Mark Seymour: ‘I do struggle with Hunters & Collectors’

An interesting, reflective interview with Mark Seymour on challenging subjects.

Author:  Benjamin Law, Sydney Morning Herald.

Date: 14 August 2020.

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Each week, Benjamin Law asks public figures to discuss the subjects we’re told to keep private by getting them to roll a die. The numbers they land on are the topics they’re given. This week, he talks to Mark Seymour. The singer-songwriter, 64, was the frontman for Hunters & Collectors for 18 years. His latest album with his band, the Undertow, is Slow Dawn.

I’ve had to compromise my lifestyle in many ways so my body can stay in one piece.


Q. You lost your mother in 2015. How did that affect you?

A. It was a long, drawn-out process because she had Alzheimer’s. But I spent a lot more time alone with her, in that stage, than I’ve ever done in my entire life. Being in her physical presence like that, alone in a room, holding her hand – I liked it, actually. But death from Alzheimer’s … by the time they get to the point where they’re going, you sort of want them to go.

Q. There must be a relief alongside the grief.

A. There’s no quality of life in the end.

Q. What would you want other people losing loved ones to Alzheimer’s to know?

A. Make sure you get a good doctor. Initially we went through this process of constantly trying to stimulate her, but we were eventually advised that’s not such a great idea because they just get confused. She had sensory awareness and that was enough.

Q. What are your fondest memories of her?

A. She was the peacemaker in quite a tumultuous family. A very gifted, highly intelligent and educated woman. She had a brutal wit. She hardly spoke, and when she did, everyone listened.

Q. What did you inherit from her?

A. Definitely singing – her interest in it, more than anything else. Obviously I picked up the ball and ran with it in my early 20s. She taught us how to sing, essentially.

Q. What has the grieving process been like?

A. In a really strange way, I don’t think of her as being dead. In fact, when a parent dies, you tend to become more connected with your childhood, in a strange way. I went through a lot of old photographs – my father had hundreds and hundreds, so I converted them all to digital files.

Q. Hunters & Collectors officially disbanded in 1998. You’ve occasionally played together since. Did that break-up feel like a death, in a way?

A. This is quite a difficult subject. I do struggle with the band, I must say. We do play together occasionally, but … it’s a strange group of people! As someone said to me, it’s a bit like family: there’s a lot of sort of psychological dysfunction. [Laughs] There’s greatness there as well – musical greatness, obviously. Some things we got right; a lot of things we didn’t. I’m not really over them yet. Maybe I never will be.


Q. You’ve observed before that much of politics discussed in mainstream media is far removed from what’s going on in the “real Australia”. What do you mean?

A. What people do in the polling booth is really driven about personal circumstance. Overwhelmingly, human beings react to democracy on that level: they react according to their circumstance. So I don’t take the culture wars very seriously.

Q. Are there specific issues politicians tend to ignore that bug you?

A. Well, I was really profoundly upset and disappointed by the attitude of conservative politics towards asylum seekers and refugees. The image and the national character assassination of refugees that has gone on for 15 or 20 years is just absolutely appalling. It’s a stain on our collective consciousness.

Q. If an election was called right now, how do you reckon you’d vote and what would your vote be based on?

A. Well, the Labor Party – and this sounds like a cliché – speaks to wage-earners, who aren’t entrepreneurs, who aren’t running businesses. People who just have jobs, are saving up superannuation, have mortgages. There’s this whole massive community of Australians who aren’t capitalists, and a majority of the people who aren’t running business. Labor speaks to them.


Q. You’re 64 now. Are you happy with your body?

A. Pretty much! [Laughs] I’m quite happy. I’ve always been into sport: athletics, cycling, surfing. I’ve got a punching bag in the garage: very therapeutic; I thoroughly recommend it. That said, I’ve had a lot of injuries.

Q. Tell me more about your injuries.

A. Look, I’m probably a statistic: both knees … well, not reconstructed but definitely cleaned up. The right knee’s pretty bad. A tear in my right Achilles from when I was 21. A dodgy left shoulder. They all sort of ping every so often when I’ve had too much to drink. Which I rarely do now. I’ve had to compromise my lifestyle in many ways so my body can stay in one piece … but it’s fine.

Q. In your 2008 book, Thirteen Tonne Theory: Life Inside Hunter & Collectors, you outline backstage supplies the band requested for every show: 96 cans of beer, two large bottles of vodka, four bottles of chardonnay …

A. It’s astronomical, isn’t it? I still find it confronting. I’ve had to become very conservative in that respect. I still drink. But I’m just very careful. I watch it all the time.

Q. So what’s in your backstage rider when you tour now?

A. Well, the Undertow are very quiet. [Laughs] We work all the time, so it’s really just professional. We treat it like it’s a job. It’s a much more quiet environment. We tend to arrive and leave. Maybe a couple of bevvies back in the motel room afterwards.

Q. What do you dislike about ageing?

A. There are things I used to be able to do physically that I can’t anymore. I used to be able to run fast. And I can’t do that now. [Laughs]

Q. Conversely, what can you still do at your age that might surprise people?

A. Get on stage, sing for two-and-a-half hours, and it doesn’t really touch the sides. Sing at a high level of power and intensity for a long period of time.