Darren Hayes Interview on the Savage Garden split and release of new album Homosexual

Australian singer Darren Hayes has been “blamed” for breaking up a band he never wanted to leave.

The boys from Brisbane – Hayes and Daniel Jones – had mega hit after mega hit across two massive albums, their self-titled debut in 1997 and their hugely successful follow-up Affirmation in 1999.

But in 2001, what was an Australian music fairy tale came to an abrupt end – and Hayes was condemned.

Now, Hayes has opened up to give his opinion on the end of Savage Garden.

“I was blamed for that when my partner in the band, it was his decision to end the band,” Hayes said. Back in the 1990s, Savage Garden was on top of the world.

“And, although there’s nuance to that, yes, privately we had spoken about the fact that we weren’t sure about the timing of it because of legal reasons.

“The pact that we had made was that when the time came for me to release a solo album [in 2002], Daniel had promised me that he would tell the world that it was his idea, because everyone knows when a band breaks up everyone thinks it’s the singer has an ego.

“I never wanted the band to break up.”

Their hits were on repeat on the radio, dominating the charts between 1996 and 2001: Truly Madly Deeply, To The Moon and Back, I Knew I Loved You, I Want You, Break Me Shake Me, Affirmation, The Animal Song.

Together, Hayes and Jones sold more than 24 million albums and won 14 Arias in the band’s short life.

But Jones – by his own admission years later – hated the reality that came with being a pop star.

“I even said to Daniel, ‘Look, why don’t we just write my solo songs together?'” Hayes says.

“I did everything in my power to keep him happy because he was so sad, which I had an enormous amount of empathy for. He was so sad being away from home and being in the public eye, but I never thought about having a solo career.

“Can you imagine the pressure of having to have a solo career when you didn’t want to be a solo artist, but also you were gay and you knew the record company at that point didn’t want to have a gay artist?”

Hayes is speaking about his past as he looks to the future.

He’s just released his fifth solo album, Homosexual, and is touring Australia in early 2023.

But things are vastly different for Hayes now from what they were at the height of the band’s fame, when he was hiding his sexuality from the world behind what he calls “an avatar”.

Hayes explained how throughout his time in Savage Garden, he was expressing himself “entirely through music” and “dropping these breadcrumbs and these signals and these hints” about his true sexual identity.

In those years, Hayes was married to a woman, Colby Taylor, but they later divorced in 2000.

It was only years later, in 2005, that Hayes announced to the world he had married his boyfriend, Richard Cullen. Now, 17 years later, they remain happily married.

“I am so grateful I was never ‘outed’ because I wasn’t ‘in the closet’,” Hayes says of his time in Savage Garden and then in the early years of his solo career.

“Everyone who knew me in my personal life knew that I was gay, certainly the record company knew that I was gay, and they were working very actively to destroy my career.

“It was heartbreaking”.

Since the end of the band, Hayes has gone on to release five solo albums. His latest, Homosexual, comes after an 11-year break from the music industry.

Many fans feared he might never return. Hayes, too, was unsure.

Hayes has come out the other side stronger than before, surviving a battle with his former record label that didn’t support his music and basically left him out to fend for himself.

“When I shot the music video for Insatiable [off his first solo album Spin] I looked exactly like I do today, and the label saw it and said, ‘He looks gay, he looks obviously gay, we need to reshoot this music video’.

“They cancelled all of my promotion within the United States, my launch as a solo artist in the US after selling 24 million albums was a meet and greet with some press and then they just shipped me off to Europe.

“Well, thank God, in Europe it was just so much more progressive and Europe and England loved me.”

But, Hayes says, those at the record company “effectively destroyed” his career.

“I don’t blame Australians for thinking ‘whatever happened to Darren Hayes?’ Well, I was buried.”

Jones’ decision to step away from Savage Garden wasn’t a personal attack on Hayes.

But to this day, Hayes questions why Jones has never set the record straight on why the band ended.

“Had I held on to that resentment, even about the breakup of the band, I am not in Daniel Jones’ life but I have forgiven him.

“I’m very protective of the legacy of the band, and no-one wants to see us argue, and I love the music that we created and those memories.”

Even if Savage Garden lasted longer than they did, Hayes believes he and Jones would have eventually grown apart.

“The music changed. Music took an abrupt right angle right when Savage Garden ended and I’m so proud,” he says.

“I don’t often like to speak on behalf of Daniel but I’ve heard him say this before and I think we would both agree, we’re proud that we left on a high note.

“We had this perfect, untouchable record of these two magnificent records, and I love that we left it exactly the way that it is.”

After the release of his four previous solo albums, Hayes took 10 years off from music.

He studied improv, wrote a musical, did podcasts and developed the skills needed to do everything himself on his new album.

“It forced me to develop new skills, and this album I’m so proud of because on the back of the cover it says produced, performed, orchestrated, everything is me.”

Hayes turned 50 in May and says he’s finally able to present himself as a happy and openly gay artist. But it was a long time coming.

“I realised in therapy that my whole life had been a momentum that was created from this one dream that I had had when I was 13, saw Michael Jackson in concert at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre. I said, ‘I am going to do that one day’.

“Ten years later we [Savage Garden] sold out that same venue. All of a sudden I was 40, I had achieved all of my dreams and yet I felt kind of a bit empty and I didn’t know why. And it was because I had probably stopped challenging myself, I had stopped enjoying myself.

“I took time out but I was really sad. I was deeply sad and it took awhile for me to realise, like my sexuality, which is such an integral part of my soul, being an artist also is and I was denying that.”

After seeing the 2017 film Call Me By Your Name, Hayes wrote Let’s Try Being In Love which became his first single in 11 years and the first release from Homosexual.

The song, he says, is “really about libido, about still feeling attractive and vital and handsome and sexually available in your 50s”.

“I just thought, ‘I need to feel the nectar of life again’ and that song is very autobiographical. I was craving to feel what it felt like to be in love again and I’m happily married but it’s easy to be complacent, and I think I was complacent in my life and once I dipped back into music, into synthesisers and into the ecstasy of sound, that’s when I started to find myself and I started to confront some of the sadness I was experiencing.”

Homosexual is Hayes “reliving, reimaging and recreating a gay youth I never got to experience”.

“I didn’t get to go to clubs, I didn’t get to hold a boy’s hand, I didn’t get to have a kiss on the dance floor but you know what I did get to do? Make a music video where I could cast Chris Evans’ brother [gay actor Scott Evans],” he says.

“I just thought, ‘I am going to make a music video about what it felt like when I came out’, and it was both the most horrific experience of my life and the most joyful experience of my life at the same time.”

But what is next for Hayes, who clearly has achieved more than many other musicians?

As parents to Australian Labradoodle, Huxley, I ask whether becoming a father is something in his and Cullen’s future.

“I just feel like I would be such a good dad that I would disappear again, so the good news is I don’t have the biological clock that forces me to,” Hayes says.

“I know Richard would be such a good dad. I wouldn’t rule it out. It’s not happening in the next couple of years because I have a lot of touring and stuff to do but I love children and we have our dog Huxley, he’s a big child, he’s two-and-a-half years of age but I wouldn’t rule it out. I love children.”

Hayes will be keeping busy for the coming months, anyway. He’s touring Australia, the UK, the US and Canada early next year playing songs from his solo career and Savage Garden.

It’s 25 years since the first Savage Garden album came out and he’s promising fans “wonderful nostalgic moments”.

“I am going to play everything you want me to play,” Hayes says of the Do You Remember? tour.

“It is a thrilling time. I just feel really lucky.”

Homosexual is out now and is available on CD, vinyl or a digital download now.

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Sarah Meere
Sarah Meere
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