The conversations of life

Mark Seymour performs Holy Grail and chats with The Donaldson Sisters – 28.05.17


Annie:  We have with us today Australian music legend Mark Seymour who fronted Hunters and Collectors who I loved when I was younger. And Mark has just released a double retrospective album called Roll Back the Stone 1985 to 2016. Mark’s with us in the studio today.

Mark: Afternoon.

Annie: Great to have you here.

Jill: Welcome. I believe also you’re about to kick off a national tour with your band the Undertow in June.

Mark: We’re doing theatres. Starts in Hobart which is coming up. It’s not far away.

Jill: June 24 I think is the first concert.

Mark: So we’ve got to start rehearsing very soon.

Clinton: And you’re going to play a range of classics and more modern songs. With the classics with rehearsing do you have to spend a lot of time rehearsing those it just comes so naturally.

Mark: Well no, not really. I mean all the material on the set is pretty much a recording of what we do on stage. We did over three days so the band’s actually just cherry picked my catalogue of songs that I love would rotate normally when I’m touring. So it’s kind of like a live record. But it’s not really. So it’s about two and a half hours of music and I tell a lot of stories. I haven’t done it yet.

Annie: Well let’s the plan.

Mark: I haven’t worked out what the stories are yet, but there’s plenty of them. And that’s the kind of theory behind the whole thing that I’m going to try and just share a few trade secrets with the punters about where the songs come from.

Jill: You’ve mentioned before that the opening line to song is always the key. Is that how you tend to approach each song when you write it?

Mark: What is it. You have a good opening line and then let nature take its course. That’s kind of how I do it.

Jill: Do you think your style has changed that much over the years?

Mark: Look I don’t think my, actually these are good questions. I don’t often get asked interesting and probing questions about how I work.

Annie: We’re not just gorgeous, we’re smart.

Mark: Look I don’t think my approach to songwriting has changed much at all really. I mean it’s just that I’ve grown a lot more savvy. And there are certain rabbit holes I don’t go down anymore you know. But like in the old days with the Hunters you know, I mean there’d be just all these blokes standing around in a room and things would go take for hours and you know you just turn up with half of an idea and gradually noise would just be erupting around you and you kind of find the sweet spot somewhere and I’d just start writing a lyric. And wherever my brain was at that moment in time would kind of be the beginnings of a story. You know but it was always a story you know. And I think as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized actually well there’s a process there that I sort of emerged out of the fog of my youth. You know I realized ok well there’s a process there that I’ve kept returning to and the songs probably just erupt pretty much the same way as they always do it’s just that I don’t have all the bells and whistles around me anymore. You know I do a lot of stuff just on my own you know.

Annie: Yeah. And it must be great when you write a song. But then when you get up and perform it and the crowd just takes over and starts singing all the words.

Jill: I think there was a line in your new album where you said that sometimes the fans know the words better than you do.

Mark: Well the songs become public property.

Jill: Yeah absolutely.

Mark: And I just think you have to accept that as part of the process of what you’re doing. You’re really just, I do believe there’s a collective consciousness. I think human beings have so much shared experience. And I just think songs play that role in life and I think that’s why people are attracted to music.

Clinton: As an artist that has a huge catalogue, does it get to you when they always want to hear “Throw your arms”. They always want to hear the classics. Does it annoy you a bit?

Mark: Well no.

Clinton: You still enjoy performing those songs?

Mark: I just wonder why people ask me that. The reason I keep playing it is because people want to hear it. There’s a sort of a I suppose there’s a kind of a perception people have of artists like myself that we’re kind of masters of our own destiny and we’re just forging a path into you know artistic freedom and it’s all really really fantastic and it’s not like that at all. You’re the servant of your audience.

Clinton: Well I guess it’s going to differ from artist to artist. I was a fan of the Cure years ago and I missed one of there Sydney concerts once and some friends of mine said don’t worry, Robert Smith the lead singer was in a bit of a mood that night. He refused to play any of the classics. And a lot of the audience actually went away a bit unhappy.

Mark: I’ve done. I remember once I didn’t play Throw your arms around me at a club on the Central Coast and this guy comes up to me at the merch table afterwards and said I drove a bus for my friends. We’ve come all the way from. I thought he was going to say Omaha but I think it was like Tamworth or something and I hadn’t played throw your arms around me. And I stood there and I said look I actually forgot to play it. That’s the only time I’ve ever gotten into trouble. And unfortunately I was at the merch desk.

Jill: So I do have to ask you though where does the name come from Hunters and Collectors. How did that evolve. Is there a great story there. Or was it just.

Mark: Well it’s. Have you heard the story about how the.

Jill: Peter. Yeah we did hear about that. Yeah. Yeah.

Mark: I was wondering why you asked me. OK. So that song is lifted from a really obscure single from a German art rock band in the early 70s called Can. There was this German band called Can who were like this really dark sort of heavy group that lived in Cologne. And we went to Germany and we met all those people. And early on in the bands life, in Hunters and Collectors life and we kind of appropriated a certain of aesthetic that we shared with them. It didn’t last long. But the name endured because the name is just a very good name.

Jill: It’s a great name.

Clinton: Can that be the difference between being a successful band having the right name that connects with an audience?

Annie: Well we did that a couple of weeks ago I remember when we talked about Queen had called themselves smile. Smile when they first started, did you know that.

Mark: Well Crowded House were called melanes. And I didn’t mind melanes. It’s a bit. It’s very kind of sort of Irish but I just think bands. There’s so many things holding them together. Like I think a band has to have chemistry and the name will emerge out of that in one way or another. If the name’s not right to begin with as you like Queen calling themselves smile. They’ll very quickly realize that’s the wrong name because they are obviously an incredibly good band. So I just think they kind of realize it’s time that they had the wrong name. But if the band’s not good this is all theoretical of course. If the band doesn’t have that really simple chemistry then they won’t figure it out. Nothing else will get worked out.

Jill: And you’re about to start touring again. What’s it like touring these days compared to in the early days. Is it different. I know you talked about it in your memoirs 13 tonne theory that you wrote and you outlined what it was like in the early days which is interesting.

Mark: Yeah. Look I have to say I’ve got a sense of irony. So I don’t I tend not to be. There’s a few sacred cows I had a crack at in that book. But look in the old days you had a huge pub scene so you could go out all of the touring was based around it was a kind of seasonal activity. And you went out a couple of times a year and you just worked and then you stopped and you’d just have to just not work. Whereas now I tend to work more continuously and the works much more varied. You know like I do acoustic and I do full band. Sometimes I play festivals. I mean admittedly I think the kind of work I do I can afford to do because I’ve already done all the other stuff for a long time. But the gigs are smaller and it’s just a completely different industry now.

Clinton: The other side of the industry the recording part of it. Is it a hell of a lot harder for younger bands coming through compared to when you were coming through in the 80s with the way we’re streaming music, we’re downloading maybe just buying single songs rather than whole albums.

Mark: It’s pretty hard to give a clear answer to that. I don’t think look generally speaking records don’t sell. You know we don’t work in order to sell records. We work in order to sell music on there’s a number of platforms. You know and like YouTube’s a really big part of it. And all of the platforms are geared up towards allowing you to go and play live and draw income from ticket sales. And in a weird way that kind of hasn’t changed.

Annie: Yeah. Is it that those band days of the 80s going to the pub and seeing the live bands was absolutely phenomenal. When I tell my kids about it they all go oh gosh you guys had it so good.

Clinton: There was always somebody I mean I’m a little younger than you guys. But even in the early 90s there was always bands to go and see on the weekend whether it was Sydney or Melbourne or Brissie.

Annie: I can remember seeing INXS down at the Mona Vale pub right back when they first started and they were just nobodies.

Mark: Look I just think people aren’t making those choices anymore. I mean I went through a weird period when I thought that young bands were just avoiding dealing with the suburbs you know. And I sort of think there is a residual kind of cringe about that. I think that musicians tend to not want to go back out there. Or to go back to where they came from. We come from there and you know that’s sort of. And I’m not sure whether or not there’s a reluctance to do that. Or whether or not audiences just don’t want to go and see bands in those in those rooms anymore. It’s a sort of a chicken and egg argument. I don’t really know which is the reason you know what’s causing the other thing to happen but it’s definitely a lot harder to go out and play in you know Bankstown or you know Parramatta and fill a room. You can go out and you might do 300 people but to go out and do and you know when it happened to me I just thought oh God you know God why me. But then gradually it became apparent that that’s pretty much what it is.

Clinton: Yeah. Well your tour is going to take you all over the country Hobart, Brissie, Melbourne, Sydney. Sydney you’re playing the Basement which is a wonderful venue to watch.

Jill: Absolutely three nights there too.

Clinton:  That’s awesome. We can have a look at your website But Mark can you play us a song today.

Mark: I reckon.

Clinton: The legendary Mark Seymour.

Mark: I really appreciate this guys. The great city. We ran into millions. But nobody got pay. You we raised. Four corners of the blow. For the Holy Grail. In the snow. We were so. Far. We don’t know. There be nothing left. That is fantastic.

Clinton: The legendary Mark Seymour with holy grail that is just fantastic. That is a true performer.

Annie: Clinton you can stop bowing now.

Clinton: I’m almost speechless, you’ve just sung one of the most legendary songs in Australian history. The retrospective album Roll Back the Stone 1985 to 2016. The tour is coming up but have a look at the website Mark thank you mate.

The Donaldson sisters focus on living today and looking forward positively to the next 10, 20 and 30 years. They get important topics and perspectives on the table for open discussion – topics that aren’t often raised in the mainstream media and voices and perspectives less frequently heard.

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