Sipping tea in a Manhattan hotel, Savage Garden front man Darren Hayes is fighting off the flu, but the soft-spoken, fast-talking singer has a lot to chat about. Namely, how the 1997 self-titled debut album by two working-class lads from Down Under ended up selling 11 million copies worldwide, thanks to the unrepentantly romantic singles ”Truly Madly Deeply” and ”I Want You.” And how, with ”I Knew I Loved You” from the group’s already platinum follow-up, Affirmation, they have another swooning top 10 hit.
Lyricist Hayes, 27, and multi-instrumentalist/tunesmith Daniel Jones, 26, met as teens in a Brisbane, Australia, cover band. ”I knew instantly we were going places together,” says Hayes emphatically. That group went bust, but the two rose from the dead, borrowed their name from Anne Rice (her phrase describing the world vampires inhabit), and spent a year writing 40 songs from which they eventually culled Savage Garden. Though equally melodic, Affirmation, Hayes says, is ”more bittersweet and melancholy” than its relentlessly Uberpop predecessor, reflecting the 1998 dissolution of his marriage and the ”lonely, hard” year he spent in New York City writing it. ”On that first record I was scared to expose myself,” he says. ”But then I’d see Sarah McLachlan and think, I want to feel what I’m singing.”
The release of Affirmation prompted the duo’s decision to split their band duties, becoming a kind of musical Penn & Teller. They’ll continue to write and perform together, but the sociable Hayes, who just bought a home near San Francisco, will be the duo’s spokesman, while the reclusive Jones (”Daniel has a Zenlike calm”) remains behind the scenes, tending to Savage Garden’s retro-’80s, synth-pop sound at his Brisbane home studio. ”It’s such a relief,” enthuses Hayes. ”We’re both doing exactly what suits us.”
As the band’s public face, the boyishly handsome Hayes even appreciates the marketing value of the is-he-or-isn’t-he? speculation he stirs up. ”If you’re straight, if you’re gay — hey, if you’re a horse — and I appeal to you, great,” he grins. ”I don’t feel particularly compelled at this point to set the record straight.” So to speak.
Hayes is adamant, though, that ”a song has to stand on its own. Ours do — we dress them up because we enjoy pop.” Their 15 minutes won’t last forever, he admits, ”but we can write songs for years to come.” Incurable romantics, take heart.