Talking To A Stranger
Extensive early interview with Geoff Crosby and Greg Perano.
Author: Michael Delaney, Juke.
Date: 25th September 1982.
Original URL: N/A
This is the modern dance and it’s moving very fast. Hunters & Collectors’ urban-tribal trance stance impressionism and dub-wise primal funk eclects itself right to the undisputed lead for debut album of ’82.
How best to describe the white funkadelic of Hunters & Collectors? Sideways music! Itches where you just can’t get to scratch. R ‘n B based, its roots in the fusion cross-currents of Miles Davis circa “Bitches Brew” and the James Brown soul motion / flex of “Sex Machine” and “Licking Stick Pts 1&2”, Hunters & Collectors do it strictly concrete jungle. It’s an insidious, metallic, multi-textured primitivist abstraction that writhes and undulates on an angular, percussive axis, gathering to cacophonous intensities only to be absorbed back into the dub mix where all is liquid and the only constant is change.
It’s poly-rhythmic and naggingly insistent, a mutant pop-art funk brocade somewhere t’wixt the gruelling, psychotic inversions of Public Image and Talking Heads’ Africano hi-tech complexities.
Quite simply, Hunters & Collectors are the best thing to come along in years.
They’ve got a niche all their own.
And they’re Australian.
When did Hunters & Collectors first come together?
Geoff Crosby (GC): Start of ’81. No, actually, it started in December ’80, but it didn’t really start moving until a few months after that.
Was there one particular person responsible?
Greg Perano (GP): No, we just sort of fell together. We just all knew each other. Melbourne’s a small place. I mean, you go out to see new groups all the time, bands like The Birthday Party, and, like, we’d all become familiar faces.
GC: Mark Seymour and I were living together at the time. I’d never played in a band before.
GP:I was in a band in England in 1980. I just made noises on guitar. It was a bit like The Pop Group.
Was it a conscious decision on behalf of the band to play funk?
GP: I don’t know. I mean, a lot of it probably came out of the fact that disco had been around for a long time and there’s been a lot of good, fairly heavy disco music coming out and, suddenly young bands were beginning to play, because, most of the so-called American funk bands, the ones that have been popular at least, are incredibly good musicians who’ve been playing for years.
Parliament? Earth, Wind & Fire?
GP: I mean the rougher one. James Brown had rougher sounds, but it’s bands like The Pop Group who were the initial force behind using those ideas with a whole new approach.
White funk like the early Gang of Four and A Certain Ratio?
GP: Yeah, but I don’t like Gang of Four very much. I don’t really relate to what they do. What we play isn’t so much funk; it’s just a sort of rhythmic idea.
GC: It’s also got a lot to do with the line-up we had, but I would never class it as funk. Having a lot of musicians, you’ve all got to play sparsely which involves that sort of music. Plus, having percussion and stuff like that, we developed a lot of rhythmic ideas. If you’ve got drums, bass and percussion – half of the bands rhythm – and then a bit of guitar on top, there’s only another guitar and keyboards adding things over the top, so it’s going to be very rhythmic anyhow.
GP: It’s the easiest way to work with the line-up we have. We try to work on that strong rhythmic undercurrent which people seem to interpret as funk, but it’s influenced by a variety of different things. We’re a fairly traditional band, really. We work and write together as a group. We work off each other which is probably the way the best bands work. We all contribute to what’s going on. We’re a group and our songs have a certain length and structure that we work on. We’re traditional in that sense. I mean, a lot of the sounds obviously aren’t traditional, but we play 4/4 rhythms and stuff like that. The James Brown influence seems to be the key root behind the present Hunters & Collectors style of rhythm.
GP: Unconsciously, maybe. They credit Brown as being the father of disco. If you look at a lot of the music he was playing in the early 70’s, he was using basic disco feels which directly influenced bands like The Pop Group.
GC: It all depends on who you’re talking about, really. Like, I don’t listen to James Brown, but then I don’t have that rile in the band. I don’t set the feels going. Different people listen to different things.
Are there specifically delineated roles within the band?
GC: Only in as much as we play specific instruments and don’t change ’round. We write all the material together.
GP: It’s very much a corporate thing. Usually it just works the way that someone’s initial idea outlines. It mightn’t be a song ‘concept’ so much as it’s, say, a bass line that someone will then construct a melody suitable to the rhythm. Usually, all the songs start with just a really simple rhythm. They’re built up in layers and the dynamics of the music basically work out through playing. The song actually offers itself. We just make the most out of the direction it seems to be going.
Who is the lyricist?
GP: Mark Seymour
GC: It started off as Greg, Mark and myself. I still write quite a bit, but it doesn’t get used.
GP: Really, it’s a matter of, like, Mark sings them. I mean, it’s quite interesting when he interprets other people’s lyrics, but I find, at the moment, that he just has things there and sings them quite naturally, without thinking too much about them. They’re not really all that important as lyrics. They’re more important as a vocal sound, another layer to the overall thing.
GC: I mean, Mark does think quite a lot about what he’s trying to say. I like the direction that the lyrics are going in at the moment. They’re much freer than they used to be. Before, we were consciously writing a set of lyrics for a song, not, they’re more a sort of collection of images.
An impressionistic college along the lines of Simple Minds’ Jim Kerr?
GC: In a way, yeah.
GP: Everything comes from your environment, I mean, if you go and see a lot of films, and if you read a lot and have a fairly good imagination, well, then you’ll work from that. I mean, you can get a bit too serious sometimes. You’ve got to think constantly that there’s agot to be some sort of underlying humour which is often interpreted as being incredibly xerious anyway.
Would you consider yourselves a political band?
GC: Not a specifically political band, no.
GP: Not in so far as the government, country politics, stuff like that is concerned, but we’re probably a political unit in the way we work.
GC: We work pretty democratically…
GP: One a basis where everyone is on equal footing.
GC: Even the road crew, lights and sound. Like, our mixer, Rob, is part of the band. There’s eight people in the company we’ve set up: six of us playing, Rob and our manager. I mean, Rob even helps us write. He comes to the rehearsals and suggests things, dynamics and stuff. In the earlier stages we used to practice with the full P.A. Really, the whole thing’s been a unit right from the start.
GP: Even the recorded sound, as well as the ‘live’ sound, has a whole lot to do with our mixer. He’s a lot more important than just a straight sound man. He does far more than just setting bass and drum levels.
GC: The ‘live’ sound’s got its own personality, and that’s another part of the songs. I think a lot of people have picked up on that now.
GP: Especially with Geoff’s and my sounds. They’re not common-place. If a conventional mixer came along, he’d think, well, I’ll just mark it up and that’s how it should be. If, in our situation, you’ve got to mark up a piece of metal, you need a new approach. Obviously, our sound mixer has to develop his own frame, his own style.
GC: Yeah, it’s the same with the keyboards. I use Synthesizer, but not the same as that pure electric sound. I use distortion boxes that you’d normally put on guitars to rough it up. I mean, that has to be dealt with in a different way as well.
You seem to use a lot of sub techniques in the mixing.
GP: Yeah, that’s probably Rob’s treatment. That’s the way he likes to approach it. He gives the sound itself another dimension.
GC: The whole idea is to try and merge all the different sounds together to achieve a more orchestrated sound so you’re getting a whole ting coming at you rather than just al ot of different instruments playing separate little bits.
GP: Often you can merge three different components of the group into a single thread so they’re there holding the sound together. That leaves you free to exaggerate what’s going on over the top.
GC: With six members, we can afford to have, say, three of them form the nucleus while the others play off it. Really, different people do different things at different times. It’s a very fluid situation. We do a lot of cross-weaving.
How did you develop your approach to percussion?
GP: When I was in England I used to use hubcaps and stuff because they achieved a totally different sound. I used to think, like, if you’re going to have percussion, you’re going to have bongos and congas and instruments like that. I wanted to do something that’d stand out in contrast to the drums, so I started to use polythene pipe and metal cylinders, tubing. I spend a lot fo percussion time making sounds like guitar, and because they’re so different, you sometimes find it hard to tell what’s actually playing ‘cos you’re not used to it.
The band’s popularity has grown very quickly. What do you accredit this to?
CP: Probably because when we first came along, we’d rehearsed together in a ‘live’ situation with the full P.A. onstage, so by the time we started to work, we knew what was going on. We knew how we should sound and how we could achieve that sound ‘live’.
GC: Basically, a lot of people have put a lot of thought into it. A lot of bands are just so haphazard. They get together and want to be a band, get in this little room, write a whole lot of songs and then expect to be able to go on stage and just have it work.
GP: Also, I believe that we have a fairly distinctive sound. IU mean, I don’t care what people say about us, next to anyone we’re compared to, we’ll stand out as a group in our own right.
Which comparisons in particular?
GP: We’re compared to groups in England and America. A Certain Ratio, Gang of Four. I mean, I never listen to the Gang of Four. I don’t think we sound much like PIL or The Pop Group, and they’re probably the only bands I’d think of as influences.
What in particular appeals to you about The Pop Group?
GP: They work on a really open level in much the same way as us.
GC: I think PIL are a lot like Velvet Underground. It’s just that constant, orchestrated sound. That’s what I like about them. It’s more of a feel than a technique. It’s that dirgey feel.
GP: We listen to an incredible variety of music.
GC: Country ‘n’ Western, Soul…..
GP: Yeah, a lot of soul. There’s a sort of c ‘n’ w influence creeping in to some of our newer material. I mean we’re not one of those groups that sit down and listen to the same records over and over again.
Most of your recorded material has been built on repetitive and elongated chant structures. Is this style to continue?
GP: Some of the new songs are shorter and I think we’re probably working a lot more on distinct melodies.
GC: And more melodic vocals as well.
Why do you think AM radio has been reticent to play Hunters & Collectors?
GC: I think they think the songs are too long!
GP: I think we’re still considered a bit too eccentric.
GC: It’s really hard to get through the barrier of the 3 Â½ minute pop song. Radio like to have it short. I mean, they even speed songs up so that they’re quick and jabby and that’s it.
GP: It’s a different situation in England ‘cos bands like PIL have managed to get some pretty eccentric stuff into the charts.
Do you align yourselves with an English sensibility?
GP: From having been there, I don’t think so. I think there’s an inner city situation that’s had a chance to develop in Australia where people work off each other fairly well. Also, people take a loit more notice of what comes out of those situations now, rather than waiting around for another standard rock band to come along. I think we probably relate to the industry a lot differently than most groups.
In what ways?
GP: We don’t believe in the hype that goes on. We try to keep a fairly low-key profile. It’s very easy for a record company to take a group and mould them into a reasonably successful group, but most of the time, the band can’t live up to the reputation. We try and play it down.
Do you think that a lot of that manipulation occurs in Australia?
GP: I think a lot of it goes on everywhere. It’s a situation where you have a company and their marketing management has to present their product in the best possible light.
GC: They even go to the point of trying to control the band’s product, whereas they can’t do that with us. Our contractual agreement involves us getting our company to provide finished tapes which we pay for ourselves.
GP: I mean, it’s not really a criticism of companies because it’s a capitalist society and that’s how you work and you’re going to get steamrollered under if you sit back and take a totally alternative stance. Very few people are going to take much notice if you don’t approach the business the way it is.
GC: You’ve got to understand what you’re dealing with. Record companies are just basically business and you can’t fight that. You’ve got to find out how you can fit into it and use it.
GP: We’ve got to put a lot more time into everything we do because we want to have as much control over it as possible. Once you lose a little bit of control you might walk into a record store and see a huge picture of a girl with bare breasts and your name written on her stomach! I’ve seen it get to that level and people just get appalled.
GC: You make it quite clear that you’re the ones controlling how the band is presented.
Is this why you signed with the Mushroom White Label?
GP: It was more to do with a fairly peculiar aspect of our contract where we only wanted to be signed for Australasia.
GC: That’s why it was White Label instead of Mushroom, but we talked to other companies as well. White Label offered us the closest to what we wanted.
As much control as possible?
GC: Yeah, plus we just wanted a contract to cover Australasia. We want to be free to sign outside Australia ourselves at a later date.
GP: I mean, Michael Gudinski’s taken a lot of shit, and he probably deserves some of it, but I think he was the forerunner of a lot of smaller companies. At least, he started as a small company. And so, if you want to go and talk to someone, you can, you don’t have to put up with some assistant manager.
GC: Or you don’t have to ring someone in Sydney when you’re based in Melbourne. I mean, Gudinski’s good. He’s got the involvement. Doug Falconer, our drummer, does a lot of the liaison because he’s more interested in that side of things, but we all tend to go in and talk, and whatever we decided, we decide as a unit. That’s why Gudinski likes to talk to us all when he has ideas to present to us. We’re always in direct contact.
Video is obviously an important medium for the band.
GP: Well, television’s probably the most widely used medium, so yeah, video’s very important.
GC: A lot of bands just use it as an ad. I think it’s good to give other people a way of using ideas like we’re using with music. Richard Lowenstein made the “Talking to a Stranger” clip, on film, not video, and, more or less, it’s an exercise in film which is running parallel with what we’re doing in music,. It’s not just us playing the song and advertising ourselves.
Does the band take an active role in the concepts?
GC: We all discussed it, but it’s mainly Richard’s idea.
GP: Richard’s a friend of mine and I talked to him. I mean, he’s been interested in the band right from the start. He had the idea that he’d build stuff up. We injected a lot of the original ideas, but he just extended them, so most of the credit for the clip would go to him because he knew exactly how to interpret what we were doing.
Hunters & Collectors have been labelled an urban-tribal band. Primitivists. Would you agree with that?
GP: To a certain degree, because there’s no one in the band who’s all that pretentious or who believes in being a star, so it’s very hard for us not to be the way we are. I mean, we’ve all been brought up in that urban environment, so I guess the music’s just a reflection. I don’t think any of us were that protected when we were young. Most of us were allowed to do pretty much what we liked. I was brought up in New Zealand, and if you’re raised in either Australia or New Zealand, you spend a lot of time out.
GC: I think we reflect that. We’re not trying to be patriotic or anything but, on certain levels at least, I think we just reflect what Australia is.
You don’t sound like a so-called typical Australian band. Most Oz groups have either English hard-rock or American pop/rock and c ‘n’ w roots.
GC: up until now I don’t think there’s been too many Australian bands, not in the true sense.
GP: I think the closest you get to what I think an Australian band is probably Mental As Anything. I think they’re a really intelligent group. I mean, their approach musically is totally different to ours, but…
GC: They’re reflecting different facets of Australia than we do.
GP: Australians and New Zealanders are brought up on a fairly strong contingent of country ‘n’ western because there’s so much outback and that’s the sort of music that fits in. Irish folk music was sort of adopted by Australia and became Australian folk music and Mental As Anything can epitomize that more than anyone.
GC: I think they’re probably the only band who can be proud of overseas.
GP: I mean, a lot of people call us artistic and pretentious, but really, I think we work on a pretty basic level.
GP: Well, you get that general reaction from people who like the top Australian bands. They see our clip and think, like, I’ve heard people say that it’s a lot of rubbish because it’s not the group standing there just playing their instruments. I think that’s part of the Australian Inferiority Complex. I mean, once you start working with art, other mediums apart from just music, once you do something that can be called artistic, you somehow lose your credibility. You seem to lose that basic so-called ‘Rock n Roll’ quality and get criticised for it as a result.
I’d never call Hunters & Collectors a rock ‘n’ roll band.
GP: No, but we play in the same environment. We play at hotels and we play at clubs, but maybe we draw a difference audience.
Who do you think the band’s biggest audience is?
GP: Well it’s getting bigger, so it’s getting harder to define. It used to be a fairly so-called ‘Cult’ audience….
GC: I don’t think it’s been like that for a while now though.
GP: Oh, we still get a certain type of person, the young, middle class suburban type of person, university drop-out or whatever. But now, it’s broadening out.
GC: I think it progresses through three stages. When you start off, you’re not written about or anything, you’re just playing in the inner city and the inner city clique know about you. Next, you’re in the music papers, and that’s another larger clique, but like, people in the suburbs don’t tend to read those papers much. Then, once you start to record and appear on television, that’s when the audience really starts to change.
You seem to have restricted yourselves, thus far, to inner city Melbourne and Sydney.
GP: I really get annoyed with people I know in the inner city because they’re totally prejudiced against the suburbs. They call them idiots, but, I think if you take the basic Australian person and put them up against someone from England or America, you realise how naÃ¯ve and stupid a lot of English and American people are because they’re so parochial, whereas, in Australia, we’ve always been open to what’s going on overseas.
I used to speak to people overseas and they wouldn’t even have a clue where Australia was! They think it’s in the middle of Europe or something! IT’s the same with Americans, and these people with so-called good educations. They’re just not interested in what goes on outside their own country.
Do you think this ‘openness’ could be one of the reasons behind the success of Australian bands overseas?
GP: Yeah, because we haven’t shut ourselves off from that form of input. That’s the thing about going to England where, you know, up until recently, an Australian band’ll be immediately hit with this sort of negative air because they actually come from Australia.
The country that’s growing the fastest.
GP: English people still think that we’re this backwater where everybody walks around in baggy trousers and black singlet’s and the streets are full of kangaroos. I mean, that really is the general feeling.
GC: It’s not joke. They do think that way. I once convinced a couple of ‘well educated’ Americans that you could walk from Australia to New Zealand at low tide!
GP: It’s because they’re really not interested. I mean, they’re not even interested in the fact that there’s this other country out there. I think one of the reasons Australia is so peculiar is because it’s so close to The East. There’s an underlying Eastern influence, in that it’s really common for an Australian suburbanite to say, hey, let’s go down and eat Chinese tonight. There’s a Chinatown in every city, ‘cos we’re open to what’s actually going on in The East. In America and England, you don’t know about them. I mean, I’m bsure there are more Chinese restaurants in Melbourne than there’d be in London, f’r instance.
The production of the 12″ EP – “Loinclothing”, “World of Stone” – was very disappointing. It was cold and aloof and nothing like the band ‘live’.
GP: I thought that initially too.
GC: The reason for that is because we’d never played in a studio before. We wanted a really ‘live’ sound and we thought the way to get it was by under-producing it, not producing the sound, not putting all that stuff that you can do in a studio on it to make it sound like a studio album. When you do that you lost the ‘live’ excitement. ‘Live’ you’ve got the PA and it gives you extra warmth, plus you’ve got the crowd absorbing the sound. You miss out on that, but you don’t replace it with anything. That’s the problem.
You’ve been recording quite recently with producer Mike Howlett, so I’ve heard.
GC: Yeah. What I’ve learned from him is that you’ve got to replace that ‘live’ feeling with stuff you can do in the studio to get that excitement back. And it’s not a matter of over-producing, it’s just a matter of replacing that ‘live’ feel with a feel compatible with the studio.
GP: We were stumbling in the dark with the EP.
GC: Yeah, we really didn’t know what we were doing.
GP: I mean, we had some theoretical concept that we thought might work and it didn’t really work at all. Also, we left it in the hands of someone that wasn’t really reliable ‘cos, I mean, we didn’t know. It was basically a matter of six different people saying six different things about the way a song should sound and you can’t operate like that at all.
The theory was a simple idea of saying ‘why does it work live’. We should be able to go into a studio and work with the same situation. I mean, it is possible, we’ve just proved that with the recording we’ve just finished.
GC: When we first started to record, we were worried about spill and stuff, technical things. We wanted to be able to play together in the same room, so we played with headphones. I mean, we couldn’t hear anything except whatever it was that went through the ‘phones. With the recordings that we’ve just done with Mike Howlett, we took the P.A. fold back system in and just blasted the room with our stage sound and didn’t worry about spill or whatever, and it worked out okay.
It’s physically detracting if I’m supposed to listen to the drummer through headphones rather than just having eye contact. It’s the same with everyone, because that’s the way we work. If you set that environment up in a studio, it works much better. We just didn’t know how to do it when we first recorded.
If you weren’t pleased with the production, why did you have it released?
GP: Because we invested in it, I suppose. I don’t think we were putting out really bad product.
GC: The problem with our contract is that we put all the money up, and we’re really quite a young band. I mean, it seemed like a lot of money at the time.
GP: I think, like everything else we’ve released, it’s a really good documentation of what we wanted. It’s still a good documentation of what the band was actually like at the time and how it worked.
Are you pleased with the quality of the first album?
GP: Well, it’s quite a big step from the EP.
GC: The problem is that it was done seven months ago. I mean, we’re pleased that we could’ve done that that long ago, but, comparing it to what we’ve just done.
GP: I don’t think you should ever look back. I think you should just say, well, we’ve done that and that’s what happened. You can never say it’s a mistake because, I mean you were there at the time and that’s what you did. I listen to the album and think that there’s a really naÃ¯ve quality there that couldn’t disappeared if we’d thought of some incredibly good producer.
How do you mean naÃ¯ve?
GP: In the production. Sometimes the sounds are probably better than what you want, and sometimes the sounds aren’t there at all. It’s fairly erratic. We were fairly erratic and still are to a certain degree. But, I think that quality tends to add a bit of excitement. The fact that you never really know what it’s going to be like.
GC: We still work on a very fine line.
GP: A lot of people used to say that we were contrived to start with, but we did work very erratically.
GC: There’s a lot more space these days, a lot more room for everyone to breathe. When we did the first album, there was still that erratic feeling, but I think it’s fairly important that the album should represent that part of the bands nature as well.
There’s a definite feeling of tension in all the music.
GP: Yeah, we still work off that a lot. I mean, you can’t just go off on your own and rely on someone else to keep rhythm because they might be relying on someone to hold it together for them. There’s a situation where you know that if one of the members starts breaking down, the whole thing could start falling apart.
GC: Also a lot of the songs were actually written on the way things play off each other to give that tension. We use chords that will jar a bit, specifically to invoke that feeling, so it’s an inbuilt thing at the same time.
Has the success of the first album surprised the band?
GP: People think I’m being incredibly cynical when I say that it never affects me. On a financial lever, it’s pretty good, but I don’t really care. You’re too busy working on something else.
We have enough faith in what we’re doing to turn the best of what we do ‘live’ into recordings. We all believe wholeheartedly in what we’re doing, but we’re also pretty realistic about it. We’d like to be able to survive for a while so that’s the way we do it, working with new ideas and new material as much as possible.
Thankyou to Stephen for typing out this article for us all to enjoy!