Talk To A Stranger
Large early article on Hunters and Collectors.
Author: M. Toy, Lot’s Wife.
Date: Monday 2nd August 1982.
Original URL: N/A
In case you didn’t know, Hunters & Collectors are a Melbourne band who created considerable comment last year when they started playing live. With your normal line-up of guitars, bass, drums, keyboard/synth and an old domestic-oil heating cylinder called ‘the wang,’ Hunters & Collectors became the avante garde darlings of the trend set with the cavernous primitive, heavily percussioned music.
They were The Next Big Thing and very much In.
“…but after about a month then you’re through with the trendy clique, the avante guarde…almost everyone likes us now…we used to take ourselves seriously, when everyone else initially did, but now we don’t….”
Mark Seymour, vocalist and guitarist.
And it was a pleasant surprise to find that H&C don’t take themselves too seriously. When gems like ‘Hunters & Collectors became famous the first night they played’ drop reverently from mouths you can get the wrong impression.
As an outfit, H&C appear to be an autonomous, independent and very democratic band. They’re signed with White Label Records and have always made sure they remain in control of their merchandising. Their manager is their trombone player Michael Waters.
“We Don’t Make A Move Without Our Trombone Player…”
John and Martin insist in mock tones.
Though they have not sold as many records, performed as many gigs or exposed themselves on television incessantly, H&C have been gathering a large following and created some pretty hot, innovative music and, in their own words, “not compromising.”
When they made the video clip for their current single “Talking to a Stranger” they didn’t spend a fortune on it and “they didn’t expect to get onto Countdown” John stated emphatically. It was something of coup d’etat that Countdown screened it without the band having to appear live. The initial and quite considerable pressure from Countdown ran along the lines of:
If you don’t come and play live we won’t play your video – if it’s good we may show 10 seconds of it on HumDrum but that’ll be it.
However, perhaps partially out of fear that other music shows would pick up the clip first, Ian Meldrum convinced the shows executive director that it should be screened. Since then both Nightmoves and Rock Around the World have played the video (and in its entirety). Countdown left the initial few scenes off.
The video was produced by Richard Lowenstein who managed to do it for the relatively low sum of $5,000. The clip is undeniably and artistic success, the jolting camera work, flash sequencing, running motifs and atmospherics combine instinctively with the music, creating an unsettling montage of a ‘post nuclear’ wasteland – but with an almost tongue in cheek humour underneath it.
So it was surprising to learn that people were quite affected by what they interpreted as the depressing Doomsday tone of the clip. As Martin put it:
“A lot of people have taken the film clip a hell of a lot more seriously than we ever did.”
“I mean it was only Mark with a rubber band around his face and all that bit with the feet and the smoke and everything, we were just standing there” John explained, “stomping up and down on the floor, boom, boom ….but people look at it and go – ‘oh no, gasp gasp….!”
Speaking of the low cost of the video clip John complained “that’ll probably be another nasty rumour, that the film clip cost $150,000 and that’s the sort of thing that’s happened all along…”
Fastidious accusations of being contrived and pretentious seem to cling to H&C almost as much as the superlative gushings.
“What really amazes me is that we don’t really engineer anything – we’re wide open to criticism” John says, “there have been some outrageous lies printed” he continued, at which point he exchanges looks with Martin, wondering which of the outrageous lies they should mention.
“Well, for example, David Bowie heard a cassette of ours in New York and thought we were the best thing he’d heard all week.”
I offered the observation that David is supposed to have heard just about everything, to which John assented,
“Then he must have heard us. I mean I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a hand in our film clip!”
The episode of recalling the first pressing of ‘Talking to a Stranger’ has a simple explanation and yet “People imagine that’s contrived” said Martin, exasperated.
“What happened was that the masters were sent to American to be cut in the misguided belief that they would do a good job and get a punchier sound out of the thing…and it came back with the classic LA sound which is really ” John pauses, “Limp. And it’s not what it’s all about…sent it up to Sydney and they did it much better…”
Coming to terms with the recording studio environment has presented problems for the band. Their LP ‘World of Stone’ released early this year was criticized for the sound quality and the band is still not satisfied with the result of the new album.
Under the wrong impression that they could just replicate their live sound expertise in the studio and everything would be alright, the band didn’t waste studio time learning, they –
“Just sort of put it down any way and were horrified at the result” grimaced John.
The dissatisfaction with the results was one of the reasons for the lengthy time the album took (they started recording in Oct 1981), since extensive remixing was carried out.
“…fiddled a lot with the album but a lot of it was pretty unproductive fiddling…the whole idea of recording we haven’t come to terms with …couple of songs (on the album) are suffering from this more than others” said John. “And they probably the best ones live” added Martin.
Live, Hunters & Collectors have earned a reputation for amassing the most number of people onto the stage, musicians and non-musicians. In the beginning, Mark used to ask people to come on stage and have a bang on Greg’s percussive instruments. At first people stoically resisted but, as they say, there’s an exhibitionist or would be musician in us all, and it wasn’t long before people were inviting themselves onstage.
“Very last time that happened in Geelong …two girls had been pestering us all night, saying ‘can we get up and play hub caps’ …eventually they just took no notice of my pleas not to, and they got up and …earlier someone had gotten up on a wheelchair, grabbed my guitar lead and we couldn’t throw him off and that was perhaps an insidious decision coz five minutes later we were totally inundated with people. Greg had to leave his percussion coz people had just taken it over…” Martin recalls with still amazement.
And there was the time a guy got on top of the wang and couldn’t get down….
“but we’ve had to stop that, at least temporarily” says John. “We wouldn’t like to see anything become a ritual, brass and people on stage fall into that category.”
The importance of ‘non-ritual’ has seen the continuing progression of the music. Martin Lubran joined the band about three months ago when Ray Tosti decided to leave due to an amicable but unresolvable differing in the musical direction. Musically it really is difficult to categorise H&C who were singularly unhelpful, not surprisingly, as they share most bands’ utter loathing for a) being categorized and b) writers who want to categorise them. Early reports labelled them as “funky” or as “great dance music” or as “great alternative to dance music.” I for one could never quite understand the funk connotations, if anything the state of Hunters & Collectors’ music now has a ‘funkier’ element to it, mainly due to John’s bass work and I guess if you’re a fast dancer then it may not be dance music and vice versa.
“It’s rather nice if people can read what they want to read in it (the music) – rather convenient” mused John, “when we first started out people were comparing us to whatever their favourite band was at the time: they saw influences from all sorts of places – Actually we’re all rather like Slim Dusty…!”
Martin elaborated. “I’ve talked to so many people who know – and I almost worded it sarcastically but I didn’t mean to – it’s just that I know a lot less about H&C than people who come up and talk to me about it – they say ‘I really like the fusion of funk and rock and art’ …and you say ‘Ah,….thanks.” Martin winces. “…it does irritate me slightly coz you don’t walk into a rehearsal and say ‘OK, let’s fuse funk, art – John’s got a funk bass, Mark’s got some ART lyrics and Doug’s got this really great rock beat…”
So, for what it’s worth, here’s my list of adjectives etc. for the new album. It has a cavernous, primitive atmosphere about it with gurgling undercurrents of synth sound effects and the distinct, clear clang of Greg Perano’s wang, heavily layered sound, which at its best is crisp and forceful but on some tracks such as “Alligator Engine” and “Scream Who” somewhat murky and flat.
Like the artwork on the album, the lyrics are ‘unusual juxtapositions’ of images.
He’s making snake-eyes at me
Bring on the effigy
Take down the house lights
(Boo Boo Kiss)
Mould the hair back Reveal fine
Shaped forehead / See it go
scrabbling, scrabbling under the bed
(Skin of our Teeth)
There is a six track LP featuring ‘Talking to a Stranger’ plus a two track single with ‘Run Run Run’ and ‘Tender Kinder Baby’ all nicely packaged with the distinctively obscure artwork. Though the photos for the ‘World of Stone’ LP were from Europe, it was obviously a point of satisfaction that this time all images were from Melbourne.
So what are H&C going to do now?
John mentioned plans to do more extensive sojourn interstate including Tasmania.
“We like to be able to travel interstate whenever we can and I suppose people will say ‘Ah, they want to sell records inter-state’ – we want to play to different people, we want to” – John breaks off “we don’t sell many records” he offers, trying to explain their motivation.
“We’d like to think that it (playing live) is something to look forward to, for us, every time we play and if you play five/six nights a week it’s not like that.” John said.
“The prime objective of being in this band is not to play 600-800 concerts a year and make enough money to retire out of that … we’d like to go to America, we’d like to go to Europe, travel around and play small places and see how things go…it’s going to cost us quite a bit of money to do it, but we want to go – we know we’re going to lose on it, but surely it’s going to be instructive for us to see different things and approaches” John said.
With their feet firmly earthed and their continuous experimentation and writing –
“I can’t remember going to a rehearsal when we haven’t been working on a new song” (Martin)
– Hunters & Collectors should be able to stay fresh, retain their musical credibility and travel wherever they so desire. This is one band who are not only ‘in’ but very much in control.
Thankyou to Stephen for typing out this article for us all to enjoy!