Interview: Darren Hayes on marriage, children and the mid-life crisis that shaped his new album
As the front man of Savage Garden he sold more than 25m albums, 15m singles and performed at the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympics. As a solo artist he’s released four critically acclaimed albums, the latest being ‘Secret Codes and Battleships’. He came out publicly in 2006 when he announced his civil partnership with Briton, Richard Cullen. Laurence Watts catches up with Darren Hayes.
Our interview occurs prior to the release of Darren’s latest single, Bloodstained Heart, out in the UK on 26th February. It’s the third single to be released from ‘Secret Codes and Battleships’, Darren’s fourth solo studio album. The song is an epic return to top form that Perez Hilton described as: “A beautiful, powerful, emotional, big, sweeping, pop song… closer to his Savage Garden days than anything he’s done of late.” Hilton is not wrong. I ask Darren how he came to write the song.
“Bloodstained Heart was written at the end of the album process when I was told I’d made a great record, but that it needed one more song,” Hayes explains. “I was heartbroken at the time because I’d put everything I had into the album. It turned out really well though because I ended up writing Bloodstained Heart. The song’s about how I felt at the time: I was at a crossroads in my life and in my career. It’s a very personal song. When I sang it live on tour, the audience would sing-back the chant to me and the first time they did that unprompted, I burst into tears. At the very centre of the song is the feeling that life isn’t always pretty, but that even if you lose the battle, it’s cool, at least you have your dignity and you go out punching.”
‘Secret Codes and Battleships’ also marks Hayes’ return to the folds of the music industry’s major labels. The album is being released by EMI in the UK and by Mercury in Australia. This is significant. Hayes was dropped by Columbia, the label he’d been with since forming Savage Garden, when his second solo album, ‘The Tension and The Spark’, failed to sell as well as his first, ‘Spin’. This prompted Hayes to set up his own record label to release his third solo offering, ‘The Delicate Thing We’ve Made.’ I ask him what prompted his change of heart?
“Really, a desire to have my work reach a large audience,” he says. “In the middle of my solo career I started to get much more experimental. The albums I made weren’t very commercial. In order to make those kind of records I had do them on my own. No one would release them. Doing it on your own is extremely difficult, it costs a million dollars just to get a record on the radio in the US. This time around I’ve made a record that I think is reminiscent of my early career. I knew I needed a big arm to sort of lift me up, lift the record up and say, “Hey! He’s back!” Having said that, I learned a huge lesson when I was dropped, which was to never again give a man in a suit the power to shelve my music. What I’m doing now is the best of both worlds. I own the record, but I’ve gone into partnership with EMI and Mercury.”
Hayes came out as gay in July 2006 when he issued a public statement confirming his civil partnership with British animator, Richard Cullen. With same-sex marriage currently being debated in his homeland, Australia, and his adopted home, Britain, I ask him what he makes of it all.
“I think there’s bit of controversy if you’re a gay man and you support civil partnerships,” he says, “but the truth is I was married to Richard in 2005. 2006 was when we had the civil partnership and it became official, but from my point of view, spiritually and emotionally, I’d already had the wedding. It was the happiest day of my life and everyone I knew and loved was there. What I didn’t have on that day though, was society’s respect.”
“So when Britain’s civil partnership law was passed, I leapt at the chance to be involved because so many people had fought hard for us to have that basic right. Today I have British citizenship, I have a British passport, I have healthcare, I have all the things that come from marrying a British person, just like anyone else would. It’s not called a marriage to anyone else other than me, though. I have a problem with that, but luckily I think that situation’s going to change.”
Hayes is no stranger to the institution of marriage. In 1994 he married his high school sweetheart, Colby Taylor. The marriage lasted five years. I ask if that means he’s bisexual?
“I think there are all sorts of gay men,” Darren answers, “but for me personally, I’m gay. I’m not bisexual, but I fell in love with my best friend who was a woman. Of course, back then I had no idea I was gay. I suppose I had inklings. I love my mother dearly, but my mother’s Catholic and she raised me like a Catholic; I was so ashamed and scared of my feelings that I couldn’t even admit them to myself.”
“Truthfully, I fell in love with Colby. I think we realised about a year into the relationship that something was wrong. I’m a very honest person and I’ve never been unfaithful. I think some of the difficulty I had identifying as gay was associated with negative stereotypes linking gay men and promiscuity. I also wanted to have children so I could give them the life I never had when I was growing up. It was a very real, beautiful relationship and I thought I could make it work. In the end though she deserved a whole person and I wasn’t able to give her all of me.”
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Needless to say, Darren and Colby remain good friends. He describes her as an incredible woman and, these days, more like a sister to him. I return to the issue of children. Both biological and adoption routes remain open to him if he still wants to be a father.
“You know, it’s a bit sad,” he tells me, “I can go back and find interviews where I was desperate to be a dad. I’ve slowly changed over time. I would have loved being a father, but unfortunately or fortunately I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t imagine it in my future anymore. Sometimes that makes me sad because I think some lucky kid out there would have been spoiled rotten. I know I would have been a great dad, but the truth is I turn forty in May this year and I really love the life Richard and I have together.”
I wonder, unfairly perhaps, whether there’s actually room for another child in their relationship. When I see Darren’s excitement, usually posted on Twitter, over the latest addition to his Star Wars action figure and memorabilia collection, I can’t help wondering whether he is, to some extent, a child who never grew up. Two kids might be too much for Richard to handle. Hayes is a big Star Wars fan. I ask him whether there’s any truth in the story he auditioned for a role in the Star Wars prequels.
“It was ‘Revenge of The Sith’” he tells me, “or actually it would have been ‘Attack of The Clones.’ I didn’t really want to be an actor, but I had an agent in Hollywood because that’s what pop stars did back then. Anyway, I knew before my agent did that they were making new Star Wars movies and I kept calling him, saying George Lucas was casting and that he had to get me in. I don’t know if there was a favour pulled or not, but I ended up in front of a casting director in Sydney, Australia. She asked if I could do accents and so I did a couple for her. There was deathly silence. You have to remember it was the 90s and I had big hair back then. Then she said: “I’m looking at the script and I’m looking at you and I just… I don’t have anything for you.” I didn’t even make it to the reading point! She just took one look at me and decided it wasn’t going to work. Of course I could never have done it anyway. I was about to embark on a world tour, which would have completely clashed with the shooting schedule.”
As a final topic, I turn to his upcoming birthday. I ask him how he feels about turning forty, which for many is a difficult milestone, and whether or not he’s had the mandatory mid-life crisis most people associate with it.
“I think I have had my mid life crisis,” he explains. “I think it happened while I was making this record. I stood at this crossroads in my life and went: “Oh my God! I’ve potentially lived half my life! What have I achieved? What do I still want to do?” There were so many questions and I just ended up funnelling it all into my work.
The strange thing is, I love getting older. I always seemed to want to be something else, but now I feel very comfortable in my shoes, knowing what I’ve got to work with and what I’ll never have. I find that aspect very liberating.”
‘Bloodstained Heart’ is released on 26th February in the UK. Darren Hayes’ album, ‘Secret Codes and Battleships’, is already on sale.