On his latest solo album, “Next Year People,” Colin Hay sings of Depression-era farmers, mortality and forging ahead. Having sold 60 million albums as the frontman for the Australian rock band Men at Work, he might be familiar with these themes. Hay, who got a second spike of popularity with the “Garden State” soundtrack, also endured some serious setbacks in recent years — a court found that the band’s hit “Down Under” infringed on the nursery rhyme “Kookaburra,” and former bandmate Greg Ham died. Hay, 61, spoke to us from his Los Angeles home.
Q: What got you thinking about the Depression while you were working on this album?
A: Well, I was just on the road, and I think it was a Ken Burns documentary on television one night. It was really affecting, for many reasons, but mainly because it’s a look at the human condition. It’s a recipe for madness, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result — yet that’s exactly what these guys did. More than anything, it was that blind hope that things will get better. That’s what I picked up on. My situation, while not being anywhere as grim, I think I do have that thing where I’ve been touring for years and years and thinking it was going to get better all the time, yet I was playing to fewer people comparatively.
Q: The problem with your situation is that you peaked so early in life with Men at Work. There’s no way to repeat that.
A: There were a lot of things that conspired to create our success. The planets just lined up and there you are. You can’t replicate it. When that was gone, there was no real foundation. We were a pop band. And there’s always more pop bands.
Q: At what point did you stop chasing that fame?
A: You have to trick yourself into letting go, but on some level, you always are.
Q: The funny thing is that with all the streaming services, satellite radio and retro stations, Men at Work gets more airplay now than ever.
A: That’s true. It’s never really stopped. It’s always on rotation somewhere.
Q: How did the “Down Under” lawsuit affect you?
A: Financially, it was ridiculous. All you could do is laugh at the amount that was spent on that case.
Q: You lived the first 14 years of your life in Scotland, launched the band in Australia and spent the last 25 years in Los Angeles. Where is home?
A: I do consider myself to be Scottish. I consider myself to be Australian. I consider myself to be American as well. I feel like I’m at home here. People have been very kind to me in the States. I have a lot of friends here. I think that’s what really connects you to a place.