The Ballad of a One Eyed Man…
An interesting interview with Mark Seymour, with lots on football…
Author: (c) Phil Doyle.
Original URL: http://www.geocities.com/phildoyle2000/markseymour.html .
Phil Doyle talks with Mark Seymour, one time lead singer of Hunters and Collectors, about growing up, football, getting bashed and his new album, One Eyed Man.
Phil Doyle: Tell us about growing up as Mark Seymour?
Mark Seymour: My mum and dad were school teachers. I grew up in country towns in Victoria. Traveled to a lot of different places. Came to Melbourne when I was 14, I grew up in Heidelberg. Basically I’ve been living in Melbourne ever since, and traveling obviously, quite a lot.
PD: What about football, that’s part of the growing up in Victoria experience?
MS: It’s funny, I was right into it when I was a kid. I lost touch with football for quite a long time, probably because I wasn’t in the country. I suspect football’s become a lot more immediate a sport than it was. There was kind of a tactical adjustment made by the league to try and raise the profile of the sport. It’s definitely a much bigger sport than it was twenty years ago. I think it was bigger earlier on, when I was a kid it was far more important part of growing up than it subsequently became. It sort of lost popularity in a way. But I definitely think that now it’s such a big part of life in Melbourne, bigger than it’s ever been. I switched clubs. I used to support Carlton when I was a kid, my father still does, but I can’t stand John Elliot so I got out of Carlton. I decided they were too successful as a club (laughs).
PD: When you’re a kid did you ever play the game?
MS: I played footy until I was seventeen and then I decided I was too small. I got some serious injuries in year eleven at high school. I went to Banyule High School, which is quite a big football school. I was a bit smaller than I am now, and not big enough for football.
PD: What about the Saturday afternoon fever, ever go to the games?
MS: Oh yeah, I’d go with my dad quite a lot.
PD: To Pretty Park?
MS: We used to go to the MCG a lot. We didn’t go to Princes Park much.
PD: Do you have any memories from that, like really early memories?
MS: Going to the Grand finals I would really love, and we used to go to St. Kilda a lot as well, because we used to go and visit my grandmother in Moorabbin, that was when they played at Moorabbin We used to go their heaps because it was ten minutes from the house. Hawthorn as well, we used to go to the Hawthorn ground, tiny.
PD: Do you have any specific memories, any incidents you remember, anything that sticks in your mind?
MS: Melees. Serious melees. In those days. Malcolm Brown. There was a whole generation of footballers that I knew, that I remember their names. I’m sort of now just starting to learn player’s names. When I was a kid I would know them all. Footy really taps into that enthusiasm in kids, and it’s got to hold onto it. As people grow up they either maintain their interest, or they lose it, or it wanes a little bit. I know a lot of guys in music who are fully into football. All the guys in Hunters and Collectors, except for one or two, were stats heads, like it was ridiculous. I felt like a dickhead because I didn’t know anything. I do find it pretty incredible how much statistical information some guys seem to be able to hang onto. They must spend hours reading the Age. I can’t do that.
PD: You mention John Howard’s ‘Year of living dangerously’ in the notes that accompanying the track ‘Ready To Go’. The track and the two after it, ‘Lost In Your Illusion’ and ‘Strange Little Town’…
MS: They’re Melbourne songs.
PD: They seem to address an uneasiness about modern Australia. You’ve been in public life for twenty years, do you think Australia is becoming more conservative?
MS: I don’t know if it’s becoming more conservative, I think Australia’s really deeply conservative. I would say that I’m pretty conservative in my lifestyle. I tend to be a pretty careful how I live my life. My attitude to life generally speaking is pretty laissez faire. I tend to let bygones be bygones. I’m not that quick to judge people. Not that I’m patting myself on the back for that, but I’d say that relative to the values of today’s middle Australia I’d say I was pretty left. Because I’m a public figure the behaviour that I expect in other people I generally wouldn’t make public statements about – I’ve got a few strange friends put it that way. At the same time songs like ‘Strange Little Town’ and ‘Lost In Your Illusion’, I’m pretty cynical about people’s sense of comfort. Australians like their creature comforts and the idea that we live in an incredibly comfortable world and this suburban lifestyle which is really boring, and I escaped it. That was one of the big reasons I got into music, was to escape the suburbs. Which is kind of an English thing in a way, it sort of reminds of that English disease they go on about, wanting to escape that middle class suburbia. You see that kind of dialogue in English literature and music and artists talk about that in their culture. It has been part of the Australian cultural dialogue for many, many years obviously. At the same time when you look at games like football, and you look at mass media and popular culture – if you listen to 3AW for example – you get the distinct impression that people are pretty content with not a great deal in terms of life experience. Australians can do well by traveling overseas, getting to see the world is a great part of growing up and broadening your horizons.
PD: Talking about the experience of being bashed in Sydney, which is the subject of the title track on the new album, you’ve got a lyric in there that says ‘you couldn’t talk your way out’, have you talked your way out of situations like that before?
MS: Heaps of times! I’m not really actually afraid of people particularly. I tend to take everyone on face value, which is really quite a potentially dangerous thing to do. If you find yourself in a part of town that you don’t really belong, being a middle class boy – like I’m fairly sensitive and I tend to trust people on that level. In other parts I’m less trusting, like in my professional life I’m not that trusting at all. When I meet people I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt. That was a big mistake on that occasion. I think the thing that made me really want to write the song was that I actually felt a bond with these people. I don’t think they really cared that it was me particularly. People asked me afterwards, ‘Do you think they recognised you’, and that’s possible, but I just happened to be in the wrong place, that’s all it was. I did spend quite a bit of time talking to them before it happened. Something happened, I actually walked away from them, I wasn’t around them anymore and they sort of came up behind me about a good thirty seconds later. So I think something happened once the dialogue had ended. Things started getting nasty near the end, and one of these guys decided they were going to rob me. Basically they were trying to get money off me. I don’t feel particularly angry. I didn’t even feel angry at the time. I felt like I was in serious danger of getting permanent brain damage. But I didn’t feel angry with them at any stage, and I don’t feel angry with them now. That song is for the guy, their patsy, the guy who had one eye who was an absolute loser. He was fucked up. He was drunk. He was their set up. The guy that they put out front to get middle class softies like me would feel sorry for them, and it worked.
PD: The new record is pretty slick, It would be really interesting to hear a stripped back version of these songs.
MS: I’m thinking about doing an acoustic record for the next one. I’ve sort of gone back to that extreme. Now I’m thinking of reducing the level of production down to one or two voices in each song, and never make it bigger than four voices max, like I might only have drums on half the album. We really went for scale. We wanted to have a really impressive, really symphonic sound that had massive wide dynamics. We really went after that. At the same time the songwriting’s got to be really good. When you do that kind of record you have to be right on top of the songwriting. The songs that were discarded, there were forty, there were almost fifty songs. If you have weak songs…
PD: That was the juxtaposition between the songs, there was really strong content…
MS: I try to write simple blocky songs, I don’t think that the songwriting is that different to Hunters and Collectors. It’s got that simple, blocked out chord structures and the melody just travels through them. It’s an ideal way to write symphonic songs A lot of guys the song unfolds as they write, where I tend to write in blocks and just sort of throw words at it. I fool around with lyrics like you wouldn’t believe, it’s ridiculous, fooling around until something clicks. I am going to do a really stripped back record for the next one. When you work on that scale it costs a fortune. You get the best people, it’s judicious, you find the right people. But I want to do something a lot simpler, and try and do a lot of it at home.
PD: What keeps you going?
MS: The next song!
PD: Do you ever worry it’s going to dry up.?
MS: All the time! It’s the craft thing really. I love performing, that’s the vehicle, and I’m always thinking of the next thing I can put out.
PD: I saw you perform the Holy Grail at the Age ‘Future of Footy’ seminar, which was fucking bizarre…
MS: I love the challenges. You get those funny gigs. When we first got asked to do that song connected to football it was so weird sort of like took on a life of it’s own. And I found myself going to all sorts of weird little cubbyholes to do it I ended up doing a training piss-up at the Western oval one night with just the keyboard player to the team, coach and crew and girlfriends. I really got into football after that, two years ago, I started getting into football again. I got to meet a team first hand and they were all having a bit of a relax after training. When you go out to the Western Oval it’s the heart and soul of football out there. They do their training.
PD: It’s a real phenomenon that song.
MS: Some people don’t like it. People hate it. I know people really hate it with a passion. ‘Throw your arms around me’, those are the two songs I still do, is universally loved. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love it. They either love it or their not interested in me or Hunters and Collectors at all. Holy Grail has a really mixed reception,
PD: Did it? Why’s that do you think?
MS: No, the funny thing was it almost never made the album, a couple of guys thought it sounded like Boston. It had that particular chord structure and the engineer pushed a particular production, compressed electric right in the middle of the mix that sounds huge, so it sounds like Boston, which is a bit unfortunate. I always loved it, I thought the story was really unique. It was such a bizarre story. I just stumbled on it, I happened upon a book at the time that just told the story of Napoleon, about Napoleon’s cook – the guy that cooked Napoleon’s chicken on the Russian front. Which is such a bizarre thing to write a song about. It was so unconnected to anything I was doing, any experiences I was having at the time, it seemed like a really good idea to write a song about it. It does tell the story about fighting in the face of insurmountable odds, and that really appeals to people. Everyone has that sense of wanting to achieve great things in their life, and I think they relate to that song on that level. Obviously the Holy Grail is connected to sport, it became a sport thing.
(c) Phil Doyle – Gonzo Sports Journalist – 2001.