Seymour (Australian Style)
Brief Cut era interview with Mark Seymour about music and personalities.
Author: Australian Style.
Date: ~January 1993.
Original URL: N/A.
Fool rushes in where angels fear to tread. Maybe that’s why Mark Seymour sings True Tears Of Joy, why he holds up lines like “passion is your weakness, but you feed it every day.”
Hear the litany of character: An intellectual obsesses with the physical transcendence of distance running, and who still talks with the awkwardness of a man who’s read a language he cannot speak. Mark Seymour an emotionalist who negotiates sensitivity like a boxer that confuses rage with love, will with loyalty, and regrets it.
Both earnest and self-effacing, Seymour reflects on his life with a naked humour and fuck-it-all willingness to go blow for blow with the truth. In two works, pretentious and honest as hell – is it any wonder that the theatre of live rock ‘n’ roll, the emotionally compressed diary of songwriting, should suit his imagination so well?
Out there on the public line between petulance and reason, the boy and the main in Seymour are still having it out. Inevitably a conversation with him pours, the proverbial vessel overfull and fit to burst.
But more than usual, Seymour appears ready for change, at times vibrating with the thirtysomething need. It’s likely all of Hunters and Collectors are equally feeling ‘the change’. And yet Head Above Water’s ecstatic masculine rage previewed them closed to a mid-life edge than they’ve willingly explored on their new album Cut.
Producer Don Gehman (Diesel; R.E.M.; Mellancamp) has done more to shine the band’s identity than rearrange the creative kaleidoscope. Nonetheless, a liberal determination to survive pervades much of the album, the wings of desire remains steeled by a goodly dose of earthly lust as much as visionary hope. Texturally that involves ’90’s dance-pop technology refracting through the rock ‘n’ roll circus that Hunters have to relentlessly defined on the road.
“We were becoming too aware of our peer group,” Seymour charges. “The thing is, if you’re forever playing in Australia and growing in Australia – and not having much success internationally – it’s like you’re bouncing off the walls musically.”
“There’s only a limited number of reference points you can use. And the thing about touring here is that the rock scene is so marginalised. Club music and rock music in Australia are so separated.
“We’d just come off the back of the biggest selling single we’d ever had – which is When The River Runs Dry. If we’d gone, ‘Okay, how are we going to maximise our commercial impact, sell more records and placate the industry’, then we would have made another record that sounded like it. It’s obvious.”
Thus Head Above Water was born. Perpetual percussion and the lyrics of Throw Your Arms Around Me tilted to the windmill of fuck-off and I-don’t-care. A rebel without a cause, Seymour chanted “I’m supposed to be a saint so I fake it.” Yet listening to another track like We The People, one sees Hunters’ anthemic sentimentality still in full flight.
“I can specifically remember the first thing I thought of with that song was the expression, ‘We The People’.
“There was a completely different version of it when we demo-ed it. I was trying to describe the state of mind of someone who lived in a tower-block, in a crowded urbane situation. The claustrophobia, and it’s ultimate affect on your perceptions; the awareness of people through the wall in really close proximity. And learning to live in that state.
“I wrestled with it for a while and wasn’t able to come up with anything, in a three minute song, that conveyed this idea of mass. Eventually – I don’t know where or why – the first line of the American Declaration of Independence came to mind. As much for the irony as anything else.
“But after a while I started appreciating that even in the most impossible idealism of that statement of collective consciousness, it’s the impossibility which makes it so beautiful. The idea you can go and see this writing enshrined in a Washington monument. It’s like the Declaration of a whole historical epoch that’s passed us by – but it still has a truth about it because it is so pure.”
Rock music and the ritual of playing in a huge pub environment are not always given to such historical purity. The soul-saving definitions of an epoch, the catchphrases that uplift the common man – such things are so often stumbled into as created. And what of the nights when Seymour has gone out and exorcised a sour mood, moving people into more negative territory? Has he ever seen himself do that, and lived to regret it?
“Um… yeah,” he says, more than a little self-amused. “I really owe the band a lot. I think now, because I’ve started to appreciate behavioural patterns I can slip into if I’m not careful, it’s the fact I’ve been with these people that has enabled me to get the best out of myself. I mean, I’m capable of generating a lot of enthusiasm and positive energy when I’m right-minded, but on the other hand I’m quite capable of being incredibly destructive as well.
“The band were never interested in that side of me. They just ignore it. Like John Archer (bass) for example. John’s fundamentally an extremely positive person on the physical level – he’s very much into building things. And he just tunes out if I’m in a that mood. And I go away and sulk,” Seymour explains, laughing. “And then come back.”
If the flipside to focus and dedicate can be psychosis, then a conversation with Seymour flies with an intensity that’s worrying. But in the adrenalised consciousness that running or performing can similarly induce, Seymour may yet give shape to the jigsaw energies that pull apart the way he sees. Whatever the speculations, it’s certain he is ready to do or die with all kinds of demons and angels that preoccupy his thinking.
Is that worth knowing about? Seymour has his doubts. “You watch Donahue and the American parade of self-analysis that goes on everyday. I just find it incredibly offensive. Because really and truly what’s going on – the drama and the pain and the joy that people are feeling with themselves – it’s something that only that person understands and really knows about.”
What a strange eye to live in. “Well… hey, I’m a prostitute,” he says. “I’ll admit that right now. The Pop Group said that – We’re All Prostitutes. Because we all are trying to live. Life is the most precious commodity we’ve got and we’ll hand onto it and whatever it takes.”