The Coolest Band Around
Early article on the formation of Hunters and Collectors and their first album.
Author: Helen Thomas, The National Times.
Date: 5-11 September 1982.
They have been feted, for the past year as the prices of Australian rock. Hunters and Collectors, the music grapevine screamed, are the visionaries of native pop culture, the intelligentsia, the group most likely to.
More simply, they are where it’s at” the hippest, coolest band around. Our own “art” act, in fact – talking heads meet fun boy three meets Brian Eno somewhere south of Mudgee. None of which would be particularly interesting, where it not that Hunters and Collectors are also one of the most commercial groups in the country right now.
Their self-titled and long-awaited album is charting strongly in Melbourne and Sydney, with little to no radio airplay and the band pack –out venues at almost every stop. And they seem to have cut many of the music industry’s most treacherous corners, since starting in Melbourne’s inner- city 18 months ago and romping to a lead in both the mainstream and underground scenes.
They grew out of a frothy, funtime outfit called the Jetsonnes. “It was a bit of a quantum leap really – and sideways as much as ahead,” says drummer Doug Flaconer.
“Some of the ideas we’re pursuing now started surfacing towards the end of the Jetsonnes, but I don’t think that band was capable of pulling it off at the time. So it really is a separate thing” elements cross over, though not the real basic structure”.
Both Falconer and lead singer/guitarist Mark Seymour, are bothered the avant-garde mantle Hinters and Collectors have worn since their first gig. “Perhaps (it was) new and exciting,” they say in unison, “but not avant-garde”.
“They said it, we didn’t,” recalls the drummer. “We get a lot of labels put on us, from different directions, very few of which have any relevance to the truth. Not that we know what the truth is. We just do what we do…
“I particularly dislike labels of a musical nature, trying to pin it down to a style – like funk, like disco, like whatever – because it does cross over a lot of different styles. But we got about every label in the first three months and we survived them.”
One way of summing – up the group is to say they present a farrago of rhythm, beneath mood instrumentals. Yet, this is clearly a topic that concerns these musicians, an issue they have spent much time analysing, along with other major themes of the rock culture.
“The notion of being avant-garde, or otherwise in popular music is fairly spurious – particularly in a town like this one,” says Mark Seymour, sipping beer form a can in a comfortable, double- storey terrace in portside Albert Park.
For some strange reason, lots o of people cling to the notion that certain bands are capable (of being) or are, avant-garde, in relation to other bands. But their development in front of an audience is dictated by a much more complex range of things and feelings and forces than the notion of being musically different.
“The idea of being in the vanguard of a particular idea at a particular time in this day and age – to me- is an anachronism because if you’re dealing with popular music, you’re dealing with an extremely eclectic art form.
“So the most practical way of surviving, creatively, is to be eclectic. And being eclectic is the antithesis of being avant-garde.”
The two men – Falconer an ex-intern, Seymour an ex-school teacher – have clearly studied the traditional boundaries (mythical and musical) of this most malleable idiom and if they didn’t set out to be avant-garde, they did intend to get noticed. To stand apart, all the while retaining a marketable appeal. Even their song’s titles – Junket Head, Talking to a Stranger, Alligator Music, World of Stone –seem to reflect this desire.
Both Hunters and Collectors agree that being adept, musically, also helped push them into the limelight last year, eventually to sign with Mushroom record’s offshoot, “alternate” White label. But Seymour stresses that the band’s independent approach, not to mention its collective decision-making process, carved a mark in the industry.
“What we’ve achieved is quite political, that’s why we’ve sparked so much interest. Our relationship with the industry is an extremely political one. We’ve followed a particular course and the industry’s had to come and meet that line, that direction we’ve chosen.”
Of course, it should be noted that groups like Midnight Oil and Mental as Anything have already hoed this road, making it easier for young, innovative bands to achieve headway without losing all sense of identity to the booking agency/recording company/PR machine.
Modesty, however, is not a trait Hunters and Collectors are renowned for. In fact, they seem to flaunt an academic confidence, if not arrogance, in conversation on-stage, they ooze that odd, malignant “maleness” peculiar to little boys with big guitars.
It’s not surprising, then, that their most ardent fans at live gigs are other young males.
“It’s got a lot to do with the nature of sexuality in rock, y’know,” says Mark Seymour.
“We’re quite masculine in a fairly middle-class sense, which means that the sort of people who pick up on that are young, kind of healthy boys. They come up the front and identify with the individuals on stage. But that’s not particularly important, for me.
“It’s interesting to the extent that i happens by proxy of performance, it’s not within our control…If we were to try and manipulate our sexuality in a theatrical sense, we would probably appeal to an audience of young girls. Which is not particularly relevant to what our music’s about.”
Hunters and Collectors on record obviously appeal to a diverse array of record buyers, which neither Seymour or Falconer fine incongruous with their “political” stance within the industries’ framework.
“We’re a fantastic commercial band,” the guitarist insists. That Countdown host Ian “Molly” Meldrum has recently raved about them literally to millions is another fact the band just takes in stride.
“He’s a victim of enjoying a band that plays with an extremely good live sound as much as any other person who comes and sees us. The reason he likes us is because our live performance works – that’s the reason the album’s sold,” Seymour says.
A little later, he adds that Meldrum’s praise “might have something to do with the fact that we’re an all-male band and we’re cute. It wouldn’t surprise me at all…”
Cute? The Concise Oxford Dictionary (of current English) defines that word as meaning “clever, shrewd: ingenious”. Indeed.
Thanks to Tammy for typing this one out for us all to enjoy!