Mark Seymour lets songs speak

A great interview with Mark Seymour for the Roll Back the Stone album and tour.

Author:  Simon Collins, The West Australian.

Date: 17 July 2017.

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Mark Seymour’s latest album with the Undertow features reworkings of classics from Hunters and Collectors.

What’s a few less men?

For the past decade Oz rocker Mark Seymour has performed with the Undertow, a nimble yet muscular band consisting of guitarist Cameron McKenzie, bassist John Favaro and drummer Peter Maslen.

Yet, fans of Seymour’s previous ensemble, Hunters and Collectors, seem unable or unwilling to accept anything less than the legendary beast that injected Krautrock and post-punk into the Australian pub rock scene from 1981-98.

The mighty Hunters’ line-up fluctuated between seven and 13 members, depending on the number of auxiliary horn and percussion players.

“Diehard Hunters fans cannot cope with me not being in that band,” Seymour, 60, shrugs during a recent chat in Perth. “It’s as simple as that. And I came to that realisation a long time ago.

“Some people can’t handle the idea that I’m singing these songs (without Hunters). It’s totally an emotional attachment and I totally accept that.

“My approach to songwriting has not changed … I’m still doing the same thing. I just play with different musicians. That’s the story.”

The singer-songwriter was in town to promote his fourth album with the Undertow, Roll Back the Stone 1985-2016.

The 24-track release features fresh interpretations of Hunters classics Throw Your Arms Around Me, Holy Grail, When the River Runs Dry, Say Goodbye, Tears of Joy and What’s a Few Men? alongside re-recorded Undertow tunes stretching back to their self-titled debut of 2011.

After rehearsing 36 songs, Seymour and his three new-ish chums laid down 28 tracks at Melbourne’s Bakehouse Studios before selecting the final two dozen.

The affable rock veteran says that the track-listing reflects what the Undertow have performed on tour in recent years, including some deeper cuts from Hunters and Collectors’ mammoth catalogue, such as Back in the Hole and Dog.

Seymour adds that they don’t go further back than 1986.

“Early Hunters, I don’t do,” he says. “Everything before (fourth album) Human Frailty. We try and it’s just s…house, terrible.

“The only band in the world who can play (1984 single) The Slab is Hunters. It’s the most bizarre piece of music … the perfect expression of that band’s mojo. We got everything right with that song and then things shifted again.

“(Hunters and Collectors) made so many records it’s silly but The Slab is definitive.”

Seymour, who wrote about his experiences fronting Hunters and Collectors in his excellent 2008 memoir Thirteen Tonne Theory, describes the ARIA Hall of Famers as “an incredibly masculine band” which demanded total commitment.

He says that becoming a father in 1994 precipitated the end, albeit four years later.

“It was a game changer,” says Seymour, who has two adult daughters with wife Jo. “Prior to (having kids), my artistic life was absolutely paramount, there was nothing that could stand in its way and all relationships took second place.

“Once I became a father, that all changed,” he says, adding that his old mates are “all really lovely men but, the culture in that band, I just didn’t feel connected to it any more”.

While the Hunters came together for their 2005 Hall of Fame induction and the 2009 bushfire benefit gig Sound Relief, plus their epic national reunion tour of 2013-14, the members have more or less moved on.

Seymour hopes fans can do the same — and perhaps Roll Back the Stone will help some join the dots between his glorious past and impressive present.

“It’s more to do with how I am perceived as an artist, what I’ve done, my songwriting,” he says.

“I’m still here and I’ve been engaged in this for a long time.”

And he’s got a message for fans who still might not deal with Throw Your Arms Around Me or Say Goodbye being performed with the Undertow.

“Just relax and bend the knees,” Seymour laughs. “Just relax.”

Mark Seymour and the Undertow play the Astor Theatre on August 26. Tickets from the venue.