Before the formation of Men Withouts Hats, Ivan Doroschuk was experimenting with combining electronics and music. He played in several bands with brothers Stefan and Colin during the mid-Seventies in Montreal. It was while in high school that he met Jeremy Arrobas. Along with the Doroschuks’ other brother, Igor, they played some concerts under the name of Wave 21.
After graduation, Ivan joined the local pseudo-punk outfit Heaven Seventeen, recognized as one of the hottest new acts in town. Not content with the group’s sound, Ivan left in the summer of ‘78 and formed the basis of what would become one of Canada’s most unique pop groups. The early lineup changed often, but was always a tight-knit group of friends who all came from the rather affluent side of Montreal.
This upbringing formed the basis of Ivan’s social view while writing his music. They began rehearsing in Arrobas’ garage and soon landed some gigs in some of the city’s most ‘happening’ clubs, where their energetic and creative live show quickly caught on. They soon took the act to Toronto with manager Rick Dundas, with whom Ivan worked while in Heaven Seventeen. By the end of the year they were one of the hottest tickets in town throughout both Toronto and Montreal. With Arrobas on drums and guitarist Roman Martin, Ivan handled the singing, guitars and keyboards while Stefan played bass. The next two years saw several more lineup shuffles, including singer Lysanne Thibodeau, Paul Miscala, Marc Gabriel, Jean-Marc Pisapia, who would later put together The Box, and former Heaven Seventeen bandmate Tracy Howe, who would take his guitar and form Rational Youth.
They returned to Montreal to record demos for the next album at Listen Audio studios and in the spring of ‘82 began peddling the tapes to practically every label in North America. Getting nothing but rejections, they continued playing shows to keep the publicity train moving when they received an offer from Statik Records in the UK. A Canadian invasion of Britain, the deal marked one of the few times in history a Canadian band landed a deal in the UK while still unsigned at home. They added Allan McCarthy to the lineup and along with session musicians which included brother Colin, released their first album, Rhythm of Youth, in the spring of 1982, produced by Marc Durand, who would also later with other Montreal acts, such as The Box.
With the success of the lead single “Safety Dance,” they secured a deal at home with Warner and signed with MCA in the US. Clever marketing saw the release of several 12-inch singles geared for club play, and by the end of the year they were one of the hottest new acts on the airwaves. Helped by some very inventive videos now in regular rotation on MTV and MuchMusic, the single entered the Top Ten in 20 different countries, earning them a Grammy nomination for best new artist along the way. Remixes of “Living in China,” “I Like,” and “I Got The Message” were also released, and helped push the album platinum.
In 1984, Men Without Hats released Folk of The Eighties, Part 3. The band followed up their initial album success with the new record’s first single “Where Do The Boys Go,” which quickly went gold and was followed by “Messiahs Die Young,” backed by “No Dancing.”
In between touring the world, Ivan and company took some time off, during which they returned to the cozy setting of their hometown to record their next project. The band released Freeways, a five-song EP in ‘85. The title track had several mixes released and they continued their domination of the new wave/techno scene. After switching to Mercury Records, the Doroschuk brothers recruited Lenny Pinkas as the new drummer and entered the studios to record their next album, 1987’s Pop Goes The World. Though still with keyboards as the music’s main element, Ivan’s lyrics were leaning to more social commentary, quirky beat still intact. Quickly selling gold, the title-track, and its various remixes was followed by “Moonbeam” and “O Sole Mio.”
The band went into the studios outside their native Montreal for the first time when they entered New York’s The Hit Factory in 1988. The resulting sessions turned into The Adventures of Women and Men Without Hats in the 21st Century, released the next year. Backed by the success of a newly remixed “Safety Dance,” it also contained the hits “Hey Men” and “In the 21st Century.” Despite the finely crafted synthesizer-oriented pop however, the good ship Hatless was beginning to sink. Riding the crest of music’s new wave, the band seemed to some to be growing complacent.
Their next project, Sideways, hit the shelves in 1991. Featuring new drummer Mark Langevin, whose other credits include Voivod, the album appeared to be leaning more to a straight-forward pop album, losing some of the electronic edge. Despite the masterfully crafted title-track, the album failed to chart as high as any of the band’s others. With the face of pop turning away from the synthesized-sounds that made Men Without Hats a household name across the globe, the band called it quits in ‘93.
The name resurfaced again in ‘96 when a pair of greatest hits packages were released, Collection in the US on the MCA label and Greatest Hats in Canada on Polydor. Both releases contained the obvious hits as well as remixes of “Safety Dance.” The next year saw Ivan release his self-titled solo debut. Also in 1997 Rhythm of Youth was remastered onto disc, which also contained the band’s first EP and another version of “Safety Dance.” Stefan released his first post-MWH project in 1999, called The McKenzie-Parker Gang.
Men Without Hats was truly one of the few breaths of fresh air radio stations had to offer during the mid-’80s. Bursting with energy, their live shows were events worldwide. Their videos, with their clever storylines and creative flair, were mainstays of the video stations and the numerous remixes of “Safety Dance,” “I Like” and “Pop Goes The World” kept the nightclubs hopping. Many other artists have also covered the band’s material, including Chinese Detectives redoing “Where Do The Boys Go” and Status Quo and Bang Bang both covering “Safety Dance,” and Big Daddy and Weird Al also parodying the song. Colin Doroschuk once declared “Comfort Before Fashion!”
Men Without Hats set the standard for keyboard-pop in the ‘80s, with many clones soon to follow suit. It was fashionable to be like them - and the band settled comfortably into the role. Ivan began toying around with some ideas with his brothers again in late 2000.
Months after completing their first North American tour in over 20 years, Men Without Hats released their first full album in nine years, Love in the Age of War (2012). Of his first U.S. tour in over 20 years last year, Ivan Doroschuk said he had a blast performing his classic hits. Thus, it is natural that Love in the Age of War would be a virtual throwback to Men Without Hats’ years of early success, with high energy synth tracks reminiscent of Rhythm of Youth and Folk of the 80s (Part III). Back are the raw, upbeat keyboard melodies and bass lines that anchored the MWH signature sound as Doroschuk superbly employs his signature baritone voice, one-beat falsettos and ability to stretch out a one syllable word into several (‘everybody kno-o-ows”).