Extensive Human Frailty era Mark Seymour era interview.
Author: Christie Eliezer, Juke.
Date: 12 April 1986.
Original URL: N/A
Is it that strange that a band like Hunters & Collectors who make a very physical music should also find their appeal rests on their own physical graffiti?
LANDSCAPE (arrival, a way of saying).
From the beginning, Hunters & Collectors recognized that something more positive was needed. If the same ground had to be covered, then at least they wanted to do it form a different height.
They were aiming for constructive results through both a self conscious disruption and an enrichment of existing traditions. Hunters & Collectors music involved a certain reverence for certain older values, those that counted. (“I’ve been listening to a lot of late ’60s soul and early ’70s heavy rock, believe it or not” says Mark Seymour) and an enthusiasm.
If there is true dynamics in Hunters & Collectors music, it is that the rhythm section is basically involved in celebration, optimism, enthusiasm.
Overlaying that, though is Seymour’s neurotic stance. A small but sturdily-built individual, his very presence suggests a coiled-up spring, ready to unleash. He laughs and says he’s probably suffering from the Little Man syndrome, of being aggressive, of always wanting to bring tall poppies down to his size.
His lyrics are bleak. They are confused. They are rich in irony. They are sometimes pretentious, sometimes desperate to communicate.
They are almost at odds with much of the music that is all about celebrating the fact we and they are around, alive and breathing.
The current Hunters & Collectors single “Say Goodbye” is a good example. Every time it blasts out of the trannie, this strange force lifts my finger to turn the volume right up, to tap alongside for three of four minutes, to feel positively good at hearing such music.
The lyrics though are anything but. They are bitter and twisted, about a failed relationship. It’s no secret that through 1985, while Hunters & Collectors as a band rose up through the quagmire, Seymour’s personal life was far from happy. For a year he watched his relationship with his lady May (that’s her on the back of the sleeve on the 12″ format of “Say Goodbye”) collapse.
Throughout that period, virtually every two days he was scribbling down lyrics, fuelled by arguments and hostility and despair. The songs on the new album Human Frailty are a result of that.
Some of the more personal songs will emerge on a solo LP that he intends to start recording later in the year.
Those that ended up on the H&C album went from Seymour to H&C’s silent member, sound mixed Robert Miles who acts as Seymour’s creative sounding board, before being passed on to the band.
In a way, maybe the LP is redundant lyrically even before it’s released; as any avid reader of Barbed Wires would know, Seymour’s new lady love is none other than Do Re Mi’s Deborah Conway, and he certainly looks blissful enough.
LANDSCAPE II (Baby, get in the groove)
A lot of the times, Hunters & Collectors music doesn’t make sense until you experience it live.
On a great night the audience takes on its own role. It forms its own conga lines, it adds its own percussive slants to the songs with its offbeat clapping, it sings along. This is, after all tribal music.
The first time that happened was at a RMIT gig, in Melbourne, and Mark Seymour was clearly dumb-founded. Kept staring out at the insane crowd with mouth hanging open, then looking back at the others chuckling and shaking his head in disbelief.
“It doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s great when it does. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that Hunters & Collectors have been around for some time now, so the whole things becomes a ritual rather than the usual Melbourne thing of the crown speculating on what artistic line a band will take and just STANDING there staring at the band.
“That’s why I like X a lot, their audiences react in a similar way to ours. The shows become an event than just a performance.
“The best action we had was just recently at the Brisbane East Leagues Club, I’d never seen anything like it! During ‘Carry Me’, they had their own rhythm going, an off-clap. It’s a fantastic feeling because you never know what’s going to happen next.”
LANDSCAPE III (An Adventure)
“I used to be absolutely lousy at sports at school, I was a real runt”
These days Seymour is very much into being physical. Every day he trains for the 1500 metre and 1800 metre runs.
Muscles bulge through tight T-shirts.
The video for “Say Goodbye”, which accentuates that look, could almost be made for the US market, currently going through its own Down Home Boy stage via Brooce and Mellencamp.
“We’ve never really been bothered about how we looked until recently. We’ve never stood in front of a mirror, stared at our reflections and though ‘what do people like about us’ (laughs). But I think there is something about the way we look that does appeal to people. It’s masculine, it’s sweaty; John (Archer), for instance wears thongs on stage.
“That whole macho/masculine thing is something I’ve had lots of debates about. A lot of women find my image quite offensive, but then again a lot of women find it equally attractive. What are the masculine and feminine traits in you, that’s a very ’80s type argument, isn’t it?
“I mean, it’s an argument that I was confronted with time and time again in the last year (rueful shrug) and I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as a non-sexist male. I don’t think it’s possible for the human psyche to ever reach Sexual Utopia, in the same way it’s not possible for us to ever reach that Political Utopia as advocated by Marxism.
“I’ve always presented myself as myself on stage but just recently I’ve become quite resigned to the fact that where sexual politics is concerned, these are a few of the discrepancies within me. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s a case of saying ‘to hell with it’ because I’d rather be myself than self consciously wanting to put across the correct ‘line’.
“It can really stop your creativity if you start getting into that self-analysis that has been plaguing the Americans for the last 15 years.
“In a lot of ways, I think Hunters’ lyrics tend to be appreciated more by the Americans because they can recognize that mockery within the lyrics, of seeing the absurdity of that whole Aussie backyard barbecue scene where the chicks are in one corner and the guys in the other. The Americans are still a young nation and they’re still eager consumers. The British have always been patronizing about the Australians, they see us as convicts, as having created the monster in the first place, and they seem to think they know the Australian character well enough when they don’t.”
LANDSCAPE IV (play that guitar on the TV)
One aspect of Human Frailty is the way the guitars have been brought right up, to capture a deliciously dirty sound. Part of the reason is the strong dose of Early ’70s Heavy Rock (Flairs and Beads Division) that Seymour’s been listening to.
The other is of course that after the famous line-up shake-up of some years ago, the new streamlined H&C saw more emphasis on the guitar.
So how does Seymour rate himself as a guitarist?
“Not particularly, but then I haven’t really paid attention except for the last 12 months. When we record, we go for a ‘live’ feel, in that bass, drums and guitar are put down together, then we play it back and see whatever instruments has to be added or if it works on its own.
“Then the brass is added on.
“This way you get a certain feel in the sound, and a certain dynamics. We’ve always tried to avoid technology like drum machines and synthesized keyboards.”
If you stripped H&C music down to Third World rhythms, European melodies, American enthusiasm etc., did he think it was a music that transcended all cultural barriers?
“Well I don’t know about that. I’ve always seen it as being Australian music anyway, and certainly we’ve been playing the pubs long enough for that kind of music to be accepted as part of the Australian sound. There are a lot of people in Australia who don’t go out and see live bands in pubs and who’ve got a very distorted concept of what an Australian rock and roll band is all about, and I want to establish Hunters as a band they can see on TV and then come down to the corner pub and see playing live.
“I don’t know how this LP will be accepted either here or overseas. We’ve always been a very rhythmic band and we’ve been accessible quickly on that level. Maybe the acceptance works on that level.
“I find it very difficult to talk about the specific sound of the band at a certain time, because so many factors come into it. Having Robert Miles as a sound mixer has been very essential because aside from the fact that he’s an ideas man, he’s also very specific about the quality of the sound the band gets on stage, and that’s reflected in the sort of sounds we aim for when we’re recording.
“Then again as players we’re improving all the time so technique obviously comes to it. And in the last two years I think we’ve all changed our minds about our commitments to Hunters & Collectors. When I was 21, I was determined that no band would dominate my life, to let it become a lifestyle as well as a job. I didn’t have a band then, and now I find that I have accepted that playing music is just as much a lifestyle and that I have committed myself fully to it.
“I think we all have become more emotionally involved with Hunters & Collectors. The band certainly has a lot more soul than it had two years ago, for that very reason.”
LANDSCAPE V (dig deep, baby!)
The ‘soul’ in H&C music doesn’t just arrive via the way Seymour explains it in the last paragraph.
Waaaay back, when they case around for a cover version, they discovered an old Ray Charles song called “I Believe”. There was a directness, a simplicity, an unburdening of the soul, that Seymour liked.
Onstage, it was one of the songs that the audience seemed to relate to intently.
Fascinated, Seymour decided he wanted to buy in. If simplicity was the key he’d search for it. Certainly for the ballads on the LP like “Stuck on You” and “Throw Your Arms Around Me.”
“It was easy on the new record because in the mercurial 12 months, I was writing almost obsessively, every two days I was writing down lyrics about the experiences I was going through. It was like a therapy…although I must say it didn’t help save the relationship!
“Some of the early Hunters records, the lyrics were seen to be fairly obscure. But because of “I Believe” and the feelings that the song generated, I decided I wanted to follow a similar course lyrically, to be able to communicate without overburdening everything.”
Would it be fair to say there’d always been an element of parody in H&C lyrics (and occasionally the music) that isn’t always appreciated by their audiences?
“You’re dead right, we’ve always had that element. From my point of view, I always try to be larger than life or introduce an element of silliness, yes, there is a humour there, and I think it merely helps to allow the audience to approach the music on a number of different levels.”
It certainly works on ‘Say Goodbye’, it’s almost comical!
“Well it’s meant to be. I wanted to make a big deal about something trivial and domestic. The sexual politics debate that took place in the ’70s is something that interests me, particularly for obvious reasons in the last 12 months, and it struck me at the time that there was something ironic about the fact there was so much fuss made about something so incredibly basic and which had been going on for the last million years. It’s that irony which I wanted to present on that song.”
LANDSCAPE VI (when I’m riding around the world)
In August, Hunters & Collectors take off on another quick world tour.
This time they head for the US. and it’s obvious that the whole sound and video imagery of the new record has been aimed at that market. As Seymour says, the Americans have tended to react to the sound without any other preconceived notions.
They plan to spend about three months in the US. then catch the European rock festival circuit and do a couple of dates in London.
Seymour almost grimaces when he imparts the news about the London shows. A few years ago Hunters & Collectors headed off to find the golden streets of London and expected to be hailed as new rock heroes…and were startled and dismayed to find that not only did the critics and audiences generally misunderstand what their music was about but kept dragging in irrelevant notions of “colonists” “Fosters breath”, “Kangaroo Rock”…none which Hunters & Collectors found in any way amusing.
So, he still hasn’t forgiven the English for their chilly reaction?
“No! Our problem in England was that we had no image, and the English are no a very curious race. They’re not very sympathetic….we were told that the typing pool at Virgin Records in London complained that we smelt…we couldn’t understand it, but they seemed to find an Australian odour about us!”
Was there a European-ness about Hunters & Collectors which would find them a niche there, did he think?
“To me, European pop music is Abba, they invented that whole sound and I quite like them. They go for ballads. I think there is talk of releasing “Throw Your Arms Around Me” as a single there, because it’s an obvious European single.”
Late last year, as Hunters & Collectors got down to recording Human Frailty they knew they were making an album with which to launch themselves worldwide. No mistake about that. In Australia they had a large enough live audience, but which did not go out and buy their records. Or enough copies to make them hits.
Solution: widen their audience base.
As they started work under the watchful eye of English producer Graham McKillop, outside there was a vicious ideological battle going on. The Models, you see, had released their ‘over to pop’ album, to some vicious reviews. At times you felt the viciousness came not from the erratic quality of the LP itself but the whole principle of the move.
Had the Hunters been aware of that?
“I think the whole argument about supposed ‘sell out’ is just banal. It’s obvious to anyone who listens to the new record that it’s simply just miles better than the last record we put out. A lot of the time, it gets down to the fact that a lot of a bands audience feels threatened, that they can no longer identify with the band, or that the band no longer ‘belongs’ to them.
“As far as I am concerned, the fact we’ve been able to survive on the circuit for all these years does presume there is a good audience out there for us. At the same time, there is a wider market, the faceless mass who doesn’t go out and see live bands except on shows like Countdown and sounds and I want to aim at that market too.”
LANDSCAPE VII (out here in the spotlight)
During Hunters & Collectors’ lengthy lay-off, Seymour did some acoustic solo shows around Melbourne. As mentioned before, the wants to ensure that some of the material makes it to vinyl.
“I want to start work on it by the end of the year, depending on how busy I am with Hunters & Collectors. I’ve already got half the songs. I once put out a solo record which I wasn’t too happy with, so this time I want to wait until I have time to do it properly.”
Some of the songs on the LP could virtually been solo efforts?
“Like Relief? I guess so.”
Had he started to look around at players to work on the solo LP?
“I’m looking around for a bassist and a drummer actually. If a threesome works out, then I’ll keep it at that. Or else I’ll find more players.”
Was it hard playing soft music in noisy pubs after fronting such a powerful band?
“If didn’t worry me if people were standing around talking because that’s the premise that kind of music operates on anyway. There were a couple of times where I think the solo thing worked in a creative sense but I had a few technical problems like making sure the acoustic guitar sounded good in a pub. But there were some small intimate places like the Heers Club where it worked really well I thought.
In any case, I think it was an interesting thing to do and I want to do it again.
LANDSCAPE VIII (A few quick ones while he’s away)
DEATH – “Old age. AIDS. I’m terrified about the concept of death. I read a lot about it. One of the best movies I’ve ever seen was ‘Bliss’ where the guy dies for a few minutes and sees his actual body lying there. He changes his own perception and he wanders around convinced he’s in Hell.
JOHN WAYNE – “a twit. He’s supposed to represent a very masculine force about American maleness but he was such a bad actor that I always got the impression he was a fragile person being propped up by his director.
SUN CITY – “a great record, and a place that Hunters & Collectors will never play. I haven’t seen pictures of the place but I know what it’s about. I read the other day in Juke that the Mentals have become the first Australian band to specify in their record contract that their records are not to be released in South Africa. But three years ago, when we were negotiating our deal with Mushroom, we talked about it and had that as a clause”
BUSKING – “it’s great fun. I’ve done it a couple of times. Unfortunately straightforward busking with just an acoustic guitar is such a cliche that people don’t take any notice. You need horns and strings to gain attention and in fact I[‘d like to get a busking band with mouth harp and trumpet and instruments like that. Busking is not only great fun, but it makes you become in touch again with the reasons why you got into making music in the first place. I told you before that I’d allowed the band to become a way of life as well as an occupation but you do question a number of times what direction you’re heard for. Busking usually helps bring it back to you.
BAD LUCK – “Death!”
Thankyou to Stephen for typing out this article for us all to enjoy!