Rock and Growl
Brief overview of Hunters and Collectors.
Author: Grant Muller, The Weekend Australian.
Date: 29-30 November 1986.
Original URL: N/A
Hunters and Collectors are the Aussie battler’s rock group. Now their poet-lyricist, Mark Seymour, is taking there message to the US.
So to all you feelers and fumblers
Waiting for the fireworks to start
Do it now – blow it up yourself
Unbutton the butcher in you heart
-from Everything’s on Fire
Mark Seymour has gone to the United States to prove that a literary genius from the world of rock and roll exists on the fringes of the great Australian deserts.
The haunting, primal rhythms which his band, Hunters and Collectors, have drawn from the heart of our society focus Seymour’s emotive interpretations on the confrontations which exist in our community. There are no pleasant references to Vegemite sandwiches or happy love affairs in his songs – the humanity of the Australian people is what he details in often harsh mesmerising lyrics which demand attention.
He considers himself an accessible poet “because poets are losers and no one is interested in poetry on paper”.
Seymour almost the anti-hero, feeds his habit by writing constantly, discarding 90 per cent of his output and keeping the rest for his lyrics.
The image is carried through in the band’s clothing which never raises itself above old blue jeans and navy singlets or shirts with the sleeves cut out – epitomising the earthy qualities of the Australian battler the group so faithfully believes in.
When Mark Seymour came running into the record company office with his hair saturated from the pouring rain he looked little different from the exhausted, sweat-covered man who waled off stage a few nights before – his face still retained its intensity away from the harsh glare of spotlights.
His compact and powerful frame suited to his long-distance running addiction, he jogged up the stairs of the record company office unconscious of the fuss being made as staff tried to find a dry T-shirt for Mushroom Records’ new hero – working as a roady for friends in another band.
After the praise heaped on to their last album, Human Frailty, Hunters are riding on a high, spurred on by a newly found teenage audience which only one or two years ago had spurned their music for Boy George and Culture Club or the then fashionable Midnight Oil.
The US trip will see the first image update, Seymour said. It’s R.M. Williams shirts with sleeves but no doubt rolled up to the elbows.
“Everybody’ll say I’ve sold out,” he said with a laugh.
“But I could basically wear whatever I liked and I’d still cavort all over the stage and growl and grunt.”
Hunters and Collectors can now lay claim to being in the same class as INXS and Midnight Oil but, where INXS is the pop spirit and Midnight Oil is the political spirit, Mark Seymour leads a band which captures the spirit of the people through rhythm and blues tinged rock and roll.
It is undoubtedly one o the most intense and musically adept bands to have been produced in Australia.
“I just figure Hunters and Collectors aren’t a particularly good-looking group and, if we want to get the passion across about what we do to Americans, for example, we’ve got to make what we say as simple as possible, even simpler than the Bruce Springsteens or the American acts that they recognise.
“We don’t refer to any particular place. What I do is take the most basic issues, I try to define it in terms of the conflict which exists there and write the most basic words about that.
“Being in a rock group has enabled me to get across ideas in a larger-than-life form that would otherwise be ignored because they are so commonplace,” he said, leaning on his elbows and sipping tea in preference to the beer which was offered.”All our songs are about struggle of one form or another oand on the next album we’ve basically shifted our attention to investigate other forms of struggle to which exist in this country and our perception of the world around us – not political songs but just watching friends and watching the way they’ve changed.”
He said the new album title, What’s a Few Men, has been taken from a line in the A.B. Facey book, A Fortunate Life, when Facey was ordered “over the top” at Gallipoli by a British colonel who objected to the smell of decomposing corpses.
The order to pick up dead bodies while under fire mirrored the “perverse concept between two cultures”, he said, once again mentioning the contempt he believes the British have for Australians. “That there could be such a complete lack of understanding between people… is a theme I’ve stuck with for a long time,” Seymour said.
“I think the other thing which makes Hunters more definitive without having to be overtly political or sociological is that we take our environment for granted, we take where we come from for granted in the sense that it’s second nature to us.
“We don’t try to wave flags about any particular issue, we’re not into the journalistic approach of some pop bands.
“To me, it’s restricting your scope of the expressions you have access to,” he said, reflecting on bands such as Midnight Oil and Redgum.
” I think our fans see us as Australian…we’re different lots of other Australian bands that set out to deliberately emulate British styles or American styles. I think we’re seen as being other than that and we’re admired for that. People then take the next step and say ‘What is it that they are?’ and then they say, “oh well, they’re Australian’…”
There is little voyeurism in Mark Seymour’s lyrics as he lives much of what he sings about behind a restaurant in the bowels of Fitzroy St, St Kilda – something which takes the rose from the tint in his glasses.
He cautiously admits his ambition to be a champion 800m and 1500m runner was spurred by a need to get out of endless drug and alcohol binges which are part of the St Kilda “in scene”.
An unspoken familiarity is apparent in his often despairing interpretations of the people who surround him.
“When I was a student there was a movement and a whole effort that young people tried to make a push towards some king of Western utopia,” he said, trying to explain his rather pragmatic observations on society.
“It was like a puzzle and there was some kind of solution to it.” he said. But he has given up trying to find the key.
“One of the last vestiges of that whole attitude to human life is feminism and I worked with that theme quite extensively.”
Nationally, Hunters and Collectors are heard every Tuesday night on the introduction to the ABC’s Rock Arena – a fitting place for the band which almost created a video generation with the release of their film clip, Talking to a Stranger, directed by fellow Australian Richard Lowenstein.
“I think probably the best thing Australia has to offer the rest of the world is the idea that we’re not really part of the rat race.
“I think that’s one thing that appeals to people overseas about Australia – that we’re somehow separate.
“I’m not suggesting we’re a bunch of bushmen like Crocodile Dundee or anything, but despite the fact we are in an urban society…I feel we don’t have the grassroots material desire to get up their and kick arse and make bucks, I think we’re basically prisoners.
“We haven’t thrown off the ball and chain, we’ll always be like that. The next rulers of Australia will be the Japanese.”
He sees Australia as a country of middle-level managers and a working class society – something he approves of.
Hunters and Collectors live form day to day with a keen edge honed finer by the years of pushing and struggling to make it on their own terms.
“The bottom line of it all is just surviving even financially. We’ve managed to get to the point where we play music that we feel strongly about and we’ve preserve our self-respect.”
Thankyou to Tammy for typing out this article for us all to enjoy!