There’s Teeth in Them Thar Jaws
A large Jaws era interview with Mark and Doug.
Author: Jonathan Green, Juke Magazine.
Date: 6 October 1984.
Jonathan Green shows a toothless grin and casts a line.
What’s got forty legs and goes clip, clop, clip clop, clump, clip clop, clump, clump, clip? Hunters and Collectors in 1982. Hahahahaha.
The point here is that in the last two years, Hunters and Collectors have effected a might transmogrification: from limping centipede to something sure-footed, graceful and menacing.
Having always been in the wrong place at the right time, I’ve only managed to see the band play twice. The first came on a rather ill-disposed New Year’s Eve (it must have been 1982, but memory…) the second, about a month ago.
To be honest there isn’t all that much I can tell you about the first encounter. An overcrowded Seaview Ballroom, the band distant and almost invisible. Glimpses shows a stage crowded not only with people, but by a self-consciously tribal assemblage of bone, rag and scaffolding.
The sound had power, perhaps you could read that as volume, but there seemed little in the music that you could hang a heart, hat, mind on. A swamping tide of brooding clatter that didn’t quite make the break to solid musical form.
All this had been lost in the carpet of time by September this year when I saw them at the Australian National University in Canberra. Why Canberra? I think the story would strain your patience.
Sufficient that it was one of those rare meetings of band and audience that you could enjoy anywhere. Hunters and Collectors had taken the spirit of rock music firmly by the balls/pendulum.
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon stage set had gone, so had about 72 of the band members, leaving a lean combination of guitar, drums, keyboards, bass and brass to punch out wiry, electric, grinding, loose, heartfelt music.
“Me and Geoff did this interview with this guy from Tasmania, and he gave that line, ‘Look, don’t mind this tape recorder, just pretend it isn’t there’, and it had all these fucking gadgets on it, and one of those cute little microphones. He put that in the ashtray and it looked like this little martian or something.
We couldn’t keep our eyes off it. ‘I’ll just put it here’, he said. Every time Geoff went to butt his cigarette he ran straight into the mike. ‘Don’t pay any attention to it, it’s already’. You couldn’t ignore it.”
Much laughter around Mark Seymour’s kitchen. I’d just been through an embarrassing little exercise in Turning On The Tape Recorder when Seymour heightened my shame with an anecdote.
The time was not so long ago and the place, sing Seymour’s in St Kilda.
This, for property buffs, was a low slung and rambling white-wooden affair, surrounded by a cluttering of long grass, car parts and puppies more typical of suburban Wagga Wagga than inner Melbourne.
In short, a find to be treasured in this city’s hen0tooth rental market.
Inside, a long L-shaped passage of unusual width leads past piles of rather industrious junk and doors to rooms of strong light and interesting shape.
The kitchen is last on the left. Along with Seymour house mates we find H&C drummer Doug Falconer, a surprising looking chap. More the appearance of something recently sent down from Cambridge for pursuing nameless vice than that of a band person, least of all a drummer.
Seymour is just back from a run in the rain. Shouldn’t let weather break your routine. He exudes health, enthusiasm and bright wit.
“We just finished a three week tour that was fucking oooargh, really, the last gig I was just fucking dead, this awful place – it was good, though.”
He slinks back on the chair. This is only the day after the day after so the tour-lag lingers.
Falconer is busying himself with coffee by the stove. “Hey, we got our first fan letter today. It was all on this multi-coloured paper from some girl in Brisbane. She saw us at the Mansfield Tavern and loved us all.”
He recites the last works mock-fondly and sits at the table passing out cups as he goes.
“She raves on and on, and then she gets out her Roget’s Thesaurus – the whole back two pages are just words written in red ink on pink paper at all different angles.”
“About how wonderful we are,” Seymour is tickled as pink as the page.
“Yeah, they’re all just superlatives. Two pages of superlatives!”
“That’s weird,” Seymour abjudicates.
“Treasure it,” I enthuse. “Is that really your first fan letter?”
“Yeah, well the audience we used to have weren’t into writing fan letters,” Seymour explains.
“They were intellectual.”
“The telephone rings and he’s off and running.
“It’s not usually that easy,” Falconer says as the quick steps echo down the hall. Seymour is quick to return.
“Have you heard Michael rave about the video?”
“He reckons it’s wonderful.”
“Geoff likes it.”
“We’re seeing it tomorrow night.”
“It” being the live video album the band have put $40,000 of their own money into producing.
“It’s got a dual role. It’s the next clip for the album and it’s also a promotional thing for overseas. We’re going to sell it in the shops here too. An eight-track album thing,” says Falconer, hunting for the sugar.
Seymour takes up the tale.
“There’s a big market for video cassette recordings of bands who don’t make into MTV or commercial radio in the states.”
“We figured that – after a few things happened to us with A&M, they dropped us when they heard the new album – well, Michael Roberts came up with this scheme for promoting ourselves without having to go…”
Falconer has found the sugar and interrupts, “It was looking more and more like we couldn’t go on tour anywhere overseas before the beginning of the year so it seemed like a reasonable thing to do with the money we had lying around.”
“It’s a much more accepted thing over there to buy videos of bands that you can’t get to see live.
You just don’t see it here. THere’s bugger al video’s released here except the real magastar sort of stuff.”
Seymour is enthusiastically tackling a sandwich. He’d rather take it out on the American public.
“There’s thousands of bands, thousands of different audiences, thousands of – what do you call it – playlists on radio stations. The video cassette market is…”, he blows out his cheeks and the eyes roll back at the though of so much staggering magnitude.
“More people listen to college radio in America than live in Australia.” Falconer’s wry smile and shrug admit no questioning. A point well made.
More talk of the US and A&M. There’s no animosity. The new album Jaws Of Life will be handled by Slash Records and the band are happy with the arrangement.
Falconer sees it this: “There’s a level you can get onto where you don’t have to get onto the major record companies, big promotion and big bucks to sell records.
“It’s when you try and break out of that into the big league that there’s an impossible wall and that’s always been there. It’s probably higher now than it’s every been but it’s always been there.
Touring without major support can be a problem though.
“But we did the last tour on that level. But it was supported by A&M. It cost them something like $30,000 and it cost us $15,000. It’s not cheap, and that was on a 14-date club tour. There’s no way you can do it and come out of it without an empty pocket.
“Hopefully the video will show people over there that we can play and that we’re an interesting band to watch. We might we able to cadge some money and get back.”
“We have to make a record they could understand first,” says Seymour with a wide grin.
He sees a lot of bands, Hunters and Collectors, once included, succumbing to the myths about getting overseas. Though H&C have always played to a wide base in Australia, he points out, the suburbs have always made up the bulk of their tours, “that’s why the trendies stopped liking us.
“There’s this tradition with St Kilda bands – they figure they don’t really need to slog it out here if they can get some sort of foot in the door overseas.
“So they go over there after having just played at the Ballroom and the Prince of Wales for two or three years, and you find that you just get swept away by the press – they’ll tell you how fantastic you are – there you do two or three tours of Europe and that’s it, you don’t last.”
Falconer sums it up again: “You get put on a pedestal at a stage of your musical maturity that doesn’t warrant it.”
“We’ve had the opportunity to mature because we’ve taken our home base seriously as a place worth playing in.
“We’re just a lot tougher than we used to be,” Seymour adds. “We don’t really give a whether people like it or not anymore. I mean people can ignore us when we play and we don’t lose any sleep over it. Before if we didn’t really win people over we’d go away and agonise about when we went wrong.”
“But not only that,” Falconer seizes the point, “if we play to an audience that doesn’t want to listen, we’re capable, during the gig, of being able to knuckle down and make them listen and make them react. Before, we would have played three songs and if they didn’t like it we would have dropped our bundle for the rest of the show and walked out tearing each other’s heads off.”
Seymour breaks in with a look of brow-knitted concentration.
“If you’re aware that, or … if you think your music is different or that it has certain unique qualities about it because you hold to the idea of valuing your idiosyncrasies as being the really important things that change music and make it develop, then you run the risk of being really precious about it. If people don’t like it then who gives a fuck, that sort of thing.
“I sort of feel that, but when you play it works the other way. Instead of just dropping your bundle and thinking ‘they’re just a bunch of yobbos’ you just relax and put yourself even more into it.
“In other words if they walk out after a good gig and they hate it then, well fine. But if they start hating it half way through the gig then you still keep going as hard as you can.”
Falconer is nodding agreement.
“We’re enjoying ourselves when we’re playing. We’re exploring our own ideas about it as the same time. We can keep ourselves interested.”
You’re enjoying yourselves more now?
“Shit yeah,” says Seymour. His expression indicating that there’s no comparison.
Both sit back and begin to talk of the more art conscious days of Hunters and Collectors.
“We used to talk about how we had this subconscious communication on stage…” sudden laughter.
“It was a bloody theory. Everything we tossed around in those days was theoretical. God.” Seymour finding it hard to believe that any of this really happened. “Like the press would come up and say ‘how do you explain the fact that this, this and this thing happens in the pubs. This effect. It’s really cathartic’ and we’d go, ‘well, we’re sort of on this groove thing you know’. Ridiculous.
“You end up saying what you think people want to hear and if you have that attitude you end up playing what you think people want to hear you play. Now we’ve been through it, all that shit.
“We’ve been to England for six months and starved. Instead of getting the adulation we thought we deserved, we didn’t get any at all. We had to realise what our limitation were and…”
“And what our strengths were,” suggests Falconer.
“Well you realise your strengths through your limitations you know?”
“Strength through limitations!”
“Less is more!”
“We just chucked out all the pretensions.”
“Did they follow some of the departing members?
“Well year. Let’s call a spade a shovel.”
“It was getting really top heavy and we were allowing all our energy to be sucked away by little hassles between each other. We were all at it fairly equally – the whole thing just had to find a new level and it found one and we’re there.”
Seymour thinks Falconer has over-dramatised the whole thing.
“They just wanted to get out. They said we’re going and they left. At the stage where that happened it was fucking awful. We were just at each other’s throats all the time, it was jsut a really ugly scene.
“We’d decided we were going to break up. We didn’t.
“We wanted to record another album anyway. That was always agreed upon and when we got back we started rehearsing and writing material and really enjoying writing all these new songs.
“Then we thought, we’ll record the album and see how that goes then we might break up.”
“We’re always tentative about it and having a bet each way.”
“If it doesn’t go that well, we’ll break up.”
There’s much sniggering and broad grinning through all this. There’s no question of failing apart now, and the thought that it once seemed inevitable seems strange and distant.
“It’s just got better and better.”
“Next reason to break up – babies.”
“You can get married and have babies, then we’ll break up.”
Seymour looks thoughtfully at the ceiling and strokes his chin.