Eight Years in the Trade and Still On $100 a Week
Early article on being a musician with Mark Seymour.
Author: Richard Guilliatt, The Age (Weekend section).
Date: Friday 28 June 1985.
Original URL: N/A
Slumped in a chair in his manager’s top floor St.Kilda apartment-cum-office, Mark Seymour cannot resist a sardonic remark about the fortunes of being a rock ‘n roll manager. Outside is a panoramic view of Port Philip Bay and Beaconsfield Parade; inside, a newly installed home computer hums quietly amid a decor of framed prints and carpet.
Seymour’s own rented house around the corner is a considerably more modest affair which reflects the fact that, after eight years as a musician, he is still only earning about $100 a week. But fiscal matters rarely crop up while talking to Seymour, who seems happy enough being chief lyric writer and creative wellspring of Hunters & Collectors, on of Melbourne’s most resilient rock groups these past five years.
The bands recent live video/album package ‘The Way to Go Out’ is undoubtedly its most solid and accomplished work to date, while the single ‘Throw Your Arms Around Me’ was a simple, emotional love song which didn’t forsake the power which is the bands trademark. Unfortunately, despite its uplifting melody and heartfelt lyrics, radio stations promptly filed the song in the Too Hard basket along with the rest of the Hunters & Collectors catalogue (three LPs and two EPs).
“When it stiffed, well…I’m not a very optimistic person, so it didn’t really shit me,” says Seymour of the single’s failure. “If you’re going to be that personal about it (songwriting), you have to be prepared to take the knocks. Because the punters aren’t into it for love, they’re into it for gratification. It’s the same with the industry – Everyone’s paddling their own little canoe. If I took it too personally I’d just burn out, and that’s what happens to a lot of musicians.”
Despite the philosophical tone, Seymour is anything but laid back about his chosen profession. In fact it is probably his determinedly serious attitude which has helped pull Hunters & Collectors through a couple of rough years recently. A very physical person with a direct stare and set jaw, Seymour runs daily and could even be found working as a part-time roadie a couple of years ago. Offstage he has a notebook constantly at the ready to store ideas, images, and flashes of inspiration from the television and newspapers. Onstage his blue singlet and waving arms have become a visual corollary to the band’s full blooded performances; if an audience fails to respond he will often take issue with members of it at the bar afterwards to find out what they didn’t like. If ever a band should have been called Men at Work…
“The thing about Hunters & Collectors, the reason we’re still around, is that we work so hard,” says Seymour. “What audiences are interested in is whether what you do works, whether it communicates something to them, and the longer a band stays together – the more patient and harder they work – the more likelihood there is of that happening. I mean it was fantastic to find out a few months ago that Creedence (Clearwater Revival) were together 10 years before they actually ‘became’ Creedence.
“Whereas most musicians expectations of rock ‘n roll are that there’s so much history behind you and so many bands that it’s really hard to feel that you can actually do anything that’s going to have any effect. So you go for the immediate short-term option. That’s what so many musicians do; they go for what the video-package can do, the $100,000 contract with Virgin Records, the haircut…”
Having already been through the joyless experience of signing to Virgin Records and touring Europe two years ago, Seymour is no doubt talking from experience. To their credit, Hunters & Collectors capitalised on their failure by returning, bruised but wiser, to rethink their direction. They lost two members (and quite a few pretentions) and transformed themselves from a somewhat weighty funk collective to a far grittier rock ‘n roll band which owed more to Bo Diddley than Bohannon.
Perhaps the most gratifying thing about Hunters & Collectors – given that nearly every other band in Melbourne is either pretending to be English or wishing desperately that it came from the Louisiana Swamps – is their sense of origin. Seymour’s inspiration comes from being Australian rather than watching overseas video clips. And whereas previously the band’s long, atmospheric songs seemed to evoke a rather romantic notion of the wide-open Australian landscape, now he has turned to a more prosaic view of local culture. The third LP ‘Jaws of Life’ was a sort of musing on the Australian masculinity, a collection of songs about drinking, driving, work and sex, four subjects close to the hearts of the bands suburban beer-barn fans.
But whatever the appeal of songs like ‘The Slab’ and ’42 Wheels’, there is little danger of Hunters & Collectors becoming the thinking man’s Uncanny X-Men. The live video was a skilful continuation of the themes explored on ‘Jaws of Life’, a live performance filmed in a genuine Melbourne rock pub with the audience clutching their pots and breathing down the band’s collective neck. Self-financed at a cost of around $50,000, it was also the first tangible evidence that Hunters & Collectors possess a sense of humour.
Despite plans to have the video released overseas later this year, the band appears to be at something of a stalemate with its various record companies. Mushroom records might drop the group unless it can produce more substantial sales in Australia, while neither CBS in Europe or Slash Records in America have been ecstatic about the commercial possibilities of ‘The Way To Go Out’.
Despite the vagaries of international record companies, Hunters & Collectors recent performances as support act to The Stranglers proved that they simply get more assertive, more confident and more convincing as the years go on. Now stripped back to a power trio with horns, the band is rehearsing old material with a view to turning the live show into a two-part performance which could stretch to 2 ½ hours. The group’s next album will be recorded with an overseas producer, and Seymour sees ‘Throw Your Arms Around Me’, despite its commercial failure, as a pointer to their future direction.
“Throw Your Arms Around Me” was a real touchstone for us because there’s something very basic and direct about that song that you can’t deny,” he says. “There’s an element of singular optimism about it that you don’t often hear on the radio any more. You hear a lot of despair – and there’s stacks of that in our music too – but it’s very rare that you hear things about love that are just really enthusiastic.
“I’ve always wanted to say things with a minimum amount of words but what I’m trying to do now is much more difficult lyrically. I’m trying to do the same as every other songwriter is trying to do. I want to be able to do what Paul Young’s doing but make it 10 times better.
“See, I think our music in the beginning probably could have been a lot more popular than it was, but we were under pressure from the media and we tended to hide behind the image the media created for us, rather than getting out there and being who we are – which is basically what good rock ‘n roll bands do. That’s what they did in the Fifties, the just got on stage and were themselves.
“I think Melbourne and Sydney suffer from that English attitude that everything’s disposable and you shouldn’t be too serious about what you do. Because there’s a lot of guilt that goes with being in Western society and rock ‘n rolls riddled with all these bad things, a lot of bands have a lot of guilt in what they play. They think they have to be something else apart from what they actually are, because what they are isn’t good enough.”
WHERE AND WHEN
Hunters & Collectors perform tonight and tomorrow night at the Rock Garden, Central Club Hotel, Richmond.
Thankyou to Stephen for typing out this article for us all to enjoy!