It’s the Singlet, Not the Song
Extensive Jaws of Life era interview with Mark Seymour.
Author: Virginia Moncrieff, The Age.
Date: 5 June 1985.
Original URL: N/A.
Once they were graduates of the University of Bullshit, swallowing polysyllables for breakfast. But really Hunters & Collectors were just simple boys who loved their mother’s cooking. Mark Seymour comes clean to Virginia Moncrieff about the group’s pretentious past, and lends a few fashion tips to boot.
It’s almost four years since Hunters & Collectors caused an uproar in post-Birthday Party Melbourne. Like many bands after them, they created what desk-bound rec-execs would call the “vibe”. With only six gigs and no record contract, Hunters were the essence of cool, the embodiment of “now”, the band to groove with. In a remarkably short time they did everything, but then everything began to backfire. The cycle had begun.
A highly publicized trip to Germany to be produced (some would say “done”) by Conny Plank resulted in a critical thumbs-down for 1983’s Fireman’s Curse LP. Tours of Britain and the USA turned out to be not much more than an interesting working holiday (except it ended in the exit of two members – Greg Perano and Martin Lubran). The band were signed and dropped by Virgin before they finished telling Richard Branson he was a capitalist. So they started playing at home again, and guess what? Nobody wanted to know.
Wh’Appen? Well….as negative as the situation was, it proved perfect fodder for Mark Seymour, singer, writer and best-known face of Hunters & Collectors. Mark, as you will see, loves deconstructing situations and finding out why things are as they are. He then acts upon the predicament in a way he sees fit.
So after a little sit down and a long, long think, what we now have is Hunters & Collectors Mark 2 (no pun intended). The music has maintained the same direction, although that sneaking suspicion that you were listening to one song regurgitated twenty times is a sensation of the past. So are the long winded, oh -so cosmic lyrics that no one could understand anyway. And now, taking a bit of a profile are more traditional rock, r’n’b and soul inflexions.
What’s really changed are the characters of Hunters & Collectors. A new philosophy if you like. Everything is more straightforward, no longer hamstrung by its own self-importance. Once, to interview the band was a slightly intimidating prospect. Not only couldn’t you understand the convoluted answers to what were fairly simple questions, but quite often they fought among themselves. (The first time I interviewed the band, four years ago, the whole episode degenerated into an all-out brawl while three members bickered about whether or not they were a dance band.)
Now Mark Seymour does the interviews alone. At last! No more hours spent deciphering jumbled tape! Mark actually likes talking about the band, and enjoys forming ideas as he speaks. He has an Australian accent that is greatly emphasized on tape, and his face is large, open, very Australian and quite beautiful (Calm down, Virginia! – Ed).
And now…four years down the long and winding, he reckons he’s happier about himself and his music than he has ever been.
“I feel more affinity with what we’re doing now, more than anything we have ever done before,” he says. “I’m not quite as pedantic as I used to be. I’m not as ….er…young as I used to be, I suppose. But actually, I would like to get to the stage where we play two-hour sets, like X do, just every so often do a night somewhere where we just set up and go. It’d be like pegging out a campsite, moving into a pub to play like that.
“I really believe in the idea of waiting around until all the other bands have broken up, and people will realize that we are still here.”
Q. Why would you want to be around when every other band has broken up?
“I think it’s an indication of how much integrity bands have, whether or not they believe strongly enough in what they are doing. We’ve already been through that time when no-one wanted to know us, where the critics have slagged us, and we’ve been told how bad we were – The Fireman’s Curse! It stiffed really badly – just died.”
Q. What happened after the Fireman’s Curse? Can you attribute any particular development in the band due to its failure?
“It’s pretty hard to put your finger on one particular thing, but when we first started playing we had this really well organised ensemble format and everything was intrinsically joined, so when someone wanted to change direction there were real problems. That happened then. Like I wanted to make the sound much harder, more traditional if you like, less anal. We used to analyse everything we did, we couldn’t step in any direction without wondering what the intellectual implications were.
“A lot of that had to do with the audiences we were playing to. We were so hyped, and the audience expected things to happen, so we thought we had to live up to that. SO we got into this very heavy self-analysis, and I just wanted to write short songs that had an obvious punchy mood about them, instead of circumnavigating the whole issue. And the thing about Fireman’s Curse is the obvious conflict within the band that you can hear all over the record.”
Q. Who was responsible for the hyping? Surely you could have controlled it?
“It was a collective thing. We went along with it, the press raved about us, the audience went along with it. Honestly we were like a circus. Basically, I would say now that the only reason that happened was because of our production. We walked on stage at the very beginning and out production was immense, and no one had heard this sort of sound in a pub, so everyone thought: ‘Oh Wow! They’re incredibly special.’ Behind all the production, though, of course we weren’t that special.”
Q. But you also dressed up to the part didn’t you? It’s not as if you did your utmost to look like a pack of dags…
“Yeah, we did dress up, there’s no two ways about that. But then it just dawned on me that there are some people in this band you just cannot dress up. Sometimes I think John Archer (bass) is like Pigpen from Peanuts. You’ll say, ‘Here, have a lend of my shirt John’, and he’ll put it on, and three days later you’ll notice all the buttons are gone. And I go into op shops and the clothes just don’t fall on me, so I gave up and started wearing T-shirts and no worrying about it.”
Q. Has that become a fashion in itself?
“Well, you wouldn’t believe it, it just amazed me, in the Melbourne Age there’s this supplement called ‘Melbourne Living’ and there was this article on the Hardware Club and how everyone is wearing singlets now just because of me. Apparently I’ve started something. I just put a singlet on!”
Q. Does that please you, even secretly?
“Oh yeah, it’s gratifying. It’s vanity, but it alarms me that people can do that.”
Q. You display an almost kamikaze sense of honesty. Many other people would consider it entirely self-destructive to be so upfront.
“I call it my ‘interview technique’. If someone asks me questions I will answer every single one of them as straightforwardly as I possibly can, in the plainest language that I can, because then they can’t misquote you.” (Yeah, wanna bet? – VM). It cuts through a lot of the bullshit. I don’t think it’s bad for the band at all, because we started doing it this way as a result of all the things that happened to us when we first started.
“People were saying we were the ‘Band of the Eighties’ and the new Rolling Stones – things like this you know, and we were along with it! For a while anyway. And in articles there would be things written like ‘the essence of mystery’ and we would play up to it and say all these cosmic, vague, mysterious things. And there would be massive articles, pages and pages of me mouthing off all this stuff that no one could understand and eventually we disappeared up our own… We had to make it clear to people who were after all of that, demystify all this shit.”
Q. Some people say you have to develop a shell, have a private Mark that the public never sees. You obviously don’t subscribe to that?
“I’ll tell you what, what I was in the old band I was really aggressive on stage because I didn’t like a lot of what I did. I was really tense. It was absurd, I was playing in this band and I didn’t enjoy any of it, and privately I became more reserved and more quiet. And now there is less difference between me on stage and off. I reckon you can expect more of yourself in the long term; I will survive as a musician, because now I can relax about what I am doing and I’m a lot happier.”
Q. You talk constantly of the “old” band as if it was a totally different group. Is there an exact time when you can pinpoint the demise of the “old” and beginning of the “new”?
“It finished when we came back from America. Principally it finished when Greg (Perano) left. As soon as Greg left, we were no longer the old band because Greg was such a visual focus, a musical force too. We basically played around Greg.”
Q. Do you resent the large influence he had?
“For a while I did, yeah, but not anymore. I resented it a lot towards the end. He and I weren’t talking, but then we got back from America we stopped playing and we dropped right out of the market and everyone thought we were finished, so it didn’t matter that he had that much influence. But out audience has crossed over right now, so people are coming to see us who never saw Greg in the band. We’ve got a big suburban following, where we play full houses and people really sweat.”
Q. Regardless of your determination to outstay other bands and get people to accept Hunters & Collectors, some people are still going to hate you and say you’re a bunch of pretentious prats.
(Long Pause) “Well, they’re wrong! (laughs). Anybody who gets up on stage in the first place is going to be called pretentious, because there’s so much theatre.
“There’s still a lot of theatre in our show which we’ve invented because we want to entertain…I have a lot of people who are close to me who reassure me and are supportive, so that’s okay, but I do know that a lot of people HATE us.”
Q. So you have a support system?
“Yeah, it’s like the cover of our new record, where we were trying to convey a real sense of community. There’s about 30 or 40 people who all hang around together, we all do the same thing, muck around together. It’s like ….”
Q. A big school playground?
“Exactly! In the band we are a collective – but I would not say, like I used to say, that it’s democratic. There is a definite order to things…like me doing interviews. I’m best at them. John, who is an engineer, is just incredible, and no one tells John what to do. As we used to be, there was always suspicion and a sense of mistrust between people in the band.”
Q. Has that been cured because certain people have left?
“Look, I don’t want to talk about that. It’s all a bit unpleasant.”
Q. A lot of observers say that the band has become more macho. What do you think?
“I’ve heard that a lot too. Generally speaking, I think we are pretty male, but I insist on the idea that it’s possible for men to be sensitive, and that our music is capable of expressing a lot – the full range of feeling.
“Just because we’re men doesn’t mean we can only express anger. I’ve done a lot of thinking about this, because people have always said, ‘Oh, you’re really macho’. I’d rather our maleness is self-evident and that we are capable of expressing ourselves openly, rather than trying to cover it up and hide behind guilt because men are historically responsible for war, and so on.
“There’s so much guilt in a lot of English bands these days because of the mere fact that they are boys. I sorta feel sorry for me because…well, I’m one myself (laughs). I was trying to do something positive about this situation on Throw Your Arms Around Me, where I was expressing my optimistic love towards a woman. You don’t hear that very often on the radio, that vulnerability.”
Despite Mark’s reticence in talking about lineup changes, it seems the departure of certain people really did have a much wider effect than at first thought. Indeed, when Greg Perano left to concentrate on film scores and other explorations, many thought Hunters would drop away to nothingness. His visual impact certainly was very strong, as Australia had never really witness someone bashing a gas cylinder as their main contribution to a band.
But when Jaws of Life was released, stalwart fans of the band yelled “Hallelujah!” The album, a raucous and spirited affair, was as Australian as any Mentals album and certainly more of an assault. Although many of the lyrics were still willfully obscure and almost too arty, critics gave the album tentative approval, and liggers began to fork out money again. The fog started to clear.
And then came the single, Throw Your Arms Around Me – written by Mark at the time he met his girlfriend. That was about a year ago, and they’re still together. Throw Your Arms Around Me is a straight down the line honest to goodness love song, so frank and open that it caught everyone off guard.
Instead of the usual Richard Lowenstein visual barrage, the promo video was simple live footage from a Melbourne Venue show. All of that footage is available on feature length home video and there’s an accompanying live album – The Way To Go Out.
So here we all are, four years down the line. Critics are beginning to bat for the Hunters’ team once more. You can’t read an article on the band these days without seeing some accusation of radio stupidity, record company negligence or video show ignorance. But really, is this attitude relevant?
“No,” says Mark. “We don’t take it as seriously as we used to. So many different things have been said about us, but eventually at some stage or another, people are going to relax with the Hunters & Collectors.
“We’re not responsible for the human condition. We’ve been treated like gods and treated like we’re the lowest form of life on earth. If people just accept that we are not going to go away, we will become part of nature’s intricate tapestry…ha ha ha ha.”
Full circle indeed.
Thankyou to Stephen for typing out this article for us all to enjoy!