Just For The Record
Article and interview with Mark Seymour prior to visiting central New South Wales.
Author: Yvette Aubusson-Foley, Dubbo PhotoNews.
Date: 9 October 2015.
Original URL: https://dubbophotonews.com.au/index.php/dpn/categories/arts-entertainment/item/3967-mark-seymour-just-for-the-record
Mark Seymour knows his way around a song like a sculptor knows clay, shaping words and emotions into melodies and chorus lines to find homes in the hearts, minds and memories of Aussies since the 1980s.
By his own admission there is pure intent in every stroke of the pen – or tap on the keyboard as it is today – and listening between the lines of him talking about his craft it’s clear the 59 year-old doesn’t see the point in writing or performing a song unless he’s absolutely invested.
While a deliberate approach to his work and sense of responsibility to audiences are a big part of who he is, how the Hunters and Collectors’ early singles came about – like Talking to a Stranger, Holy Grail and True Tears of Joy – do seem borne of a bit of luck too, having grown up through the brambles of rising rock star pandemonium.
“Back in the old days you’d sort of stand around in rehearsal room for hours and there’d be beers all over the floor and there was an element of chaos. I was a lot younger as well but those songs have borne fruit,” Seymour tells Weekender.
The “fruit” was fame and record sales for Seymour and the Hunters but today songs like Throw Your Arms Around Me thrive on; music industry fairy tales, reinvented in ways never imagined or intended, that are a litmus for what defines Australian music.
“My starting point with that song… I was deeply, emotionally connected with the subject matter. There’s no question about it. I need to believe in what I’m doing but there are some songs that just have a line in them that instils that in a very economical and easily accessed way and that happened to have that chorus.
“There’s something intrinsic in the structure of the song. You couldn’t trip over it. It’s so “there”. So it’s very easy for people to connect with it. They could be connecting with it for all sorts of reasons, which really don’t have that much to do with me.”
Throw Your Arms Around Me was written in 1984 but still in the late 80s and early 90s it breathed down the neck of many number ones in Top 100 lists for years and in 1998 placed second in Triple J’s Hottest 100 Of All Time.
Still three years later in 2001 the Australian Performing Right Association (APRA) named it one of the top 30 Australian songs of all time.
“That was one of the few songs in those days that had that wow factor from the beginning. It’s definitely got something. People want to hear it. They’re quite openly disappointed if we don’t play it,” Seymour says.
The “we” these days is The Undertow – three music vets in their own right; producer Cameron McKenzie (ex-Horsehead) on guitar, John Favaro (ex-Badloves) on bass, and Peter Maslen (Boom Crash Opera) on drums.
Being a part of Seymour’s contemporary world, they join him to celebrate the “Hunnas” moments with fans by playing the hits but Seymour isn’t one to live in the past.
“I freely admit, sometimes, I don’t really want to play [Throw Your Arms Around Me]. I have a lot of other songs that I think are good. It’s a blessing but I’m not so self-indulgent that I’m going to get my head all twisted up by the fact that I don’t play it all the time.”
When Seymour and The Undertow take to the stage at a day on the green at Mudgee on October 31, or again at Lazy River Estate as a part of the Red Hot Summer 2016 tour, in March next year, fans will be treated to a performance that will bring back memories while creating new ones.
“I work the set out for what’s really powerful and dynamic and works theatrically for the band. You get that all worked out and you just go and play them and somewhere amidst of all that there’ll be these Hunters songs. They’re just part of the show.
“When you’re doing a regional centre – and we don’t get out there that often – people come a long and they don’t really know what they’re going to get. You basically have the attitude that “okay, we’re really going to lay it down, this is it, this is the pointy end, we’re going to put on a show” and that’s what they want.
“When they hear stuff they know that’s a big plus. But I don’t take that attitude that I’m going to try to second guess my audience. I’m going to go out and do my own thing as well as I can.”
Working out his song set for a day on the green probably means Seymour will be backstage writing that up not long before they’re called on stage. With a vast catalogue of songs to choose from, he prefers to wait and get a sense of the mood of the crowd and vibe of the venue.
It’s a decisiveness he applies to writing because while there are dozens of songs he could perform, plenty more have ended up on the cutting-room floor.
“I’m very clear in my mind to what I’m trying to achieve. That said, 90 per cent of stuff never sees the light of day because I know what my starting point has to be. If within five minutes I go back and listen to a song and think, man, you are so full of shit… that’s it: delete.
“I make that decision very quickly because if I get up in front of an audience, the song’s just not going to work if they can’t look at me and go, “he actually means this”. People really connect with intensity. Pure intensity, they’re very engaged with it.”
Seymour is well known for his intensity, which seems like a very PC way of saying he’s still an angry young man.
“I want the audience to look at a guy and go, “he’s working”. If the song can’t illustrate that point, it’s not going to last. It just doesn’t have any juice. You’ll do that two or three times and you’ll go, you know, I’m just not connected with this.
“As I said how chaotic it was in the old days, we’d throw songs into the mix and play it for a few days and we wouldn’t really understand why they weren’t working but nine times out of ten I wasn’t connected with what I was singing about. I have to be convinced that I mean what I’m saying otherwise it just doesn’t make the record.
“It’s very definite. I care very deeply about what I’m singing about. I’m fairly emotionally connected to it, but I’m not detached to what I’m saying. I’m directly connecting.
As with his audiences, having a great connection with his band is also paramount.
“Music, I think, is about the quality of relationships. There has to be some sort of fusion of ideas and beliefs. Relationships are really important to me; they are critical to my creative energy. And I put everything into my relationships with other musicians.”
As testament to their synergy Seymour’s latest album, Mayday, is his third with The Undertow. It’s his ninth as a solo artist.
On Mayday Seymour sings of the Two Dollar Punter who “shook the hand of the smuggler” for the hope of a better life. In FIFO, he documents the life of a WA miner who has spent 17 years as a fly-in, fly-out worker, “halfway between hell and nowhere”, and Football Train tells the tragic tale of the boy who might not have a home but does have a footy team.
The last time Seymour played a day on the green was during the Hunters & Collectors successful reformation tour. Knowing the power of a good band he’s looking forward to bringing The Undertow to Mudgee to connect with the regional audience.
“That’s what great about doing a day on the green. They’re a game changer. Before they came along it was really difficult to financially make [regional tours] work. I know I used to do the odd appearance at the little clubs randomly, any time of the year, so there wasn’t really any sense of occasion about it, and you didn’t really know if a lot of people were going to turn up and see you anyway.
“With a day on the green, the audience is coming along because it’s an event, and they want to have a good time. It’s a really congenial atmosphere and people are relaxed and they want to enjoy themselves.
“It’s a great vehicle for people like me. You get treated really well, you turn up and the facilities are really good, the production’s great. There’s no down side,” he laughs.