Mark Seymour Westgate SMH Article
A general “Westgate” era interview with Mark Seymour.
Author: Andrew Murfett.
Date: 18 July 2007.
Mark Seymour is tired of wrestling with perceptions.
Genre: Rock, Pop
Location: Revesby Workers’ Club
Address: 2b Brett St, Revesby
Date: 28 July 2007
Phone Bookings: (02) 9772 2100
Online Bookings: www.revesbyworkers.com.au
Mark Seymour is tired of wrestling with perceptions. Since the demise of Hunters and Collectors in 1998, the band’s former frontman has spent the best part of a decade grappling with his legacy. What should have been a positive – his esteemed songwriting career – has instead been something of an albatross as he’s gone on to produce five solid solo albums.
“Hunnas”, of course, were a vital Australian rock bands and a defining act from the storied OZ pub-rock era. Seymour is stoical when his former band is mentioned.
“I read back my interviews and I’m trying to convince people that I’m credible,” he says wearily. “I had a problem with my identity.”
The focus on his previous work has been exasperating for Seymour. Yet something shifted last year when he covered some Hunters and Collectors songs for an acoustic disc, Daytime and the Dark. “I took possession of that material and made it mine again,” he says. “I’d written most of it anyway.”
Having moved from the beachside Melbourne suburb of St Kilda to an outer-suburb he describes as “down the coast”, Seymour’s social circle altered dramatically. Rather than inner-city artists, many of his new cohorts were tradesmen. Between records, and lacking a channel to communicate his observations, he starting blogging on his website, markseymour.com.au. Seymour reflected on Australia’s relative wealth and contrasted that with our diminutive stature on the world stage. He observed that much of the politics discussed in our mainstream media is far removed from what’s going on in the “real Australia”. He spoke of provocative (and articulate) political conversations with his “tradie mates”.
“You’re never going to have that sort of dialogue if you live in St Kilda and listen to Triple J,” he says. “Nobody really knows what Australians think. We’re a culture veiled in secrecy. We who think we know, actually live in a funny little bubble of culture discourse. There’s a whole story in Australia that’s beautiful and intricate.”
Seymour began to explore the idea of writing a book. He is now well advanced on a manuscript for “13 Tonne Theory”.
“The blog was attracting some feedback,” he says. “It dawned on me that if I strung enough of these short stories together, I could write a book about a period of my life.”
Seymour and his management pitched to various publishers with an eye on literary value rather than being an expose on the music business.
“It’s about the culture of the times,” he says. “I’m not selling double-platinum albums any more and I believe I have a voice which is more complex than me just singing with a guitar.”
It was in this vein that Seymour began writing for his newly released album, Westgate.
Early last year he met theatre director Donna Jackson and became involved in a production that was part of the trade union movement’s eight-hour-day commemorations. We Built This City featured Seymour, the 40-strong Trade Union Choir, a workers’ band, a soundtrack of industrial percussion and a cast of 45 construction workers.
Jackson’s passion for Victorian history had a profound impact on Seymour. He immersed himself in the story of a man who fell off a wire during the Westgate Bridge collapse of 1970 but managed to survive when so many perished.
“This event affected hundreds of Australians through no fault of their own,” he says. “How they responded and where their strength of character lies fascinates me.”
It was this story that got him going on Westgate. “This album is unlike anything I’ve done before,” he says. “I tried to do something special and different.”
As with most acts unflatteringly (and undeservedly) lumped into the “heritage-rock” basket, Seymour is aware that commercial radio airplay is virtually out of the question. Instead, he relies on a consistent touring schedule and a compelling live show to spread the word about his music.
“I have to go to radio stations that are not the slightest bit interested in my new music,” he says. “I use my past as a way into these places. I have to deal with either stupid people or those not interested in my new work. I know they’ll talk to me because I used to be in Hunters. I find it intensely annoying, but I still do it. As long as I can make time to do the work I really care about, and there’s an audience for it, I can justify doing the other stuff. It’s a huge trade-off but it’s always been that way.”