Hunters and Collectors (Roadrunner)
Early Hunters and Collectors article and interview.
Author: Craig N. Pearce, Roadrunner.
Date: ~November 1981.
Original URL: N/A
Normally I come to grips with a band – know what it’s trying to do, the way it’s going about such things and whether or not they’re succeeding – after seeing them about twice. Then (sadly as far as I’m concerned) my interest in them seems to fade. Unless they are some remarkable chameleon of musical verve and intent (and there are a few such as Teen Beat and Laughing Clowns) I tend to let the memory of what they’ve taught, and hopefully blessed me with, suffice. There’s no point in continually seeing an artist or group of artists once you’re at home with what they’ve created. Futile habits of futile lives.
That was the basic process I went through with Hunters & Collectors. After a couple of sightings I, though greatly impressed and dearly in love with the sound the boys in the orchestra were putting out, was full of what they had to offer me and I quietly slipped out of their regular coterie of followers who are, believe me, a very dedicated bunch.
Then again, the band has become a fashion in itself. They have been acclaimed across the board by media and public alike. A more picturesque cross section of fans you’ve never come across. Since the band’s inception into the live circuit their gigs have been (and still are) the place to be. And the fracas shows no signs of dying down.
The hype for the band wasn’t so much a pre-gigging phenomena but more something which was waiting to explode. As soon as that first gig was over the dam burst and the word spread thick and fast that this band was not just THE band to see but, in fact, it would prove to be the whole goddamned scene! I haven’t seen an article yet that has pushed the angle that Hunters & Collectors are the arbiters of a new rock court, where to be seen seeing is all that’s required of one. Yet that is certainly one of the factors that keeps people coming to see the band.
However Hunters & Collectors need no postures to redeem their stance, nor do they rely upon any cliquey colour tones to brighten up their performances. They, their instruments, the music that is urged out of their souls in spinning controlled six minute cyclones of cerebral motion and the feeling that is created by the music (not the response – though if you haven’t been part of that then you’re really missing out on something) is all that’s required in such a sparking new faction of noise. The wares they exhibit are, ironically, these days often secondary to the party they create.
Anyway, it happened that after a period of about two months during which I didn’t see the band (going without hearing them is an impossibility as their three song tape has been imbedded in the upper reaches of 3RRR’s playlist since it was released) I came across them supporting Teen Beat (or was it the other way around?) at that now famous venue the Oxford Hotel (recently and cruelly taken out of the hands of enterprising independent and good looking promoter Chris Hodges to be made into another agency time waster).
The night’s entertainment was a fascinating blend of Teen Beat’s scratchy semi electronic disorganization and the vibrant calculated bell tomes of Hunters & Collectors. Obviously Hunters & Collectors had matured a great deal in the time my eyes went looking elsewhere for excitement. Their set had changed and the songs had grown. Subtleties were more precise, the beats were becoming more attractively intangible and most noticeable, the sound had become edgier. With the confidence the band had picked up from their gigging there was a steadier approach to the music. They were more willing to stretch out, improvise, and manufacture optimum results from the minimum of material.
The funk was so incredibly hard in places I had trouble keeping my stomach flexed to protect myself from the thumping. The band was making truth out of John Archer and Greg Piranha’s (sic) claim a few months ago that their funk was better than that which you’d find being played by slick cabaret musicians. One of the reasons being that virtually none of the band were, technically, very good musicians – Doug being the exception.
Fact is, their music was beginning to show off their common sense. Intrinsic weaknesses inherent in the guys’ musical knowledge were being smartly emphasized and successfully explored and exploited.
So instead of staying clear of the band I decided I had better let up my blinds of preconceptions, get off my high horse of expectations and make a stab at viewing the music with an eye for its heart by confronting the boys and examining their creations a little more closely.
THE FUNK IDEAL
Let us not forget a very important premise concerning all perfect funk music, and one which is directly applicable to this band. That is, though there may be an intellectual effect from the music and an intellectual approach is fair when examining the sound, it cannot be stressed enough that funk comes from a basic human urge that manifests itself at its most successful when the sound, the people who relay that sound and the people who receive it join up in a sort of total communion which makes a scene of the sound, an experience of give and take. It’s an unconscious garnering of the sense which are lifted up, taken away and washed out by way of a quasi-physical cathartic process.
Hunters & Collectors go closer to achieving this state than any other I know.
Having once said that, however, it must be made clear that the soul route to this state of being need not necessarily be one of straight traditional funk as far as music is concerned. The perfect funk does it but it doesn’t have to be that particular musical form to achieve it.
The mentality on which the premise operates is the most important factor in its existence. Things have got to be thought out, made clear and be tailor made to share. There must be a willingness to improvise, let the audience show its form and affect the craftsmen aspiring to become artists. Hunters & Collectors have proved themselves to be craftsmen unique; but for them to become artists unique there must be a rapport between them and the audience. The form requires it. The sound demands it. And the individual variation and combination of forms the band has moulded into their own new broth succeeds in achieving and communicating it.
Greg: “The audience is just a continuation of what’s going on onstage”
Mark: “The principal aim is to involve the audience in a general way with what we’re feeling towards each other when we’re playing really well. We work hard at that every gig. Which doesn’t deny that something’s bound to go wrong. It just might be a bad night.
“But we’re running a much more genuine risk of ailing that a lot of other bands simply because we depend so heavily on everything between each other. So I reckon, in a lot of ways, we’re more self-abdicating in being stars than a lot of other bands and yet people seem to think because it’s so tightly organised structurally we are kind of removed in some way.
“But I think it works in the opposite altogether.”
Though some audiences I’ve seen have been slow to respond to the call ultimately all have come around, looked up, and aroused in themselves the innate desire to become involved in the action, a part of the art, and catalyst to the explosion of the senses. Hunters & Collectors collate and contrive into a single solid form; senses of wonder, illusion confronted with those of fact and force. Contradictions and affirmations all condensed into something that refused to lie down. The band has observed, is involved, and is at times projecting something of what will eventually come to pass.
Hunters & Collectors are articulating more than mere substance, theirs is a journey into the spiritual, as much as the physical. Perhaps their records will forgo their need for response to reach their highest peaks (already the previously mentioned tape has shown promising signs). For the moment, to reach their most significant pitches, they need us – though not half as much as we need them.
Anything that delves into man’s ill and unformed unconscious as this band does deserve our support.
Doug: “We don’t want to be a funk band. I don’t play funk rhythms. I use elements of funk and I use elements of all sorts of things. But I don’t want to be a straightfunk drummer. None of the members want to be straight anything. We all use various influences – naturally, and basically if we’re producing funk rhythms then the only way to make it not funk is for me to straighten up the drumming.
“And vice versa. If I’m playing a funky kick drum riff then we tend to steer clear of having a funky hi-hat or bass or guitar. That’s why you can hear funk wash through it without ever being upfront.
“We don’t play a distinct style. We use bits of them. The vast majority of us are just so conscious of rhythm. Every now and then we sit back and listen to a tape and say it’s too funky or it’s too this or too that. But that’s just a matter of personal taste, it hasn’t turned out the way we like it and that’s just…something else.
“You get six people playing with various pieces of metal and wood trying to create something that is more than just the sounds individually put together. You’re trying to create something that is more than just the sounds. It involves emotions, it involves visuals and it involves people relating to us on all sorts of levels. And we wouldn’t be disappointed if everyone didn’t get that deep and sincere meaning behind each and every song or understood the way the bass and the keyboard was working in the third bar from the end.
“It can work as just a dance band – but there’s more to it if you’re looking for depth.
“As long as they feel that listening to that song was worthwhile and better than, say, watching television. But above all as long as they feel they’ve been entertained, they’ve done something useful with their time.”
Greg: “Hopefully they’ll feel some sort of release from seeing us. It works both ways, but I think we play to a lot of people now that don’t have the time to go out most of the week and don’t really know what records to buy. And, basically, when they go out on a Saturday night it’s their night out. But when they do go out they may be alienated from what they’re involved in and I don’t think that’s a good thing. Especially when you look at the way the whole attitude of music has gone over the last few years – there seems to have been a lot of alienation. People getting bludgeoned, depressed, hopeless.”
Mark: “Or being made to feel as though they don’t understand something that is central to a particular band’s approach. With us I think you can relate to us on a number of levels. That’s why I think we have a certain degree of appeal”
Be included. Be drawn out and hoisted high. How can you resist their appeal?
Greg: “Even when it’s been harsh, all the best music has always been a certain celebration, and I think that’s one of the ways in which we work.”
Right! It’s a party, an atmosphere, a new environment for which they try and dictate the terms, Hunters & Collectors allude to much more than they’re willing to or have defined. Theirs is a magic sound because they make landscapes and ideas transpire in the mind without forcing them down your throat. They aren’t obvious. It’s a dreamy creation of frequently impossible to grasp moments.
Outside on skin and inside their dreams – this is sex and something only the
idea of sex can ever achieve.
Whilst I think Hunters & Collectors lift the audience by what I think is a sound that involves strength not fascism, knowledge without didacticism, and beauty without cheap sentimentality there are some whose views are conflicting to mine. When I suggested to the band that they were manipulative, implying they have a certain control over people when playing, I was confronted with a determined barrage of self defence by Mark who was sure that I was intimating that the band was something to be suspicious of and that it contained elements dangerous to the human mentality.
I then explained this was not my purpose. On the contrary, I had meant that the band, by taking control of the audiences’ sense, did good things to them, implanting a harmony and rejuvenation in their souls. Which is something sadly lacking in the effect most bands have on people.
Mark: “That word has been used to describe us in a negative way. We’ve been termed as cold and manipulative. What does that mean? Is it that we, for some reason, are walking onstage playing a series of feels that are specifically designed to force people to dance? I mean, it’s an absurd line of argument.”
WE GOT THE RHYTHM!
The beginning of the band was in a collection of cronies dating from past groups and shared ideologies that occupied them in preparation for the final combo. The big one – the one succeed on both an artistic and commercial level with equal profundity.
Ray: “From the start we were very interested in rhythms. We seemed to be thinking about rhythm. We seemed to be thinking about a rhythm a lot and the importance of it and working a song out around a rhythm. Often they were rhythms you’d pick up off a drum machine but it had a certain feel about it.
“That’s why I suppose, for me at least, a certain number of funk riffs came in. Because they’ve got that rhythmical feel.”
Mark: “Something that probably stands out with us is the length of the songs. That’s wasn’t something we initially decided to do. It just happened very quickly, just after we all got together. That idea evolved very quickly simply because I think we had a degree of empathy which held the notion of rhythmical dynamics in common. In the initial period when we all got together so many things happened incredibly quickly, WE didn’t have any idea which way it was going to go but we knew it was very exciting.”
The music wasn’t a terribly conscious channelling of sounds. The days on which the songs were written and rehearsed were the final influences on their direction. What’s on the radio influences the band. It could be one of a number of feels, for Hunters & Collectors expand their originality from a number of bases that include swing, soul, disco, chancy jazz and affirmed rock mould (which is not to exclude anything I’ve left out – but we could be here all day).
Doug: “To some extent the influences on you as a musician go back further than you are aware.”
Mark: “You register melodies subconsciously when you’re very young.”
Doug: “The deepest influences, which are the ones that come out when you play, you wouldn’t even be aware of.”
Electricity is something modern, something now. Couple it with the natural influences of six men and you have a force both natural and relevant, concerned and aware, fragile and fractured. Within the round rhythmical housings of Hunters & Collectors’ songs we have an expressive force of a truly modern note. Not afraid to declare their cultural heritage, happy to embrace their humanity and bold enough to realise their art in invigorating modern idiom – this is a picture rich in texture and innovative in form.
When Hunters & Collectors are tension mongers is when I like them best. They become the architects of a sorely rideable sound. Sweaty palms, shivers running down my spine like sticks rattling across a xylophone – it’s in these moments my eyes widen and my eyes trip off. As it happens this isn’t the state of being most favoured by the band, though Doug readily admits it may have been this state of tension and unease that first attracted the band to a lot of people. As it turns out it was just a reflection of their nerves, their unhappiness with a gig – it wasn’t done on purpose! Oh, woe is me!
What they like is cool syncopation. A brouhaha of empathetic ideas that come together in a smooth steaming ray of white hot light. A slinky and lithe beast turning out beats like they were Studio 54. Maybe they are Studio 54. Why not?
Mark: “I think we’re happiest when we generate a feeling of involvement amongst ourselves so that we can look at each other and know that there’s a real musical understanding happening. And if that builds up through the set we’ll walk off and be really pleased with it. The thing is there’s no way of relating that to one particular person in the audience. Because we can’t account for personal opinions.”
Still, the band rarely fail to inject into the audience enthusiasm and appreciation. Big headed Sydney bands who get frustrated because of the lack of response in Melbourne audiences should observe a Hunters & Collectors gig. They’d be in for a rude awakening regarding Melbourne’s ability to whip up a storm of response.
Doug: “We know each other well enough now to be able to say, ‘Look, that’s not good enough.’ It’s a process of constantly examining the material, and if it’s not good enough working on it until you find an alternative that works better.
“To some extent that happens to the songs we’ve been doing for a while. Sometimes you only realise a part of a song isn’t working properly when it doesn’t work onstage.”
They’re determined to transform the mediocre to a stage of excellence. Perfectionists always re-evaluating their material, then being prepared to move on – knowing how to work around each other with the minimum of fuss resulting in the maximum groove creations.
They’re not reactionary people. No sound is too proud to be stripped down and improved. Things are being worked at – everything, all the time is in a state of flux.
I wonder how the songs are written.
Doug: “Certain songs come about in certain ways. Sometimes you’ve got an overall picture of what the song should be like and at other times you’ve got a rhythm and no idea and no idea at all what the song is going to be like.”
Mark: “In rehearsal today we had this song, for which we already had a musical theme, and I had a series of lyrics which Geoff wrote so I had to begin to work the lyrics into the melody. And as the rehearsal developed we struck on a series of notes that sounded slightly disturbing in relation to the underlying instrumental.
“Now in the previous rehearsal the song was incredible simple and had a very straight melody but now it has a totally different mood to it. It’s got a lot more tension and the lyrics are very tense – sort of isolating.”
Tension. Welcome home.
So observe the contradiction. At once wanting, then disputing the value of tension in their music. It seems as if the perfect sound for the band is one which comes out smooth and controlled yet has that ‘ol heart of darkness about it. More than one person has commented on how ‘black’ the sound seems. True – sometimes dangerous, sometimes threatening.
You shouldn’t lack respect concerning this band. Never let them relax you because they might have a shock in store for you beyond the next riff.
Lyrics are something the band feels strongly enough about to want to put them on their record sleeves. Live, the lyrics content is secondary to their sound but when recorded the separation of instruments has and will make them clearer. Geoff, Mark and Greg write the words, each with a different and distinct style. Geoff is the observer, the more mundane, realist sort of writer; Greg, the expressionist – images are evoked in his writing that aren’t physically there; and Mark writes about “particular working places that are symbols of emotional situations.”
Often the phrases are worked out in a disjointed fashion to suit their delivery and the sound textures they’re complementing, so on paper the lyrics are made to look more offbeat than they actually are. And they actually are, in the accepted normal sense, different to a lot of band lyrics that I’ve read – which is only right seeing as how Hunters & Collectors think a lot differently and about a lot more diverse subjects than most ‘rock’ bands I’ve heard.
Their mere surreality allows for them to be interpreted in different ways, one of the pleasures of art, and the unpredictability of live shows further opens up a variety of areas into which the songs may be analysed.
A sense of humour is a valuable asset of this band and one which far too many people overlook. Lyrics / sound / behaviour are quite often flushed out in quite a clever mode to keep themselves amused and their detractors confused. In Greg’s lyrics for ‘Loin Clothing’ come the lines,
“Flesh to, flesh to
flesh to, flesh to
The rag and bone man cometh.”
These words have more than a hint of erotic flavouring and a hearty dose of parody for such well known choruses as “Ashes to Ashes, dust to dust”. Who’s the rag and bone man them?
Personally I dig the satire in Mark’s ‘Run Run Run’ lyrics. Taste this for its flavour.
“Gently as you squeeze us
Your jelly beans’ll be shocked
Squeeze his juice that’s in us
And squeeze me till I drop
The general is a wiseman
General is a shock
Flip flop ego – we’ll go now
Ego flip flop.”
It concerns what I consider to be the most dangerous two men on the face of the earth at the moment. And they don’t even drink when driving over bridges.
I ask them do they stretch themselves, their talents, their ideas. They reply:
Doug: “As a drummer you can stretch your talents by pulling more beats to the bar than any other bugger on earth but it comes out as a mess. Whereas I would regard stretching my talents as fitting in with what the songs needs and that might be playing one kick drum beat per sixteen bars and have nothing else. It takes just as much talent to recognise what’s needed.
“What you try to create is a whole. The mistake you see a lot of young bands making us overdoing it because they think virtuosity means filling up the sound and it doesn’t. It means creating something more than the sounds that make it up.”
Melbourne and Australia is a good place for this band – for their sakes. It allows them the freedom to pro and digress from their present form without the extreme pressure such a market as England’s would put on them – where I’m sure they could migrate and have a couple of Top 40 hits under their belts in no time. Hunters & Collectors want to be and will be popular, and if the word were pure I’d call them a pop band. But seeing as how ugly connotations come with the nom de plume I’ll resist from doing so.
From Australia they can strike out at the overseas markets. Theirs is an international sound, interplanetary even (they’re heaven for me), whilst firmly planted in the Australian consciousness. Greg grew up with Maoris, the rest grew up here and like I said they acknowledge their past, they don’t refuse it. If you’re wondering why they’re not out and out rock like most it’s probably because they happen to be smarter than most, more daring and more aware than most. They could even be more sensitive than most but I’ve no wish to descend to pap to make good copy.
Mark: “We’re quite self critical. We all try to do something that is new for us as individuals compared to what we have done up to that point. We also try to do things which stand up on their own.”
Greg: “Each of us push ourselves to the limit of what we can do. We’re as creative as possible.”
Ray says that often he isn’t capable of actually manifesting his ideas into action. Theoretically it works but practically it takes time to achieve his ideas. He’s pushing. He’s working. He, like the band, is moving on into unchartered territory.
That excites me. I can’t wait to be transported to their new worlds.
Mark: “You can create a performance which is the exact opposite of what people expect and if they’re drunk and if they’re squashed into a really hot, small room the chances are if you push them hard enough they’re going to react negatively and mob the stage.
“There are two things you can do. You can do that or you can go on with the premise that you’re playing to entertain. With us there are a whole range of factors involved in it.
“We’re trying to create things differently. We’re trying to be unique within a certain series of traditions and we try to create new sorts of sounds.”
Visually, this band is as varied as their influences, each member constantly changing their stage dress with the pride and style of a young beau on the prowl and the annual masque ball. As proud of their appearance as they are of their sound the innovation doesn’t stop with the music. The geographical placing of the band is smart and help displace the centre of action which lead singers have held for far too long, each member capitalising on their floor space – Ray with his dancing, Mark with his prowling, John with his half yard smile, Geoff with his brooding, Greg with his unsteady mixture of composure and erraticism (should that read ‘eroticism’), and Doug, who ably gains his share of the attention with his studied and suitably frenetic approach to the drumming. All of which is dynamically perfected by the beguiling and simultaneously laser like light show.
As challenging on the eyes as on the ears. Doing their duty diffusing preconceptions. Total, baby.
Total also in trying to perfect the standard working relationship. Giving themselves over in an attempt to gather strength in their unity. Here we have Greg expounding his views of the verbose, sullen individuality of the world’s generally less respected races.
“The best bands that have worked together have obviously been black bands. In most black races a certain amount of energy is formed in a small community when they’re in an alien society. Musicians have always been used to working like that, with each other, because they have a common cause. They’re more interested in the community than the individual.
“Most of us have been brought up to be competitive, which is a very important point. Once you start working on a rhythmic basis where you’re adding something to what’s already there rather than trying to do something which will stand out by itself it’s your contribution rather than your incredible talent that makes the song work.
“Once people start working together like that I think they’ll begin to pick up on it. And I think now it’s starting to happen more and more and just because you’re a white person there’s no need to feel embarrassed about sharing some sort of thing that’s going on onstage. It’s not a stupid cliquey ideal, it’s just the way things should work ’cause it obviously works better.”
Hunters & Collectors, though as Mark said are not one big happy family, attempt, like Teen Beat and People With Chairs Up Their Noses, to work as a unit, respecting each other for the sake of some transient slice of glory. Conventional at times they may be accused of being, an attitude such as this is like the proverbial shag on the rock in this business/art form.
Maybe these guys aren’t giving it all, but they’re giving a lot. Each is musically and to a large extent ideologically, financially and perhaps (though not to as great a degree as the other factors) socially committed to their joint venture. The band is their major source of satisfaction – at best an exalting release of pent up emotions and tempestuous urges. At worse a good rehearsal.
Greg: “The problem with a lot of so called pop music is that because it’s so structured, so tight, that people fail to express their emotions. The reason, I think, why people are getting so critical these days about lyrics like. “She’s the girl for me,” is because they sound so corny. It doesn’t sound as if there’s that much emotion behind it.”
When records come the band will insist on having full artistic control. At the moment a contract is being negotiated and a three track single will be out on a ten inch disc in the near future – tracks being ‘The Watcher,”World of Stone,’ and ‘Loin Clothing.’ They have no pretences concerning ‘selling out’ by signing to a major label. A record is a record and money is money.
Mark: “We want to explore, musically, as much of the resources the six of us have as we can. If we want to survive as a band we have to have some kind of material return for our work. We want to be able to record albums. We want to have something we can say is ours, to put on the stereo and say that’s something we created.
“We are trying to set up the situation where we feel we’ll have the greatest degree of access to the resources that accord us.”
Greg: “I’d like the people all over the world to hear our music.”
Don’t worry. That doesn’t mean compromising their standards or values. This band has been smart enough to form a body that allows for growth. It has formulated ideas not only about the music, but about commercially and multi-national wise, how it should be dealt with. Hunters & Collectors are more than music makers – they have made sense of the music industry (as much as that is possible) and are working to utilise it to their advantage.
Doug: “The music’s not really recognisably Australian but then, neither is it recognisably anywhere else. As far as that goes you could market it anywhere equally well. Obviously because it is Australian it will have advantages and disadvantages in different markets, the music should survive whatever country it’s released in.”
When I, and others, use the work ‘funk’ in connection with Hunters & Collectors don’t take the word too much to heart and forever isolate the band within that particular music genre. They play funkily, with what I think is funky mentality, but heaven forbid the line that says I dismiss every other sort of musical avenue running through their town. To grasp the gist full either a sighting (preferably) or a listen is needed.
To describe their sound is simply trippy whilst being enveloped in it resounds in every mind a minor moment of eye watering, self-sewn definition draughting.
Greg: “It’s just the overall sound we create”
Seein’ is believin’.
Ray Tosti-Guerre – guitar, dancing
Mark Seymour – guitar, bass, voice
John Archer – bass
Doug Falconer – drums
Greg Piranha – percussion
Geoff Crosby – synthesiser
Thankyou to Stephen for typing out this article for us all to enjoy!