At time humorous, at times serious, Channel V interview with Mark and Nick Seymour.
Author: Leah McLeod.
Date: May 1998.
Original URL: http://www.channelv.com.au/interviews/tmp/interviews/seymour.html.
In May 1998 we enjoyed the company of the most charming brothers in Australian rock, Mark and Nick Seymour. Leah McLeod, host of AO, conducted the interview, which turned out more like a casual chat than a media commitment, with some revealing insights into the break-ups of both their respective bands …
Leah: Well probably a really good place to start would be, what are you guys up to now? What are you currently doing?
Nick: Promoting Mark’s single.
Leah: Tell us about your single.
Mark: Well I’m gonna talk in the third person cause I’m gonna try to be like Paul Simon.
Nick: Like Paul Simon, okay.
Mark: I have this deep psychological problem about mentioning the words me and I.
Nick: Analysis. We’re currently on a couch, this is analytical.
Mark: Mark is currently promoting his latest single ‘Home Again’. My brother Nicholas is helping me.
Nick: He is helping . Yes Nicholas is helping.
Leah: And what are you doing to help Nicholas?
Nick: I’m playing the bass and I actually am good at that.
Nick: I feel good about saying that.
Leah: You sound like you weren’t quite sure that you might have been good at it.
Nick: Well I’ve doubted that for some time.
Mark: You hear him when he wakes up in the middle of the night in the motel and you hear him suddenly go, “Aahh” and you run around and go “What’s the matter mate” and he’s sitting up in bed going “Can I play the bass?” and I go “Yeah mate, you’re great, go back to bed”.
Nick: Actually what I’m doing is I’m asking his permission – “Can I play the bass?” I’m not saying “Can I play the bass?”, “Am I a good bass player” … it’s “Can I play the bass?”
Mark: We’ve had to try and get over a lot of stuff that’s gone down in the previous 20 years.
Nick: We’ve actually got a lot out in the last couple of weeks of promoting that has been long overdue.
Leah: How does it go working, being siblings an’ all, in a close environment. How do you go with that?
Mark: We have our ups and downs.
Nick: We haven’t had a fight in a long time.
Mark: The last one was a doozey though.
Leah: I was gonna say, do you fight much? What sort of fights do you have? Little picky ones?
Nick: We’ve had one fight on his record and that’s all we’ve ever had. And it wasn’t really a fight.
Mark: It was pretty basic that. Whether we were going to call it the Mark Seymour solo album or Nick Seymour solo album. So we had to ring the record company…
Nick: He’s still saying that!
Mark: And say, “Can we change the Mark bit to Nick? Is that gonna work?” And they said… “Well promotion.. Well, we might have a problem with that.”
Nick: Yeah… you’re not actually formally signed to Mushroom Records… I’m not actually signed to anyone at the moment…
Leah: You’re a free agent … So there’s a little bit of sibling rivalry there, could you say that?
Nick: There was, I think it’s possibly now all about encouragement. Whatever we see of each other…
Mark: He’s a great guy… salt of the earth..
Nick: We’re probably at the stage of our lives where we need encouragement and we’re prepared to be benevolent about it. Because we’ve both experienced a degree of success in our individual pursuits and I wish that I was a hell of a lot more encouraging to people along the way that I’ve met.
Mark: I don’t know if you’ve ever come across this, but when there’s musicians standing around in a room trying to put an arrangement together there’s a lot of grunting that goes on …
Leah: Oh yeah..
Nick: And it’s usually negative, they say things like, “That sounds like Fleetwood Mac”, or “I’m not gonna say who that sounds like … I’m not gonna say cos it’ll ruin the whole rehearsal”. Something like that, instead of saying, “That sounds great, that’s fantastic.”
Mark: In Hunters it was always like, “Oh we can’t play that” and I go “Why?” Often with my ideas in the last few years they’d go, “Nuh, it sounds like Crowded House …”
Nick: Neil used to say to me, “We can’t do that, it sounds a bit like Hunters & Collectors”.
Leah: Ahh, mixed influences. It’s coming in from everywhere.
Mark: And I’d go, “Which bit? You have to isolate it.” “It’s that descending chord pattern, it’s a bit Beatlesque a la Crowded House”, and I’d go “Yeah – that’s the bit I like, that’s the hook”. “Uh no.” And I’d say, “But they have sold bucketloads all over the world” … and they’d be, “No, we’ve got standards”.
Leah: Artistic standards … Nick you’ve had a huge amount of success with Crowded House playing to stadiums of god knows how many people and then the big farewell in Sydney a couple of years ago…
Nick: Now that did take me by surprise.
Leah: I was gonna ask you about that. How did the break-up of Crowded House come about? Was it a sudden thing or was it in the planning for a while?
Nick: I had suspected for some time that it was … well, Neil did move to New Zealand and when you are in a band it’s best if you actually live near each other, but when he did move to New Zealand I remember asking, “Is that an indication of you wanting to get away from anything in particular is it?” … “No, no problem, we’ll be fine. When we rehearse we’ll just fly to wherever to rehearse,” and that meant we had to fly to Auckland so I knew that that was going to be somewhat of a stumbling block eventually. What I assumed was that we should have one more studio album to capitalise on the good will of Joe Punter toward the name Crowded House and the legacy of the band. I really did assume we would do that. We never really discussed it. But when he rang me and said, “I’m leaving the band”, I immediately thought, hang on, there’s another studio record to make. You owe it to yourself. But anyway, at that point it was a surprise. But what was really surprising was that that many people turned up to see us in Sydney. That really surprised me.
Mark: He rang me before the gig and said, “You’re not going to believe this, listen to this, waaa!” And I’m going, “What is that?”
Nick: And it was me going “WAAA!!”
Mark: He was saying to me a couple of days before, “I don’t know about this gig, do you think anyone’s gonna turn up?”
Leah: I can’t believe you thought no-one would turn up.
Mark: I really didn’t think … I thought it was just a media hype thing. I’d gotten to the point of thinking that we would never do a concert of that size in our home country. I really never thought that we would ever amalgamate or unify so many different types of people. Australians can be so pigeon-holed into styles and trends – whether you’re groovy, whether you’re in, whether you’re suburban, whether you’re urban, whether you’re rural. But that one gig so many people realised they knew so many of our songs and I was surprised by that, I really was.
Leah: Mark, the break up of Hunters & Collecters was a little more methodical. As far as the release of ‘Juggernaut’, your farewell album, you planned that out. Tell us about the planning, as far as saying goodbye basically and the tour that followed.
Mark: Well actually there’s a good chance that no-one from Hunters & Collectors will see this interview because they don’t have Foxtel, except for Jeremy, so basically I can say what I like. No I won’t say what I like, I’ll say what I need to say. Basically I didn’t know whether or not we were going to make another record until I had a conversation with Robert, our front of house mixer, who I actually spend a lot of time talking about music with, and we were just talking about how we thought the tour would pan out and what sort of response we would get as a band and what have you … and we both agreed to go out with no product at all would look a bit … it was just kind of an appearances thing, we’d look a bit cynical. And I’ve got to say, I wasn’t up for it, I didn’t want to make another record. I had my record and I was pretty happy with that, but I could sort of see, given the fact that the staple of our career has been in the clubs that to go out and do that again without any product, and with audiences that range from about 800 to 1000 I thought that we’d look a bit kind of … it would just be a bit slack I reckon. Hunters & Collectors haven’t found it hard to make records in the last few years. I mean there’s a lot of people with ideas. I just bounce the words off other people’s call so to speak.
Leah: But you felt that you finished it off on the note that you wanted to?
Mark: Yeah, to be quite honest with you I wasn’t doing myself any favours as a songwriter because what subsequently has happened, I’ve had to drop the ball on my album and go off and promote Hunters & Collectors . So maybe I didn’t have enough presence of mind. Maybe I wasn’t ruthless enough.
Leah: Ahh, would’ve could’ve should’ve…
Mark: Exactly. So, but anyway it was worth it.
Nick: I think you did it really gracefully.
Mark: Well we wanted to do that. There was a genuine desire from everyone in the band to go out on a high note, so I just went along with it. It ended really well …
Nick: It was a really touching final gig that I saw in Melbourne at this club. I’d never been in a situation where I’d been in a venue with really loud music and I’d pushed my way to the front and gotten really excited, like ‘yeah, this is a good position’ and then focus and look at the band and I started getting really choked up and realised that I couldn’t enjoy it. And you were playing ‘A Few Men’ or you were playing ‘Tears Of Joy’, you know that little bit at the end there? Te de de de …
Mark: Yeah, ‘Tears Of Joy’.
Nick: Oh my god, just dragged it out of you and I stood there, and you know what it’s like when you see a movie and you’re crying, the last thing you want to do is put anything near your eye and you’re sort of hoping the tear isn’t gonna roll out of your eye … Mum and Dad were there, I thought I’d better go find Mum and Dad. Cos they’re old, I mean they’re not that old but I wanted to make sure they were okay so I went off to find them and I realised that everyone around me, they were all crying. They were all really crying and there was an incredible amount of integrity coming off that stage and it was a really unusual experience in a sweaty gig to see that.
Leah: What are you guys really passionate about?
Mark: I really love performing. I love singing. I mean it’s pretty simple really … it just keeps on getting better. I think I’m a better performer now. I mean I’ve learned so much since I started doing this other stuff about how to deliver a song to a room full of people without necessarily having a 110 decibels of sound reinforcement. And there’s a real thing about that. Nick talks about engagement when you just pick the guitar up, to try and win an audience over whose preconceptions of what you’re about you have no control over, Joe Punter …
I spose Hunters were always able to work in that pub environment but you were never able to exercise that performance thing other than in that environment and to have turned that corner has been a real revelation to me as a singer. I remember when we first tried to court Triple M back in the old days and I heard the story of how the Program Director said, “Oh we can’t play that”. It was the Hunters’ ‘Human Frailty. He said, “We can’t play that guy, he can’t sing.” And that got back to me through someone in the record company so I set out to prove him wrong. The thing about playing in the pubs is you don’t really have to be singing that well to get it across. You can scream and you can growl and you can do all sorts of weird things and it’s all part of the pantomime – people like that kind of frailty.
Nick: I actually believe in a studio situation when I’m trying to work with a vocalist is that I think undersinging and vulnerability is the absolute key familiarity that people want to hear when you’re trying to capture an audience. The last thing you want, and this happens so often, Mariah Carey oversings. I’m sorry but anyone who can do vocal gymnastics like that is alienating. Personally it drives me crazy.
Mark: There’s definitely a pocket you can get into …
Nick: I like hearing vulnerability in a voice. I like hearing a voice that’s … it’s fantastic to hear purity of tone within that undersinging. But when a singer is singing a note in that register and then a note down there and that’s become a joke in the States when the baseball opens and they have someone step into the centre plate to sing the national anthem and it’s like … it’s a joke, and it’s funny. It’s a wonder Seinfeld hasn’t touched on it. He probably has actually.
Leah: Well he probably has in some episode. Thank you so much for joining us guys.