Men Without Hats are best known for their 1983 smash “The Safety Dance,” followed four years later in the Top 20 with “Pop Goes the World.” But this “one-hit wonder with two hits,” as songwriter/frontman Ivan Doroschuk describes his Canadian New Wave band, is off to a new start. After some personnel changes and renewed touring in 2011, the band today released Love in the Age of War, its first album in 10 years. Doroschuk spoke with Rolling Stone about universal discontent, meeting fellow Canadian hitmaker Carly Rae Jepsen and getting back in the game that is again welcoming New Wave with open arms.
Love in the Age of War is your first studio album in ten years. What has kept you from recording for so long, and why was this the right time?
I’ve been a stay-at-home dad for the last ten years, so that’s the main reason. But besides the fact that my son was getting old enough to take care of himself, and me wanting to get back into the business, it was hearing “Pop Goes The World” and “Safety Dance” still in the pop culture and commercials and TV shows and movies and whatnot. And also just hearing Eighties influences in new music today. A lot of synthesizers coming back, a lot of big drum sounds. So it just seemed like the moment was right.
I was going to ask you about that because New Wave has come back around to being influential in rock. The new record sounds very much like the Men Without Hats that everyone knows but also very modern. Did this new influence play a role in your production of the album?
Well, first of all, [producer] Dave Ogilvie had a lot to do with the sound. He really brought the classic sound up to date. But the two of us went into this record kind of pretending that we were making it back in the Eighties. We wanted to make a record like a follow-up to [1982’s Rhythm of Youth], a son of “Safety Dance,” because when I did Pop Goes the World [in 1987], technology had changed. MIDI came in, you know, all the instruments could talk to each other, there were sequencing programs and computers started coming in, so Pop Goes the World was a lot more orchestral than the “Safety Dance” record.
So for this record, we went and pretended that we were working on a 24-track machine, for example, and not the virtual, infinity-plus-one number of tracks that you can get today. We went out and got the old synths that we used back then, we went and got the identical instruments, so it wasn’t soft synths, it was really real synthesizers.
In writing the record, what were some of the prevalent themes that you wanted to get across?
I think the first single, “Head Above Water” – it’s representative of the album, because that’s the kind of thing I wanted to touch on. I’ve been noticing a general malaise in society, an uneasiness. There’s been the Occupy movement … I’m from Montreal originally and I just went back recently and there are student revolts there that have been going on for three or four months. Pretty heavy, too. It seems to be kind of a worldwide thing and everybody seems to be asking themselves questions: What is life all about? Is it really about oil and terrorists and the housing bubble? That’s what our life has been reduced to. Everybody’s in the same boat. We’re all trying to keep our heads above water. We’re all trying to pay the rent. We’re all trying to keep our jobs. Name me one family that doesn’t have family problems. It seems to be this general, worldwide feeling of unrest, that life isn’t turning out the way people expected it to.
Yeah, exactly. But you might as well dance in the meantime.
That’s always been our thing. Right from the beginning. It was getting social commentary across while you’re dancing. A lot of bands have got the same message, but they transmit it in a different fashion. Sometimes the message gets lost. That’s always been my thing with the Hats. It’s always been a hardcore pop band.
So what other artists do you listen to?
I’ve always been a big fan of Seventies progressive music. I still listen to a lot of that. But I try to keep up to date with everything that’s going on now, too. I do listen to a lot of the new stuff, a lot of good bands from Montreal, like Arcade Fire and Grimes. And there are a couple in Toronto, Metric is one of them. There’s a lot of new stuff that’s pretty cool.
Yeah, and a lot of it is coming out of Canada. Have you heard Carly Rae Jepsen?
Yeah, I was hanging out with her the other day.
You were? How did that come about?
Well, Dave Ogilvie mixed her record. I just went to the office for a meeting with him one day and she was there.
What did you guys talk about?
Well, it turns out she’s a big Men Without Hats fan.
Many people mostly know Men Without Hats from “The Safety Dance“ and “Pop Goes The World.“ Is there a bigger picture of the band that you think people are missing that you think might come through with this record?
Yeah! Well, we’ve always been the one-hit wonder with two hits … But we have the greatest bunch of fans! That’s one thing that also has been blessing to me. When I went out to tour last year, we had people who had been waiting, in some cases, 25 years to see us. It was so awesome. And these people – they’re my best cheerleaders, they’re the first ones who are telling people, “You’ve gotta look beyond ‘Safety Dance.’ You’ve gotta look beyond ‘Pop Goes The World.’ There’s more stuff there.” They’re doing a good job with that. There are so many bands out there, I listen to Seventies music, and even in that era, I discover so many bands that it just amazes and it’s almost heartbreaking sometimes to see how many people put their life and their heart and their soul into this and never got heard. There are hundreds of records coming out every day now.
Because people can do it themselves now.
Right, that’s it, every guy who has a laptop has got a studio, and if they’ve got a printer, they’ve got a label. The amount of music and the amount of people that put their life and, like I said before, their fortune, their families, everything into this and in most of the cases – 99% of the cases – never been heard. So for me to be heard, one song is a blessing, twice is just twice as much. Anything else is just bonus for me. That people are still listening to my music 20 years, 30 years later, it blows me away.
So what would you consider success for this record? Are you going for radio or TV appearances?
Oh, the whole thing. As far as it’ll take us. I’m back. We’re gonna be touring this one and hopefully in the back of the bus on the next tour I’ll be writing the next record.
What are your touring plans?
Last year we went out with the Human League and the B-52s and did a few shows with Devo. Both the Human League and B-52s have asked us back this summer to do shows with them. And after that we’re doing a Canadian tour, and then we’re coming back to the States with Bow Wow Wow in the fall.
That‘ll be fun. You just mentioned hopefully writing the next record on the bus. So you have thought ahead to doing a next one?
Oh, yeah! As long as the songs are coming, I’m there. All it took was for me to be back in a band format, back in the Men Without Hats context, the juices started flowing.