Seated in the Mushroom record company boardroom in Melbourne on a workday norming, it seems a bit of a throwback to another time. A time when rock stars were “Stars” and fêted by their record companies, media and the public. A time very far from we’re we are now when a DIY approach to recording, promotion and touring is very much required (think Courtney Barnett who seems to control every aspect of her career).
The irony is that Mark Seymour has flipped both sides of this coin. So long tied to the juggernaut that is Hunters and Collectors, for the last few years he has been performing solo and acoustically with a new set of players – The Undertow.
Now bringing it full circle to his independent beginnings (the Hunters first release was a self-produced cassette album sold at gigs and shops like Greville Records), his latest release Roll Back the Stone (out on March 24) is a quickly recorded, indie-feeling venture but released by a major record company.
In person, Seymour is something of a surprise. I’d always imagined his blue-singleted image one of a very assertive person, singing in a somewhat blokey band, (once past its first incarnation which was much more left of centre), belting out anthemic songs over a booming bass and thumping drums. He’s much more real, considered and energetic than that. For someone who has been through this gruel of of album release and promotion countless times, he’s fully engaged – even at this time of the morning.
What was the impetus for this album?
It was time to do a collection of my solo work, and we had been playing a number of the Hunters’ songs… it felt good to revisit them in a new format. Some are completely reworked, others very much the same.
They cover the period from 1985’s Human Frailty and on – is there any particular reason why none of the earlier tracks are here?
It was around that time that I started listening to a wider range of music, delving into my then partner’s record collection. All of a sudden I was listening to … singer-songwriters who spoke from their hearts and it marked a huge change in my writing…before that I was just throwing down words.
It took me many years to realise and admit that I was a songwriter. In my mind I was the guy who got up and sang…I was almost like an instrument.
‘Throw Your Arms Around Me was the thing that changed everything for me…it’s one line, just one line, that keeps coming around and draws people in.
It’s funny how everyone reads different things into songs – for example some people have said that Throw Your Arms Around Me is a song about rape.
Yes, I’ve heard that one too. For some reason it doesn’t die out. It’s very much as song about coming together, about deep passion. I just don’t see how that could ever be seen in that way – “you will make me call your name/ and I’ll shout it to the blue sun rise”. It’s about the inevitably of tenderness, a very positive message…
Holy Grail likewise was written about the first Gulf War as a Crusade metaphor…it’s a very ironic song about why are we doing this?
And yet it’s now the (AFL) football song.
Yes, and it’s a throwaway line.. .that changed everything.
You seem to have an ear for that phrase that everyone knows and uses, and can pull that into a song – is that something deliberate?
If you can pull that into a song like that it’s great, but that opportunity may or may not present itself in a process. Sometime they do arrive in a line like that, that distils everything into the sentiment…but I have lots of notes around that come back… my process is very simple – get the phone out and play the song into that…if it doesn’t work then delete it – delete can be a very good thing…there’s heaps of instinct in it.
Your band are very slick. How does it compare to the old days?
I’ve been playing with these guys for quite a while now, it’s just slipped under the media radar. Hunters really are all about that rhythm section – Doug (Falconer – drums) and John (Archer – bass). There came a point where I just felt that the musical environment was too heavy for me to continue to express what I really wanted to…when the band wound down after doing all we could in Australia… and frankly not making a big enough go of it internationally, it was in many ways a relief… I felt I was the servant of two masters – the band and my own heart.
I knew I was going to keep performing, there was no question of that, but I had a real crisis in writing songs, that took a real long time to figure it out…in the end it was just time…ground zero is in here.(he says pointing to his heart).
Rolling Back the Stone is out now. The band tours to Theatre Royal, Hobart, June 24, Old Museum
Brisbane, June 30, Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne, July 22, Adelaide, The Gov, July 29, The Basement, Sydney, August 18 and the Astor Theatre, Perth, August 26.