Still Hangin’ Round

An interview with Mark Seymour in the lead-up to the 2014 reunion tour.

Author:  Steve Bell, The Music.

Date: 26 October 2013.

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After a 15-year layoff, Hunters & Collectors – one of Australia’s most cherished homegrown rock’n’roll bands – are dusting off the gear to reinforce why they were always considered such a fearsome live proposition. Frontman Mark Seymour takes Steve Bell into the inner sanctum of one of Australia’s most insular and innovative outfits.

Hunters & Collectors were one of the defining bands of the Australian scene throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, their powerful, hard-hitting aesthetic and tireless work ethic forging them a massive following during the death throes of the previously lucrative pub circuit and beyond. They didn’t always achieve the critical acclaim that they clearly warranted but they always possessed a large and fervent fanbase, their years of hard work having transformed them into a consistently taut live proposition.

And then of course there were the songs. Everyone these days knows the ubiquitous Hunnas hits such as Holy Grail, Throw Your Arms Around Me and Say Goodbye, but they had in their armoury a clutch of anthemic numbers which acted like a panacea to their sweaty and adoring throngs, the sense of community in those packed pubs and clubs almost sacrosanct.

On the eve of their long-awaited comeback – first prompted by an offer to support Bruce Springsteen, which quickly morphed into a full-scale reunion tour – Hunters & Collectors’ frontman and songwriter Mark Seymour is reflecting on how the pub circuit shaped his band back in the day, given how unforgiving the crowds could be to bands that didn’t have their shit together.

“Yeah I think it did, I think it refined our sound,” he concedes. “Although the last thing we did in ’98, I guess you could call it a pub tour but it was so big – we were playing to such big crowds – that it sort of developed into a sort of concert-like environment, which is why we ended up being able to play okay when we did [massive 2009 bushfire benefit] Sound Relief. We’d just learnt a lot of things about how to play as a big presentation. I think to get out of the pubs and to play on a bigger stage in Australia without actually having any significant international success is a pretty hard thing to pull off, because in the end you’ve still got to play in Australia. You’re not going anywhere else.”

Seymour wrote at length about his tenure in Hunters & Collectors throughout excellent 2008 memoir Thirteen Tonne Theory, and one of the most interesting aspects was the band’s regimented internal dynamic – it functioned almost like a union rather than a run-of-the-mill rock band.

“I think there’s an element of honesty there that endured. Look, ticking my own box, I tend to bring that out in people,” Seymour laughs. “I’m not frightened of stepping up – if an issue has to be addressed, it has to be addressed straight away. I just think that there was a real hard, fierce sense of identity and determination in that group that enabled it to last as long as it did, even though we had quite mixed commercial fortunes. But I think that everybody really enjoyed performing. The gigs were always really exciting – some were better than others of course – but we always enjoyed that, which sort of saved us.”

He’s since forged a respectable solo career, but if all went well on this impending reunion could Seymour ever imagine writing for Hunters & Collectors again?

“No,” he states emphatically. “I’m not going to do it. I’ve been asked a few times, but I just won’t cross that line. I definitely stepped away. The thing is that the last couple of albums were really difficult to make, and I pretty much pulled my head in. The beauty of the band was its willingness to keep pressing on, but when Hunters came back and we made [1998’s final album] Juggernaut, which was… okay – I wouldn’t say it’s great – but I was just really struggling to find a way to put really catchy choruses in there: all the basic songwriting tricks, my toolkit, I’d just lost it.

“And I think it had a lot to do with the fortunes of the band and my relationship with them – there were a lot of issues surrounding the publishing that I think were eventually going to sow the seeds of the band’s demise as a creative outfit. I think those issues are still there – there’s nothing personal in any of that, but I’d made my mind up that for me to grow as an artist and a songwriter I have to work outside that band, and I made that decision a long time ago.”

The publishing dispute that Seymour’s referring to was his infamous decision to split his songwriting royalties equally between the band members, one which subsequently cost him a lot of income – does he regret this altruistic gesture?

“Ah, I don’t really have a clear answer to that,” he offers after a lengthy pause. “You know, I think there have been times when I’ve regretted it in the past, but I’m also willing to accept that I wanted to embrace that community. I wanted to be a part of it, and that was the price I had to pay. I think that the way that the song splits were designed didn’t reflect well on my relationship with a couple of key individuals in the band, which I think is just a personal issue more than anything else. But the band’s come back after all this time and it plays really well, which is essentially what it’s greatest strength was – it was just a fantastic live band – and I’m happy to embrace that. But I think the songwriting question is a whole different ballgame. And I’ve just got to mature – it’s about my own maturity and growth really as much as anything else.”