I have been in love with Darren Hayes since the moment I first saw him strut through Paris’s Place de la Concorde and into my living room — by way of MTV — back in 1997.
The music video for Savage Garden’s “Truly Madly Deeply” was all over cable TV and seemed to be programmed on an hourly loop on every pop and soft rock radio station in the nation. The song — written by Hayes and bandmate Daniel Jones — hit No. 1 and stayed there until Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” eventually knocked it down to the second spot. Even then, the massive hit single remained in Billboard’s Top 10 for almost half a year as a pop fever known as Savage Garden swept the globe.
The band, formed 30 years ago, was a duo made up of two handsome, Australian musicians in their early 20s. They took the name Savage Garden from a line in an Ann Rice novel. Hayes served as lead vocalist and the face of the band, hidden behind long, jet-black-dyed bangs. Jones was on guitar and keyboards, a tall blonde, often hidden behind Hayes. As Hayes sang, Jones backed him up, and together they quickly became two of the biggest music stars to break through the sugary sweet pop noise of the late ’90s.
In the spring of 1997, I finally got my hands on the band’s debut CD, and, like so many other fans around the world, fell truly, madly, and forever in love with the duo from Down Under’s fresh new sound. As the Savage Garden sound continued to carve out its own space in Y2K music history, their emotional lyrics left a lasting impact on millions of young fans. Two years later came Affirmation, the band’s second album, and it proved to be just as musically delicious as the first.
The follow-up CD landed in music stores at the end of 1999. To date, the two albums have sold a combined total of approximately 23 million copies worldwide.
And then, just like that, it was over. After only two albums, Savage Garden disappeared.
Darren Hayes continued to release music on his own, starting with 2002’s Spin and continuing, most recently, to his celebrated and direct Homosexual, released in October 2022.
“Homosexual,” wrote Metro Weekly music critic Sean Maunier in his 4-Star review, “is not only a celebration of identity and freedom, it feels like Darren Hayes at his most free and unencumbered as an artist…. The proud, endearing gayness of Homosexual feels like a refreshing middle finger to a self-congratulatory entertainment industry complex that still has a lot more catching up to do than it lets on.
“Hayes is well aware he is far from the first artist to reclaim a word used as a slut against him,” continues Maunier, “but in his capable hands, the album succeeds beautifully as a full-throated celebration of what it means to him to be a raging homosexual.”
Hayes, 50, was finishing up his first tour in 15 years when we spoke over Zoom.
“I feel like I’ve known you for a while,” Hayes says with a warm smile. I revealed to the award-winning songwriter that this had sort of been my plan all along, as my face and name would occasionally and strategically slip into his Twitter DMs over the last few years.
“I guess that’s just because of the internet, right?” he continues, unfazed, still focused on pinning down just how I made my way into his life this particular afternoon: “Like, I guess we just Twitter-stalked each other?”
DARREN HAYES: I do this with people all the time in the grocery store, especially living in L.A. I walk up to people all the time…and I will often be like, ‘Hey,’ as if I’ve gone to school with the person. No, that’s just someone that’s on a TV show.
Some guy came into my gym this week — apparently his name’s Adam someone…I had no idea. And I was just like, ‘Hey!’ like he was my friend. No, apparently he’s got like a million followers and he’s on Instagram — some new hotshot actor. I just thought I knew him. But I think that music, TV — there’s something about when things become the soundtrack to our lives — this background noise or whatever — there’s this really lovely familiarity that happens, and I love that. I’m not necessarily a celebrity at all, but I am someone that has become a part of people’s background noise in their lives. And that’s a really lovely thing.
METRO WEEKLY: And musical hold? I’m sure you’ve heard yourself as hold music a time or two.
HAYES: Or at Walgreens. Always when I’m getting some sort of ointment.
MW: I’m flashing back to visuals of you in Sydney at the 2000 Olympics where Savage Garden was just on top of the world. It must be interesting to experience all these different levels of success. What’s that like?
HAYES: You know, I think the great thing about getting older is understanding that — and also having had tremendous success at the very beginning of my career — I didn’t expect that to continue constantly. Maybe some people would have handled it differently, but I think for me, it came so suddenly and then it sort of went away really quickly. But I didn’t. I just kind of continued to make records and so I’ve never really had that entitlement of thinking that fame was something that was like a birthright to me.
I think being working class as well when you come into this business and you come from a working-class family, it’s such a shock to suddenly be able to pay the rent. I’ve always had this healthy respect and fear for success and the ebb and flow of it.
So, I think it’s really lovely to see that a career can sustain lots of highs and lows. All you have to do is really just be an artist and really love what you do, and that you will kind of see through these droughts, these periods of disappearance and then periods of resurgence.
Watching actors, it’s funny, watching the success of everyone — in movies, especially — like Ke Huy Quan at the moment, in Everything Everywhere All At Once. Seeing these actors who have been incredibly talented but were either never recognized for their talent or child actors who have never been given these roles until now, or someone like Jamie Lee Curtis, who is, like, Hollywood royalty, but they’re never really been given this kind of critical acclaim. These sorts of stories I think are very common now. We’re seeing that a career is a marathon.
MW: Isn’t it cool to know that whatever “it” could be may still be around the corner, regardless of where you’ve been?
HAYES: Yeah. And I think it comes down to the artist’s own ego and our own sense of pride, really. I’ve had periods in my career where I’ve played really small rooms and maybe I wasn’t in the best headspace about it. Maybe I took that personally and felt like a bit of a failure sometimes. But I’ve got to tell you, this recent run that I’ve been on — I remember I took such a long break from touring and I was a little bit nervous. Like, would people show up? Would they buy tickets? And they did. And I didn’t really care how many people were in the room.
What I experienced was that the audience just waited for me. I looked out into the audience, especially in Australia where I did the first leg, and people were either crying or just smiling. They were just so grateful. And I was grateful. I was just so grateful to have been remembered. And I remember saying to audiences at some point, “Thank you for taking such good care of these songs. They belong to you now.”
And I think that comes with age and it comes with being aware that we’re very lucky to have even one song that people remember — that’s a really big deal. And that comes with a certain sense of letting go of ego and not caring if you’re having a hit, not caring if you’re selling out the room, but just being really grateful that people just remember you. That’s a privilege.
MW: How does it feel looking back and knowing that 1997 was the release of Savage Garden’s first album, 1999 was the band’s second and final album? Those two releases are the only studio albums the band ever put out. What an impact.
HAYES: It’s perfection.
MW: Can we talk about that?
HAYES: Well, what I love about it is — and not in a morbid way — but the way Marilyn Monroe or other perfect stars perish in their youth, and they’re sort of captured eternally youthful, beautiful and perfect.
I think there is something to be said for the longevity of a very short success story like that of Savage Garden. I love the fact that, as a band, we never had to endure the tragedy of just fading out or growing older in the public eye. Or having hits that just didn’t quite work. Instead, just these two perfect records that sold exactly the same amount of copies each, both had a Billboard No. 1, both were global. They sold in every country in the world and both releases allowed us to tour the entire world.
Apart from the blemish [of the band breaking up], we had a really perfect run. And the one thing [Daniel Jones] and I both agree on is that it’s perfectly left untouched. As years go by, we love the fact that we’ve never had a reunion. We’ve never had this kind of thing where people can never look at footage of us today and compare.
Savage Garden only exists in the past, so it can never be compared. I sing the songs, but it’s not the same. It’s my voice, but it’ll never be Savage Garden and I don’t expect people to think of it as that. It’s just this perfect time capsule.
MW: I think one reason so many people love your music is because of the lyrics. Didn’t you write or co-write all of your songs?
HAYES: Yeah, we wrote everything. I kind of got to use the music as therapy and as a diary — and I still do. I have a really special connection to audiences in that regard and I really relate. I talk really honestly about mental health and my own mental health. And I think in the beginning, when I was writing songs, I was kind of writing in code because I kind of wanted to find my tribe.
I was talking about really serious things. I grew up in a house with domestic violence and a really violent father dealing with alcoholism. I couldn’t tell anyone, but I could in song. And the same thing about growing up gay. It took me so long to accept that I was gay. But in my songs, I could write about this kind of yearning or wanting — or this pain or shame. I could write about feelings, like body dysmorphia, and I could write about feelings of inadequacy or insecurity.
Songs like “Santa Monica” on that first record — those are songs about just feeling not good enough. And I think it really hit the zeitgeist with young women, and it still does. I think young women are so great about — and it’s changing now that we are much more accepting of males having emotions — but young women are just so open about their feelings.
Those young women saved me — that’s what it was — an audience of people that looked at me and made me feel like I wasn’t a freak. They made me feel like, “Oh, we’ve got you.” You know? “We understand you.” And that started in the mid-nineties and it continues today — all the way through me coming out. I have this connection with an audience and I’ve grown up with them and with this real honesty. It’s a conversation that goes back and forth. Anything less than that and my audience just kind of calls bull.
MW: You weren’t out in your early career and, early on, you were married to a woman. Can you believe you’ve reached a point where you now have an album called Homosexual?
HAYES: No, I mean, that was part of the tragedy back then. And it was tragic. It was very sad and stifling. Back in the mid-90s, not only did I feel like I didn’t have a role model, but there wasn’t a Sam Smith there. There wasn’t any idea about gender fluidity. There was really no concept of “happy ever after.” It was the absolute pinnacle, or sort of the aftermath, of HIV. The only person really speaking up about it was Elizabeth Taylor or Madonna. And in the mainstream media, the message really was either ignorance or death.
So, my teenage mind thought that just having a thought about a boy meant that I would contract HIV — that’s how little education there was. I know in the United States, under Reaganism, the entire issue was just ignored.
We lost a whole generation of artists and incredible people needlessly, because we lost so many years of HIV research and medication. Now, when I talk about this topic, I always remind people that it’s a completely survivable virus. But when I grew up it was a death sentence. And the messaging around being gay was that you just can’t be.
It never even entered my mind that I was gay. I thought that I just had these crushes on men, but it’s too late, it’s just too late for me. And then, once I’d entered the music industry, the misogyny and the homophobia at a major record company level was so extreme.
It was horrific, you know? So I had faced it in high school, I’d faced it with my own father, and then all of a sudden there I was having this success and I had record company executives rejecting me. Then, once the Savage Garden ended as well, there I was as a solo artist with no one out.
Even Ricky Martin wasn’t out. I’d seen what had happened to George Michael. I don’t think George Michael had come out yet. And then the way George Michael was outed was shameful. He didn’t come out of the closet — was humiliated out of the closet.
So it was just a horrible time and, and I was very, very sad. It took me a long time to accept who I was. So, no, I could never imagine calling an album Homosexual. There’s a lyric in that song where I say, “It’s not correctable, I’m homosexual” and there’s a cheer, there’s a cheer from the audience whenever I sing that. Never in a million years would’ve thought that that’s where I would be.
MW: I think you planted some of that seed yourself. As a young gay person hearing the “Affirmation” lyrics “I believe you can’t control or choose your sexuality,” I remember thinking, “We just got a nudge!” And this was 1999!
MW: Later, when you became open about the fact that you are a gay man under that LGBTQ umbrella, I know how much it helped so many people. You’ve heard from fans over the years, but do you ever think about the people around this world you’ll never hear from? Savage Garden music is literally beaming on satellites around the globe — it’s happening now. Does it blow your mind knowing you’re forever impacting someone out there?
HAYES: You just blew my mind. I mean, you just brought tears to my eyes. When I wrote that lyric, I so desperately wanted to be free, and I so desperately wanted the world to love me as I was, and I was in a prison.
When I look back now I realize how brave I was, just putting those lyrics in a song, when I was in this band that was marketed — not by my choice — but it was marketed entirely to women. And also how brave those women were. It still really moves me how those female fans still loved me after hearing that lyric and still loved me and supported me, you know? Because I put it right out there. I remember being on Jay Leno and I sang that lyric and looked right down at the camera and I winked on that line.
I think the murder of Matthew Shepard had happened and I just remember it was very much in my consciousness. I wanted to get to these kids and wanted to send a message to some of these kids who weren’t as lucky as me. I had this white privilege where I could mask my sexuality — I could turn it on or turn it off in a way that any other form of discrimination can’t.
I feel so strongly about racism in this country and the way an African American kid doesn’t get the choice about whether he gets racially profiled or not. He gets pulled over by the police and — depending on which police officer and which state he’s in — it’s a lottery what prejudice that person is going to come at that human being with.
But I’m always aware that being a white gay man, I had this kind of ability to kind of dip in and out of my differences, which I’m still sort of uncomfortable with. But I talk about it because it’s sort of why I take those sorts of risks with art and why I talk about Queer rights. It’s the very least I can do. Because there are people who don’t have a voice, don’t have a choice. There are people who are threatened with homelessness, who are thrown out of their homes — especially trans kids and trans kids of color — by far the most at-risk community at the moment.
I look back all those years ago and just think, I’m so glad that I just listened to that tiny voice inside, that was really a plea for my own desperate need to be free. But even if it was just a tiny drop in the ocean, I meet people who say “That helped me.” And, and I feel grateful because I’m aware of all the other ways in my life that I have it so much easier — and I shouldn’t, but I do.
MW: What’s your advice to a young person looking at your life and career today, possibly thinking there’s no way they too could arrive where you are, in terms of success or happiness? What do you say to the young fan worried about happiness feeling out of reach?
HAYES: I think and I hope that it’s common knowledge now that we all live these curated lives that are so not real. I try to combat that a lot by posting a lot of very real pictures of myself and I also say a lot of real things. I do a lot of live chats on Instagram Live and I show people the real sides of my personality. I don’t have this PR personality as a public person.
I’m very honest about the fact that I’m not always okay — I’m not. It took me a long time to understand that I live with a mental health disorder. I thrive with it, actually! I have a combination of therapy and medicine that I take, but the biggest thing for me is to talk and to tell people. On my website, there’s all sorts of directions to helplines and talk lines. And that’s the biggest thing for me: to just be honest about the fact that — it’s a cliche to say it — but it’s okay not to be okay.
We are not meant to be happy all of the time. Happiness is one of many moods. And sadness is not a permanent state, either. You know, our moods are like the weather — and I encourage people to really understand that — that all of these moods pass, you know? Just because we get stuck in a rut or a sad moment, to just learn to see that these patterns change. And just like the sun rises every day, a happy moment comes back, and that has saved me.
I think I talk a lot about mental health in the aspect of it not being permanent because I think we’ve lost a lot of lives to the sad misunderstanding that depression is a permanent state of mind. It’s not, it’s just a temporary state.
I try to paint a real picture of who I am. I’m not a perfect human being. I’m flawed and my music and lyrics definitely deal with that. And that’s how I get through life — expressing it through music and through the help of the people that listen to my music. People say to me — and I think a lot of artists have had this said to them — “Your song saved my life.” And I say it back to people all the time, “You don’t get it. You save the artists’ lives!”
I’m a fan. I can quote every line from Truth or Dare, right? I’ve been to so many Madonna concerts. I’m the kid that waited outside a hotel for Michael Jackson. I understand fandom better than anyone. So, for someone to be a fan of me, that is a sacred thing, and I take it very seriously. The ability for me to be able to be an escape from reality for someone — whether it be a Twitter exchange or a concert moment or an autograph — that’s a sacred responsibility. I take that very, very seriously.
And I’m very honest about the fact that there are legions of people — millions of people — who have listened to my music and bought my music, who lift me up and lift musicians up. And I don’t think enough musicians really admit that it’s a two-way street. You save our lives too because you give us purpose.
MW: On the topic of fandom and stars — what is a “movie shaker”? Have I been mishearing a line from a song since 1999?
HAYES: A “mover shaker”!
MW: Ah, yes — so you know what I’m referencing?
HAYES: Yeah. “Chained to You.” He’s a mover and a shaker. He’s like a Hollywood-type or whatever. But that song is about my first-ever boyfriend who I met at Splash in New York.
MW: I never knew this!
HAYES: “Chained to You” is literally about me standing — well, I’ll quote the lyrics. “You were standing all alone, you were leaning in to speak to me, acting like a mover shaker” — because he was just so cool — “dancing to Madonna, then you kissed me.” Because it’s actually what happened.
In fact, I sing that on my new album — I sing about this same moment from a totally different point of view. It’s a song called “Do You Remember?” and it’s the same story but now told as an out man. I was newly separated-slash-divorced in 1999. And I went out and I saw Steve — that’s his name — and he was the best first boyfriend anyone could ever have. He was a court officer from Brooklyn. He was very sexy and had a Brooklyn accent. And we were doing that thing where we were looking at each other. I just thought he was so handsome! Then he came over and said hi. And then “Ray of Light” came on and I said, “Oh my God, I love this song so much.” And he said, “Yeah, me too.” I said, “Do you wanna dance?” And he said, “Sure.” So we went on the dance floor and we’re dancing and I just looked at him — and I was so bold and so brave — and I said, “Can I kiss you?” And he said, “Sure!” And so we kissed. That’s what the “Chained to You” song is all about.
MW: Was it “Ray of Light” or another song from that Madonna album?
HAYES: No, it was “Ray of Light,” and it would’ve been, probably, the “Victor Calderone Club Mix,” if we want to be super-super specific.
MW: You’ve been doing all sorts of non-music stuff out in Los Angeles these last several years. But in 2022 you suddenly had a new album and in 2023 you’re doing live tour dates in multiple countries. What finally brought you back to music after all this time?
HAYES: Oh my God. The shortest version of this story I can tell you is that I had retired. I really had. I was just prematurely sad — I don’t know what was going on with me — and I just lost my mojo. I was never going to tell anyone. In the same way that Savage Garden happened, I just thought, “You know what? I’m just going to slowly fade away; not tell anyone.” And moving back to America [from the UK] was part of that. My husband Richard and I have been married 17 years now, but after 10 winters in England, I was just like, “I cannot handle this anymore. I really miss California.” It was a huge part of my happiness before I’d met Rich and so, I managed to convince him to move back to the States — that was big and I didn’t want to just do music.
I was just a bit heartbroken by how the music scene had changed — it was before Spotify, it was before streaming, before everything that is possible and that we can do now. So, I felt really stuck. And Rich is an ex-theater director and he was the one who suggested — because I was just driving him crazy — he was like, “Oh my God, please just go and do an improv class or something!”
And that sent me down this journey where I ended up studying full-time at The Groundlings for three and a half years as a student — anonymously. So I studied improv acting and comedy. I did stand-up, I wrote sketches. I did everything I possibly could do and I loved it. And I did it mostly anonymously. Like most people just thought, “Who’s this kind of charismatic Australian dude?” My best friend here in L.A. now, Madeline, who’s an incredible actress — she’s on TV shows like The Rookie and in various films — she’s on tour with me as a backing singer and dancer. But I met her in The Groundlings. What’s so funny is that she met me as a comedian and had no idea that I had this whole other pop life.
HAYES: I’m not embarrassed about this, but I know that, as a solo artist, I’m not very successful in the United States, so I could be anonymous here. And people didn’t really know my name here. Yes, they know Savage Garden, but if my hair’s not black and I’m not singing “Truly Madly Deeply,” no one knows who the hell I am. So that was amazing.
But I went and saw the 2017 movie Call Me By Your Name and my heart kind of cracked open. There was this gay love story and I suddenly realized that I had never really fully been out and gay as a pop star —
MW: Even though you glided your way “out” here and there, correct?
HAYES: Yep, I announced my marriage to a man, I was in People Magazine, etc. — but still I was never really comfortable in my skin as a gay artist. I was in grief. I went through this whole grieving process of like, “Wow. When I had the world’s attention, I was an imposter.” And I thought it would be such a shame if I never made a record in this skin — as a person who loves themselves now. Someone who is now so much more comfortable being a gay person. And I knew the record was going to be called Homosexual. I knew that it was just going to be unabashedly queer. And I especially knew that my music videos were going to be very gay.
I knew I was going to present myself and do all the things that the major record label would never let me do back then. That was sort of the goal. I can’t believe that I cut off that source of joy for so long. Like I said earlier, just seeing audiences react to me being back has been such a beautiful love loop feedback. I realize that people are so patient and kind — and I’ve been such a perfectionist — thinking almost like, you know, sometimes we think, “Oh, I have to be thin before I can go to the gym.” I think I’d been thinking I have to be perfect and I have to have a hit and I have to do all these things before I can come back with a record. And I didn’t need to. I just needed to want to come back and love it. And I do love it.
MW: Do you get tired of the questions about Savage Garden’s breakup and whether or not there will ever be a band reunion?
HAYES: No. This might surprise you, but I just don’t think I have the right to control that narrative. I mean, I understand the questions and the fascination. I think it just comes off as arrogant when people try to control that narrative. For example, I’ve never had a “Do Not Ask” list, you know. I know that some artists do, but I’ve never been like that because I just think it puts such a damper on everything and you can never escape your history. I think you have to be at peace with it and understand that the questions come from a place of love. It’s not like some scandalous thing. It would be like — and I’m not comparing myself — but imagine if Michael Jackson had never wanted people to ask him about Thriller.
Savage Garden was the biggest thing I ever did. I understand the fascination and I just embrace it. And the way that I embrace it is by just performing the songs. It’s not brain surgery — you’ve just got to give people what they want. That’s just how you do it. And I’m lucky.
Homosexual is available now for purchase and on all major streaming services. Learn more about Darren Hayes at www.darrenhayes.com.
Follow Darren Hayes on Twitter at @darrenhayes.
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