Juice Demon Flower Interview
Demon Flower era Mark Seymour and Barry Palmer interview.
Author: Toby Creswell, Juice.
Date: May 1994.
Original URL: N/A.
Mark Seymour and guitarist Barry Palmer talk with Toby Creswell about the Hunters’ new lease on life.
Cresswell: Demon Flower sounds very different from previous Hunters albums.
Seymour: Thank God for that. The chips were down. Either we were going to get a creative return from making the record or it wasn’t going to be worth making. We’d arrived at that point, even before we started writing; people had to feel that they were getting something out of it on a personal level. So there was a lot more sharing and co-operation than there has been for a long time with us. That’s why it sounds like we’re experimenting more, like we did in the early days. And that’s where the comparisons can easily be drawn, because that’s what we were like in the beginning. There was a lot more collaboration and pooling of ideas.
Creswell: There’s a heap of guitar on this record too.
Palmer: That’s the way records should be made – isn’t that right? Mark Freegard likes pushing them up in the mix. The last thing he did was the Breeders album, The Last Splash, and there’s guitars galore on that. The guitar is a no-fuss instrument, and you can keep things nice and dirty, as long as the guitar is being thrashed around the place.
Creswell: You were saying that this was a do-or-die effort for the Hunters.
Seymour: After we made the last album (Cut) and we had this level of success in Australia and this number of singles and radio loved it and the record company was happy, blah blah blah, we could easily have turned around and absorbed the grief that went into making it and gone, “Well, okay, all of these things are right so there must have been something right about the way we made it that we don’t understand.” And bands make that mistake. They go, “Oh, that one worked, so let’s look at the next one and try to make something in the same vicinity.” Whereas what we’ve done is actually turned around and reinvented the sound according to how we relate to each other as a band and that’s what saved us. We’ve made bad records.
Creswell: What are some of your bad records?
Seymour: They’re bad for different reasons. What’s A Few Men? was badly produced but it was quite well written. The Fireman’s Curse was well produced, and actually the performance on that record was quite good, but it was terribly written, shit songs. We were working with Conny Plank, a fantastic producer, who made sense out of the most bombastic, hypocritical bullshit. Records can be terrible for a whole lot of different reasons, but nine times out of ten the negativity will begin within the ranks of the band.
Creswell: Sexual politics is a big issue on this record.
Seymour: Is it?
Creswell: (To Seymour) Obviously you’re talking about working out your relationship with your girlfriend, Jo, and other scenarios…
Seymour: It’s a constant source of intrigue, I reckon, the way men and women relate to each other. Where I’m coming from is very much about heterosexual experience. You’ll always judge your own behaviour in relation to others. I’m not talking about people you’re fucking. You look at the way other men behave, and you notice the differences and the similarity and you wonder why you’re different and why you’re the same as them. You look at women and wonder why that woman has those sorts of relationships. People play the role of the victim, people play the role of the predator and it changes all the time. Human behaviour is a constant source of amazement. There’s always something somebody’s doing that amazes or fascinates me or makes me think “what level are they on?” Invariably sex is involved in it somehow.
Creswell: Much of your view of the world is through the Hunters & Collectors though.
Seymour: The thing about these men being a bunch of travelling troubadours who are sexually promiscuous and can do what they like….You meet people on the road who have that view of you. You meet women who think that’s what you’re like and you actually have to spell it out: no, actually, we’re not like that.
We’ve had to say to ourselves – “either we’re gonna grow up or we’re gonna break up” – because nine times out of ten, that’s what breaks bands up. That kind of behaviour ceases to be relevant as soon as men start to realise that their emotional survival is more important than anything else. We’ve crossed the line now where the most important thing for us is survival as, a) A professional organisation, and b) as a community of souls, which involves women, wives and babies and relationships.
Creswell: Sop you’re still the hunters but not the gatherers, right?
Palmer: The biological question. Because, when one of the women comes on the road, things change.
Seymour: There’s a limit to male conversation. It’s diabolically boring. People have a romantic view of male bonding which is such bullshit.
Palmer: Our idea of male bonding is that we get to the hotel and go running up to the counter saying, “I don’t want to room with that guy.”
Creswell: The Lady Killer on the last track, is that you?
Seymour: No. I was obsessed with the character in Thomas Mann’s story, Death in Venice, and that bloke who becomes obsessed with the young boy, the Adonis – It’s like the death of a Don Juan. Milan Kundera talks about it as well. We’re living in the age where Don Juan is no longer possible because the mythology surrounding machismo has been blown apart. We know now that the psychological portrait of Don Juan is flawed by what leads a man to believe that he is a great lover, and we don’t hold that up to be a heroic position any more.
I wanted to grapple with that literary issue in a song. It came from a number of different sources. I’d been writing about it for ages: the image of the Aussie bloke in the bar or the nightclub or whatever, standing there with the beer and thinking he’s charismatic when he’s not. And what’s going on is the girl’s waiting for him to get pissed enough so she can get him home. The mating calls in the pub are quite basic aren’t they? What people look for in each other isn’t that complicated. Here’s this guy stumbling around a room at four o’clock in the morning, pissed out of his mind, and he’s still in there. Doesn’t mind being rejected now because he’s got so many under his belt. The more I got into describing someone like that, the more interesting it became, because you see it so much, it’s such an obvious thing in men. It was great fun to write that lyric. Regardless of whether or not you’d actually liked the guy, you had to admire his persistence. He’s still a true lady killer down to the bone.
Creswell: You described “Tender” as one of your most personal songs. In what way is it personal?
Seymour: Well, it’s saying that there’s a person you have this intimacy with but they’re doing everything in their power to put you off the scent. When I’ve grappled with those themes on other records, the end result has always been either disaster or some kind of failure. The idea that love between a man and a woman can end up actually producing something positive….I’ve crossed a line where I have a fundamental belief in the positive outcome of that. It was a line I crossed sometime late last year. I was very much a product of my generation, of the whole sexual politics dialogue: could men and women see eye to eye, ever? I’ve changed on that and that song is for me pretty much a statement that this is how I think – that if I want somebody enough and I show them that I’m unconditional in my intention that I want the best for them as well, then that can only lead to good things. That song’s trying to say that.
Creswell: So it’s about you and Jo?
Seymour: The chorus is about me and Jo, but it’s not exclusively about me and Jo. It’s also about me changing my mind. But it was Jo that definitely shifted things for me.
Creswell: Many of the tracks on this album are bleak, caustic character studies. Some are political – “Mr Bigmouth” sounds like Jeff Kennett, “Desert Where Her Heart Is” is dark and “Panic In The Shade” has the image that is the album’s title, the Demon Flower.
Seymour: I set out in the beginning to make songs on the record like portrait studies because I wanted to get away from talking about myself. So I thought, “Why don’t I start writing about other people and arbitrarily constructing characters?” They don’t have to be real. I don’t even have to answer to them. You can get glimpses of people’s nature as they pass you by and you can jot things down and assemble character. They can be drawn from a number of different people. With that song (“Panic In The Shade”) I’d developed that approach to a point that I got to the real nitty gritty of what it was about human nature that obsessed me most. It’s like the archetypal scenario of someone’s mind.
It’s about what makes human nature psychotic, the drift in and out of that state of mind. All of us have that side of ourselves that we’re aware of in the middle of the night. For me, lyrically, it’s the most interesting song on the record and that seems to be the same for the most of the rest of the band. Most of the time I find a song interesting and others in the band think it’s boring.
Creswell: “Back In The Hole” is obviously a character study that has little to do with the band.
Seymour: The Age ran an article on the front page about the State Government of Victoria cutting back on spending on corrective services. There was this poignant story told by one of the wardens from Pentridge Prison. He was saying how normally it’s the status quo in his job that he gets home from work and has to sit in the car in the driveway for half an hour before he goes inside for dinner, so that his nerves can unwind. He was saying his wife understands why he does it, because otherwise he’d be taking his work home. It was originally called “The Warden’s Lament” and then Nick Mainsbridge said “Back In The Hole” is better because it’s less pretentious.
It’s that time honoured story of the bloke going back to work on Monday. Monday is the worst day of the week, and that’s also what it’s about. It’s got that blues grind about it â€˜cause the scenario of a guy working in a prison must be that heavy, ti must be an incredibly heavy job. And that’s the way we try to express it.
Creswell: What about “Drop In The Ocean”? Is John (Archer, bass player and boffin) the electronic force field?
Seymour: My Dad’s retired and it all ties into how he’s changed since his retirement. I’ve seen him undergoing this phenomenal change, his attitude to the world has lightened because he’s become fascinated with toys. He’s gone back to his boyhood. He’s got this car alarm – it always sounds like a little digital dog. There’ something dark about those things. It’s like this new neurosis, techno neurosis, and that made me start thinking about this idea of electronic force fields. People love the idea of their cars having a barrier that nobody can get through – and they’ve got this control over this little think in their hot little hand.
Palmer: Mark writes these lines like “You’ve got your electronic force field on” and we’re all sitting there going, “Is that me?” We were all sitting there wondering who that line was about. We didn’t know it was about your Dad.
Creswell: But aren’t you an electronics slug?
Seymour: Oh, I’m an electronics slug but I’ve still got it in me. I bought a power tool the other day and I was proud of it. I bought this bosch hammer drill and I had this real problem about buying it. Should I or shouldn’t I? What’s it going to do to me? Then I was worried about the amount of money it was going to cost – $152. But I bought this drill and the first person I showed it to was John.
Palmer: John would have loved it.
Seymour: He did. He said “That’s a bloody big power tool.” I said “But it’s compact.” He said, “Yeah, I know, that’s part of the beauty of it. You’re lucky you bought a Bosch. Bosch are a damn good brand.”
Creswell: After Cut and Ghost Nation, with their heavily produced sounds and drum machines, Demon Flower is an electronics slug album, isn’t it?
Palmer: We have this rehearsal space and it’s set up all the time and we walk in there and on a good day a song happens. Because it’s so reverberant and that kind of thing, people take a lot more risks. You don’t have to worry about everyone hearing every little riff you’re trying or every kind of solo you’re going for. You keep playing continuously. When you come back to listen to the tape, you’re there turning it up and down, whether it’s good or whether it’s terrible. There’s seven jockeys and we all want to ride faster.
Seymour: Same horse though. That’s what it’s like, honestly.
Palmer: “Easy” sounds like the most unmachine-like song we’ve played for ages. It goes up, it goes down, it goes in between. Mark’s rhythm guitar part is not continuous. It’s on and off. My rhythm guitar part is on and off. The whole song is constantly shifting. That’s what people used to do. They’d have a groove, the band would play it, they’d work off the drummer and the bass player and the whole thing would be constantly evolving. “Easy” has that quality about it. It ain’t the Rolling Stones and it ain’t the Clash, but maybe it sits somewhere in there as an approach.
Creswell: Your experience with Don Gehman, who produced Cut was not a happy one. Gehman’s attitude is essentially hierarchical and I get the impression that you were less than happy with the process, which is why you chose Nick Mainsbridge, who did Ratcat and David McComb’s album, to produce with the band.
Palmer: Nick’s musical taste is the weirdest. He believes white people should play only the whitest of white music and black people should play the blackest of black music and never the twain shall meet. He likes sugary white music or very deep soulful black music, but with us he put all his musical taste away. He wanted to be excited. Whatever it took to be excited, he was happy to go down that path.
Creswell: Demon Flower is released and you’re touring in Europe before Australia for the first time ever.
Seymour: Realistically it’s the best shot we’ve had overseas, because there are people working in promotion in London that have worked closely with us for years. Hopefully that will mean that there’s more empathy with connecting with radio in Europe, which we’ve never had much of a shot at, except in Scandinavia. But it’s anybody’s guess.
Thankyou to Stephen for typing out this article for us all to enjoy.
Note: Article may be incomplete at the start.