Hunting… And Collecting
Various words on Hunters and Collectors from the Countdown Magazine’s 1986 annual.
Author: Rosa Senese, various.
Date: October 1986.
Hunting… and Collecting
The scent of success was there, but Hunters and Collectors made the kill their way. Rosa Senese follows the trail from cultland to chartland…
Quote from Mark Seymour, circa 1985: “I think we have the capacity to become extremely popular”.
That capacity wasn’t always evident to all, but the following year proved Mr Seymour to be 100% correct. The impossible happened in 1986. Hunters and Collectors had a top ten single! Performed on countdown! Were asked for autographs in the street! Had a gold album! And lots of other things that merit exclamation marks.
It was certainly a major transition from the willfully obscure cult band that they started as. They were getting very close to the mark with songs like Throw Your Arms Around Me (which should have been a hit the first time round) from 1985’s Jaws Of Life set. The material was simple, forceful and emotive. But it was the ’86 collection Human Frailty which finally made the connection with listeners, record buyers and media. A bracket of songs which demolished the distinctions between power and sensitivity, it fulfilled the near impossible task of pleasing old mans, new ones and critics. The Hunters and Collectors sound was stripped back to basics, devoid of it’s earlier tortured complexities but retaining it’s fullness and directness. It paid homage to the traditional backbeat of the Australian pub band sound while divesting that of its customary cliches.
A sort of elegant, deliberate ugliness prevailed.
They made perfect sense to look at, clad in dead ordinary shearers singlets. They made perfect sense to listen to as well. Mark Seymour’s lyrics were unmistakably clear and direct, written with remarkable personal candour and highlighted by startlingly concrete images. As he explained about his writing: “I’d been through this period of being very metaphysical and writing almost mystic sort of stuff and I just wanted to throw away the disguises… almost as soon as a thing happened to me I’d write it down”.
Consequently, a purported bust-up with a girlfriend, as documented on the song Say Goodbye, became the basis for the first Hunters and Collectors single in the top 10. Human Frailty notched up gold album sales. This would have been unthinkable only a few years earlier. Commercial radio also discovered Hunters for the first time, after the band complained for years of programmers ignoring their records.
As singer, guitarist, writer and frontman, Mark Seymour became an unlikely sort of symbol in his own right. The “thinking woman’s pin-up” as he was tagged, he stood out as the new, sensitive male, forthright about the hitherto ideologically unsound nature of male heterosexuality. “I set out to throw off the disguises of masculinity,” he explained. “That was something I recognised as being a big no-no in rock and roll”.
The lyrics he sang on Human Frailty were brutally honest account of personal recollections, relationship blues and sexual politics from a male point of view. If that freedom of emotional expression looked at odds with the muscular, singlet-clad appearance, then it was a quiet subversion of a common Australian stereotype.
In the overall view, Hunters and Collectors are another bunch of aspirants for overseas success. This won’t be their first attempt. They’ve made the customary pilgrimage of the Australian band to London, living there for six months and recording The Fireman’s Curse.
Having done so, they don’t seem unduly preoccupied with paying homage to the international big time. So, if they break there, it will probably be on their own terms.
Hunters singed a record deal this year with the American IRS label, home of such luminaries as REM. The band were set for an extended college circuit tour of the US about now. On the other side of the Atlantic they’re signed to London Records.
At least they should know by now, from unhappy experience, how to treat record companies. A previous contract with Virgin in the UK was quite a disaster for the band, who found themselves completely misunderstood by the company. They should fare better this time.
Back in Australia, Say Goodbye was followed up by a new version of Throw Your Arms Around Me (they must really believe in that song). Next, also from the album, came the plaintive Everything’s On Fire, the video of which was banned from some shows for supposedly inciting kiddies to arson (is this being literal-minded or what!?).
In all the activity of ’86, Hunters maintained an unimpeachable ideological record. They have been one of the few bands to successfully crossover in Australian music. They have opened themselves up to mainstream audiences while retaining their credibility among alternative circles, relying on their excellent standard of songwriting and musicianship to achieve it. There’s no apparent reason why they can’t do greater things in the coming year, with a clear conscience.
So when Mark Seymour says something, listen. He’ll probably be right…
Hunters and Collectors and Mark Seymour are mentioned in many other places in this magazine, including:
1. In the magazine introduction:
Hunters and Collectors put the chopper to the blimpish epics which have characterised much of their six-year development, and became the Checked-Shirt Riders of the Charts with a sinewy, open and direct bunch of songs called Human Frailty, which, while bringing them wider exposure, did not sacrifice their uniqueness.
2. Molly Meldrum’s comments on the year:
One of my favourite albums of the year was the Hunters and Collectors’ Human Frailty. What a great surprise they were! I first saw them six or so years ago but then, I think, they had strong peer group pressure put on them by people they hung out with and they went off on a tangent. To come back with some of the best Australian songs of ’86 was great to see.
3. Quotes of the year:
August ’86: Hunter and Collector Mark Seymour:
“I wanted the band to become a household name in Australia.”
4. The “Turkey Awards”:
The combined Nautilus Arnold Schwarzenegger mounted bicep award to Mark Seymour.
5. Crowded House profile. Nicholas Seymour’s survey responses (Nick and Mark Seymour are brothers):
Low point of ’86: Trying to convince my brother not to compete with me.
Treasured possession(s): My brother, my car, my studio.
Essential listening: Empire State live, Orchestra of Skin and Bone EP, Human Frailty – Hunters and Collectors.
Heroes: David Byrne, Jimmy Stewart, Mark Seymour.
6. “Brothers Of Rock” article, which includes Nick and Mark Seymour.
For two school teacher parents who were unmusical they did OK. We all had piano lessons at an early age, and did violin at high school. We had the Seymour Family Singers with our two sisters, an interpretation of the Von Trapp family from The Sound Of Music. We sang at country association meetings, weddings, fetes.
Mark was a complete dag back then. A complete and utter dag. Like he wore his school uniform to the letter, even the straight tie. He was totally dictated by our father. He has had a really hard time of it. Like he was a brilliant painter at school, his matric art folio was fantastic, but Dad wouldn’t let him go to art school. He made him go to university to be a teacher. I think that’s why Mark was so driven in his desire to get Hunters and Collectors going. He was living his teen years later, really. It made it a lot easier for me. Because he was two years older, he had to pave the way, so out parents were more lenient on me.
We were incredible competitive too. The rivalry was understood by our parents, so if he got something, I did too, but for everything he achieved I had to as well, scholastically and later, musically. We had a massive falling out over Mark’s first band The Jetsons. We’d tried unsuccessfully to start a band together before that and I thought all the Jetsons songs were rip offs of the songs we’d worked out. I didn’t speak to Mark for six months after that. We’d been living together up till then too. Then Greg Perano the percussionist and I had been talking about starting a band and that turned out to be the Hunters, because Mark and I couldn’t work together, I wasn’t involved. I was devastated for years. I desperately wanted to be in that band.
Mark’s extremely volatile. He wavers between being extremely up or extremely down, but because of his disciplined upbringing he’d think it would be better to be down. He’s always doubting what he does. He’s very aware of how people think of him too. I’ve noticed a real change in the past year though.
It took our parents a long time to accept that rock ‘n’ roll was a legitimate profession. My father said to me when I was about 14 or 15 that rock ‘n’ roll was the devil’s music. He’s quite convinced it’s evil. He was a high school principle and so was always having to discipline people. No, my parents have never seen me play.
Basically when I was younger I was a real suck, a real suck. I was incredibly conservative and a bit of a loner. I was going to Melbourne University quite seriously. I wasn’t interesting in music or going to see bands in pubs at all. Nicholas was at Caufield Technical College doing art, mixing with a really sociable set of people and already forming bands. He was the one who introduced me to rock ‘n’ roll. He used to take me to see bands. He really led me all the way.
When Hunters and Collectors started I wasn’t really aware of what was going on. I was being manipulated by certain people and I didn’t have enough self image to put that into context. Nicholas was standing back and being quite cynical, no critical, about what was happening. He figured I wasn’t exploiting my talent. I did listen to him but I pushed it to the back of my mind because the band was doing well. Two years later all the criticisms he had given turned out to be true and I ended up taking a much more dominant role in the band and doing things he said I should have been doing years ago.
Nicholas is extremely extroverted, a natural performer. He shows off a lot, but he’s incredibly sensitive to criticism too. Basically he’s incredibly honest. He’s one of the most honest people I’ve met, and he has a lot of faith in me. He endorses everything I do. His support is very important to me.
~ Thankyou Helen for supplying these articles.
Note: The original version of “Throw Your Arms Around Me” was released as a single but was not on “The Jaws Of Life” as claimed in the article.