Rock Steady

An article from Who Magazine about Michael Waters unusual career change to accountancy.

Author: Paul Connolly.

Date: 24 August 1998.


Article Text

After nearly two decades with rock band Hunters & Collectors Michael Waters takes a walk on the daggy side. By Paul Connolly.

For seventeen years Michael Waters blew his horn for renowned Australian rock outfit Hunters & Collectors. For nearly two decades the baby-faced trombonist and sometimes keyboardist live the life of a rock ‘n’ roller, touring the world and “almost every nook and cranny in Australia.” He caroused, be boozed and he went to parties with money stuffed in his underpants. But when the band spilt up in March, Waters, now 37, was forced to cast his net for a job. A real one. His first ever. His first ever. “I always thought there was an accountant lurking in there somewhere,” says Laura Waters, 34, his wife of sever years. “No smart girl would marry a rock musician.”

Nowadays you could almost set your watch to Michael Waters. “This is ABC FM and it’s 7 o’clock…” And so it is he wakes each weekday morning. After a shower and shave, he has breakfast with American-born Laura – who works in program development with Steve Vizard’s Artist Services – and their daughter, Greta, 3. Then, at 8.25 AM, Waters, in “smart casual” attire, sets off on foot from his regular-guy East Kilda home to the South Yarra offices of Roseby, Rosner and Young, certified practising accountants. By 9 AM he’s at his desk. At 1 PM he has lunch, then, at 5.15 PM, he walks out the door and home. Soon it’s dinner, a bit of TV and bed. Next thing he knows, “This is ABC FM and it’s 7 o’clock.” All this for five days, then a weekend of family cramming. “I am completely exhausted by Sunday night and then I have to do it all again,” says Waters, genuinely bemused by the world he’s joined. “I just don’t know how people work full-time.”

While he’s finding it hard to get his head around the routine, there’s a part of Michael Waters that’s quite happe to lead this Groundhog Day existence. On March 24, Hunters & Collectors – best known for the album Human Frailty and the anthemic single Throw Your Arms Around Me – played their last gig, at the Hi-Fi Bar & Ballroom in Melbourne. “We decided it was time,” says Waters (who picked up the music gene from his mother, Judith, a former piano teacher), one of the band’s eight regular members. “I felt like the band’s career had plateaued. Nothing was happening to us overseas and I would rather the band go out on a high note.”

What’s more, the guys were tired, getting old, and had families they weren’t seeing enough of. They no longer revelled in life between gigs. After one particular tour “we were big, fat, nasty alcoholics,” laughs Waters. A “dysfunctional” family, adds Laura. A hiatus during 1996 – when Michael played husband and a lot of golf, and completed a graduate diploma in accounting – gave the band a taste of another life. Suddenly the grind of touring looked especially unattractive. “If you could just have that two hours of the day [performing] then that was really fantastic – the other 22 hours were a pain in the arse.”

For most musicians, accountancy sounds like a sea change from hell, but for Waters, who has a commerce degree from the University of Melbourne, it was a logical step (not only because his now deceased father, Bernard, was an accountant). During the band’s tough early days he managed their finances – including payroll, superannuation and budgeting – and continued the role until they split. “I’m sure it was a drag for him sometimes,” says ex-Hunter Jeremy Smith, 34, who wrote the theme music for an upcoming ABC series, The Games. “But in some ways we all had responsibilities outside of playing. What people were best at, that’s the responsibility they assumed. We were all confident in Michael.” Still, balancing the books after each gig – and tour – became a drag, especially when the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle still had allure. “I remember I was picking up the money, everyone was going to a party and I wanted to go too,” says Waters, “but I didn’t want to carry the money around so I ended up stuffing it in my underpants.”

Suits, rather than jocks, were on Water’s mind when – having looked around for an accounting firm with music industry links – he nervously fronted at Roseby, Rosner and Young late last year. His only suit, the one he married in, had to do. “I was more obsessed with what was the right thing to wear than I was with actually how to behave or what to say,” says Waters. The interview went well but it wasn’t until May – after he sent the firm a lengthy business proposal on how he could make money for them – that Waters was hired, specifically to work with Australian bands, artists and entertainers. (In a similar way he joined Hunters, renowned for their brassy sound, when friend Jack Howard told the band after a gig that the pair could do a better job than the current brass section.) And so his new life began. “I feel like I’ve moved to another country,” he says. “The people are all friendly but it’s taking me a while to learn the language and the customs.”

Michael’s job meant Laura – who met him in Washington DVD after a 1990 Hunters concert – was also reaching for a phrase book. Before Michael joined the rat race, he managed the house and took care of Greta. “The first few mornings we were just petrified,” laughs Laura, how seven months pregnant with their second child. “He’d have his briefcase, I’d have my briefcase, Greta would have her lunch box and we’d wander out to the station wagon. I was thinking ‘I can’t believe this is our lives,’ It was so Leave It To Beaver.

Waters is gradually adjusting, but old habits die hard. “There are not so many parties now,” says Laura, “because we are too tired. We did go to a party last weekend .. and I had to practically beg him to leave. He still drinks like a Hunter & Collector.” He admits it’s hard letting the old life go, and, it seems, the music. “It would be a complete waste to stop playing but I don’t feel like it at the moment and I don’t have time,” he laments. “It’s not a whole lot of fun playing the trombone by yourself.”