Q&A: Mark Seymour, singer-songwriter, 63

An interview with Mark Seymour for the release of his Slow Dawn album.

Author:  Andew McMillen, The Weekend Australian Magazine.

Date: 30 May 2020.

Original URL: https://www.theaustralian.com.au/weekend-australian-magazine/qa-mark-seymour-singersongwriter-63/news-story/14cd8c2c2ce4e6bf899cfde8ce3f19f9


Article Text

You were frontman with Hunters & Collectors for 17 years. How has your relationship with the band’s most-loved songs – the likes of Holy Grail and Throw Your Arms Around Me – changed over the years? I’m really fond of them. There’s a bunch of them that I really, really like. I think there was an attitude within the group – and I still think it’s there a bit – that we’re a lot bigger than we actually were. Look at groups like Cold Chisel, or John Farnham – they had massive record sales; it’s a whole different rock’n’roll animal. Instead we were on this long, slow curve.

As a band leader now with The Undertow, what have you learnt that you wished you’d known earlier in your career? Mate, there’s a can of worms [laughs], you really want to open that? I’ve worked with many different musicians, but the one lesson I’ve fully digested is that the quality of the relationships is critical. There has to be trust and open-heartedness. The beauty about the combination of guys we’ve got now is they’re all older, and they don’t sweat the small issues. The process of feedback is relatively efficient – they just go, “Shithouse” and I go, “I know what you mean – let’s move on.”

How does that differ to writing songs with Hunters & Collectors, which had nine voices in the mix? There’s a collectivism in that group that’s just naive and deluded, I’m sorry to say, and it ultimately affects the quality of the work. You’ve got to be able to be robustly critical, and sometimes people have got fragile egos… If you’re in a group of artists and you’re trying to create greatness, dare I say it, you have to be robust, because it’s 99 per cent perspiration.

Like Don Walker and Jimmy Barnes, you like to write songs in your head while on long drives, don’t you? Often, it’s just when I’m alone. I find solitude and isolation is a very useful place to be, and the thing about driving is that you’re pushed into a position where you may have some work obligation but it’s downtime, so your mind can go into the state, and it becomes useful.

What effect has the lockdown had on the release of your new album, Slow Dawn? A whole lot of stuff was cancelled. But we’re looking long-term now, and I think the record’s got a lot of depth to it. I spent a couple of years writing songs for it, and it covers a massive amount of terrain. It’s like a travelogue: it was born in South Africa, where I wrote the first tune, Kliptown Mud. A lot of the songs on the record are basically yarns that have underlying questions involved – and I don’t have answers, necessarily.

The album was recorded in Byron Bay – what was that like? It’s not a destination I’d choose; I tend to wear shoes [laughs]. I’m more of an urban creature, but it was beautiful, I walked on the beach a lot. We stayed at B&Bs, drove over to the producer’s place in the morning, worked really hard for six hours a day, went home, ate and went to bed.

Your tour with James Reyne was postponed because of the pandemic. What have you been doing instead? Well, I’ve sort of stopped playing [laughs]. I’m writing a lot, but I’m not playing guitar. That’ll change quite dramatically because we’ve got rehearsals over the next 10 days, if we’re allowed to, so we’ll start cranking up again in the next little while.

Slow Dawn is out now via Bloodlines/Mushroom. Mark Seymour will tour with James Reyne next year.