After a ten year hiatus Savage Garden’s Darren Hayes is back with an intense exposé and album
Darren Hayes has a life story just waiting to become a best-selling book or be turned into a Lifetime movie. In the mid-1990s, Darren rose to worldwide fame in the pop duo Savage Garden, achieving a plethora of #1 singles including “I Want You,” “To the Moon and Back,” “Truly Madly Deeply,” “The Animal Song,” and “I Knew I Loved You.” After selling 23 million albums by the early 2000s, the duo disbanded, and Darren went solo. Leaving behind a heterosexual marriage, Darren came out, only to be hit with sabotage from Columbia Records.
Now, after a ten-year hiatus, Darren is back with a new solo album on his own record label and ready to hit the road.
It is a pleasure to speak with you today. Thank you for taking the time.
Darren Hayes: I have been having these moments lately where I take time to be grateful. When I saw your tag on social media about interviewing me for the magazine, I showed my husband and said, “Look how lucky I am.”
Congratulations on the new album, appropriately titled Homosexual. This is your first album in 11 years, since 2011’s Secret Codes and Battleships. It is also your fifth studio album, so would you agree it has been a long time coming?
DH: After my last album, I never thought I was going to make music again, so the fact this exists is significant to me. In hindsight, I understand why I felt this way. At the time, I was exhausted after never stopping. The Savage Garden experience was so traumatic because the band ended without my say, and thus, I had to continue solo because I never conceived [of] not performing. I started a solo career on the back foot of this with immense pressure on me from a major record company where there was so much control, so much expectation, and thereafter so much disappointment following the first solo record.
All the secretive management of my image because I came across too gay began to take a toll on me and I started to feel erased. Every time I released a record it became harder to do what I desired given the entire system was distracted by whether I could get a song played on the radio. To be here now feels like a miracle.
For so long, especially pre-streaming, corporate executives micromanaged all facets of the music industry. Thus, did you feel as though your artistic expression became limited?
DH: It did not affect my art, but it affected how my art was promoted. This is what was hard. The Tension and the Spark is the best reviewed album of my career as well as a huge fan favorite. Despite the support and fanfare, the record company only put it on the shelves, never promoted it, and then dropped me from the label. The record company dealt with artistic expression by bullying artists and burying their work to teach them a lesson, so to speak. Today, I have control over every single aspect of my career from every photograph to every guy I kiss in a music video. It is beautiful. I already know this album is successful; my definition of success is whether it is genuine. That is all I care about.
At the end of the day that is what matters most because so many mainstream artists create music that top the charts yet behind the scenes, they are unhappy.
DH: Exactly! I cared deeply about my mental health. When I look at artists like Britney Spears, I have so much sympathy for them. Every day I watch her express her anger and I understand that anger. For example, look at the music video for Savage Garden’s “I Want You.” It was directed by Nigel Dick who directed all the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears music videos. If you rewatch the music video, I am in a contraption of sorts and caged like some exotic animal while Daniel Jones is jumping around free with his guitar. I only found out a few months ago from an ex-manager the reason this was done was because the label had serious concerns about the way I looked when I moved, which they felt was too feminine.
Wow! The way it was set up was symbolic with you being the one who was not free and trapped in the video. Nevertheless, hearing it after the fact had to feel like a gut punch. At the time were you under the impression things like this were being done deliberately to control you?
DH: No, I had no idea at the time, which is why I relate to Britney’s anger. The Affirmation record was an album about the divorce from my wife and simultaneously the musical divorce from Daniel Jones. When I performed the title track on The Tonight Show, I was winking at the camera singing “I believe you can’t control or choose your sexuality.” I was preparing to come out to the world. My first solo single, “Insatiable,” was about a man. “Turn me on, never stop, wanna taste every drop.” You don’t have to be Albert Einstein to comprehend what I was singing about. For the music video treatment, I spent months learning an intense Latin dance and wore a fitted outfit. I even told the team I did not want them to pair me with a woman because that would be a lie to my audience.
The record company hated my dancing because, as I later found out, they felt I came across too gay. The music video cost one million dollars. They told me it did not work, and it went on my tab. Unbeknownst to me they secretly filmed footage with a woman and through editing made it appear as though it were a heterosexual love song, and we were searching for each other. That is what became the official video. These are the type of things I would deal with. By the end of promoting the album, for the music video, “I Miss You,” I filmed with actress Rose Byrne as my girlfriend. I had just given up. Yes, I was contributing to this heteronormative culture, but my self-esteem had been so pummeled. The message I was given was that I was repulsive.
You were married to your childhood sweetheart, Colby Taylor, from 1994 through 2000. Your relationship began before you skyrocketed to fame in Savage Garden. At what point did you realize you were gay and how difficult was it to come out in the early 2000s? Did you hold back because you got so much fame?
DH: I held back because of my mental health. Today we have a much better view of sexuality, where people realize it is not black and white. It was just not binary for me. Now I fully identify as gay. Back then, because I was married to a woman, it was very confusing for me since many felt it must mean I am bisexual. I grew up being very good at hiding secrets because my earliest memories are pre-verbal and consist of violence watching my father physically abuse my mother. By the time I could speak I learned this was a shameful situation. It was the 1970s and my mother could not go to anybody for help because there were no social benefits for women to leave men. There was no easy way to survive as a single mother at the time in conjunction with the social stigma which comes with being a victim of abuse.
Often, it is the victims who end up protecting the perpetrator, because the victims keep the secret due to shame. My family grew up terrified anyone in the neighborhood would discover what went on behind closed doors. The abuse went on through the time my sexuality was emerging. My father was the first person to call me a faggot, and peers at school would call me a homosexual which is a word I began to loathe.
By the time I got to an age where I could have intimate connections with people, I thought that was what love was, regardless of gender. The first person I confided in about what happened at home was the first person I lost my virginity to, a woman. Hence, it became further complicated. Colby was the second and last woman I was with. In reality, we were Will & Grace. I came from an abusive childhood and all I wanted was family and stability.
By the time I was out in the public eye I started meeting people who were gay which is when I realized I was gay. My wife knew I was battling with this since after the first Savage Garden record. We tried marriage counseling, and that just made everything worse. Six months after we separated, I had a boyfriend yet still tried to get back together with her. Colby was amazing, she told me we could not, and encouraged me that one day I would get through this.
I never felt attractive nor lovable to begin with so to be gay felt like a curse. I went into a suicidal depression following the divorce because I felt in order for me to be free, I had to destroy another life (Colby). Moreover, due to my abusive background, I was initially attracted to the wrong type of gays, particularly those who hated themselves and had internalized homophobia like I did. This record has been very cathartic for me in terms of addressing all my issues and healing from my past.
Who has been your biggest ally within the music industry?
DH: Elton John is literally everything he appears to be. I was in a war with Columbia Records, and he stepped in. Elton, out of the blue, called me after I released The Tension and the Spark. While it was being quietly shelved and not promoted by Columbia Records, Elton told me how much he adored it, and how brilliant he thought it was, and invited me to see him in Las Vegas. I saw Elton perform, went backstage, and he stopped the room for me. Elton introduced me, praised the album, and essentially made everyone listen to a lecture on the album. He treated me like I was Pablo Picasso. When he married David, I received an invitation, and he went out of his way to introduce me and my husband, Richard. Elton is just so classy.
You recently announced a ton of tour dates in the UK and Australia. Will you be bringing The Do You Remember Tour to North America?
DH: Yes! I am so grateful because my North American fans have been so patient. I should call this the apology tour [laughs] because my North American fans have flown to see me all around the world. I have a sacred connection with my audience, and this is going to be incredible.
U.S. tour stops:
April 12, 2023: The Danforth Music Hall, Toronto, Canada
April 13, 2023: Town Hall, New York, NY
April 15, 2023: The Wiltern, Los Angeles, CA