The Final Cut

Great article, taken from interviews with Barry Palmer (guitar).

Author: Annette Basile.

Date: March 10, 1998.


Article Text

Barry Palmer’s candid, rapid-fire conversation suddenly halts. The stumbling block is a question about apparent discontent in the Hunters & Collectors camp, circa 1992, during the making of Cut. There’s the impression that the band could’ve split at this time, and that Palmer was less than impressed with the record. After quizzing me as to how I have this information (no great mystery, an old Rolling Stone article), he breaks into laughter.

“I hated it”, says the guitarist. “Let’s call a spade a spade here. No, I didn’t hate it – I hated the process. It was the first time I’d come into contact with your serious American producer. Now the other people in the band had come in contact with that before, and they’d had their Waterloo a couple of years earlier when they made What’s A Few Men? with whatever his name is – some boothead from America –  and my turn came with Cut. The producer [Don Gehman] and I just didn’t hit it off [laughs], I mean, that would be one of the great understatements. I just didn’t understand what his approach to music was, it was that simple. Whereas nowadays, it’d be water off a duck’s back… With Cut, there were a few other people in the band who were in exactly the same mind as myself, they thought it was a really phoney way to make a record. As it turned out of course, there are some fantastic songs on it…”

Palmer is considerably happier with Juggernaut, the album which now closes the band’s 17 year career. “It’s not a record like Cut,” he says, “which is pretty approachable for the average geezer. But I think this one will stand the test of time.” It’s an excellent album, but like vocalist Mark Seymour’s recent solo effort, King Without a Clue (which Palmer was heavily involved with), it takes some time to fully appreciate. Palmer agrees. “We’d listen to the songs a few times, whatever form they were in, and try to find a way around that wasn’t the usual way… and of course that makes it more complex in the long run. I think that’s when people don’t kind of understand the song when they first hear it. I mean, my favourite songs – the ones that stood the test of time for me – are always the ones I didn’t quite get when I first heard them.”

The 90’s model Hunters (or Hunnas, if you must) isn’t the dark beast it once was. The sounds are more subtle now, but the rough edges and songwriting sensibility remain intact. For a band that’s on home soil in the realms of pub rock – that arena providing their die-hard fanbase – they were/are remarkably left-field. They connected the primal with the cerebral (they also connected brass with blue singlets). There aren’t many other ‘Oz pub bands’ influenced by the likes of German experimentalists, Can. Hunters & Collectors took their name from a Can song, and later recorded in their (West) German studio, making the magnificently disquieting Jaws of Life there in 1984.

“I’ve been in the band during the more commercially acceptable part”, says Palmer who was initiated in 1988. “Obviously they made some great albums before I joined, the bastards! Like, I wish I was there for Human Frailty. I wish I was there for Jaws of Life, and that really wasn’t what they were on about any more. Although at the same time, some really good records have been made while I’ve been in the band. I thought Demon Flower was a great record, it’s a real return to form, that one. I think this one and Demon Flower sit pretty good together. They’re pretty similar in lots of ways. There’s some songs on both records that I’d throw away, but you know, it’s not my band.”

If it’s not Palmer’s band, then whose is it? Certainly, in the public eye, it’s Seymour’s group (he’s listed as supplying vocals and “grief” on Juggernaut). Yet there’s also the impression that the ‘band as family unit’ element is operating here. They even list their sound engineer/graphic designer Robert Miles as a full member. “He’s involved in every decision,” says Palmer. “He does all the artwork…he’s mixed the live sound for every single gig the band’s ever done. It’s good, he’s kind of a member that’s also an outsider at the time – he’s one step back from the band in our petty politicking that we can go on with.

“It’s true I suppose”, he says later, “that if you go through that much crap together, it certainly has a bonding effect [laughs]. I mean, you come to rely on the band for different things. I’m not talking about life-or-death stuff. I’m just talking about when you’re out on the road, and you want a quiet chat, then you go to blah-blah. If you want to go and have a raucous laugh, you go to someone else. And if you want to be kicked in the head, you go to someone else.” Everybody has their roles, I comment. “Yeah,” he replies, “I don’t know what mine is [laughs]. Got no idea.”

Right now, Palmer will go on to his other role in Melbourne’s Deadstar (which also featured Nick Seymour, Mark’s brother and ex-Crowded House person, who has since left the band). “I’ll be able to finish the Hunters with this huge smile on my face and go onto Deadstar with exactly the same smile intact.”

The decision to split H&C, Palmer explains, eventuated a year ago, roughly coinciding with the loss of another iconic Australian band, Hoodoo Gurus. “When you see the journalists talking about the history of Australian music,” Palmer comments, “very, very often you’ll see both Hunters and Gurus left out, or one or the other left out…We don’t enter their imaginations for some reason.

“It’s really about touring,” he says later, explaining the reasons for the split. “If you release albums in Australia, you’ve gotta go out and tour behind them, and everybody in the band, except Jeremy [Smith] has got kids. [Palmer has four]. Touring sounds very appealing and very exciting. When you don’t have those major kinds of commitments – and I’m talking about love commitments, not financial – it’s really easy to scoot around the world. We’ve done plenty of it, and it’s been really wonderful along the way, but I think now I just want to spend more time at home. That’s really mundane, isn’t it?. When you get together with your friends, and you realise that you’re all talking about The Bill, you know it’s time to stop touring.”

Yet they still had a lot of road-work to get out of their collective system, with this final tour taking in over 50 dates. “There’s a couple of intrepid explorers in this band, namely [bassist] John Archer and Robert Miles – who had this kind of, I don’t know why – but this great idea that we should go right around Australia. Complete the circle, in both a symbolic sense and in a real sense [laughs].

“So I’m getting my own sorry arse dragged to bloody Darwin on this spiritual search of theirs. Bastards.”

~ From Caelie’s archives.