Since their formation in 1978, Men Without Hats have been at the forefront of popular electronic music, creating worldwide anthems of joy and positivity that have weathered all musical styles and trends, mirroring and recounting the mysteries and challenges of the space and time we live in.
Now, as we approach the dawn of a new era, it’s the perfect time to listen to Men Without Hats… again.
Again (Part 1), is a five-song EP featuring covers of Lou Reed, The Rolling Stones, and David Bowie, along with an all-new reimagined version of the group’s signature hit “The Safety Dance,” reimagined as “No Friends of Mine.”
The record marks the beginning of yet another phase of MWH’s storied career, coming on the heels of both “The Safety Dance” and 1987’s “Pop Goes the World” being inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2020. With founding members Ivan and Colin Doroschuk now joined full-time by guitarist Sho Murray, the group recorded Again (Part 1)—along with the forthcoming all-original Again (Part 2)—throughout the last half of 2020 at its studio on Vancouver Island where the Doroschuk brothers have resided for over 20 years since moving from their hometown of Montreal. The decision to make an EP of covers was intended to offer a glimpse of some of the (perhaps unlikely) artists that have been longtime MWH favourites.
“Recording this record was an almost magical experience, we put together our own studio in a house high up in the mountains overlooking the Pacific Ocean on Vancouver Island and spent seven months in total isolation making music from sunrise to sundown, with only a family of 13 peacocks for company. Some of the songs are brand new, some were written over the past 10 years on the road, making demos in the back of the tour bus, and some were written way back in the ’80s and never recorded until now. The new album is a good window into where the band is at presently after reforming in 2010, and it’s a great preview of more things to come,” said lead vocalist Ivan Doroschuk.
Although Again (Part 1) is a look back into the past, the actual recording process once again demonstrated that Men Without Hats remains on the cutting edge of technology, just as the Doroschuks were in the early 1980s. It’s part of what’s helped the band weather every musical trend that has come since to the point where “The Safety Dance” is now one of the most instantly recognizable songs in the world.
Since forming Men Without Hats over four decades ago, the band broke onto the mainstream scene with your 1982 record, Rhythm of Youth. This was a moment in your career that would later play a pivotal role in influencing Synth-Pop, and New Wave sound. What has the journey been like thus far?
Ivan Doroschuk (ID): “Having my songs be such a memorable part of 80’s pop culture is truly a blessing. I’ve spent the past years sharing the stage with some of my favourite bands, meeting some of my favourite musicians, and I’ve travelled all over the world making people dance and be happy. I’d say the journey has been quite interesting, to say the least!”
You make mention in other interviews that you see New Wave as a blend of Progressive rock and Disco. How did you guys go from Punk rock origins to the later sounds of New Wave and Synth-Pop? Who was it you looked up to? What appealed to you most about synthesizers and New Wave?
ID: “We started off as a guitar noise-punk band, listening to the Sex Pistols and the Contortions, then moved to full-on synthesizers after hearing “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” by Gary Numan. I grew up listening to Genesis, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Yes, etc…and was heavy into early 70’s R&B, later known as Disco, so I was channeling those influences when I started MWH. That plus the new wave bands of the moment, like OMD and Ultravox.”
The band’s name came about following a self-described principle of “style before comfort,” when refusing to wear hats during Montreal’s cold winters. Over the course of your lengthy career, can you think of another time when you or your bandmates may have gone “against the grain” and how it may have positively influenced the narrative of the band going forward?
ID: “We got a lot of grief at the beginning for using a rhythm box instead of a real drummer, although the complaints usually dissipated when we turned the thing on. The machine was loud and tight and never missed a beat, unlike a lot of drummers I’ve met in my life, and as Phil Collins once said, ‘a good drummer will make a bad band sound good, but a bad drummer will make a good band sound like shit.’ Having no drummer also made it really easy for us to set up in front of other bands when we got an opening slot, and our agents would use that as a selling point for us.”
After the group disbanded in 1993, you went on to record several demos, along with your solo record The Spell, in 1997. Years later in 2003, you released a record with MWH titled No Hats Beyond This Point, officially reforming the group in 2010. What inspired you to spark the return of the band?
ID: “A few things, the fact that our music had permeated pop culture to such a degree and that our music had been introduced to a whole new generation of fans, via shows like Glee and Family Guy. Also, the fact that today’s pop music contains a lot of elements of ‘80s music, big drum sounds, synthesizers, electronic voices, etc… that made it easier for us to fit in with the current scene and keep performing. New bands naming us as their influence helped us in a big way to make the decision to keep on going, and finally, guys like Mick Jagger who is still out there doing it are a major inspiration as well.”
Having had the opportunity over the last decade to tour in parts of the world you had yet to visit, explain the importance of Dance music in this day and age, and your hope when looking to connect with a new generation of fans eager to appreciate ‘80s influences within their own current brand of pop.
ID: “Like I’ve said before, 80’s sound is everywhere, and the thought of having young people hear our music for maybe the first time is exciting. I think that the reason ‘80s music is still around is the same reason Disco is still with us – it’s dance music. It’s also a musical style that lends itself to solo artists, unlike rock or heavy metal. It’s the ultimate DIY genre, one person with a synth or even just a computer can sound like a whole orchestra, which was always appealing to me.”
As a follow-up to Love in the Age of War, the band recently announced Men Without Hats Again (Parts 1 & 2), with the first part of the project featuring a reimagined version of your smash hit “Safety Dance,” titled “No Friends of Mine.” What did the initial creative vision look like? Explain the importance of wanting to cater to a new era of music, while of course preserving sonic elements of the ‘80s.
ID: “This whole project started out as a covers album for piano and voice – I wanted to pay tribute to some of my favourite musicians and put my own spin onto already iconic tunes. I think that covers are under-rated. Watching songs morph over time in ways that the original songwriter may have never considered is such a cool thing. Angel Olson recently released an EP of ‘80s covers including The Safety Dance which was fun to see and goes to show again that music these days is still heavily influenced by the ‘80s!”
Among the track, the listener is given a glimpse into the band’s influences with covers of songs from bands like The Rolling Stones and The Tragically Hip. Explain the creative experimentation when looking to incorporate your New Wave, Electro-Pop sound, to not only complement the musical stylings of these classics but also make them “your own.”
ID: “I like to take songs and give them the MWH “treatment”, which usually means making a dancefloor track out of it. High BPM, big kick and snare, pulse bass, synth hooks, etc…More like a remix than a remake.”
What can fans and new listeners expect from MWH on the second half of the project to follow?
ID: “You’ll receive a big mix on the next project. Some of the songs are brand new, some were written in the ‘80s and never made it past the demo stage, and some were written in the back of the tour bus on the road during the past 10 years, It is a good window into where the band is at presently, and I’m excited to share. We had a lot of fun making these records and it shows in the production and the performances, it’s great when that happens.”
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