Men Without Hats are Safety Dancing Again

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Interview with Ivan Doroschuk of Men Without Hats

Men Without Hats released their EP Again Part I today, including a reimagined version of the era defining Safety Dance.

Coming up to its 40th Anniversary, that song launched a rich career for the band because of TV/Movie placements, is reaching a brand new generation of fans.

Montreal Rocks spoke with Ivan Doroschuk about the band origin, the legacy of the Safety Dance, the Again Part I EP and where to find Ivan when he’s visiting Montreal.

Watch the full Interview

Origin Story

Ivan grew up in a house that listened to both Classical & Country music.

As a child of the 70s in Montreal, he was very influenced by Progressive Rock.

“Bands like Genesis, Peter Gabriel are some of my biggest influences.  I always said that New Wave, for me, was Progressive Rock Music, keyboard music plus Disco.”

Back in those days, finding new music was a quest of epic proportions.  

One night, Ivan was listening to CHOM-FM and they played a full side of Autobahn from Kraftwerk.  

“That was a game changer for me.  It blew my mind, it was off the charts.”

More than just the music, was the mystery of who this band was.  “In those days, they would play hours of music and not tell you who it was.”

Another song that resonated with Ivan was David Bowie Space Oddity.  “I kept hearing it in the middle of the night on CKGM-FM, as it was called back then.”

He heard the song, fell in love with it, but again, didn’t know who it was that sang it.

As he came home from school one day, he heard Space Oddity coming out of his brother’s bedroom.  Colin was listening on his turntable trying to figure out the Mick Ronson guitar parts.

Mystery solved.

The only algorithms feeding you new music were your older family members, or friends.  You might even listen to the radio and stay quiet as you recorded songs from a Shoebox Cassette Tape Recorder.  

Surfin Bird Zine

Another way to discover music was through the underground Zines.  These were homemade, photocopied DIY efforts with a treasure trove of undiscovered bands. 

Ivan was one of the cool McGill College kids with a Zine he called Surfin Bird.

“It was the whole DIY attitude and the blend of new music, new art, new clothes, new hairdos.  It was a whole new approach to art.”

Law School

The Zine era coincided with Ivan’s return from the South of France where he studied law.  

Ivan was less interested on what was going on inside the faculty building, which was right on the beach.  His interest was more in his morning view from the stairs of the fishermen bringing in their catch, as he sipped on his coffee.  

“It’s there I realized I didn’t want to be a lawyer, I wanted to rock.”

McGill

Upon his return, Ivan enrolled in the new Film & Communications Program where he met musicians like Dave Hill and John Gurrin who were the original members of Men Without Hats.

“It was just a DIY thing.  You didn’t need the whole machine behind you.  You just needed the want to do it, that’s all.  That was the whole Punk Rock attitude.”

Back in those days, shows would feature both Hardcore Punk and New Wave bands sharing the same stage.

“So, the ethics sort of blended.  The Punk bands tried to get a little commercial, and the commercial bands tried to get more edge to them.”

Origin of Safety Dance

Rock Lobster is playing in a club in Ottawa.  Ivan and his friends start to Pogo dance. 

Back in the 80s, the Pogo and it’s slightly more violent twin Slam Dancing was not permitted by bouncers.

“We were getting kicked out every time we started jumping up and down.  They thought we were fighting.  I went home and I wrote We Can Dance If We Want To.”

Of course, that went on to be one of the biggest songs of the 80s, which upon listening to again, would fit in as new release in 2021. 

In fact, with the Pandemic, the Safety Dance might take on an entirely new meaning!  

When asked if The Safety Dance was a blessing or a curse, Ivan quickly responded: “Definitely a blessing.”

You might think that playing the song over and over for 3 decades would get tiring, but not for the band.

“I enjoy playing it every time.  I enjoy talking about it.  I feel that the song is bigger than myself or the band.  I’ve come to realize that a lot more people know the song than who does it.”

Not only does The Safety Dance stand the test of time, but it is also being discovered by the kids and even grandkids of the older fans who bring them to the shows.

“Sometimes I feel like a museum curator, going around and presenting this artifact around the world to people.”

Of course, Pop Goes the World also hit Gold status in Canada.

“When bands start off, they think everything they do is going to be a hit.  You realize as the years go on, that’s not the case.  I’m doubly blessed.”

Safety Dance Video

Sometimes, it’s a mixture of talent and being at the right place at the right time that makes or breaks a band in this crazy business.

“Like they say in the restaurant business:  Location, location, location.  In the music business, it’s:  Timing, timing timing.”  

The video was released at the birth of MTV which only had a limited number of videos to play, so The Safety Dance got heavy rotation.

“It was the new wave.  We were at the right place, at the right time, with the right song.”  

The video was also out of the ordinary for the time, with this medieval Morris Dance.

“That’s what adds to the longevity and timelessness of the song.  It surprised a lot of people because they expected Mr. New Wave.”

Ivan believes: “Today cool is tomorrow fool.” 

Instead of zippers and gelled up hair, “we come out looking like Peter Pan or the Pied Piper.  It doesn’t look dated.”

By not trying to be cool…Men Without Hats stayed cool throughout the decades.

Again Part I

From Punk in the early days to New Wave to guitar oriented music with Sideways, the band has come full circle to their signature sound on Part I.  

The new EP features songs from Lou Reed, Mott The Hoople, The Tragically Hip, The Rolling Stones and a mellow remake of The Safety Dance entitled No Friends of Mine.

Several years ago, plans were in motion to put a hold on tours, take some time off, isolate themselves and make this record, before the Pandemic hit.

The project started as Ivan was reimagining a best of Men Without Hats on piano and voice.  No Friends of Mine comes from that project.

“As the project grew along, I started adding a few covers to it.  I did The Tragically Hip song on piano and voice.”

Like a snowball going down a hill, the project took on more momentum and expanded.

“It grew into a cover record and 12 original songs.”

Some songs were written 40 years ago, some on the road in the last 10 years and others from the top of the Malahat Skywalk (Vancouver, BC) while recording the record.  

Colin Doroschuk, now back full time in the band, also wrote some of the songs.

To pull off a New Wave version of Blow At High Dough…well…hats off to the boys (pun intended).

Again Part II

For those few that heard the next project, the original songs, they say it reminds them more of Pop Goes the World.  

“It’s more of an orchestral concept.  There is a lot happening, it’s not purely a Techno album.” 

Montreal

Ivan grew up in NDG, but also lived in Old Montreal and St-Agathe

When Ivan is in town, you might see him walk from NDG to downtown.

“I like to walk back in my old haunts.  I’m a big walker.”

For the last 20 years, he’s been in Victoria on Vancouver Island. 

“I miss Montreal.”

What’s Next?

Men Without Hats are currently finishing off some shows in the US with Flock of Seagulls.

Next year is the 40th Anniversary of Rhythm of Youth so the band has a special tour planned where they will play the album in its entirety as the first set.  

“It’s one thing people have been asking us for a long time.”  

Conclusion


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Writer: Randal Wark is a Professional Speaker and MasterMind Facilitator with a passion for live music.  You can follow him on InstagramTwitter and YouTube. His Podcast RockStar Today helps musicians quit their day jobs with out-of-the-box advice from Ted Talk Speakers, Best Selling Authors and other interesting Entrepreneurs and Creatives. He created the Rock Star Today MasterMind Experience for musicians. Randal also is a collector of signed vinyl.

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