Covered in True Romance

Well written article about Mark and his latest album Seventh Heaven Club.

Author:  Iain Shedden, The Australian.

Date: 13 March 2013.

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Article Text

It’s not too surprising that Mark Seymour has a thing about love songs. He has written plenty of them in his 30 or so years as a performer.

Throw Your Arms Around Me, co-written early in his career with his bandmates from Hunters and Collectors, remains one the Aussie classics of the form, beloved of karaoke tragics, covers bands and – of course – those who go to see Seymour perform today.

It’s 15 years since H&C split and slightly longer since Seymour took his first tentative steps as a solo artist, releasing his debut album King Without a Clue in 1997. Since then seven more studio albums have emerged, but the latest one, Seventh Heaven Club, has two distinctions from his previous efforts: all of the songs are about love and Seymour didn’t write any of them.

Instead the Melbourne-based singer has plundered the catalogues of classic songwriters, including Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Jackson Browne, among others, to shape the new collection. But that wasn’t his original plan.

Seymour’s routine when he’s preparing to write new material is to play some of his favourite songs by other artists to give him inspiration. Some of those songs have been part of his live repertoire for years. “I use covers as a way of stepping off into my own world,” he says.

One such song that inspires him, Beside You, is by New Zealand singer-songwriter Dave Dobbyn and it was that song, one of 12 tracks on Seventh Heaven Club, that led Seymour down the path of love. “Suddenly I realised I was dealing with a whole lot of covers. It became obvious after a while that I had all of these songs in my head that I’m drawn to. These songs are quite significant to me in my internal processing.”

All of the songs have a love theme and some are performed as duets with female singers, including American roots star Lucinda Williams, our own Abby Dobson and Seymour’s 16-year old daughter Hannah, who adds her sweet vocal to the opening song, a version of the Pogues’ Lorelei.

“I’ve been performing that song for years,” he says. “I knew I was going to record it and I heard Hannah singing in her room one day and it was obvious she should sing it. The woman’s voice in that song is a ghost. She’s a mythological character. She is the voice of Lorelei inside someone’s head. Hannah also has the quality of that pure Celtic tone. She’s the right person for it.”

Seymour says that each of the songs contains a particular lyric that had a profound effect on him when he heard it. One such is the track Caroline by American band Concrete Blonde. “I always remember the line of her seeing the face of a lover in the window of a passing train,” he says. “It’s incredibly sad. There’s an incredible feeling of yearning and loss in that line. A lot of the songs have a particular line in them that has stayed with me. With the Jackson Browne song (Late for the Sky) it’s that idea of waking up in the morning and looking at the person on the pillow next to you and not knowing who they are. That’s a powerful idea. I like to think that’s why I found the song.”

Scoring a duet with the queen of alt country, Williams, albeit by mail, was something of a coup, even if it is on one of her songs, Come On.

“We sent the multi-track across to her,” says Seymour.

“She said she wanted to do it and recorded three versions and sent them back. I love the angst in that song. It’s brutal, aggressive and full of irony. It’s not really a lyric built for duets, but the idea of the two voices having opposite spins on the same song appealed to me.”

And it must be nice to tick the box of singing with one of the US’s most respected roots performers. “Oh yes,” he says. “I’m pretty happy about that.”

Seymour hasn’t always been the happiest of chaps, as he documented so eloquently in his memoir of the Hunters and Collectors years, Thirteen Tonne Theory, published in 2008.

With self-deprecating humour and no little ability to tell a story, Seymour stripped bare how the Hunter and Collectors collective rose to prominence in Australia in the 1980s, almost imploded after relocating to England, failing to find the same level of success there, and how his own insecurities were a recurring problem and played a significant part in the end of the band in the late 90s.

“I had a massive amount of self-doubt and I wouldn’t push for things if I thought the emotional fabric of the group would be disrupted,” he says.

“It was always incredibly difficult for me to say what I wanted. I just had to grow up. When the band ended it just had to end. There were people I couldn’t work with. I couldn’t lie to them. I felt a lot of guilt.

“You look at a lot of the really successful rock groups, they have a level of democracy, but there’s an understanding about who the writers are. You have to give the writers space. That’s kind of what I struggled with the most. I was serving many masters and I ran out of steam. Nothing wrong with me or them. It just ran its course.”

Nowadays he does have a band, the Undertow, which features on the new album and will be accompanying him on various dates around the country in the next few months, including shows at Byron Bay Bluesfest in northern NSW. He’ll be joined there by trumpet player Jack Howard, one of his old Hunters bandmates, as well as his eldest daughter Eva, who will be taking Hannah’s place on Lorelei as well as singing other duets.

When he’s done with all that, Seymour plans to finish his next book, a work of fiction, that he has been planning since Thirteen Tonne Theory’s success.

“There’s a lot of complexity in fiction that is radically different to what I did with Thirteen Tonne Theory,” he says. “I have some of it written, but I’ve stopped because I realise I have to take a lot of time off work to do it.”

His first love, however, is being on the stage.

“Performance is really critical to me … the act of being on stage and singing and thinking about what the voice does. And if there’s greatness in a love song, then it’s infinitely performable.”

Seventh Heaven Club is out now.