Hunters & Collectors Interview

Channel V interview with Barry Palmer and Mark Seymour from just before the split.

Author: Leah, Channel V.

Date: February 1998.

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It has been said that losing the Hunters & Collectors in the Australian music industry would be like losing a leg. In February 1998, Leah got together with Mark and Barry of the band to talk about their final tour, their future plans and how they managed to stay together for so long.

Leah: We’re down here in the Chinese Laundry at the Slip Inn in Sydney. We’re talking to Mark Seymour and Barry Palmer of Hunters and Collectors. 17 years and you’re a mainstay, for want of a better word, in the Australian music industry, one of Australia’s most loved bands without a doubt, and it’s time to call it a day.

Mark: Yeah, we’ve got 25 more shows to go.

Barry: Yeah, we’re not counting.

Leah: How did the decision come about to make a split?

Mark: It wasn’t an overnight affair. It was more something that we kind of gradually got used to, the idea, and eventually tossed around for about 2 ½ years, 3 years and then it just got down to coming up with the best way of actually organising it so that we could have enough time off to get ourselves going outside the band as individuals and then coming to terms with putting a tour together at the right time and then we decided to make a record as well.

Barry: That was part of the package though wasn’t it. We had to do it for some people in the band who wanted it to keep on going a bit longer than other people in the band and we finally found this one single solution to make a farewell album, cause there were some people who still wanted to do some recording with the Hunters, so it wasn’t really a compromise, but something we could all walk away happily with.

Leah: Well you (Mark) about a year ago released ‘King Without a Clue’, your debut solo album, and Barry you’re with Deadstar. You’ve both been really busy, have those two particular outside interests from Hunters and Collectors, contributed as far as time consumption is concerned? Do you want to focus more on that?

Mark: Yeah, I’d say so.

Barry: I worked with Mark on his record too.

Leah: That’s right, you produced it as well.

Barry: Yeah, we kind of hang around together.

Leah: You’re mates. (Barry slaps Mark on his back)

Barry: He looks at me incredulously, like I don’t even know this guy. (Laughter)

Leah: But you’ve known each other for years.

Barry: Well I haven’t been there from the start. I started ten years ago. I’m the new boy.

Leah: And you’ve been there since the very beginning, since conception.

Mark: Yeah.

Leah: I was thinking before, being the age that I am, I grew up with Hunters & Collectors and I still remember seeing ‘Say Goodbye’, the first time it was on television, the video, and thinking ‘wow’, ‘how excellent’ and following it right through, so to myself and to many other people it’s the end of an era, so to speak.

Barry: What’s the way you introduced ‘Talking to a Stranger’ on the stage?

Mark: It’s conceivably older than some of the people in the audience, the ones who aren’t 18 years old. I sometimes ask people if they recognise it and sometimes people don’t even know it because it’s that old. We thought we’d revive it because it’s the first single. There are a lot of people coming back too who were around in those days. You can sort of pick them out in the audience. They’re a little bit older and rounder.

Leah: They’re miming the words….

Mark: Yeah, and they know the old songs as well.

Leah: It’s a mixed bag of fans isn’t it, you’ve got your younger group and you’ve got your mainstayers, the regular people that started with you almost.

Mark: A lot of people come back to have one last gawk at us.

Barry: In Tweed Heads, there was mum, dad and the two teenage children, and mum and dad were doing the rocking, let me tell you. They were having the time of their lives.

Mark: Young kids have been escorted backstage by the parents. The parents are the fans.

Leah: Well you’ve released nine albums so far, three Eps, you’ve just released Juggernaut, that’s the brand new one. When you were recording that, which you actually recorded and produced on your own too, is that the first time Hunters & Collectors have had that much creative control over an album?

Mark: Well, no, the first album was self-produced. The chance I had with this little project was that we were all pretty much accepting of the fact that it was the last record, so it was very easy to make. There wasn’t any sense of external pressures, we weren’t under any commercial duress so to speak so we made the album the way we wanted to make it. Everybody got a go, it’s a pretty simple record, it’s very organic. It’s very typical Hunters & Collectors fare, the way the fans like it I suppose.

Barry: The thing about it is when you usually make an album, the success of that album will determine how you can do the next album, but that wasn’t an issue with this record. So there’s a certain lack of preciousness, I think, and you didn’t have to resolve any of those underlying tensions that usually have to be resolved to have an ongoing band, you could just kind of go, do the album, do the tour, walk away and go sayonara, it’s nice.

Leah: Well if you guys aren’t recording an album, cause you’ve been so busy over 16 years, you’ve been flat out, you’ve either been recording albums or you’ve been touring, there hasn’t been much time to spare.

Barry: Well Shawn got adopted, let me tell you… (Laughter)

Leah: There wouldn’t be much time for that monkey business. When you’re actually on tour, if you can remember, which is your favourite gig?

Mark: I always like playing at the Newcastle Worker’s Club.

Leah: Why is that?

Mark: It’s just got a really good atmosphere, it’s a good town and everybody comes out and it’s the biggest provincial room there is outside of Capital cities so it’s very theatrical and it’s lots of fun to do it and everyone’s really into it.

Barry: They seem to lack some of that inner city reserve that you often encounter, where you just want to always watch your credibility.

Leah: They can get back in and enjoy it.

Barry: My most memorable gig was at Brisbane Festival Hall where I had my first show that I ever played with the Hunters and instead of playing in a little inner city Melbourne band where we played to roughly 400 people, we played to around 4000 in the first show and I think if I remember rightly the first song was ‘Everything’s On Fire’ which I start by myself on guitar and I think it was the most terrifying moment of my life.

Leah: Did you shake?, were you sweating? (Barry Laughs)

Barry: Did I shake?, the whole hour and a half was just a blur. I got up and I didn’t even know I had done it.

Leah: Well it would have been a bit of a relief once you’d finished.

Barry: I think I consumed a bit of beer that night.

Leah: What were you doing before Hunters & Collectors before you joined?

Barry: I played in a band called Harem Scarem and John Archer, the bass player from the Hunters had recorded this album and Mark and those guys unbeknown to me, had been talking about getting another guitarist, so I came along. It was nice, I didn’t have to go along that whole try-out thing where you’re sitting out there with 25 other guitarists outside the room doing your hottest hot metal. I just walked in, I just had a beer, played the guitar and it was meant to be.

Leah: It was destiny.

Barry: True.

Leah: About ten years worth. That’s not bad.

Barry: I always thought it would last for 6 months.

Leah: You’ve proved the record. I hate to be stereotypical in this sense, but to be together for the duration that you have been to have the success that you’ve had as well, I’d say that’s unusual. To get it to this far, you must of had some sort of chemistry as a band to keep it together, especially with the amount of touring that you’ve done, because a lot of bands break up when they’re on tour because of that close confinement.

Mark: I think the thing that surprises me is that we were able to keep going on as long as we have without having had any international success which is normally sufficient reason for bands, especially Australian bands to retire earlier once they’re sort of taken that step in trying to sell their material in other territories, and we sort of had a bite of the cherry several times. We went to Europe and America quite a few times.

Leah: How did you go over there?

Mark: Oh, reasonably well. We’ve got a pretty good reputation but we just didn’t make the money, so we’ve always had to rely on the club circuit in Australia to keep the bread buttered, so to speak, and it gets to be a very repetitive exercise after a while because you end up playing the same places over and over again, so there had to be something within, especially the live chemistry and the energy of delivery on the stage, which has kept us all pretty interested, and I think as a musical unit and just nutting out the basics of making a song work and the live contexts is something that we’ve always been pretty good at doing. You know, regardless of what kind of albums we’ve made from one year to the next, we’ve always been able to rationalise the meaning of the whole thing when we walk on stage. That’s always been my fallback position, I’ve always enjoyed that…That’s my reason for staying in the band, absolutely.

Leah: I’m thinking from a punters situation, you pack out clubs everytime. I saw you at the Old Lioness’s about six years ago in Adelaide. I don’t know if you remember. That place has no air-conditioning at all. The rest of us were just dropping off like flies but still musically and lyrically it sounded excellent. Everybody was just going off regardless of that. That seems to be the formula. People just seem to love it. It works for them.

Mark: Working in pubs, is somewhat a maligned form of musical, you know to choose that as a career path, you end up in a sort of style of career path because it is stigmatised by regurgitation and excessive consumption, but if you can make it work as a form of theatre, just as a way of performing, it really has a fantastic magnetism about it. I think that’s why people have always kept coming back to see us because making that environment work well can be very very exciting.

Barry: We’ve also been really fortunate. This is something that the audience probably wouldn’t even have seen as part of the equation, we’ve had a consistent kind of production value, that Robert Miles the front-of-house guy is a band member, so every time we go out we always know the sound is going to be consistently fantastic, we always have the same fold-back operator, until now, he’s just done his back, so we walk on stage every night and the sound sounds great and we know it’s working fantastically out the front, it’s really mundane stuff but for a band it’s incredibly important because if it sounds like crap on the stage, you’d get jack of it pretty quickly.

Leah: I think it’s kind of essential, isn’t it? That’d give you a bit of extra confidence, to walk out and know that everybody else is doing their job properly too. Well you’re half way through the Juggernaut tour, and about fifty shows in three months, what’s that? That’s probably one of the busiest schedules that I’ve heard of in a long time.

Barry: We’ve done well, no-one’s dead yet.

Leah: And you look good, you haven’t aged a minute.

Mark: What since the interview started?

Barry: Now you know why we chose a darkened environment.

Leah: No, this is great. This is the Chinese Laundry, if you look behind you… So if you wanna get your gear off later and chuck it in the spinner I’m sure that’d be fine, but I don’t wanna see you naked, so that’s okay, oh, hang on, maybe I do….but more importantly, with the last Juggernaut tour, you’re halfway through it, you’ve covered most of the country already. Now you’re about to do Manly, then Newcastle, then Melbourne….

Barry: Tassie, back to Melbourne, up to Sydney….

Leah: Final show, which is the last big send off, oh my gosh, they’re going, they’re leaving us forever, I’m gonna ball my eyes…

Barry: That’d be the 22nd March…

Leah: And which venue?

Barry: At the HI FI Bar in Melbourne which I’ve never been to.

Leah: So you gonna go out with a bang?

Barry: If we can find it, we will.

Leah: This is the best part about this tour, it’s not like you’re sort of fading off into the distance, you’ve released this great album, you’re doing a hardcore tour to follow, you’re leaving it on such a good note with your fans, giving them the opportunity to say goodbye, did you feel that was an essential part in dismissing the whole Hunters & Collectors thing?

Mark: Yeah, it’s pretty essential. That’s why we took the time off after the last album because we realised that, and we were pretty down about how commercially successful it was, and there was a certain amount of tension within the band for a number of reasons, and we didn’t really think we were gonna make another album at all, but we thought we’ve gotta end it well somehow so we really basically needed to give ourselves some time to work out what we all wanted as individuals and not necessarily sort of think in terms of being a band, because when you’re together you sort of think as a band in a lot of ways and you just sort of get caught up in the whole thing and then if things start going wrong, there tends to be a sort of herd mentality and we all sort of like get depressed at the same time. Mid tour, things aren’t going well for whatever reason, it’s very difficult to be rational, so we really needed to take stock of where we were as a group and as individuals as well, so when we did actually resolve ourselves to what we wanted to do in the long term, we could go out liking each other, being friends, I think that’s pretty important getting those sort of things resolved.

Leah: What’s your future plans Mark?

Mark: I’m going in three month blocks.

Barry: You learn that, I reckon, over a period of time, you always make these grand plans, you know Hunters have always done, you find out six months later that it’s all crap.

Mark: Yeah, you have to make it up as you go along. Especially being an artist you have to have that attitude because things change so quickly in music and people in the record company know that, you put records out, see how the public reacts to them and then you have to make new plans if things don’t go the way you expected.

Barry: We’re gonna be doing what you thought we might be doing, keep making records.

Leah: And what about you Barry?

Barry: Same. Get back and do some Deadstar and hopefully me and the old bloke here may even get together and write another song.

Leah: Fantastic.

Barry: You find a little group of people that you like working with after a while and it’s always a pleasure and there’s a hive of people that you don’t like working with and you go, ‘See ya.’

Leah: It’d be like family after a while, after this amount of time?

Barry: Yeah, definitely.

Leah: So you feeling melancholy yet?

Mark: No, sort of mid-tour you’re kind of concentrating on getting through it, looking after yourself, and all those sorts of things, and we’ve been doing it for so many years now, and there’s all these little routines that you follow each day and you try to keep your mind focused on that, and tears may flow in the closing stages of the last show but I think with us, probably what will happen is we’ll all sojourn to the bar….Going by the way that gigs are unfolding at the moment, I cannot imagine it being anything other than a riot, I mean people are going crazy.

Barry: They’re the most participatory that they’ve ever been.

Mark: I mean the crowd has just been fantastic. I mean we’ve had our up and downs as a band but the essentials are really coming through on this tour. People are coming along because they know it is the last time they are gonna get to see us, and they’re coming along with a really great attitude and the whole thing is reciprocated.

Leah: It’s been described as losing Hunters & Collectors in the Australian music industry is going to be like losing a left leg.

Barry: Oh yeah.

Leah: I tend to agree with that. So it’s all over at the end of March and the final gig is in Melbourne.

Barry: That’s to our friends.

Mark: We’re doing a private show.

Barry: No the 22nd of March is the final public one and the 24th March we all get a hundred guests each and we’ll have a big party.

Leah: We wish you all the best of luck in your future. We’ll be thinking of you and we’ll be ready with baited breath to hear of your next achievement. Good luck. Thanks for talking with us.