Two Of Us
Mark and Nick Seymour have a chat.
Author: Good Weekend.
Date: 4 March 2006.
Singer-songwriter Mark Seymour spent 17 years fronting Melbourne band Hunters & Collectors. His younger brother, Nick, struck it rich playing for Crowded House. Mark, 47, lives in Melbourne with his wife and two daughters. Nick, 45, lives in Dublin with his girlfriend.
NICK: I’ve always been mistaken for Mark in Melbourne. It used to drive me crazy when Hunters & Collectors started (in 1981) because I always felt I should have been in that band. Mark sacked me. I don’t know why. Sibling stuff. The band seemed to be about how far you could kick the football, in music terms. We rehearsed for six months before Mark decided it wasn’t working with me. He got a few more musicians from his previous band and they went on to blow Melbourne apart. The queues went round the block; it used to really depress me. I didn’t talk to Mark for 12 months. He probably didn’t even notice, because his head was just spinning with this extraordinary success.
We were very close growing up. When Mark was seven he had an imaginary friend called Hieronymous and I was absolutely in awe of his imaginary friend having such an incredible name. My imaginary friend was Peter.
Mark always had a sophisticated imagination, which is contradicted by his simple, “sentimental bloke” exterior. It used to annoy me how incredibly gifted he was at drawing. Then he gave it away and I took it up at Caulfield Tech. Mark WAS THE ACADEMIC ONE; Dad basically wrote me off when I didn’t complete high school. But there was something brewing in Mark. I remember him learning about isometrics and repetitively tensing his muscles at his desk. I mean, he is an obsessive character. He’s still broad, whereas I’m a lot more “yoga” about my physical condition.
At Melbourne Uni he was a Marxist and referred to his mates as comrade. I thought that was all bullshit. I was at art school and a total snob, while Mark decided his creative muse was based around a struggle. He looked down on art that was decorative and in the service of the bourgeoisie. By now he’s probably realised this includes him.
I was living in Mark’s shadow. I’d been in three bands that had let the chance of a record deal slip, and I had to re-evaluate who were the musicians I had access to who shared a similar ambition. Neil Finn and (the late) Paul Hester from Split Enz, a band I admired, albeit secretly, were forming a new band. So I made the choice as easy as I could for them to ask me to join them. Like me, Neil was the upstart younger brother (of Split Enz founder Tim Finn). But Neil felt he owed Tim big-time for his place in Split Enz and that’s how Paul and I had to accept Tim’s presence in Crowded House. Whereas Mark’s and my attitude towards each other’s careers is: “You’re on your own, mate.”
The success of Crowded House gave me a casual confidence, including towards Mark. He got up on stage with us, which was great. We also tried recording (the Hunters classic) Throw Your Arms Around Me, as Pearl Jam did, but our versions never saw the light of day. It could easily be a global song, and Mark would do really well of the (songwriter’s) royalties. But he’ll get his rewards.
I’m sensitive to dangling my financial status in my brother’s face. We just spent a week together down in my beach house. But there’s a lot of baggage. The other day my car mechanic rang and, thinking it was me, got Mark on the phone. Later, the mechanic said, “The guy who answered really paid me out for calling him Nick.”
Mark: We both have a fair bit of anger in us, though Nick expresses it differently. It springs from our upbringing. As kids we led a very isolated, strictly Catholic existence while our father pursued a career around country Victoria as a senior high school teacher. We learnt piano and competed as a family choir in country town quests, singing European folk songs. Nick was the lively soprano. But once we discovered there were typically adolescent things going on that we weren’t allowed to do, yeah, things came unstuck.
Nick responded to rock’n’roll quicker than me. He was a lot hipper – he’s always had a nose for style and fashion. My social life at uni was pretty daggy and in-house, so I took my cues from Nick as far as where to hang out. My association with him won out in the end: I decided to be a muso. Dad was appalled. He didn’t talk to us for a long period after that.
I never sacked Nick. That’s the “Nick Spin”. He’s got a funny way of… ah well; I guess this is like Khrushchev talking about Stalin. I did try forming a band with him. We had s singer who couldn’t sing and I decided I wanted to be a singer, so I just went back to the guys I’d been playing with before.
Nick was pretty pissed off with me. But in retrospect, he had bigger goals to kick. He’s much more ambitious; there’s no way I would have pursued music in the way he did. He was prepared to join a string of different groups to see if they worked which takes a particular sleight of mind and reveals a completely different ethos. I put my roots down. Once I decide what I wanted to do, I made it work.
I didn’t think he’d have the success that he did. I went to see the Mullanes (Crowded House’s initial name before they went off to try their luck in Los Angeles and I was very underwhelmed. Then they fell off my radar until Don’t Dream It’s Over went Top 10 and I was gob smacked. And very impressed. They’d made it happen overseas when they couldn’t get arrested in Australia.
Once I got used to the fact Nick was having all this success that I wasn’t having, I decided I really liked their first album. I’d watch these new bands and think, “Hey, I actually like melodic, sweet pop”. This didn’t sit well with the (Hunters). Like a lot of Aussie bands, we had this stifling boyo mentality about being seen to be masculine. So we retired the band.
Crowded House remained much bigger overseas than here. Nick could be a bit acerbic about that; I don’t think he particularly likes Australia. He prefers Dublin. And the rest: he’s got property all around the world. Whether that also has to do with me being here, I don’t know. We’ve both got strong egos, which we get from our father, and we pull in opposite directions. You won’t find the two of us in a three way conversation – that just doesn’t work. Nick describes it as good cop, bad cop. I’m just… heavy. I’m very intellectually judgemental. Whereas Nick’s a good talker. He likes to faff around. There’s a genius in that: people take an instant liking to him. In a room full of celebrities, he’s go right up and talk to them. I’d just get the hell out of there.
Thanks Miriam for providing this article!