Talking to Strangers

Early article on Mark Seymour’s solo career and inspirations.

Author: Carl Hammerschmidt, Max.

Date: ~1998.

Original URL: N/A.


Article Text

Title – Talking to Strangers
Information – Mark Seymour Article
Publication – Max
Author –
Date – Unknown

Talking to Strangers
Problems relating? Mark Seymour’s still the man to speak to.

Mark Seymour is more alone than ever. Not so much on an emotional level, but after 17 years of being the founder and lyrical heart of one of the most successful touring bands in the history of Australian rock, he’s finally decided to take up as a solo artist.

“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised that my chops have improved and that I am capable of writing on my own,” he says. “Also I was starting to feel frustrated working within the confines of the band, and that was something I really had to come to terms with over the last two years.”

His new band, which includes brother Nick (ex-Crowded House / Deadstar), have recorded an album (King without a Clue) of poppier fare than for which he is known, but the songs remain the same.

Renowned as a brooder, today the 40-something Seymour is thoughtful but chatty, his chiselled jaw the stuff of movie stars not pub rockers. For years he’s been the sensitive songwriter’s bit of rough trade and has wrestled with not wanted to be seen as the pop star but rather as an “eloquent”, “lucid” and “intellectually together” musician.

In the heady days of being on the road with Hunters & Collectors he admits to having been a “piss artist” who “let the drugs and booze do the talking.” He also regrets trying to seek redemption through relationships over those years. Now, he says, as a musician dealing with the artistic vulnerability of working solo, he’s finding a sense of reconciliation has entered most parts of his life.

These are small mercies which have entered his life, but not necessarily other’s. The guy in his mid-20’s, who has been moving past our sidewalk table in Kings Cross, finally pulls up. With well-worn trackpants and an edgy demeanour, he eyes off the beers on the table.

“Scuse me peoples, VB’s good, but…” he turns to Seymour and feigns caught-by-surprise recognition. “That’s Mr Hunter and Collector?”

“That’s right mate. How you going?”

“You know, my sister was right into that….myself, I prefer other things, but…” he switches back to his introductory line. “Yeah, VB’s good, but Melbourne Bitter’s a much better drop.”

The entrée has been accomplished and now he’s talking about a failed relationship, showing his Irish tattoo with his dead son’s name underneath. Half finishing each sentence, he’s feeling out Seymour’s reactions, seeing whether he falls into the category of ‘good bloke’ who understands the problems of a man down on his luck. Seymour is listening, nodding, unsure where this might lead.

“I do a bit of poetry here and there myself,” he continues, “but because I’m a crazy Irish bastard I usually just drink all day. Anyway Mr Seymour….Mark, isn’t it? I saw you on that music show the other morning, doing that song of yours…I can’t say I liked it much, but who am I to say, you’re the guy that makes the living from it. Anyway, see you later mate…” He strolls off down the road.

Seymour turns back laughing, “He had to say that so I wouldn’t think that he was sucking up too much.”

I put it to Seymour that no-one in Australian music has been able to make Australian men look at themselves as much as he has. His songs about the pride of work, about alienation which breeds anger, about sexual relations turned sour, have been at the crux of an Australian male condition for so long.

“I’ve had experiences over the years which have made me write about the dysfunctional males – especially those who can’t relate to women. I mean I’ve had a life, you know? And I’ve still very much got one….”

He’s not interested in giving any specific examples but there have been periods where a self-destructive nature has turned the father of two into a “control freak” with women. “Because I’ve worked in an environment which is almost exclusively male, you see men at their best and their worst, so it was inevitable that I developed this case study attitude to the male ego.

“I don’t think that it’s a peculiarly Australian type that I sing about,” he adds. “I don’t think we’ve got the whole dysfunctional thing wrapped up. In this country Australian men don’t disguise themselves as well, so things tend to be a lot more up front. Australian men also set themselves up more profoundly than men from other countries do. When Australian men fall, they fall from a great height, so in that way, in my songs, they’re easier to investigate directly.”

Ten minutes later and Seymour’s new friend is back. He wants to go down to the phone booth to call up his sister – it was her 23rd birthday two days ago – and for Mark to get on the line and say hello. Down the street they both head. However, either sadly or by absolutely no coincidence at all, no one’s home.

Mark Seymour, he once joked, would like to be remembered, artistically, as being the guy who could get a room of pissed up yobs to tell, ‘You don’t make me feel like a woman anymore!’ This was because if women chastise men for being insensitive yobs, and that’s a part of the Australian way of courtship, then for him to be able to provoke something so self-knowing, he has made an impact.

“Australian music is driven by male artists, which is different to overseas, and quite a sad fact. So I fit really easily into a particular mould as a bloke who writes his own lyrics. I’m not a mouthpiece for other people’s songs, so I’m in a position where other people can relate everything they know to me.”

And that, as Mark Seymour knows better than anyone, is always going to guarantee you someone to talk to.





Thanks to Stephen for typing out this article for us all to enjoy.