Monday, Aug. 10
1551 Trap Rd.
A reunited Culture Club brings its summer North American tour — its first here in 12 years — to Wolf Trap on Monday, Aug.10. The band, famous for ‘80s classics like “Karma Chameleon” and “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” has regrouped after postponing a tour last fall when lead singer Boy George suffered a throat ailment. A new album called “Tribes” is slated for fall.
We spoke with guitarist Roy Hay by phone from New York last week as he was en route to their show that night at the Grand Theater in Mashantucket, Conn. His comments have been slightly edited for length.
WASHINGTON BLADE: How does it feel to be out with the band again?
ROY HAY: It was a little frustrating to have the false starts but now that we’re up and running it feels great. I have to say, the response from the audience has been beyond my wildest dreams, to be quite honest. It’s just been fantastic. A really magical moment actually.
BLADE: Has all the bad blood of old been laid to rest or do little frictions still flare up?
HAY: I wouldn’t say bad blood, but to be honest, George is not always the easiest person. As Keith (Richards) said about Mick (Jagger), he has an LSD problem — lead singer disease. So there’s been a bit of that going on, but I haven’t gone to his room and punched him like Keith would have done but you know, it’s OK. George is a bit of a perfectionist and particularly as he’s had his own thing going on for so long, to now be in the culture of a band again instead of being the focal point of his entire universe has been a bit of a challenge for him. Which is true for all of us, because we’ve all been doing our own thing. But for him, being out there DJing, which is a very isolated pursuit, and doing his solo thing for the past two years, you’re sort of the captain of your own ship, so now to suddenly be part of a democratic process is somewhat challenging for him. So if you bear all that in mind, it all makes sense.
BLADE: George has said the other members are all “kind of” straight. Do people get that or has there always been a perception that Culture Club was a gay band?
HAY: Well I like to think that people know but I have ended up in quite awkward situations socially with this sort of, “Oh God, I thought you were gay.” And I’m like, “No, go back and put your clothes on and take that pink ribbon off your penis.” (laughs) I’m not kidding — that will be in the book.
BLADE: How are you keeping this tour from being an exercise in “nostalgia purgatory” as George puts it?
HAY: For us, the life blood of being in a band is being four guys in a room making music and writing songs, so what’s good about this is that we’re playing new songs and we’re slotting them in with the old ones and it’s like people aren’t even noticing because there’s a certain familiarity about the way we write. So by the second chorus, we’ve got the whole place dancing to the new songs. Part of the reason we’re doing this right now without the new album out yet is to kind of restore our reputation a little bit live and get people to realize, “God, they’re a good band, I’d forgotten.” We got a little bit forgotten over the years. Obviously it’s our own fault, we haven’t worked. So I think we needed to come out and do a little bit of damage limitation if you like. And particularly after the last tour got canceled because of George’s vocal issues, we really wanted to come back out and get the band back out there a bit, so then when we do come out with the album and the big tour next year, people will be more willing to come along. It’s never been a sort of “Danny Collins”-type thing for us where he gets trapped into just playing his hits for like 30 years and the money is so good and the fame is so big, he can’t stop. It’s not about that for us. If it was, we’d just put the four of us on stage and run pro tools, but we have a 13-piece band and we’re playing live and rocking the hell out of it, so I think people really appreciate that.
BLADE: The new album is done?
HAY: It is, it’s in the can and I think we’ve made a great album. It’s the album we should have made in 1986 after “Colour by Numbers” but we had that third album syndrome and didn’t have anything to write about but now we … have a lot more musical ideas. It’s ready to go but we really want to pick our release date and plan things properly so when we do come with it, it doesn’t just go to album heaven. Obviously we don’t expect to sell 10 million copies again, but we’d like to at least get it out to the people who would like to buy a Culture Club record. There was a great quote in one of the reviews last year — we briefly had a single out that kind of got withdrawn when the tour got cancelled — but it said this would be a number one record if bands like Culture Club were allowed to have number ones. The point is we feel we should be allowed to have number ones, so we want to clear the way and try to make that happen. Not from any other point of view than we’ve written some damn good songs, some damn good tunes and you could stick them on the radio next to Bruno Mars and it would work. It’s going to be a hard job, but you never know.
BLADE: “From Luxury to Heartache” now kind of feels like the forgotten Culture Club album. How do you feel it’s held up or not held up?
HAY: For me, that was always one of our finest works. I always wanted to work with (producer) Arif (Mardin). … May he rest in peace. He was really a magical man to work with. I learned so much from Arif that helped me move on in my life and with other projects, producing and songwriting and going into commercials, film and television. It was just a study in classic producing and the life lessons from that man were amazing as well. I don’t know necessarily if he was the best producer for the band. He was used to working with the Arethas and the Chaka Khans, even the Bee Gees in a way, they just come in and do their vocals and you know Barry does his thing with the music. I don’t know of he caught the band on that album but the songs were good, man. There were some good songs on that album. … “I Pray” and “God Thank You Woman.” I’m proud of all our work over the years. Even “Don’t Mind If I Do” (1999), I thought had some good moments as well.
BLADE: Have you sensed Culture Club fans want new material?
HAY: Well I hope they do because they’re getting it. I think they want it if it’s the right new material. … This band would never last on the nostalgia line. There’s too much artistic integrity with its members. If it were only that, we wouldn’t do it. I’d rather go off and do another TV show or do movies, George would rather do his solo thing. The spark and writing new songs is really the life’s blood of this band.
BLADE: So do you roll your eyes when you see the Stones or Fleetwood Mac going back out every few years and their last albums were 10 or 15 years ago?
HAY: I don’t know really. Build it and they will come, I guess, you know? As long as people keep coming, they’re going to keep going out. There’s obviously a magic with the Rolling Stones. I’m reading Keith’s book right now and I get it. It’s a very different style of music, but it’s the same way they started in a basement in London just playing records and we were much the same way. We were in a rehearsal studio in Shepherd’s Bush listening to records and John was really a driving force back in those days. George wanted us to be the next Bow Wow Wow and John said, “No, let’s write some real songs,” so we were playing everything from ABBA to Booker T & the M.G.’s and we really got into songwriting and became Culture Club during that stage. We really just lived and breathed music. … It was a magical time. You never get that back, but we have tried.