Collected Thoughts Of A Hunter
Early Canadian article, mainly from an interview with Doug Falconer.
Author: Kerry Doole.
Date: February 1984 (issue #76).
Hunters & Collectors flow against the tide of the Aussie Invasion with a sound that’s hard to categorize
“I’m a bit suspicious of this Australian invasion stuff. It smacks of a marketing ploy, flavour of the month stuff, but if you can remain true to the ideals of what you’re doing, it provides a great opportunity to reach more people.”
You get the feeling that if Doug Falconer and the rest of Hunters & Collectors ever found themselves becoming the flavour of the month, then they’d probably do something gross to ensure that the public rapidly spat them out again. Their stubborn refusal to bend to the winds of musical fashion is indeed admirable, but at times it comes across as a wilful attempt to keep potentially corrupting popularity at bay.
Fellow Antipodean Tim Finn (Split Enz) recently revealed similar sentiments to me. “I like Hunters & Collectors a lot, but they’re an acquired taste. They’ll never sell that many records, and I don’t think they care really.”
For all that, this eight-piece collective from Melbourne deserve a listen. Their self-titled debut is, to these ears, the strongest first album to be released in Canada in 1983. So it probably sold .005% of the numbers of the Men at Work albums. So what? It has provided a valuable service by demonstrating that Down Under is home for bands covering the entire musical spectrum, not just the safe, polite pop of Men at Work or INXS, or the hell-bent heavy metal of the AC/DC/Heaven/Rose Tattoo’d hordes.
You want to collect a tag, be given a clue to help you hunt down the sound of these Aussie rebels? It’s not easy, and drummer Doug isn’t going to help too much.
“The beauty of having so many players in the group is that any small idea you may have gets diluted out amongst the others so that you can never tell where it came from. That is partly why we don’t sound like anyone else.”
C’mon Doug, please. Just a hint. “Well, generally, Sixties soul was a big influence; James Brown, Aretha, etc. We use a lot of those dynamic ideas. Then there is lots of modern stuff, early Public Image Ltd, Talking Heads, and Can.” – (the band’s name is taken from a song by those pioneering Kraut rockers).
What this adds up to is “a churning urn of burning funk” (who said that first?). Theirs is a big, bold, brassy sound that takes the repetitive riffs of funk, stuffs them into a metallic mincer, and comes out smiling. A joyful noise indeed.
So who are these great white Hunters and what are they after? They’re a mixture of bohemians and professional types (Doug Falconer is a qualified doctor) who got together in Melbourne in early 1981. Many of them had played together in other bands, but “then we all went on to different things,” recalls Doug. “I went to Europe and when I got back the buggers had started without me! I’d sworn never to play with those guys again as the breakup of the other band had been a bit traumatic, but I found I couldn’t stay away. The other drummer was hopeless, they eventually realized that, and I stepped in.”
“We found almost instant acceptance in Melbourne, where there was a bit of a gap at the time. Things were going back to that raunchy r ‘n’ b thing, and people get sick of that pretty quickly. We found ourselves feted quite soon, our heads swelled up, and we started doing terrible things. Then there was the inevitable backlash, but this all came within three months. It was very compressed.”
While in Australia, Hunters & Collectors released an EP, and an album, and their current North American album is a compilation of tracks from those two records. Never a band to tread water, they have already recorded and released a second album, The Fireman’s Curse, and parted ways with their British label, Virgin.
The band based themselves in London for most of last year, but the relationship with Virgin Records proved stormy and short-lived. “Sure I’ll talk about it, but you’ll have to use a bleeper,” seethes the usually mild-mannered Falconer. “Actually, it’s not gross ill-feeling. We misjudged each other; they said they’d do a few things they didn’t, and they agreed to hands off and then proceeded to push us around.”
“They originally appeared reasonable and sensitive, but when it came to the crunch, they couldn’t alter their lumbering promo machine to suit another market. They aimed the records at a pop audience, so of course they didn’t sell.”
Call it a case of being caught in a no-man’s land. The Hunters’ sound is too strong and abrasive for teenyboppers weaned on the insipid pop of the Duran Ballets, while their real potential audience was suspicious of a possible Virgin hype. “Being on Virgin was a definite handicap in reaching the counterculture types. They all said, ‘they’re on Virgin, must be a pile of shit’, so it was an uphill battle.”
The label had to accept The Fireman’s Curse, but allegedly made no attempt to promote it, and the two-album deal was not extended. The band is released on A&M, via Oz Records, in North America, however, and they are currently writing for their third album, hopefully again to be produced by Connie Plank (Ultravox, etc.).
The year’s self-imposed exile from Australia may not have been totally successful, but it did help Hunters & Collectors come to grips with the effect living in the land of Oz has had on their music. “It was only when we were removed from our native habitat that we realized how much influence it has on us. Just the simple fact of driving through Australia – the sense of wide open spaces, distance, and heat – is all very basic to the music,” explains Doug.
~ From Caelie’s vault.