When Darren Hayes and Daniel Johns came together as members of Brisbane covers band Red Edge in 1993 they could never have imagined that they would become one of the highest-selling duos in pop music history with single sales of 15 million, two US #1 hits, and album sales over 25 million, eight years later.
In 1994 the boys from the Brisbane working class suburb of Logan formed Savage Garden, named after a phrase from the The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice – which described the vampire’s lair as “a savage garden”. Hayes and Jones took their musical cues from 80’s new wave pop, post-punk and synth pop groups, such UK bands as Human League, Joy Division, Depeche Mode and the Eurhythmics, despite the fact that the predominant musical trends of the time favored grunge, hip hop and catchy boy band pop. They rightly assessed that if Wham!, Roxette and Annie and Dave could do it so could they, they released their debut single in May 1996, I Want You.
A record deal had not fall into their laps, after consulting The Australian Music Industry Directory they sent 150 copies of their demo tapes to record companies and managers around the world and got only three responses, one from experienced Australian manager/promoter John Woodruff, below (Icehouse, The Angels, Baby Animals, Diesel), another from Geoffrey Schuhkraft who had previously managed Hush and Real Life and a third from Paul Drake, who wanted the boys to dress in pirate costumes.
Woodruff and the duo clicked, but nine months passed, and Woodruff had still not produced a contract, the boys were getting anxious, Daniel Jones rang Woodruff and told him they were signing with someone else, even though they weren’t, the bluff worked, and Woodruff was in Brisbane the next day, with a contract in hand.
To be fair to Woodruff, he had struggled to interest an Australian record label in the duo, the market was swamped with grunge bands cloning the sounds of Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Soundgarden and were not interested in shiny pop. Woodruff then made the ultimate sacrifice for the duo, just as Glenn Wheatley had mortgaged his house to fund the resurrection of John Farnham’s career via the recording of the Whispering Jack album, and Chris Murphy had done likewise to get INXS out of an onerous and unsupportive record deal early in the band’s career, Woodruff did the same to finance the recording of Savage Garden’s debut album.
Sydney producer Charles Fisher above with the duo,(Air Supply, Moving Pictures, 1927) accepted a share of the retail sales in lieu of an upfront fee as did the sound mixer, they polished the debut record to a diamond sheen and their decision to settle for a percentage of the sale proceeds proved to be both astute and very profitable. Roadshow Music, came on board with a supple and equitable marketing and distribution plan, so the way ahead looked clear.
I Want You was a sensory overload of wordy lyrics and synth -infused rhythms delivered at high speed, Hayes rattles off metaphors about a woman inspiring “crystal minds” and “magenta feelings,” being “sweet like a chica cherry cola”, releasing the primal coiled energy in the base of his spine, that drives him to desire this beautiful creature that looms up like a “human cannonball” – and that’s all in the first verse.
Hayes told Apple Music more about the dream that inspired the song. “I have such a soft spot for this song and it just keeps coming back,” he said. “It’s based on a dream that I had where I fell in love with a boy. And when I woke up, I missed him. I didn’t know how I would ever have that feeling again. I had this almost beautiful melancholy, romantic grief. I remembered everything about this boy who I’d never met. The smell, the kiss, the feeling, the butterflies in my tummy, all that stuff. And so I spent about a week mourning that feeling. I used to think, ‘Maybe if I go to sleep, I’ll see him again.'” It was probably borderline orgasmic, and no doubt the Thesaurus was given a workover, but the lyrical imagery was clever and during the song he gets closer to consummating this relationship, “Using symbols, using words can be likened / To a deep-sea diver who is swimming with a raincoat”
Structurally the song is reminiscent of similar non-rap songs which used rapid-fire lyrics to great effect such as – Lucky Starr’s I’ve Been Everywhere, Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire, REM’s It’s the End of the World (And I Feel Free) and Reunion’s Life Is A Rock (But the Radio Rolled Me). The music video for the song was shot in a studio with Darren Hayes delivering rapid-fire lyrics in an unblinkingly android-like way, Jones plays a guitar mounted on a stand, spacey special effects ping and whirr at the intro, then segue to futuristic images, cutaways and close-ups of the participants, which all encouraged Hirohiko Araki, creator of the wildly popular Japanese Manga series Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures, to feature this song in his series.
It was an accomplished debut single by Jones the instrumentalist and Hayes the lyricist, their breakout hit, charting #3 locally, #4 USA, #11 UK, #1 Canada and top twenty in six European countries. I Want You stayed on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart for an incredible 124 weeks, they were quickly signed by Columbia internationally and released their next single To the Moon and Back in November.
This was the second song lifted from their eponymous debut album and it was a more nuanced, mature, and emotionally darker song than I Want You, a mini-epic that recalled the ambience of Michael Jackson and Peter Gabriel, full of wonder and longing. The lyrics deal with a girl’s adolescent angst, and feelings of separation and alienation from people who matter – ‘’Mama never loved her much and / Daddy never keeps in touch/That’s why she shies away from human affection, but/ Somewhere in a private place/ She packs her bags for outer space/ And now she’s waiting for the right kind of pilot to come.”
Jones had already written the song as an instrumental, before he gave it to Hayes who thought it sounded like the soundtrack to a film and was inspired to write the lyrics and cut the demo version in one take, it was only the fourth song the duo had composed together. Darren Hayes explained to Songfacts the inspiration for the lyrics “This has one of the most complete instrumentals that Daniel ever wrote. It’s such a beautiful, haunting piece of music. I was a big science fiction fan – I loved Blade Runner. I wrote it from that point of view, or the idea of what it means to be human. That idea of yearning to express your emotions and your feelings and for that to be legitimized. There was also someone in my life whose persona was very standoffish and who pushed everyone who loved her away. But I could see underneath that hard shell, there was so much pain and all that stuff that I identified with – mum never loved her much, daddy never kept in touch, these are things actually bothering this person.”
The song opens with a resonant guitar riff that draws the listener in, thereafter funky bass and catchy hooks abound throughout right up until the climactic piano/strings sequence at the outro, Hayes authoritative vocals were also right on the money.
To the Moon and Back was the band’s first #1 hit in Australia, charted #3 in the UK and top 25 in the USA, it was awarded the ARIA Music Award for Song of the Year in 1997 and was the most played song on US radio that year.
Their debut album Savage Garden was truly phenomenal, it hit #1 in 52 countries, notched up platinum-level international sales of over 12 million copies, generated gross sales of $360 million, it was #1 in Australia for 13 weeks, sold 840.000 copies locally and remained on the charts for 111 weeks – the duo from Logan had arrived, but surprisingly after two albums they would disband. Jones and Hayes were very different personalities, the former despised the pop star life, interviews, touring, and fan adulation, while Hayes enjoyed the celebrity and public exposure his pop star status afforded him.
When the duo split in 2002 Hayes believed that Jones would continue to write songs with him, as Hayes pressed on with a solo career, but this was not to be. Undaunted Hayes released his debut solo album Spin in early 2002, a disco pop collection of songs designed to present Hayes in a more contemporary image, much as Michael Jackson had done in 1979 with Off the Wall. Although critically praised, and the single Popular charted #6 locally, Spin lacked the impact of his Savage Garden releases and sold a miserable 118,000 in the US although it climbed to #3 in Aust. His 2004 album The Tension and the Spark was a darker more electro outing which was a #10 hit locally but did even worse globally, and by 2006 his label Colombia had dropped him.
In 2007 Hayes would self-release another album, This Delicate Thing We’ve Made, a 25-track double album awash with synth-inflected tracks, that sounded like an 80’s album trapped in a new millennium time warp, and it completely stiffed. He would also release the album Secret Codes and Battleships in 2011, and marry his long-time partner Richard Cullen in California in 2013 (above). Meanwhile Daniel Jones had established his own recording studio and record label, Meridien Musik in Brisbane, and started to work with several local groups including Bachelor Girl and Aneiki. The later enjoyed moderate success with several singles written and produced by Jones in 2001, but they soon folded. In 2005 Jones married former Hi-Five singer Kathleen De Leon, and by 2015 they and their two children, Mikayla (’06) and Keira (’10) were living in Los Angeles, where Jones was working in real estate.