By Keith Sharp
It started out as a vocal/piano exercise with Men Without Hats’– Ivan Doruschuk utilizing time off during the COVID-19 pandemic, and deciding to re-record an EP of some of his favourite songs.
“It was when I was recording a version of The Tragically Hip’s “Blow At High Dough” as a vocal/piano track that I thought, `what would this sound like if we gave it the full Men Without Hits treatment and that’s what got the current project going,” noted Doruschuk from his Victoria, B.C residence. “So, we released a five-song EP title “Again Pt 1” (which featured tracks by Lou Reed, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, The Tragically Hip plus a rework of their classic Safety Dance, retitled “No Friend Of Mine”) and that’s what sparked the idea of recording a new album.”
“We hadn’t recorded a new album for the past 10 years (referring to their 2011 ‘Love In The Age Of War’ yet we have toured consistently since 2010 and our fans were requesting new music,” Doruschuk continued. “So, I started searching through the vaults for original material, songs I had written on the bus during our previous tours and once we got into the studio, that experience sparked new songs. We ended up with 14 new tracks so what you have is a 40-year retrospective of Men Without Hats (titled `Again Pt.2)
Although the album’s tracks reflect a lengthy period, the end result is brim full of the band’s infectious EDM dance vibe and the lyrics are timeless yet somehow apropos to today’s environment. “Yes, there’s songs about the environment (“If The World Should End Today, The Human Race), Love (“All In The Stars”, “The Love Inside Your Heart”) and the meaning of life (“Just Another Day”, “Nancy’s Room) yet they all seem to be relevant today even though some of the songs were written years ago.”
Also adding authenticity to the project are song arrangements that reverberate with the band’s original synthesized sound., even though today’s instruments have drastically advanced since the mid 1980’s when the band enjoyed the original success with “The Safety Dance” and “Pop Goes The World”, (both songs were inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame earlier this year).. “Yes, we’ve kept about 20 of our original synthesizers, including a Prophet 5 synthesizer that was used during the recording of “Safety Dance” boasted Doruschuk, “We wanted to make this album as authentic as possible.”
Originating out of Montreal in 1977 as a punk outfit, Men Without Hats evolved into a synthesizer band when Doroschuk linked up with his two brothers Stefan and Colin plus Jeremie Arrobas (heavily influenced by the likes of Gary Numan, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark and Ultravox), to release their first EP `Folk Of the 80’s’. They then went through a revolving door of musicians (which featured the likes of The Box leader Jean-Marc Pisapia and Rational Youth frontman Tracey Howe) before Ivan and Stefan joined forces with Alan McCarthy to record ‘Rhythm Of Youth’ in 1982 which featured their breakthrough hit “Safety Dance” A video of that song became such an instant hit on the pubescent MTV, it helped push Safety Dance to a No.3 on Billboard in the States, No.6 in the UK and even No.1 in South Africa.
“That song just seemed to connect with people, it just seemed to strike a nerve,” Doroschuk enthused who wouldn’t disagree if it was pointed out that “Safety Dance” sparked the entire EDM dance movement in North America.
The band’s follow up two releases; ‘Folk Of The 80’s’ (1984) and ‘Freeways’ didn’t fare as well but ‘Pop Goes The World’ (1987) and its title track sparked a return to form with that single reaching No 20 on the U.S Billboard charts. But as musical tastes changed, the band’s next two albums (‘The Adventures Of Men And Women Without Hate In The 21st Century (1989) and ‘Sideways’ (1991) failed to make any commercial impact and the band disbanded after being dropped by their Polydor record label.
A temporary comeback was attempted with the release of ‘No Hats Beyond This Point’ in 2003 but it was 2010 when a total relaunch of the band was executed when Ivan, brother Colin and guitarist Sho Murray joined forces to perform at the Rifflandia Festival in Victoria BC September 24th, and the positive response to that performance encouraged the band to record a new album ‘Love In The Age Of War’ in 2011.
Since that point, Men Without Hats has toured constantly as 80s synth bands have enjoyed a renaissance. Doroschuk points out bands such as A Flock Of Seagulls, Howard Jones, Midge Ure and OMD are busier now than they were at the peak of their popularity. “For us, it’s been none-stop touring, we’ve criss-crossed North America, toured Europe, South Africa, I think we’ve been to Scandinavia twice, we’ve done cruise ships and festivals, we’ve never been busier.”
A touring itinerary that has sparked a demand by their fan base for new material and Doroschuk is happy to oblige with an album that positively reflects their EDM roots yet is current enough to synergize with current trends.
“We just feel fortunate to still be able to do this after all of these years,” concluded Doroschuk. “For us, the pressure is off, we are not doing this just to pay the rent, we are just doing it for fun. I think of all the hockey players who didn’t make the NHL. For every one that does, there are thousands of quality players who don’t make it. Same with hit singles, for every hit single we have created we are aware that there are thousands of quality songs which don’t become hits, so we are thankful for any amount of success we have achieved.”
Doroschuk is aware that recording albums may be a dying art with the advent of social media but he claims he does still have a catalogue of new material and the enjoyment the trio experienced in recording Again (PT.2) will encourage them to release more songs in the future.
As for touring, Men Without Hats are set to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their `Rhythm Of Youth’ release by spend two weeks in the United Kingdom in May followed by further dates in continental Europe. Then, they will cross the Atlantic for a “Lost In The Eighties” package tour of the United States also featuring A Flock Of Seagulls, Wang Chung and English Beat before heading north for a major Canadian tour this Fall.