Mark Seymour ‘As Ambitious As Ever’
An interview with Mark Seymour at the time of the release of his Mayday album.
Author: Benjamin Sveen, ABC News.
Date: 12 June 2015.
Mark Seymour, Aussie rock icon behind Hunters and Collectors, says he is ‘as ambitious as ever’
Mark Seymour was a true veteran of the Australian rock scene before Hunters and Collectors had even disbanded. Now, nine albums and countless tours into a divergent solo career, he practically constitutes a one-man national institution.
He has loyal devotees the nation over. His anthem Throw Your Arms Around Me has been voted the second best song of all-time by Triple J listeners on three occasions. He reformed the Hunters to open the 2013 AFL grand final.
So, when the river runs dry, where does one of Australia’s most beloved troubadours draw his inspiration from?
As the famous chorus goes, it’s from the scene of the crime, of course.”I think Australia has entered a period of deep conservatism. And it’s not necessarily related to politics. I think we’re entering a period where the national conversation has narrowed,” he told Jane Hutcheon on One Plus One.
His trademark urgency is still there in the title of his ninth album, Mayday.
He says it describes his unease with the direction Australian society is taking. But he remains philosophical.
“Mayday is a metaphor. It’s the emergency signal. But, it’s also Labour Day,” he said.
With Mayday, Seymour emerges as outspoken as ever on the issue of moral injustice.
He speaks passionately of a desire to address “the desensitisation of humanity” towards those displaced at the margins of society.
Despite some of the more negative things I’m inclined to cough up, I still think that I’ve got plenty of more work to do.
Mayday is populated by lost Dickensian characters — a homeless man, a refugee in detention, a lonesome FIFO worker — and Seymour makes no bones about producing the record as a vehicle for social conscience.
“We’re suffering from huge inequality between the rich and poor and there are more stateless people in the world than there have ever been,” he said.
For Seymour, the concept of nomadism has also played an integral part in his own personal journey.
A son of two teachers in rural Victoria, he says his family rarely stayed anywhere longer than three years.
“That kind of displaces you. You made friends and then you had to walk away,” he said.
“And I did feel at an early age that there was something dislocating about that.
“I recognised it when I was quite young and I think I got used to it.”
On the other hand, he is quick to admit that it put him in good stead for the rock and roll lifestyle.
He appears equally at home in the imposing stadiums of Melbourne and Sydney as he does on the long and winding roads of the outback.
“I’ve always really thrived on travel. The longer I stretched [the tours] out, the more interesting, obscure places I get myself into. Australia’s just an incredibly immense place.”
And it is the distinctly Australian characters he found along the way that inform the narratives that occupy Mayday.
“Towns differ remarkably from one place to the next. As I’ve gotten older I [have] become much more interested in engaging people directly. I go out and I meet people in the room after the show. It’s become a habit of mine.”
‘The whole approach to song-writing changed’
Seymour is best known as a songwriter whose work resonates with people because of its expressive authenticity.
He traces this back to a watershed moment he had while composing the 1986 magnum opus, Human Frailty, when he decided to turn his back on the surrealist imagery that had preoccupied the earliest Hunters albums.
“I remember reading that book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test… when the hippies used to have those events [where] you take over a room and turn it into a theatrical space and have lights [and] vision going everywhere.
“That’s what the early Hunters stuff was like and the music was connected to that and the lyrics were just these really post-apocalyptic, dark images that would have worked well in a Mad Max movie, you know?”
For a moment, he throws his hands around theatrically like a bombastic film director.
“I was really into it! But as soon as I started wanting to write about stuff I knew, the whole approach to song-writing changed. It became more important for me to get the expression right.
“It changed the culture of the band dramatically. And I think that album was the turning point, definitely.”
So after 35 years on the road, as a man in his late 50s, is he at risk of settling down?
He grins mischievously, briefly adopts a pensive pose and then bounces back up in his chair.
“I feel quite purposeful and as ambitious as I’ve ever been. You know, there’s no lack of ideas,” he said.
“My mind is really active and I’m very curious about the future and what’s coming.
“So despite some of the more negative things I’m inclined to cough up, I still think that I’ve got plenty of more work to do.”
For the full interview with Jane Hutcheon watch One Plus One 5:30pm Saturday and 2:30pm and 9.30pm Sunday on ABC News24, iView, and on the One Plus One website.