Every generation has a band that transcends trends and genres, an odd duck that doesn’t fit with what’s necessarily popular but somehow manages to break through.
Barenaked Ladies, Violent Femmes and Men At Work all held that spot during the rise of post-grunge, alt-rock and new wave, respectively, and now those three acts are together on Barenaked Ladies’ semi-annual Last Summer on Earth Tour.
Colin Hay, who fronted Austrailian band Men At Work for years but also has a successful solo career, opens the show Wednesday at Uptown Amphitheatre. He spoke to the Observer earlier this week about his new album, “Next Year People,” and continuing to grow as a songwriter in his 60s.
Q. Where did the idea behind “Next Year People” come from?
A. I was watching a Ken Burns documentary about the Dust Bowl. It was a moving piece about how people do the same thing and expect a (different result). That belief that somehow we’ll prevail eventually. It’s part of the human condition to be ever hopeful. I think I suffer from that, and a lot of people do. I’ve been touring so long sometimes I think it’s not really worth it. My situation was not nearly in any way shape or form as grim as it was back then.
Q. There’s also an environmental parallel to that idea today, where people keep doing the same thing despite changing climates.
A. There are these idiots saying the jury is still out on that. We had one of those guys running Australia, and it makes you crazy. People would do things if they knew what to do. ... But we all walk around with a certain sense of constant low-level impotence. ... You could put as much time into, say, advertising what people could do to save water on a daily basis, rather than which particular hemorrhoid cream to use.
Q. Living in Los Angeles, where there’s a drought, are people more active about conservation?
A. Some people. I get into arguments at the gym with a guy while he’s shaving with the water running. That kind of unconsciousness makes me crazy. Then you have people packing up and leaving town. Ghost towns are being created because people can’t make a living if it’s an agriculture-based town.
Q. There’s this perception that artists do their best work in their youth, but as a songwriter, do you think you’ve grown because of experience and time?
A. You’d hope you get better because you keep honing your craft – trying to say more with less. You hit a certain stride … a certain period where you can’t put a wrong foot. It seems like you’re pulling things out of the air. And then you hit fallow periods, and it doesn’t matter what you do; everything is like wrestling an alligator to the ground.
People who write and talk about music like for there to be rock stars, for it to be a young person’s game. They don’t like old people hanging around too much spoiling the party, unless its somebody that’s deemed cool that they like. You just have to keep moving forward and trust yourself.
The Men At Work frontman, who has enjoyed the attention of a new generation thanks to Zach Braff and “Scrubs,” joins Violent Femmes in opening for Barenaked Ladies.
WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday.
WHERE: Uptown Amphitheatre, 1000 NC Music Factory Blvd.
DETAILS: 704-916-8970; www.livenation.com.