Mark Seymour on new album Slow Dawn, isolation creativity and a new world order

A great Mark Seymour interview on the event of the release of the Slow Dawn album.

Author:  Lisa Rockman, Newcastle Herald.

Date: 27 May 2020.

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Mark Seymour on new album Slow Dawn, isolation creativity and a new world order

Mark Seymour, who releases new album Slow Dawn with his band The Undertow tomorrow, is feeling philosophical.

He started writing the album while on tour in South Africa in 2017 and says he was “deeply moved by the history of that country” and found himself drawing historical comparisons with Australia.

“Both nations were formed on the back of the expansion of the British Empire and the pursuit of wealth by European entrepreneurs,” Seymour said.

“Recent research in this country has re-focused our attention on the racial violence inflicted on Indigenous Australians in the original occupation of land by white settlers and paints an entirely different picture from the benign stories I was brought up with.”

The title track Slow Dawn touches directly on this subject.

“I spent the early part of my childhood in Victorian country towns where racism was a hidden but largely accepted part of our lives,” he said.

“To draw comparisons between the conspicuous racial violence in South Africa and the secrecy surrounding the massacres of early colonial life in Australia only leads to one conclusion. Australia dodged a bullet.”

Slow Dawn is Seymour’s 10th solo studio album and the fourth released under his band Mark Seymour & The Undertow.

Seymour has now released more solo albums than he has with Hunters & Collectors.

More albums could be on the way, too, given the creative inspiration he has been experiencing during the coronavirus lockdown.

“There’s been plenty of writing. And plenty to reflect on as well,” he said.

“This whole event has huge historical implications. A once-in-a-lifetime experience to live through.

“Actually the whole year has had an epic feeling given the pandemic arrived so soon after the bushfires.

“My greatest concern with all of this is how it has affected the arts. Film, television, music. The cultural sector generally. JobKeeper rules have denied access to a casualised work force that dominates in this sector.”

Seymour says he was fortunate to have been touring with Hunters & Collectors “just as the virus broke so we’re OK financially for now”.

“It’s been far from good for many, though, whose work circumstances have seen them slip through the cracks,” he continued.

“There are vast areas of outer Melbourne that are economically dead right now and a reversion to the original Newstart allowance once the restrictions are eased would be catastrophic for many.

“It’s great to see how orderly the whole process has been though. Australia’s performance has been exceptional and even courageous. It’s quite humbling to see.

“Once the initial alarm wore off we got down to survival like everyone else – obey the rules, exercise in the morning, cook, clean and lots of writing.

“It’s been hard for those who’ve lost loved ones, though, and health workers especially have been under enormous stress.”

He says he is wary about making predictions but has his own thoughts about the post-COVID world. A world where social distancing restrictions will be gradually eased, and the flow-on effect from that.

“I do like the idea of the ‘Black Swan’ – the historical accident no one can see coming that arrives and suddenly changes things,” he explained.

“It’s arguable that COVID is one of those. That said, the capacity of nations to adapt was always on the cards given the sophistication of health systems in some countries and not in others.

“There was something political at play in the way some nations were able to react faster than others. I think the outcome of that will forge new alliances. Britain and the US have been catastrophically weakened by COVID.

“I also think we will see the mass capitalisation of health technology almost on equal footing with defence.

“There I go making predictions [laughs].

“It’ll be interesting to watch the political contest as we come out the other end. Whether the Morrison government reverts to a snap-back approach to economic management or whether parts of the economy can be re-shaped through spending and investment in construction and manufacturing, with a million people out of work.”

So, does he think the music industry has been forever changed?

“The biggest lesson I’ve learned over many years of touring has been to adapt and maintain a positive attitude,” Seymour replied. “Big outdoor shows may not reappear for a long time. Sad though that is, live music has been taking knocks for far longer. Doof doof, digital recording, pokies – all considered a threat to live music in their day. But we always seem to find a way.”