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Australian interview/article with Mark Seymour prior to the release of “Ghost Nation”.
Author: Stuart Coupe.
Date: October 1989.
Moving from beer barn to beer barn, Hunters and Collectors keep turning out rock ‘n’ roll with passion and power. Mark Seymour reports on the state of the nation 1989 to Stuart Coupe.
Don’t ever expect to see a paunchy, middle-aged Mark Seymour, his band, Hunters & Collectors long since having vanished into the rock ‘n’ roll history books, standing in a used car lot hustling buyers to take some overpriced junk heap off his hands. Chances are the Hunters will still be going in ten years; and, if not, Seymour will probably still be touting his songs around the pubs, driving from beer barn to beer barn in his trusty Monaro.
You see, Seymour is one of that incredibly rare breed of musicians who isn’t in rock ‘n’ roll for the bucks. Sure, he’s happy to get paid for what he and the Hunters do, but it goes deeper than that.
“It’s like the stock market, isn’t it?” Seymour laughs over a late breakfast at Bondi’s Wet Bar.
I’d just suggested to him that most new bands these days think that if they haven’t made the big time after a couple of years it’s time to pack the guitar away and start looking for another way to make a quick buck for a living – like selling used cars.
“I come from a different generation and I just don’t see it that way at all,” Seymour continues. “I see what I do as terminal. I’ll be sitting on a bar stool one day playing acoustic guitar and writing poetic lyrics about human experience. To me it’s incredibly important that people do that.
“Put another way, it’s true that the majority of big success stories nowadays are the ones that make it fairly quickly. I don’t want to stop what I’m doing just because that’s the order.
“I’d rather go out and play at Parramatta Leagues Club and get off on it and actually get the inspiration to go and write more songs. It’s better for me to ignore my peers to a large degree because peer pressures can be really destructive.”
Seymour and Hunters and Collectors have been making inspired rock ‘n’ roll for almost a decade now. To my mind they mature and improve with each album, although Seymour argues that their best recording is not their last album,What’s A Few Men?, but the album before that, Human Frailty.
And, of course, he’s of the opinion that the band’s forthcoming album, Ghost Nation, is at least as good as anything they’ve done, if not better. Although the album won’t be released until the end of the year, a first single, When the River Runs Dry, is already in the shops.
While he’s far from being a humourless guy, Seymour certainly takes his music very seriously. There’s a constant process of evaluating what he and the band are doing, and the ever-changing interaction between the band members.
Around the release of What’s A Few Men? it was beginning to seem as though the band should be billed as Mark Seymour and Hunters and Collectors. That was something Seymour was aware of and something he’s worked hard to alter with the band’s current recording and live performances.
“I thought that was a really destructive direction to go in, because the band is known for its power and that’s something that’s created by the whole group,” Seymour says.
“For the life of me I don’t know how that happens with rock bands, but the thing that really excites people about groups is the fact that they can generate that kind of mysterious excitement that just happens because a number of people go onstage and they just click.
“That’s a very special thing and I don’t think I could ever match that on my own. I fully intend doing something on my own, but now is not the time. I wanted to make another record with the band, we all wanted to, after the last one.
“It’s a constant process of every time we finish a record we go, ‘we can do better than that’. We also wanted with this record to really give ourselves enough time to plan things out a lot further.”
Seymour doesn’t consider that Ghost Nation is a radical departure from previous Hunters and Collectors albums, except for the fact that there’s more overall band input into this album.
“It’s sort of been a gradual process of rediscovering ourselves as a band,” he says. “It’s really difficult to stand back and say ‘we’re different for these reasons’. But the most important thing for the band in this whole project has been rediscovering each other as musicians.
“It had come to a stage where my songwriting skills were being…I’d sort of tried to force them down the band’s throat, and in another set of circumstances with different kinds of musicians, I can function like that, but we basically had to reconcile the fact that our drummer, Doug, really wants to have a certain amount of control. Then with the introduction of Barry, our new guitar player, that kind of diverted people’s attention away from me, and Doug was able to get back in there again and start moving the rhythms around like he used to in the old days.”
Lyrically, Ghost Nation takes off where What’s A Few Men? left off, Seymour explains that he usually looks for reference points on the band’s previous record and then goes on from there.
Certainly a number of songs on What’s A Few Men? were concerned with Melbourne nightlife and the lifestyles of people who inhabit that twilight zone.
“I felt like I’d contracted yuppies disease because in Melbourne it’s all style, and appearance becomes so important, and people are incredibly preoccupied with those ideas,” Seymour explains. “The last album was all variations on that theme, the way people want to give the impression that they have money and that they’re in control of their lives.
“That’s a real obsession with society now, I think. What I’ve tried to do is, take it a step further and start talking more about the whole picture of what modern lifestyle is, what people value and what is actually important.
“That’s why the environment has become such and important theme in contemporary culture, so what I try and do is incorporate that with the whole biblical idea of things coming full circle.
“I’m not referring directly to the environment either; it’s more within a bigger framework of people’s obsession with success and the desire to make money. But then again, there’s some other songs that are nothing to do with that. There’s one in particular, called Spring Fever which is just basically getting your rocks off.”
Later Seymour plays a tape off six of the almost completed songs that will eventually make up Ghost Nation. All sound magnificent, with a standout beingBlind Eye, a song that was inspired by, of all things, Queensland’s Gold Coast.
“I’ve always wanted to write a song about the Gold Coast and I just felt that it was a particularly potent example of this whole idea of people’s obsession with success, and the power- a whole urban landscape, people have just dug into it and created these edifices,” Seymour says.
Big band, big themes. Seymour and the Hunters have always been concerned with the big picture, and the fact that they come from Australia is never a reason not to look at things from a global perspective.
“One thing we’ve always argued is that the Australian environment is as good a place as any to express really big themes and sentiments about human life in rock ‘n’ roll,” Seymour says. “You don’t actually have to have success overseas to make that point.”
Hunters and Collectors have had little success overseas. They’ve toured Europe and America a number of times, and whilst building a small but fervent cult following, there’s been no hit records, and no significant signs so far that they’re going to reach the heights of INXS, Midnight Oil, Crowded House or Men at Work. A scheduled tour of the States with Crowded House last year was cancelled and Seymour reckons that was demoralising, but Hunters have shown that they always have the strength to bounce back.
And certainly there’s no signs that Hunters are about to give this rock ‘n’ roll caper away. Seymour counters that INXS, the Church, the Angels, and a host of other bands have been at it longer than the Hunters.
“I just feel that as long as you’re making records that you like, and as long as you’re developing musically, it’s alright,” Seymour says. “You always seem to be able to get better if you’re hungry, and if you’re after something and you don’t feel as though you’ve arrived at that point, you make the effort.”
Hunters and Collectors, whilst adored by thousands, have on occasion been derided by some of our more pretentious rock critics as being ‘just another pub rock ‘n’ roll band’. It’s as if playing in pubs is seen as some sort of crime and that true ‘artists’ don’t do those sorts of things.
Not surprisingly, Seymour has little time for these assessments of what he and the band do. He feels no shame about being successful in front of houses at Australian beer barns.
“Well, I think we are a pub rock band,” he says. “I don’t think that’s particularly bad. I tend to get quite philosophical about it. I don’t think you can evaluate the quality of what we do just because we play in pubs.
“Well, maybe you can… you can say that we play the kind of music that does well in pubs, but at the same time you can’t turn around and say, consequently, it’s not interesting because we play in pubs.
“I have an attitude about that in the sense that I think critically aware people, people who like to think that they are actually aware of the arts and are involved in them, think there’s a hierarchy of culture; and I suppose there is to some degree, but basically we all piss in each other’s pockets.
“With enough planning and enough knowledge you can become incredibly successful, and it’s like the way INXS’s credibility went through the roof. They made it in America and suddenly everyone said Kick was a great album. You watch people suddenly endorsing it.
“It’s like what happened with AC/DC. As soon as a band actually cracks it overseas suddenly it never mattered that they played in the Western suburbs for years. That wasn’t such a terrible thing, or it’s forgotten.
“The fact that we’re playing the Western suburbs and making a living that way is looked upon as being somehow artistically inferior, which I don’t think is true. What we try and do, with our music and my lyrics… I’m not trying to boast, but I think there’s a hell of a lot of stuff in the market place that has a lot of credibility both commercially and artistically, that I just think is a bag of shit.”
Typed up by Caelie.