The Way To Go Out (Juice)
Interview with Mark Seymour in the later era of Hunters and Collectors, promoting his first solo album King Without A Clue.
Author: Lisa Anthony, Juice.
Date: June 1997.
Original URL: N/A.
Mark Seymour and I first met five years ago. It was on the eve of the release of Cut, the seventh studio album by his band, Hunters & Collectors. It was going to be pivotal to their long career and they knew it. There was a big publicity campaign, a tour … they were pushing it as far as they could, knowing it was make-or-break time for an Australian rock & roll institution that had perfected the art of chasing its own tail. Even so, Mark Seymour, the band’s wiry, intense singer, was quite candidate about what was going on.
He spent a lot of time explaining himself – how he fitted in with this musical committee, the ups, the downs, how they had reached this point and where he believed they would or should go from here. The hopes and fears of the band were brought to light in an open way. He every brought along his then girlfriend, who harangued him about whether the band needed him or he needed the band. She urged him to leave the lot of ‘em – he was better than they were – while hissed at her to shut up. He coped in a good-humoured way – at one point in the middle of it all he turned to me and said” “This is like Spinal Tap.”
It was a trying time, yet back when Seymour was less wary than he seems today. And this time he doesn’t even have band politics to play; he is giving interviews about his solo work. He’s promoting something to be proud of: a strong, accomplished piece of work.
The album in question is King Without a Clue, Seymour’s first solo project. On it the singer/songwriter genuinely sounds like he is enjoying himself. He has collected together a strong group of musicians who play a far from usual collection of instruments. The record was produced by Barry Palmer, guitarist with the Hunters and deadstar, and the musicians include Mark’s younger brother Nick, with whom he’s working with for the first time in almost 20 years. “When we decided to work together we said we would do it with an open-minded spirit. He is a great, amazing, interesting talent, and it was a very exciting thing to happen.”
Mark Seymour can’t hide the smile as he says he is very pleased with his work. So why is he so edgy? Perhaps he’s wary that every journalist is trying to ferret out the scoop on the demise of Hunters & Collectors. It’s on his mind so much that, in true Basil Fawlty style, he mentions it when no one else does.
Take a simple question. The obvious one. Why make a solo album at this point in your career, Mark?
“That’s the question everyone’s asked me.”
Well you haven’t done this before, have you? Last time we spoke, you emphasized that you needed the band.
“That was then. I’ve changed. I don’t really believe in making big announcements to the media. I mean, why should we?”
What sort of statements don’t you believe in?
“Like H&C are splitting up or H&C are retiring. That’s exactly what the media wants.”
He has his reasons, of course. Firstly the Hunters haven’t quite thrown in the towel yet. Indeed, they will record another studio album later this year. It will be the first time they’ve worked together since early ’95. ‘We were just getting under each others skins. We had to break the cycle somehow. We didn’t have any definite artistic reasons for doing it. Wanting more say has really been a bugbear in my life. It’s been no secret from the band – I’ve said, “Look, I want more control.” And I’ve been told, “Just shut up, you stupid little cunt’.”
Now he’s a free man he can do what he likes. “I tried to write something intimate and close,” he explains. “I wanted the sounds to be really warm and in your face. I hear songs on the radio and they are so self-important and they have this guitar that’s slamming in your face – some of that music’s great, but it’s everywhere now.” On the whole he has achieved that goal. “I really wanted to enjoy myself. I just wanted to get on the end of the microphone and sing. I enjoyed it that I could tap into something in my emotions.”
In order to get that personal feeling, Seymour sings from the heart. And the issues that are close to home for him are political and social. Humanism is fundamental to Seymour. He boasts that, as one of the 44 per cent of Victorians who didn’t vote for Jeff Kennett – he voted Labor – and one who has a platform, he has a responsibility to speak out on the social injustices that are happening in Victoria.
“I believe that politicians should be morally responsible,” he maintains. “There has to be an underlying believe in the welfare state. People have to be cared for. We live in a democracy, but then you find that there are people actually spilling out of the system that aren’t being helped. It’s chaos and that’s why I opened the album with the line ‘Chaos is creeping through your pretty pictures.’ In Victoria the cultural shift is to have their fantastic, spectacular events so that everyone thinks we’re having a party and it’s all beautiful. But actually it’s an illusion.”
It’s not the only political forum he’s fed up with. “I suppose I’m disillusioned to an extent with the politics of the band. People just get tired of each other. I think some of the guys in the band don’t respect me much any more.”
Despite this, Seymour looks to the future with an optimistic eye. “I am just really compelled by writing songs. I want to have a creative life – I want to be able to make a living from putting words together and singing them. It’s not a big ask you know.”