With the release of his 5th studio album “Homosexual” Australian singer-songwriter Darren Hayes finds self-acceptance in letting go of other peoples expectations, and freedom in proudly owning his sexuality, to finally become the person he’s always longed to be.
Made up of 14 deeply personal, introspective tracks – each entirely written, performed and produced by Darren over the past two years from his base in Los Angeles – the record sees Hayes take listeners on a journey through time, as he begins the process of healing from the torment of his past, addressing the painful events that lead him to the point of near despair, and ultimately making peace with with all of the (perceived) broken pieces of his soul, to produce a spiritually uplifting, fearless body of work that is guaranteed to resonate with fans around the world!
In a open letter to fans, shared online earlier this year, a defiant Darren said of the record: “I named my album ‘Homosexual’ for a variety of reasons. The most obvious, is that I’m a gay man who grew up in an era when that word was used to shame and vilify people like me, so I wanted to reclaim it. I’m also a recording artist who came up in an era where being openly gay was frowned upon and I experienced first-hand, the attempted erasure of my true identity from the marketing department of a major record label. But perhaps the most important reason I chose this title is that in 2022 I’m living in a time and in a country where the freedoms of LGBTQI+ people are more at risk than they’ve ever been. Moments like the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill in Florida, or the constant attacks on trans people, have made it clear to me that now is the time to be as loud as possible about who I am.”
“So on the front cover of my album, I’m proudly lounging upon my version of a stairway to heaven. Blazoned across me, in the brightest hot pink neon, is a word the 11-year-old me used to be terrified of. I lounge proudly underneath the electric buzz of this symbol, this term that used to be used to denigrate people like me. Now it’s my word. Now it means whatever I want it to mean. If you haven’t worked it out yet, I think it means something magical, amazing, unique and essential.”
“My name is Darren Hayes. And I’m a proud Homosexual.”
Darren Hayes x Let’s Try Being In Love (Official Music Video)
To celebrate the release of his first album in over decade, we caught up with Darren from his new home in Los Angeles to talk the healing power of creation, musical inspiration, ageism and what his younger self would think of the bold, brave man he is today…
Throughout the course of the last 8 months, you’ve slowly and tentatively eased yourself back into the world of pop after spending a decade out of the spotlight. With the release of ‘Homosexual’ today – how does it feel to be living the life of a popstar again?
That’s a great question! I would say, on the whole I feel great… but after spending 10+ years out of the business, there’s a lot to catch up on (laughs). And so any moments or feelings of anxiety that I do have, I think stem from the fact that whilst I may have been inactive in the world of entertainment for decade, the entertainment industry itself hasn’t (been inactive), so a lot of things have moved on, and almost every aspect of the business has changed, to the point where I feel like I’m new new artist starting out all over again!
Does that then perhaps make the prospect of releasing new music again seem more daunting than it did before, or do you feel invigorated by the challenge and excited to embrace those changes?
Erm… all of the above (laughs). Listen I’ll be honest with you, there’s a lot that I’d forgotten about the inner workings of the industry, and a lot about the ‘business’ that I really didn’t miss during my time away, but being creative wasn’t one of them. And so over time, in my head, I unknowingly started to romanticize about the notion of making new music again, but without really thinking about what that would entail! I’d find myself waking up some mornings thinking “oh wouldn’t it be nice to revisit that part of my life”, and then I’d remember all of the hard work, sacrifice and trauma that it takes to create a project worthy of your previous releases, and I’d just kind of freak out and put the idea to the back of my mind (laughs). Even when I was back in full-on writing and recording mode, I was still very naive, and I know for a fact I underestimated how much of an undertaking it is to make an album. It takes a lot of work, both physically and emotionally, and you have to be willing to put in the contact hours if you want to be happy with the end result, and… you know, I’m 50 now, my body doesn’t react the same way it did when I was 24! When I was 24 I was up for EVERYTHING and was willing to do ANYTHING! I haven’t got the energy or desire to work at that level anymore (laughs). But once I’d found my groove, and once I felt secure in what I was doing, I felt ready to really commit to doing this again. And in terms of embracing the changes? It’s funny, I think you’ll hear a lot of artists from my era talk about the fact that there was no social media back in the day, and how navigating through it can be tricky, but I kind of like it! I know these some of these platforms can get a bad rep, and sometimes justifiably so, but I like how interactive I can be with people. I feel more connected to my audience than I ever did before, and I love that! It makes this whole experience more personal and inclusive, which is surely a good thing right?
Listening to the record for the first time, it’s abundantly clear just how much love, and heart has gone into the creation of these songs – would it be fair to say that this is the album you’ve waited your whole life to make?
Totally! And I say that because in the past when I was making music, I never felt free or completely at peace with who I was as a person, so it was almost like I was presenting a diminished version of myself to the world. The sense of freedom I feel now has allowed me to tap into a younger version of myself, that for a long I’d suppressed, so there’s a feeling that runs throughout the record that’s very indicative of who I was before all of this fame stuff happened to me. I’m talking about the 13-year-old me who would spend a lot of time in his bedroom listening to 12” singles, and deep cuts of club remixes, and all of my favourite vinyls as a way to escape both the environment I was growing up in, and the people around me who weren’t always so kind to me. I was this kid in high school who was called “gay” before I even knew what that meant. It was obvious by the way people hurled the word at me that there was a perceived negative connotation toward it, but I was still pretty clueless as to why my peers suddenly seemed to become so hostile towards me. It was a very lonely and isolating time in my life, so I felt like my only escape from the torment I faced at school, and at home, was to listen to artists like Madonna, George Michael and Prince, because they were just so unapologetically themselves, and (like me) they were different too… but they didn’t care, and they almost celebrated the fact that they were the popular opposite to every one else! Their music and their artistry provided me with a gateway to see that the rest of the world wasn’t like the one I was growing up in. So yeah, this album sounds and feels a lot like those records that I was listening to at that time, and it’s almost like through these songs I’m setting my 13-year-old self free, and imagining what my life might have been like if I’d been able to love myself more as a kid.
You’ve actually referenced albums like ‘Faith’ by George Michael, and ‘Sign Of The Times’ by Prince as being bodies of work that inspired you as a teen – did you find that revisiting some of those records as an adult helped you to remember the person you were, before the world told you who you should be?
Totally! There’s a line in Madonna’s ‘Into The Groove’ where she says: “only when I’m dancing can I feel this free, at night I lock the door where no-one else can see.” I really related to that when I was a kid, because like I said, I would go up into my bedroom, close the door and escape into a make believe world where I could be my true self. I think one of the reasons why I dreamed of being a popstar was because to me that felt like the ultimate superhero outfit, that I could throw on and become invincible! This album is an expression of that feeling.
You’ve had complete and total control over this entire project, which must have been both liberating and daunting in equal measure! But perhaps it was vital for you to be the sole person steering the ship so to speak, because nobody can tell your story better than you. Plus you’ve not wait all of these years to REALLY do this, to then have to compromise or align your artistic vision and beliefs with other creatives…
That’s very true. And just to give you some backstory… the reason I stopped making music all those years ago, was simply down to the fact that I felt like I’d done everything I could do! There was no major fanfare, I didn’t make a big announcement, I just walked off the stage in Brighton on the last night of my tour back in 2012 and that was it; I honestly had no plans to ever come back and do this again! Sure there were moments over the years that I revisited that decision (to stop making music), but it never felt like the right time to start things up again. I guess in the end one of the things that drew me back in, was the thought that not once in my career had I ever sat down, on my own, in my own studio and started to work on a project from scratch. The idea of doing that felt exciting to me – it was a challenge, of course it was, but I think I needed to feel that pressure and to remove the safety net of having a collaborator there with me in the room, in order to trust myself and my capabilities as an artist. And it’s been so liberating, and I feel like it was the only way that I could have made this album.
To finally be able to create without inhibition, and to not have second guess a single one of your natural instincts as a proud gay man, must have made this whole experience even more rewarding?
Ah I so LOVE that you say that! And yes it does, it really does! I said to Richard (my husband) last night: “this record is already a success to me, because I’ve done it on my own terms, and not once have I had to compromise who I am as a person” – which is probably a first in my career! So whatever happens once it’s released, it truly doesn’t matter to me, because I know what it is and I know what it means! I don’t need anyone else to validate what I’ve done because I’m already so proud of it.
And you look to have had so much fun…
(Laughs) I really have, and I’m glad you’ve picked up on that because as personal and as deep as I go on this album, there’s a lightness and playfulness to it as well that reflects the fun side of my personality which I was very keen to explore and showcase to potential listeners. Everything about this record has come from me! From the first ever photoshoot I did for the single campaign, to the styling of the decor, the backdrops you see me posed in front of, the colour of the vinyl the record will be released on, I’ve directed all of the music videos… it’s the most involved I’ve ever been in a project, and I’ve LOVED it!
Darren Hayes x Do You Remember (Official Music Video)
The album as a whole is filled with intention – you’re very clear on what you want to say, and there’s thought and purpose behind every lyric, and every melody. The songs tell stories, they’re very descriptive and emotive, at times it’s almost like listeners are reading the pages of your private diary! How cathartic and liberating has it been for you on a personal level to write these songs?
Where do I begin? 10 years of living with these bottled up emotions has been tough. 10 years of not making music made me feel a little lost. Denying myself of my sexuality as a teenager and as a young man, has caused me to feel a great sadness as an adult, and I didn’t like living with those emotions. It took me a moment to realise that my sexuality is a part of me, and although it doesn’t define who I am, it is who I am. I say in one of the songs (‘Homosexual (Act Two’): “Every little spec of blue inside my eye is by design” – and that’s how I feel about being gay, I was designed and meant to be this way, so who I am to ever try to deny myself of being the person I was born to be? Through writing this album I’ve been able to set so much of myself free, and I’m feeling all the better for it.
Away from the music, we are loving the rebellious way in which you now flat out refuse to be put in a box, and labelled by society! For the longest time we’ve been told that once we hit a certain age we’re not allowed to actively pursue our dreams, we’re not allowed to be frivolous or have fun in the same ways we did before, and we’re certainly not allowed to explore and enjoy our sexuality. How did you arrive in that place, and find the strength within to not cower down to all of the pressures placed upon you?
That’s very kind of you to say, and I’ll be very honest and tell you, it’s the women of this world that have inspired me to be that way! Seeing somebody like Taylor Swift being rebellious and defiant in terms of the way she reacted to the whole saga surrounding her master recordings was really inspiring to me! She took control of that situation and made it work to her advantage – I mean, how genius!?! And then of course there’s Madonna! Just look at how that woman has managed to maintain her power throughout each and every decade, when all anybody does is criticise her and berate her about her age! I absolutely love how she responds to her haters, by continuing to do the very thing that she’s getting flack for! She’s amazing; nobody does it better than her!
Ageism is rife in this world! But it’s nothing we should ever be scared or ashamed of, if anything it’s something we should celebrate! With that being said, do you think you’ve become braver and more fearless with age?
I absolutely do! And you’re right, ageism is a very real thing and it’s a stigma that many people encounter. I hate to say it, but it’s something I see a lot in the gay community by the ways in which (some) gay men police each other! I also see it in terms of how women are expected to be overtly feminine later on in life, and men are supposed to be even more masculine – like I get flack for being a 50-year-old man with long hair… what’s that about, really? So yeah, personally I don’t understand it (ageism), I think it’s unfair and I don’t believe anybody should be discriminated against because of how “old” they are!
As you enter this new chapter in your career, what do you think the Darren of 25 years ago would make of what you’re doing now, and where you’re at in your life in 2022 both personally and professionally?
Oh man… I think (and I hope) he’d be happy and proud! But I also think that because the Darren of back then was so scared and disconnected from his sexuality and that part of himself, he wouldn’t believe any of this would ever be possible! It’s so wonderful to see how much the world has changed since the 90’s so that an artist like me can 1) exist, and 2) be free to make an album like “Homosexual” and be unashamedly proud to do so! So yeah, as much as it would blow his mind to see how things have turned out, I think he’d be really happy… and you know what, I’ve actually got to give props and thanks to the Darren of 25 years ago, because without him, I wouldn’t be here doing this today!