Men Without Hats was founded in Montreal in 1977 as a punk rock band featuring Ivan Doroschuk (vocals), Pete Seabrooke (guitar), Dave Hill (bass) and John Gurrin (drums). Ivan had previously sung in a band called Wave 21 with Jérémie Arrobas (vocals, keyboards), Stefan Doroschuk (bass) and Colin Doroschuk (guitar). In 1979, Wave 21 renamed themselves Men Without Hats, after the punk band.
The Doroschuk brothers, all three of whom are classically trained musicians, were born in Champaign, Illinois while their father, a Canadian, was earning a doctoral degree. They moved to Montreal as young children when their parents returned to Canada. The group's name came about because the brothers, following a self-described principle of "style before comfort," refused to wear hats during Montreal's cold winters, calling themselves "the men without hats."
In addition to the Doroschuks, the group has also included numerous additional members and guest or touring performers, many of whom quickly came and left during the first five years. Frontman and songwriter Ivan Doroschuk was the only constant member, while Stefan and Colin Doroschuk as well as Arrobas remained as relatively steady members through the early 1980s.
Their first recording to be released was the 1980 EP Folk of the 80's. At this point, the band had changed styles from punk to new wave and officially consisted of Ivan (vocals, bass) and Arrobas (keyboards); also appearing on the EP were auxiliary members Stefan Doroschuk (bass), Roman Martyn (guitars), and Lynne Thibodeau (backing vocals).
Shortly after the release of the debut EP, Martyn left and was replaced by Jean-Marc Pisapia, who stayed only a short time before leaving, and later founded The Box. Pisapia was replaced briefly by Tracy Howe, who also left in short order, co-founding Rational Youth shortly after his departure. Howe was replaced by keyboardist Mike Gabriel. Arrobas and Gabriel left the group just before the recording of the next album.
Ivan and Stefan (now promoted to full membership status) subsequently recruited Allan McCarthy (percussion, electronics) to join the group, and recorded their 1982 full-length debut album Rhythm of Youth. The trio subsequently enjoyed a hit in Canada with "The Safety Dance", which peaked at No. 11 in May 1983. The song soon charted in the United States, spending four weeks at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, and was a major hit in the UK Singles Chart, peaking at No. 6. The song also reached the top ten in various other European countries, peaked at No. 2 in New Zealand, and was rated the 11th biggest-selling single of the year in South Africa in 1983.
Adding Colin (who had guested on Rhythm of Youth) as an official fourth member, Men Without Hats released the album Folk of the 80's (Part III) in 1984. While lead single "Where Do The Boys Go?" was a top 40 hit in Canada, the album failed to match the international success of Rhythm of Youth.
In 1985, the band released the EP Freeways, consisting of multiple (and multi-lingual) remixes of one of their earliest efforts, Ivan and Arrobas's 1980 song "Freeways" (which had previously been released as a B-side in 1982). To support the EP, the group undertook a related tour, footage from which would later (in 2006) be released on DVD as Live Hats.
Reshuffling the line-up again, the band released the album Pop Goes the World in 1987 with Ivan, Stefan, and Lenny Pinkas. The song "Pop Goes the World" reached No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100, No. 2 on the Canadian Singles Chart, and was No. 1 in Austria. The song was later featured in the 1987 film Date with an Angel, and became the fifteenth biggest selling single in South Africa for 1988.
The group's next album, The Adventures of Women & Men Without Hate in the 21st Century, released in 1989, featured a cover of ABBA's song "SOS." The musicians on the album were essentially the touring band from Pop Goes the World, which included Bruce Murphy on keyboards and guitar, Marika Tjelios on bass, Richard Sampson on drums, and Heidi Garcia on vocals and keyboards.
The 1991 album Sideways, dominated by electric guitars instead of keyboards, revealed a dramatically different sound for the band, based in part on Ivan's exposure to Nirvana. According to Ivan, "We had a contractual obligation for one more album with Polygram so I said to them, we'll take half of the allotted budget if they would allow us to do the record I wanted... so we did this guitar-oriented record but Polygram were horrified. 'Men Without Hats without keyboards aren't going to work,' they claimed and that was the end of the story with Polygram." The line-up on the album was Ivan on vocals, Félix Matte on lead guitar, John Kastner on rhythm guitar, Stefan on bass, Michel Langevin on drums and Colin on keyboards.
The group officially disbanded in 1993, after the career setback of failing to attract another American label as a result of the negative reception to Sideways. The band's final concert was a benefit to support a women's shelter in Montreal, with guitarist Denis D'Amour replacing Matte and Kastner, who both had left the band in 1992.
Projects during the 1990s and 2000s
After disbanding, lead singer Ivan and keyboardist Bruce Murphy went on to record several demos in 1993 for a concept album tentatively titled UFO's are Real, which was never released. Ivan recorded and released a solo album, The Spell, in 1997. Former band member Allan McCarthy died due to AIDS complications in 1995. Under the name MacKenzie-Parker Gang, Stefan and Mack MacKenzie (of the Canadian alt-country band Three O'Clock Train) released Ride for Glory (1999), a post-modern Western-themed album.
After a ten-year hiatus, No Hats Beyond This Point was released in November 2003, returning the band to their early new wave style. In interviews around the time of the release, the band had mentioned a tour to support the release and a box set dedicated to the band's early years, which was to include the Folk of the 80's and Freeways EPs, the band's first two albums, a concert that was televised in 1985, unreleased demos and remixes of "The Safety Dance". None of this came to fruition, though, and the band split up once again in early 2004. This was the end of Stefan's involvement with Men Without Hats.
Colin turned his attention to opera and classical music, becoming Artistic Director of Montreal's Northern Opera Theatre and composer-in-residence at British Columbia's Ballet Victoria. His works include the opera Evangeline, based on a Longfellow poem, first performed in 2014.
In 2006, the Trilogie Musique label released a DVD called Live Hats, featuring a concert at Le Spectrum theater in Montreal on August 8, 1985 that had been televised that year. The release was unauthorized by the band, and it was pulled out of print shortly after.
Reformation in 2010
Ivan reformed Men Without Hats in 2010 as the frontman and lead vocalist, and joined by backup musicians that he hired through auditions. The band debuted on September 24, 2010, at the Rifflandia Music Festival in Victoria, British Columbia, performing ten songs from the Men Without Hats back catalogue. The revived band was described by the Austin American-Statesman as "simply singer Ivan Doroschuk and some hired guns" and by Stefan as a "tribute band." Despite these initial reactions, the band's "Dance If You Want Tour" opened in March 2011 with a well-attended and positively received performance at Austin's South by Southwest event.
In June 2011, Ivan told a festival audience that the group would record a new studio album, announcing the news at North by Northeast in Toronto. The album was originally to be titled Folk of the 80's (Part IV), but in March 2012, the band posted on Facebook that it would instead be called Love in the Age of War, and would be released that summer.
Love in the Age of War, produced by Dave Ogilvie of Skinny Puppy, was released in June 2012 and received mostly favorable reviews. Ogilvie and Doroschuk set out to faithfully reproduce and update the group's classic synthesizer sound of the 1980s, intentionally making a follow-up album to 1982's Rhythm of Youth. According to Doroschuk, they pretended to be "working on a 24-track machine, for example, and not the virtual, infinity-plus-one number of tracks that you can get today. We went out and got the old synths that we used back then... the identical instruments, so it wasn't soft synths, it was really real synthesizers."
By 2011, Doroschuk had taken on three of his touring musicians as full band members: James Love on guitar and backing vocals, Louise (Lou) Dawson on keyboards and backing vocals, and Mark Olexson on keyboards and backing vocals, all of whom performed on Love in the Age of War. Colin Doroschuk also appeared on the album as a vocalist. After the album was recorded, Doroschuk doubled down on the band's synthesizer-heavy sound by replacing Olexson with Vancouver musician Rachel Ashmore, on keyboards and backing vocals, as the group's second synthesist.
Men Without Hats again toured the United States in 2013, as part of the 1980s-themed "Regeneration Tour," with contemporaries such as Howard Jones, Andy Bell of Erasure, and Berlin. The band's continuing activity has included tours in Europe in 2015 and 2016.
As part of a "Totally '80s" show that toured Australia in July 2016, Doroschuk performed as Men Without Hats without other band members, "singing with the house band.... [to] set the stage for a proper visit with the full band." In October 2016, prior to a European tour, Sho Murray replaced Love as guitarist.