MenWithOutHats1-minIt’s been a while since everyone has had an opportunity to dance, but now that the world is slowly opening again, it looks like we can all safely dance again.

Did you see where I was going with that? Well, if you didn’t, you’re no friend of mine.


All fun aside, “Safety Dance” from Men Without Hats is a staple tune from my youth. I was there when the band performed it’s iconic Toronto concert at Ontario Place in the early 1980s just as the song was beginning to take off. It was an epic moment in my life.

Now, 40 years later, Ivan Doroschuk and Men Without Hats are back to do it all over again, including a remake of “Safety Dance” called No Friend Of Mine. It’s on a new EP of cover songs called ‘Again Part 1’ and is expected to be followed up with a full album of new material soon.

In this interview with Ivan, he sounds at peace with the bands past success and is looking forward to a new tour and the album’s release.

You have a new EP coming out in September. Tell me about Again, Part one.
Again (Part 1) is five cover songs.

We do songs by David Bowie, Lou Reed, the Rolling Stones, the Tragically Hip, and we reinvented our biggest hits “Safety Dance” – we re-imagined it, as they say.

I’m assuming with Part One, there’s going to be at least a Part Two.
Part two is going to be 12 original songs coming out early next year. This is just the setup for it.

So the EP is definitely the lead into this new album?
Yes, it is. The full album is Men Without Hats Part 1 & 2. This is Part 1.

What makes this the perfect time for a new Men Without Hats release?
It just came together. Before this whole thing kind of broke out, we had decided that we were going to take some time off to make a record. We just built a studio on top of the Malahat on Vancouver Island and spent eight months holed up, we didn’t even see things go by, we were totally isolated already. This was in the works for us. It was pretty fortunate.

There’s a bit of magic in a studio that’s isolated with a beautiful view. There’s nothing to disturb you and you just take in the essence of what’s around you. Is that how this feels?
It was a pretty old school way of making albums. Renting out a house, building a studio and just staying there until the records finished. That’s how it was, we were, like I say in the press release, the only company we had a family of 13 peacocks that we watched grow as we were laying down tracks.

How much did COVID-19 play a part in this?
We were booked to do this and we had taken the summer off, we had decided not to tour. We had not taken any engagements for the summer or the fall, so it really didn’t affect us. Now we’re getting back out on the road. We’ve done shows already and we’re heading down to the states to just start touring down there so it didn’t really affect us that much. We were lucky in that way because I know it affected a lot of people more adversely than us.

I think when people hear the EP they’re going to hear that the band still sounds fresh even 40 years later. Is there a certain way or technique when you write or record that gives it that unique Men Without Hats sound?
We definitely have a way of doing things, I guess it goes back to our influences, which is one of the reasons why we’re doing this cover EP. We wanted to show people who influenced us and who we like and it’s mostly what we learned along the way.

MWH+AP1+COVER+-minThis is kind of hard to describe but the EP sounds like something brand new and very creative, modern mixed with that classic vibe that you guys are known for. For example, I could picture “Satellite of Love” being attached on Sideways. But “No Friend of Mine” comes across as something like a completely new generation almost.
That’s our first single “No Friend of Mine” and we’re getting a good reaction. I didn’t know how people would take it, it’s an iconic song and you don’t really want to play with it too much. But this is such a different version. And it is kind of like I say in the press release, it’s the way I see it as we’ve gone back to the West Kingston where we filmed the original video and the Jester is now the mayor of the town, and he’s married to the crazy blonde chick, and they have this huge family and so I go back 40 years later to see how they’re all doing and this is the soundtrack to that visit. If there’s going to be a video that’s what the video will probably be.

I hope there’s a video because that sounds amazing.
I’m in touch with Mike Edmonds who played the jester and we’re in constant communication, and he’s up for it for sure.

Was it difficult to dissect such an iconic song? Was it difficult to take it apart and redo it?
It was part of a bigger project that I’m working on as well, which was a re-imagining of the Men Without Hats catalog, on just vocals and piano, just taking the songs and playing them just by myself singing and playing piano. Doing like a remix, almost these are like, keeping the vocal line as intact as I can, and coming up with a different chord structure underneath it. It really worked with “Safety Dance”, it worked with a lot of those songs, too. It’s something that people will be hearing parts of it as we go along. But “Safety Dance” worked.

A friend of mine wrote me the other day and said that somebody had played “No Friend of Mine” at work and everybody was singing along and it was the first time they’d heard it. So it’s got that magic. It’s good.

When you wrote the original song, did you know it was going to be something that would be the legendary song of Men Without Hats?
Well, I can remember that back in those days, I thought that every song I wrote was a legendary song. I wouldn’t be in this business if I didn’t, that’s the way musicians think, and that’s why we always want to play our new stuff and not the old hits. It’s always the next one’s always going to be the better one. It wasn’t even the first single, it wasn’t even our first choice for a first single.

We released “I Got The Message” off the Rhythm of Youth record first in Canada. I don’t know what kind of chart action it would have gotten in Canada. We put the “Safety Dance” next and it went to number 12 in Canada, and we were totally stoked. We were like WOW. We made the top 40 in Canada with two songs. It was enough for us. We were put back in studio, the record label that we had signed to agreed to do another record, and we were on top of our game. Then they asked us to do the remix of “Safety Dance”, and we said okay, I guess so, we just did it because that’s what people were doing in those days, and went and started making a record and then the safety dance, remix went number one on Billboard, and the rest is history.

I always loved the remix because it was so much longer. The original song is so short, and it just had enough length that it was more satisfying for me anyway.
I can still remember making it, it was fun. We had nothing to really go by and those days I was kind of channeling Grandmaster Flash with the rap stuff. The 12 inch remix, it was a new thing back then. So we just played it by ear.

It’s funny you mentioned Grandmaster Flash. Here’s my story. So I was 14 and Grandmaster Flash was playing a bar in Toronto. I couldn’t get in and I was so disappointed. I went home and the next day, I picked up the paper and there’s an ad for Men Without Hats at Ontario place. I’m like, Okay, that’s it. That’s my show. I’m gonna to be there. That was one of my first concerts, so you guys were sort of my Grandmaster Flash substitute and then I became a fan seeing it live because there was so much energy and vibe.
That’s great. I’m a big Grandmaster Flash fan myself. I saw them, got to meet them when they played in Montreal, a while back. I remember that Ontario Place concert, that’s an iconic concert in the history of Men Without Hats. That was a defining moment in our career.

Too bad things like that couldn’t get filmed at the time.
Yeah, well, the memories are good.

“Safety Dance” is coming up on its 40th Anniversary it’s had an incredible life, is there somewhere that this song appeared that took you by surprise?
It always takes me by surprise. The place that I’ve enjoyed the most over the years has always been a Beavis and Butt-Head doing their critique watching the video and saying who does this guy think he is Michael Jackson. That has always been number one on my list.

I’ve been blessed, I’ve been doubly blessed and I’m just really extremely fortunate. We have the greatest fans. I’ve said it before but our fans are always pushing the catalog on other people and we’ve been very fortunate as bands go.

You took on “Blow at High Dough”. Oh, you got to tell me this one.
I’ve always been a big, Tragically Hip fan and I’m Canadian, so I represent. And I saw the first tour I saw them play this song. I went to see them live because of this song. I saw them the first time around, both Gordon and I had a big thick head of hair. It was a good concert. They’ve had a great career. They’ve done everybody a great favour by making music.

Men Without Hats1Even though you’ve lived in Vancouver Island for a long time, do you still feel that connection with Montreal?
I do. I grew up there. I still consider myself a Montrealer or even if I’ve been here 20 years, and I grew up in French, I went to school in France. So a big part of me is Québécois. It’s the reason when we moved out here, I sent my son to a French school.

It wasn’t really to have him be bilingual, it was more to have him understand who I was, so that we’d be able to connect on a deeper level.

I think part of that Montreal vibe was the big appearance of Bonhomme. Did you need special permission to have such an iconic character used?
No, I don’t recall asking anybody anything. I look back on it now and sometimes I think what was I thinking but it’s definitely endured.

I figured if that guy can get people to come out and party in the streets in the coldest city in North America and in the middle of February, you might be able to sell us a few records.

It work, sort of.
Who’s in the band at this point, just so we are up- to-date here.
That’s myself, my brother Colin doing everything else that I don’t do and Sho Murray from the band Shocore, who is playing guitar. He’s also the engineer and Colin and I produced the record.

Sho is the Co-producer and engineer on the record. Colin’s daughter, my niece Sahara Sloan has joined the band as vocalist and keyboard player. So that’s it and we are augmented live by Adrian White on drums.

There’s a new label involved in this project.
There’s a new label, it’s called Sonic Envy. I have new management, it’s also the same company that manages us also now and it’s good, everything feels great. It’s like a fresh beginning for us now.

Everything’s falling into place now. It’s been a while but things are slowly getting back to where they were.

Is it like riding a bike? Does it come back, easily?
It does for me. I mean, it might not be like that for everyone. I know some performers that you wouldn’t believe the stage fright that they have and it’s just something that I’m lucky I’ve never had. I’ve always been very, very comfortable on stage.

I remember just over 10 years ago, starting off on Vancouver Island at Rifflandia Music Festival here on the island, and I hadn’t done a show for 25 years 30 years.

And I remember standing in the wings, the stage is the band doing the intro to me coming on and I just remember thinking Wow, it’s like riding a bike.

I didn’t feel butterflies, nothing. It was just seamless. But that’s just me, other people are a lot different. I know people who still throw up before every show.

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