The Place That Memory Lingers
A ‘Jaws Of Life’ era interview with Doug Falconer.
Author: Mark Carey, On The Street Magazine.
Date: 13 February 1985.
“It shouldn’t be expected of us to keep up a level of oddball-ness or something. We happen to be a band that plays a certain way and so long as we happen to write a song that sounds good simple, we’ll keep it simple. I really resent the implication that there’s some sort of level of ‘niceness’ beyond which we can’t step. I thought it was a great record”.
Doug Falconer is talking about the reaction to ‘Throw Your Arms Around Me’ when it was released a few months back. Doug Falconer is Hunters and Collectors’ drummer and the day I spoke to him over the telephone to Melbourne he was keen to answer his critics.
And since the band began taking some new musical directions, partly as a consequence of and partly the cause of some extensive line=up changes, there have been plenty of detractors.
The Hunters and Collectors – the place that memory lingers on just one touch go on sat it… written by Mark Carey, Spoken by Doug Falconer.
The band were disappointed with the way ‘Throw Your Arms’ was received, their first release since the ‘Jaws Of Life’ album. But as far as Falconer is concerned, Hunters and Collectors are better than ever – the music’s better, the band is happier and more stable. They’re difference, Falconer is the first to admit, but they have not compromised. The essential elements are still there.
And as years have passed, they may have become less naive but are still full of enthusiasm.
Q. Hunters and Collectors have always seemed to have a strong sense of the politics of the music industry. Do those ideas of subversion from within and so on still hold or is it just the music these days?
A. Oh, no. They still hold. There are limits to how far you can be subversive… I mean, you do tend to imagine that more things are possible than actually are. The music industry’s like any large industry – unwieldy. It just sort of rumbles along and there’s a limit to how far you can make an impact.
Q. How much impact do you think you’ve made?
A. Oh, a bit, a bit. I think we’ve made a valuable contribution. I think we’ve made it easier for some other bands to get exposure they maybe wouldn’t have before. I wouldn’t want to overestimate what we’ve done, but every little bit helps. The more people who can stand up and fight for what they want and not be told what they want and pushed around the better.
Q. What about the idea of the Hunters and Collectors being more an ensemble than a close knit band. Has that become less evident?
A. I think inevitably, yes. It has become a more close knit band now. It’s not all for one and one for all, up against the world or anything, but we get on very well and there’s a very good understanding of what we intend to achieve at the moment. More, I think, than there ever was before.
Q. The old criticism of Hunters and Collectors was, y’know, “the band only knows one song and so on”. It’s pretty ironic that recent criticisms are “they’ve changed”. They don’t sound like they used to. You can’t please some people.
A. Well, you can’t. There’s always somebody… I mean, it’s good in a lot of ways – constructive criticisms are always valuable as long as it’s not too picky. I personally think that what we’re doing now is just so much better than what it was originally. I can see value in what we were doing initially. I can see why people thought it was interesting. But from the inside it’s so much more fun now. The elements that people used to see in us are still there if they want to look for them.
Q. The implication of “they don’t sound like they used to” is that you’ve compromised. Do you think you have?
A. No, not at all. Do You?
A. Yeah. Well, that assumes that we knew what we were doing before. There’s a whole lot of ifs and buts about making music that people don’t realise. You’re not always totally in control of what you sound like. You’re not always totally aware of what makes you special at any one time. It’s easy to look back and say “oh, well, that is the way it was”, but at the time you just have to do what you feel is right. If it stops feeling right you move on or stop.
Q. Looking back, how would you regard an album like ‘The Fireman’s Curse’ which was made at a time of great uncertainty in the band. Do you think it was reflected in the sound?
A. Absolutely. I can’t listen to that album at all. You’re right, it was made at a time when we were in the process of disintegrating both musically and personally. You can hear that in every note on it. But there are still some good moments, some quite tough passages. As an album it doesn’t work at all I don’t think. But it’s still valuable… I’d rather hear that than to hear a perfect plastic pop record because at least you can hear an emotional statement from a band responding to what’s happening around them.
Q. Do you think ‘The Jaws Of Life’ was a clearer statement? Did that capture your intentions more?
A. Much more, year. We were happy when we made that record, so that showed. We knew what we intended, what we wanted and how to get it. So we didn’t get distracted. We went straight in and made it. So it’s a perfect reflection of the way the band was at that stage.
Q. Do you think the concept of the ‘Jaws of Life’ with all that stuff about the semi-trailer ramming into the bar and everything, do you think that was mythologising the whole thing a bit and perhaps was even a bit morbid?
A. Yeah, but morbidity is as valid a state of mind as anything else. To that extend it was morbid. That incident was – it was sick, but at the same time it explained a lot about what happens to people who are isolated for a long time, what happens to communities that look to inwardly. You’ve got to understand, that incident was only related to one song on ‘The Jaws Of Life’. We never intended it to be descriptive of the whole album, and all the other songs had different bases. It was just one more incident we took that showed up a side of Australian life. That’s what we intended to do with the record, to give a series of ‘essays’ if you like, on the Australian way of thinking.
Q. Conny Plant produced both ‘The Fireman’s Curse’ and ‘The Jaws Of Life’. What is it about him that makes him so compatible with the band?
A. Personality and outlook. He’s a really fun guy in a Teutonic sort of way. But he’s also a bit of a visionary as far as music’s concerned. He picks up on idea’s very quickly, picks up on lyrical ideas and on textual ideas. He was a joy to work with. Particularly when looking back on ‘The Fireman’s Curse” because if there’s any value in the record at all it’s because of his input. He clarified our ideas at certain stages and got the best out of us in a bad situation.
Q. Your songs tend to carry pretty visual images. How does this relate to your attitude towards video? How important is it?
A. Funnily enough we regard video as less important now compared to when we started. Video was a pretty opportune way of hiding the band from public gaze, almost create a bit of mystery around the band by not having ourselves on video, making sure the videos were nice and enigmatic and ambiguous. But nowadays we like the videos to reflect the more honest nature of the band by making them a more accurate reflection of our personalities rather than covering anything up. It was still fun making those old videos, using a lot of experimental things, but nowadays we just want it to play a more up front kind of role.
Q. Is live performance still the band’s priority?
A. Yeah, it’s still what we enjoy doing most. But the realities of being a band are that you’ve got to do other things – you’ve got to make records, you’ve got to make videos and we have just as much fun doing those, but live is what we do best and what we intend to jeep doing.
And that’s what you’ll be able to see them doing in Sydney over the next couple of weeks. After which they’re off to New Zealand – “does that count as overseas?” An American tour is tentatively planned for April or May depending on the band’s financial situation. A new album is due towards the middle of next year, though it is unlikely to recorded with Conny Plank in Germany this time. Hunters and Collectors have been experimenting with the best ways to record in their own studios.