Rave Undertow Interview

Positive interview with Mark Seymour at the time of his Undertow album.

Author: Mitch Alexander, Rave Magazine, Brisbane.

Date: 7 June 2011.

Original URL: http://www.ravemagazine.com.au/content/view/27272/30/


Article Text

Mark Seymour speaks in excited tones about his first fulltime band since Hunters & Collectors. Mitch Alexander reports.

Good people, please indulge me. A story I must tell. Mark Seymour makes this request on Castlemaine, the melancholic country-tinged opener of new album Undertow. Of course we will allow it, as such an indulgence has rarely steered us wrong in the past. Some musicians write songs, but Mark Seymour crafts stories. Perhaps he prefers the emotional distance a narrative provides, or accepts that the characters he creates can experience things a notable Australian musician cannot. But Seymour doesn’t forfeit the right to write about love, loss, betrayal, greed and death just because he’s too old to spew teen angst. If anything, those songs can grow better with age.

“It’s all based on storytelling, but the emotional side of it is very much about a guy looking out on the world around him and speculating how much influence he has on things and how things influence him,” explains Seymour, fresh off a plane in Sydney. “There’s a lot of mystery on this record. A lot of unanswered questions. I’ve asked questions which I don’t necessarily have answers to about the process of growing… deeply philosophical.”

This last thought is punctuated with a dry laugh, stopping the conversation becoming too serious. It’s possible Undertow is serious enough for the, decrying many faces of corporate greed – political conspirators, a cultural acceptance of problem gambling and lives ruined by asbestos exposure all get their time under the spotlight – through an organic folksy sound. Miles away from the flag-waving pub favourites Seymour penned during his Hunters & Collectors days, it’s a concise album played by veterans, some with connections to Seymour dating back decades.

“I started an album at the beginning of last year, recorded nine songs, two survived… I came out of that session pretty devastated,” he adds. “But then I just started throwing ideas at the guys during soundchecks and that proved to be a real good step.

“They responded quite positively to my ideas and it reduced them to a very simple approach to songwriting – which is something I needed to do. The guys have been playing for many years, so they just know what not to do. They were my bullshit detectors.”

In 2008 Seymour dabbled with the written word, collecting his memories of eating, breathing and touring Hunters & Collectors through much of the ’80s and ’90s into Thirteen Tonne Theory. It was a critical and commercial success, but Seymour indicates his wariness towards any future writing explorations.

I’m really up to my neck in what I’m doing now,” he says, brushing off any plans for Thirteen Tonne Theory Part II (Fourteen Tonne Theory, perhaps?). “The world is full of celebrity commentators, there’s an explosion of that going on in Australia… a lot of people talking and not saying a great deal. I love writing, but I’m a big believer in accuracy and simple expression. Otherwise it’s like a giant Tweet, talking about random, irrelevant things. There’ll be more coming from me in the world of prose, but now’s not the time.”

Seymour still has questions left unanswered, and it’s likely more will pile up before he gets a chance to record again. But he’s got at least one method of posing those questions, a luxury not everyone is afforded. And that bullshit detector, that’s gotta come in handy.

Mark Seymour and the Undertow play The Tempo Hotel on Thursday Jun 16, Joe’s Waterhole, Eumundi, on Friday Jun 17 and the Lone Star Tavern, Gold Coast, on Saturday Jun 18. UNDERTOW is out now through Liberation/Universal. Check out www.markseymour.com.au for more information.