ll have heard in a long time.
With Ivan and his troops poised to invade the UK for the first time ever we caught up with him via email and you can see his responses below.
Given that MWH has a considerable legacy, was the decision to return under that name a difficult one?
No, it was a no-brainer really, especially since we set out to make a record that “sounded” like vintage MWH.
How did you find the new members of the band?
Auditions , Lou is from LA, Rachel is from Vancouver and James is from Victoria on Vancouver Island (like me).
To what extent does having a hit like ‘the safety dance’ help, but also hinder, a band’s career and development?
That’s the deal you make with the devil, he’ll give you a hit but you have to promise to try and repeat it.
The eighties was a time of very strong visuals – did you ever feel the imagery from videos such as the safety dance overshadowed the actual music?
Not at all, in our case it piqued people’s curiosity even more to see a medieval setting for a new wave song, a lot of people were expecting spiked hair and zippered clothes, they got a hippy instead.
‘Love in the age of war’ is the first MWH album for almost nine years – did you have any sense of apprehension about how it would be received?
Not really, since my songs are still being listened to and continuously referenced in pop culture, I didn’t feel I had anything to prove this time out.
It seems, not just from the title, but also from the content that the album is full of hope, even in the face of adversity – would you say that is a fair assessment?
It is, that’s what the title is all about. It’s a more personal album lyrically compared to the previous ones, being loosely based on the break-up with my second wife, who taught me that life is too short to put up with being unhappy
Yet the modern age does not seem open to a great deal of optimism – do you consider the art of making pop music is to create a counterpoint, perhaps, to the stress and strain of everyday life rather than a reflection of it?
It’s an amazing platform to get any kind of message across, but I think its main goal is to entertain
One of the key distinctions between MWH and the pop acts that have surfaced subsequently is that you actually offer lyrics with meaning and depth – how long does it take to develop those lyrics and do you have key themes in mind when writing for an album?
The themes usually come from what’s going on around me, in this case the occupy movement, the Arab spring, the austerity revolts all over Europe, there seems to be a general malaise going on all around the world, people are dissatisfied with their situation and are voicing their discontent. Is life really all about mortgages, peak oil and terrorists, or is there something else?
The production is a perfect mix of the old and the new : the album seems to look both back towards your history and forwards at the same time – how did you end up working with Dave Ogilvie and what qualities particularly were you looking for when searching for a producer?
Dave and I got along famously, we’re both roughly the same age and from the same area (Montreal), we know a lot of the same people but had never met or worked together. My manager John Kastner (Doughboys) had worked with him on a couple if projects, but it was his work with Skinny Puppy and Marilyn Manson that attracted me to him. I wanted the new CD to sound like vintage Hats, but with a bit of a darker edge, he knew exactly what I was looking for and how to get it.
How long did the album take to develop from the first idea through to the finished piece?
I wrote the songs in the back of the bus while we were on tour with The Human League in the summer of 2011, and we went into studio immediately after the tour , December 2011- February 2012
You’ve embarked on a major tour that includes, finally, a stop in the UK – what can fans expect from a MWH performance – how different is the music live to the studio version?
We try to keep the music pretty faithful to the original versions, and the show is about 1/3 new album and 2/3 classic hits.
Another aspect that has changed significantly since the band’s formation is the application of technology across all areas of the music industry – to what extent has the internet/file sharing etc. been a help and a hindrance for the return of MWH?
One thing that’s constant is that technology is continuously changing. My first 3 records didn’t even come out on CD, and now that format has disappeared. I like to say that my favorite synthesizer is the one that’s coming out next week. Some people complain that digital has made it a singles market, but that’s how it was at the beginning with Elvis & The Beatles, albums were just a collection of all the singles that had been released during the year. The industry is very cyclical, file-sharing is just the new word for bootleg.
Any final words for your fans?
You can dance if you want to !
Men Without Hats perform their first UK concert ever on Friday 1st February at the London o2 Islington Academy. They then embark on their first tour of Europe in 20 years.
LONDON, O2 ISLINGTON ACADEMY
FRIDAY 1st FEBRUARY
SUNDAY 3rd FEBRUARY
INGOLSTADT, EVENTHALLE WESTPARK
MONDAY 4th FEBRUARY
VIENNA, SZENE WIEN
TUESDAY 5th FEBRUARY
WEDNESDAY 6th FEBRUARY
FRANKFURT, DAS BETT
THURSDAY 7th FEBRUARY
HANNOVER, ENGEL 07
FRIDAY 8th FEBRUARY
SATURDAY 9th FEBRUARY
SUNDAY 10th FEBRUARY
Tuesday 12th FEBRUARY
THURSDAY 14th FEBRUARY
FRIDAY 15th FEBRUARY
GOTHENBURG, STICKY FINGERS
SATURDAY 16th FEBRUARY