“Damn right I am gay, damn right I am a homosexual, and I am proud of it.”
That statement could be the bravest thing Darren Hayes has said in his nearly 30-year music career.
For a man who has been brutally honest on all four of his previous solo albums, he’s got something even bigger to say on his latest project – his first new record in more than a decade, Homosexual. And it’s out now.
“It’s me completely unguarded,” Hayes tells 9Honey Celebrity.
Watch 9Honey’s interview with Darren Hayes in the videos at the top of the page.
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“To speak to the title, part of it is tongue-in-cheek but part of it is really rebellious because I am speaking to the fact that I was completely buried by a major record company because I was gay.
“I’m reclaiming that term because that used to be something to describe me in a negative sense. And it’s actually an amazing thing about me.”
But to his millions of fans around the world who grew up listening to Savage Garden in the 1990s, the fact Hayes is gay was something unknown to many.
“I was just so afraid that if the world knew who I really was, maybe they would reject me because I was rejecting myself.”
The frontman of the hugely successful Australian band from Brisbane kept his true identity a secret.
Instead, he created an “avatar”.
“I was expressing myself entirely through music: my fashion, my image, all of that stuff. It was sort of an avatar. I created an image that was able to host these big emotions and I was begging for help.”
Hayes and Daniel Jones were Savage Garden, still one of Australia’s most successful bands: 14 Arias, more than 23 million albums sold and two number ones in the US with Truly Madly Deeply and I Knew I Loved You.
But at the height of the band’s fame, Hayes had to hide a huge part of himself. Though he desperately tried to tell fans what was really going on.
“When I was singing ‘I believe you can’t control or choose your sexuality’ [in the song Affirmation] I was asking the world if they would still love me if I was gay. Because I didn’t know if they would,” he says.
“And I was dropping these breadcrumbs and these signals and these hints, because I was just so afraid that if the world knew who I really was, maybe they would reject me because I was rejecting myself every single day.”
Part of the reason for that, Hayes says, was because he was “still carrying around a lot of internalised shame, internalised homophobia”.
Hayes grew up in the 1970s in Slacks Creek, next to Woodridge, a working-class neighbourhood south of Brisbane.
His childhood was “rife with trauma”. His father was “a violent alcoholic”. The family had little money and moved from their small home to a caravan park when his mother, Judy, left her husband.
“He domestically abused my mother, he physically abused her and he physically abused his children and although my mother eventually divorced him, he’s not a part of our lives. That was, at the time, not something you could speak about.
“And as a very young child, I learned how to keep that secret and to carry his shame, as a lot of victims of abuse do.
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“I carried that around and then long before I even knew what gay was, I was called gay. My father was the first person to ever call me the F-word.
“When I was at school, children would ‘other’ me and tell me I was gay and I didn’t know what that meant.”
That chapter of Hayes’ life is explored throughout his music, both in Savage Garden and in his solo catalogue.
The Savage Garden song Two Beds and a Coffee Machine is about his mum, sister and brother, and Hayes, having to wait in a motel room while his father’s temper calmed down.
On Homosexual, the song Music Video takes listeners to Hayes’ school playground where bullies – and the principal – pick on him for being gay.
“I had a really innocent heart and nothing was sexual for me, everything was just about love,” Hayes says, about his childhood.
“And I learned very early on that if there was a boy that made my heart stop beating when he walked into the room, I couldn’t tell anyone that.
“Because if I did I would be policed, whether it be a school principal or even a well-meaning member of my family, I learned as a young boy: keep that a secret.
READ MORE: Darren Hayes says he’s ‘proud of the gay me’
“So much of the messaging I got as a child was that who I am was ugly, was something to be ashamed of, was something that I should keep secret.”
Hayes, himself, didn’t realise he was gay until much later, even if everyone around him seemed to know. He describes that self-denial as “almost like an identity disorder”.
“That part of me that was attracted to men, it was like my mind fractured and I managed to create this other personality, and that person I never let live. That person was just a secret, even to myself.”
He fell in love with a woman he met at university, Colby Taylor, and they got married.
”It was a very pure love, it was a fully functioning relationship, I loved her, it was amazing. But when I came out, when that relationship ended, I felt like I had destroyed her world and I wasn’t OK.”
They were married when Hayes was in his early 20s, when Savage Garden was at its peak.
“When I got divorced, I felt like I had ruined someone’s life … it took me many years to forgive myself.”
During that time, Hayes was dealing with an identity crisis of sorts. To the world, he had everything. But inside, Hayes was distraught.
“The public don’t realise that about me that for four, or five years at the height of my fame, I did not want to be gay,” he says.
“I hated the fact that I was gay. And all I really wanted to do was crawl home to her.”
Despite their best efforts to make the marriage work, Hayes and Taylor broke up and later divorced, with songs on Savage Garden’s 1999 album Affirmation revealing his heartbreak, in particular I Don’t Know You Anymore.
“They are songs about me begging her to take me back and her being this incredible woman saying to me, ‘I love you too much’… oh, I am going to start crying, ‘I love you too much to let you do this, you need to live your life’.”
The breakdown of Hayes’ marriage, coupled with a difficult childhood, caused a lot of damage.
“It took me a long time to like myself. When I got divorced, I felt like I had ruined someone’s life. And that was really, really hard and it took me many years to forgive myself.”
Hayes never cheated on his wife, even though he was coming to terms with his sexuality.
“I made a promise to someone, and I’m a monogamous person. And so it would have been really easy if I was the sort of person, and Colby was the sort of person, who said, ‘That’s OK, maybe you can just go and be with men and we can still be together’.
“We adored each other but we weren’t those people. So, I was incredibly lonely for a long time and I was famous and I didn didn’t have anyone that I could turn to.
“I think the public just saw somebody that was on top of the world and was having number ones and all those things.”
Hayes was suicidal at many times and has been honest about his struggles with mental health. He has major depressive disorder, a condition that runs through his family.
The song Poison Blood, off his new album, is a harrowing account of those close to Hayes who have taken their own lives and those who continue to fight – including Hayes.
The lyrics are raw: “And it’s not that I don’t want to live, it’s the pain that I wish I could kill, all the times that I wanted to die, I made a choice I was gonna survive. It’s a blessing, a gift and a curse, every day’s a decision to stay with my poison blood”.
It’s a stark admission of that internal turmoil Hayes was experiencing at the very height of his career and in the years when he went solo.
For this journalist, it’s hard to hear. Like so many around the world, I have loved Hayes from the beginning, following him from the first days of Savage Garden all the way to now.
We all have our favourite artists, and Hayes is my number one. Always has been, always will.
That he hated himself when I, and countless others, idolised him shows the separation between reality and fantasy.
“I will tell you that it was you, and it was fans, it was the audience that kept me alive, because what I looked out at and saw in the audience people were people that were struggling with their identity too,” he says.
“What I saw in young women especially, and why I have such an affinity with women is not just because I was raised by a mother who was a victim of domestic abuse and who is a survivor, but I really identified with the things that women and teens were going through, which were things like eating disorders, body dysmorphia. Just the awkwardness of being a human being in your early 20s where you just feel uncomfortable in your skin and you have these big, big emotions.”
Hayes released four solo albums after Savage Garden and later moved to the UK where he met and married his now husband Richard Cullen.
They have been married for 17 years and now live in the US with their dog Huxley.
He took 10 years off from music and studied improv, wrote a musical, did podcasts and developed the skills needed to do everything himself on the new album.
Hayes has performed, produced, arranged and composed everything, a goal he’s had since he was 13.
Homosexual is the Darren Hayes of now, finally completely free to be himself at age 50, a milestone he reached in May.
“There was so much about me that I hated. So, it’s been a long, long journey for me to like myself.”
The title, he says, is ”sort of an ‘f-you’ to the mega-corporation that, when they first saw my Insatiable video [off his first solo album Spin] panicked, and they buried me because they said, ‘He can’t have curly hair, it looks too feminine, he can’t dance in a music video, everyone will know that he is gay’.”
Hayes says he’s “rid of” the shame he experienced in his early life and career and is looking forward to sharing the album, and his tour, with old and new audiences.
“[This album] is saying, ‘Like me or not, this is who I am. Every fibre of me is present now in everything that I do’.
“It’s not a gay album, but it’s a huge part of who I am.”
Twelve years after his record label made him re-shoot the video for Insatiable because an executive said “he looks obviously gay”, Hayes was able to cast a male lead for the first time, gay actor Scott Evans – the brother of Chris Evans – in the video for Let’s Try Being in Love.
Released in January, it was Hayes’ first since single in more than a decade and he performed it at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade in March for the first time as an openly gay man.
That performance was also his first on home soil since 2011.
Now, Hayes is ready to reconnect with his fans after such a long break and is touring Australia next year.
“Once I am in front of a live audience, and I am connecting, and there is that generational thing – I’ve grown up with you, I’ve grown up with everybody, I’ve always loved that and that’s what I am looking forward to because it’s been so long since I’ve experienced that.”
Shows will begin in Perth on January 31 before moving to Melbourne, Sydney, Newcastle, Brisbane, and the Gold Coast. He then has dates in the UK and the US.
The title Do You Remember? is taken from the second single off Homosexual.
Hayes released his fourth single from the album last month, titled All You Pretty Things which is dedicated to the victims of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. The song is a tribute to the LGBTQI+ music pioneers who have influenced Hayes’ life and music.
It’s an album with a message and one that has the familiar, and incredible, vocals of the artist so many of us remember from his mega-hits of the 1990s.
But Hayes knows what his fans want, and a lot of that is his old music from Savage Garden.
So he’s giving them just that with the Do You Remember? tour.
This year marks 25 years since the first Savage Garden album and Hayes promises to “play the songs that you remember” because “we grew up together”: “I am going to play everything you want me to play.”
And he’s even put the call out to fans to suggest the setlist.
“I want to travel back in time with you. I want you to remember when you first bought that album, and I am going to take you to that place.”
The tour’s production was created by U2’s legendary show director Willie Williams (who Hayes has worked with previously on the Savage Garden tours) and will see him reunite with members of his original touring band from 1996.
“If you saw the Affirmation tour, if you had [the concert recording on VHS/DVD] Superstars and Cannonballs, you remember the Hold Me girl, if you remember those moments, and my big black spiky hair – I won’t be dyeing my hair black – it’s going to be on that scale.
“And it’s going to have these wonderful nostalgic moments. I’m going to play the songs that you remember, of course there’ll be some twists and things.
“For me, that first Savage Garden record is going to be a huge part of the setlist, also lots of songs from Affirmation and then songs that people know.
“I am not going to torture you with some obscure songs. There’ll be some mash-ups, there’ll be some fun moments, but ultimately this is: we grew up together, let’s remember, let’s reminisce, let’s celebrate.”
Next week, 9Honey Celebrity will share part two of this interview where Hayes describes how his new album is “recreating the gay youth” he was denied and what really happened to him when Savage Garden ended.
Homosexual is out now and is available on CD, vinyl or a digital download, here. Buy tickets for the Do You Remember? tour here.
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