On The Street Interview
Mark interview at the time of the recording of the Cut album.
Author: Les White, On The Street.
Date: 4 December 1991.
Original URL: N/A.
American producer Don Gehman has been busy – first with Diesel and now with Hunters and Collectors. On the way, the battle of egos inside the hunters saw a new guitar player being introduced. Story by Les White.
Though to some ears the band has developed a greater pop sensibility over the years, the feral beast that is Hunters and Collectors, still retains the savage bite that it’s always had.
The musical dental work, though cosmetically more appealing, has if anything, given them the ability to sink their teeth even deeper into the fabric of global and personal life, whether in torment or celebration. That H&C might attain the level of international success achieved by Midnight Oil is surely a matter of “when” rather than “if”. Apart from any overt ideology the two bands may share, parallels are often drawn between their respective singers, who both have the ability to connect with the audience that goes way beyond the phrase “entertainment”. I spoke to the shorter of the two last week.
Sixth interview for the day is hardly poll position in the interviewing stakes when it comes to generating some sort of lively rapport, but happily it was an agreeable and communicative Mark Seymour who sat opposite me.
Q. You’re busy working on a new album at the moment. How far down the line to completion is it?
A. Well, we’ve finished mixing seven songs in three weeks which is a pretty amazing thing for us. We usually take ages. It’s been a totally new experience. The songs sound vastly different to anything we’ve done before. They’ve just got a more powerful groove and if anything they recall the sort of thing we doing back in 1980. We’ve been using a lot of sample rhythms and what-not on tape loops. Having made three albums in pretty much the same fashion, we really wanted to take a step sideways with this one. We weren’t sure what we were going to do so Jeremy Smith and myself went over to America and England and talked to about 20 different producers and tossed the idea of using tape loops around with a handful of them, in the light of the 30 or so demos we were presenting. Amongst them, Don Gehman, who ended up doing the record, was the one who said “you haven’t got enough good songs”. His basic philosophy is that you want to make the best record you can and do that you need good songs. He also mentioned that he could enlist the services of a good engineer who would actually designed loops for the songs we were going to work on. As recent as a week before we went into the studio we were still under the impression that we were just going to record in our usual fashion except that we would have Don Gehman standing in the middle making sure that we didn’t get bogged down in musical indecision. With this album I think there’s a definite shift in style because of the way it’s been recorded. The way the songs groove and the sheer scale of the sound. It’s quite different to anything we’ve done before, really.
The thing about using the loops is that we have this really powerful rhythm happening before we’ve even put anything on tape. This gave us a lot of headroom to play around with, dynamically so we could spend time thinking about parts as opposed to just banging down what we’ve been doing in the rehearsal studio.
Q. Do you harbour any fantasies about doing anything extra-curricular outside the band at all?
A. Over the past couple of years I’ve done a couple of things outside of the band but I think I’ve come to realise that the idea of Mark Seymour doing a solo thing is pretty much something that was invented by the press as being something I had a hankering for.
I’d much rather be in a band than be a songwriter and pen songs with an acoustic guitar and be applauded as a great poet. Being in a band is a lot more of a living experience, having an immediate contact with the people around you, sharing ideas and seeing them grow into something. It’s really organic and real. I mean I do write songs of my own, but there’s something agoraphobic about being a songwriter, sitting there in a room with your little drum machine and your little buttons. I guess I’ll probably end up doing that at some point in my life but it’s definitely not what I want to do now. I’ve always proceeded on the basis that what you put out you get back. I thrive on the energy I put out to other people and the fact that I always have these people around me.
With Don Gehman there would be occasions where if the band had been through the song a couple of times and it wasn’t happening he’d call me into the control room to play this song unadorned, just guitar and voice. We would always bring the song down to that level, then we’d discuss it and go back and give the song a different treatment. At one point there was this great song happening that I really liked and Don just couldn’t stand it at all. It then got completely turned around and from being a song that he hadn’t really earmarked for anything it evolved into what will probably be the first single of the album. We did a total musical backflip on it which is amazing for us, having gone in with a song that we considered complete and then doing that to it.
Q. What was the rationale behind taking on a second guitarist? Was it simply a case of wanting to hear a guitar making noises in the band that you weren’t capable of producing?
A. It was partly that but I also felt that my relationship with John, the bass player, has deteriorated quite a bit; we were becoming marginalised because of a breakdown in communications. We were constantly trying to force each other to cooperate. John has got a very big ego and so have I and quite often we’d get into this stalemate position, creatively speaking. Barry actually came into the band at John’s suggestion.
Q. Without wanting to use cliches like “radio friendly” or “closer to mainstream” would you concede that your music has got a bit more user-friendly over the years in terms of its scope of appeal?
A. Our pop sensibility has been pretty much a part of the status quo of our song writing since 1985. I regard Human Frailty as a commercial mainstream album. It didn’t sell bucket loads but we fully intend to have a popular voice in the Australian music scene. That’s what that album was an attempt at doing.
Q. Do the songs come easy? Do you consider yourself as being fairly prolific?
A. I see myself primarily as a lyricist. I hold a lot of store in the actual style and content of words. Ultimately, the most memorable songs are the ones in which the words capture a state of mind that is so obvious that people can relate to it.
Q. Comment is often made on the Australian character of the band. Do you relate to that?
A. I think it’s pretty importance to create things that are a reflection of our environment and culture because God knows, everything seems to be pointing at us becoming a second rate nation. I think that everybody carries that feeling around that we are living in apocalyptic times, to a certain extent. Any music that doesn’t have that tone in its background some way, doesn’t really interest me, and doesn’t actually address what people’s lives are like.
Q. It’s at this point I sense my own personal apocalypse in the form of the promotions girl from Mushroom pounding up the stairs to tell me it’s time to wind the interview up. Having stumbled into three cupboards and an equal number of unoccupied offices, I finally found my way out the door. It’s a lovely day in the neighbourhood.
Thank you to Gary for typing this article for us all to enjoy!