Shedding Skin

Note: May be incomplete.

Frank Brunetti interviews Mark Seymour for this Human Frailty era article.

Author:  Frank Brunetti, Countdown.

Date: August 1986.

Original URL: N/A.

 

Article Text

The collected thoughts of Mark Seymour, by Frank Brunetti

For the first few years of their existence I never cared much for Hunters & Collectors. They were a group without a style, or at least, a group whose style consisted of a profound lack thereof. In spite of their much acclaimed onstage dynamics, for me they had no internal combustion, no musical fireworks.

None of their variously purloined characteristics were satisfactorily woven into a sound. Metal percussionist Greg Perano was always off on one tangent, guitarist Martin Lubran on another and keyboardist Geoff Crosby usually inaudible. Meanwhile, there in the middle, looking like a pint-sized Arnold Schwarzenegger in sheepish clothing stood mainman Mark Seymour sounding like…well, Dave Warner trying to be a black soul brother is about the best way I can describe it.

Worst of all, their ‘songs’ seemed to be nothing more than pompous workouts designed to steamroll the audience into submission. Even when they happened on a good song like Talking To A Stranger, it was tricked up with all sorts of effects and disarrangements until the song itself collapsed under the weight of the band’s self-conscious attempts to be as ‘epic’ as possible; bombastic was perhaps a more accurate description.

Now for the good news. After a long and no doubt painful period of self-laceration – out went the second guitar, the LPG cylinders, the keyboards – Hunters & Collectors began to emerge as a more direct, wholly more enjoyable outfit.

Their on-stage theatrics gave way to a straight ahead, warts and all semi nakedness, the wilfully obscure claptrap of Payload and The Fireman’s Curse made way for the tough, tender, soulful and even humorous songs that made up 1984’s The Jaws of Life, the album that signalled their rebirth.

Last year they released The Way To Go Out, a competent though undistinguished live album. More importantly, in terms of future direction was their next single, the original version of the forcefully seductive Throw Your Arms Around Me, a song that many claimed should have been a hit, but didn’t even manage to score any airplay on commercial radio.

Well, now we can all stop worrying. After all the false starts 1986 has finally seen Hunters strike paydirt, both artistically and commercially with Human Frailty.

Produced by Gavin Mackillop (Public Image, Do-Re-Mi), the album is a collection of honest – at times almost embarrassingly so – and direct songs that combines Hunters & Collectors rock ‘n’ roll muscles with pop hooks and contemporary though not overly slick production values.

Simplicity, directness, honesty….the last things I once would have expected from Hunters. Furthermore, it’s a hit! The first two singles, Say Goodbye (already my choice as one of THE singles of ’86) and the rerecorded version of Throw Your Arms Around Me, have made a big splash, picking up airplay on both TV and radio and making solid dents in the charts.

Mark Seymour, understandingly is more than happy with this state of affairs.

“I’m really pleased with the way things have been going. A year ago I wanted this to happen. I wanted the band to become a household name in Australia. I figured it was the best path for us to take. But, I don’t know….it hasn’t really changed anything for us lifestylewise.”

What? Surely with all this television exposure he’s getting recognised in the streets.

“Well, yeah. I had to sign a couple of autographs the other day. It was pretty embarrassing. I was in the middle of the street and these two girls came running up to me and asked me to sign their tram tickets.”

This kind of thing has been a long time coming for Hunters & Collectors. After the huge hype that initially surrounded them through no fault of their own, they seemed to fizzle like a damp firecracker. Why is it they’re finally making a breakthrough now?

“It’s a combination of things. We’ve been working towards making this record for some time. We’ve been learning to translate what we do on to record. Also Mushroom’s been hanging out to have a band on the label that had credibility in the pubs and that they can promote on the same level that they promote their other bands like Kids In The Kitchen. When this album came through Mushroom started jumping up and down and decided it was worth getting behind us so they’ve been spending money and giving us more publicity.”

One of the hallmarks of Human Frailty is the straightforward nature of the songs, especially in comparison to the clutter that messed up their early records. Put simply, it just sounds better.

“We’ve tried to bring it back to the most basic components so that everybody could get it. The guitar, bass and drums are really simple and direct but still have a full sound which we’ve tried to do on previous records. The Jaws Of Life had a good ambiance about it but it sounded like it was really far away. It didn’t hit you directly.”

How much of the new, improved Hunters sound is due to working with English producer Gavin Mackillop?

“Gavin was basically concerned with bringing out the melodic side of things, especially with my singing because I’ve always tended to treat the melody as a secondary thing. As far as the music sounds though, we’d worked all that out beforehand.”

One of the initial impressions people encountering Hunters for the first time come away with is the muscular, physical nature of their appearance. A far cry from the pseudo New Romantic threads in which they once clothed themselves.

“We’ve always had some kind of image and over the years it’s changed radically. Now I wear t-shirts on stage simply because they don’t rot on your back. In a year’s time our music will have developed in a different direction but we’ll still be wearing t-shirts. They’re here to stay!”

Yet it’s their muscular appearance allied to their muscular music which causes some people to mistake Hunters for some kind of macho mouthpiece. In fact, they’re quite the opposite. Does Seymour think that people are getting the thrust of his lyrics?

“No, I’m not sure that everybody’s getting it. There’s a certain subtlety to the way I write lyrics that I don’t think people are getting on to, but that’s the nature of the job.”

Well, what exactly is he getting at?

“I set out a while ago to throw off the disguises of masculinity. That was something I recognised as being a big no-no in rock ‘ n’ roll. A couple of years ago you couldn’t be that straightforward about your heterosexuality if you were male. You had to be androgynous or psychedelic or whatever. You couldn’t be straightforward, heterosexual, red-blooded, normal.

“This sort of thing came about through a number of different circumstances. I just decided I was going to be really direct about what my sexuality was.”

Seymour has gone on record stating that Human Frailty, particularly the song Say Goodbye is in part the true story of the end of a long-term relationship with his former girlfriend.

“What I did do last year was to start writing lyrics directly from personal experience. Almost immediately a thing happened to me I’d write it down. It was very vicarious but I figured it was time Hunters & Collectors started expressing things that were unequivocal, that could not be misconstrued or misinterpreted, that were totally ambiguous.

“I’d been through this period of being very metaphysical and writing almost mystic sort of stuff and I just wanted to throw away the disguises. I don’t know whether that alienates people or not. It’s weird being that personal, but it’s been done before – Dylan used to write intensely personal lyrics. Blood on the Tracks, for example, is a really great record in that respect.”

Hunters & Collectors have toured and released records overseas before with little success. Human Frailty seems to be their best shot at making a real impact in Europe and the States, and accordingly, they’ll be off again soon.

“We’ve got a deal with London Records in Europe and with IRS in the States. We’re going to America in September to tour with R.E.M. for a while, then we’ll bail out of that and tour on our own. If we keep ourselves healthy we’re going to be really strong, really aggressive and tight.”

After all these years, Seymour still seems to relish the idea of being in a band.

“Sure! I love it. I think it’s very romantic actually. I’m a believer in that side of things. You just have to make a few adjustments in your personal life but it’s something that only happens once in your life and you’ve got to make the most of it. Besides, there’s no way I could get up in the morning!”

 

Comments

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