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Mark Seymour, Damien Leith session jottings

Mark Seymour and Damien Leith kept a date with ABC North Coast in spite of the cancellation of the first day of the festival. Outside the room, a band of dedicated and determined people stepped up to save the waterlogged site. This is long for a blog post but what the heck.

Seymour talked about the writing of Holy Grail and Throw Your Arms Around Me and other Hunters & Collectors hits. His book Thirteen Tonne Theory released this year is about life with H&C. “It was kind of a revolving door amongst the other personnel in the band. Once you start, you end up with sort of writing. And so you kind of had a huge human resource.” At one stage there were eight or nine and then it gradually got smaller, and then got bigger again. And we just had this particular arrangement. … But I’m still here”

Damien Leith talked about songwriting after Australian Idol. He recently released his first novel, One More Time. “I’ve been a solo artist, so as far as writing songs and as far as choosing one of them to do this, it’s my decision. And I know all about the band route. I’ve had a family band for many years, and tried to keep that together. Family members can fight quite happily and then get up and play the next day like nothing ever happened.”

“It’s great for me as well, being as solo artist ’cause I do have that freedom. But you still have those tangles with management. Having got my breakthrough with Idol, there’s a lot of people that expect a certain standard of me, which isn’t necessarily true to what I like myself. So there’s that kind of ongoing challenge there of just slowly easing into the direction that I’d like to go, and keeping people happy.”

Leith’s most recent album is all 60s and 70s songs and the one before that was all originals. The next one’s original again.

“The idea really is that this next original one will be very much my entire style. The first original one was post Idol and it had that conflict between what I wanted and what everybody else wanted. It’s an ongoing thing. It’s something that you just — if you fight it too hard it can backfire in your face. But I’ve been happy with the process so far.”

He admires artists such as Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Buffy Saint-Marie, who wrote songs about the world around them and all the conflicts of the world around them. “That’s the sort of album I really wanted to release. It’s something I felt very strong about. You take the song ‘Universal Soldier’. Extremely strong lyrics, and no-one’s really releasing them now. It’s about soldiers going off to war and how war is everybody’s problem, not just the soldiers,” he says.

“I’ve changed the lyrics as well to basically bring it to the modern day, to talking about Afghanistan, all of these conflicts in the song now. And I just think that era of music was just incredible, so for me to release it was perfect, ’cause it’s something I feel very strong about.”

Mark Seymour on where the name ‘Hunters & Collectors’ came from) “It’s the song title from a German band called Can who were this sort of experimental art rock group from the early ’70s and they lived in Cologne in Germany.” “It was off the album called Can Landed. And the song was very percussive and dark. And it had a kind of menace. And it’s the sound that that group captured our imagination of me and my friends back in those days. So we used to use the name. They were a very large band. In a way we kind of modelled ourselves on them to some extent. And they were very left wing and very green. “

Damien Leith on what moves him to write a song. is it the subject and the words that move him, or is it about catering to an audience? “I think there’s demands on both sides. I think the best songs come from what moves you rather than who you’re trying to appeal to.” “When you’re writing songs about something that you really want to write about, and feel strong about, they’re also strong songs. They’re also the best songs. And I think the ones that aim towards the pop culture don’t last long. They don’t have that sort of edge to them at all.”

Mark Seymour on the story of the song Throw Your Arms Around Me “There was a girl I was in love with who lived on the other side of town. I’d started listening to Van Morrison. And it was a funny stage in the band’s growth because we just weren’t playing music that had any connection with at all. And that was kind of really informing me. And I realised that there are people out there who tell personal stories in the song. I hadn’t been taking that sort of stuff seriously. My interests were a much more strident and sort of worldly I suppose. I was only 24 so I hadn’t any experience to anyway. So, I met that girl and she just blew my socks off. And that song was a consequence …

Marian Edmunds

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1 Comment

  1. Wow. A friend of mine came back from the writers festival and said that she had seen Mark Seymour play at the Writers Festival, she was inspired, I really like the idea of someone bringing in the other art forms such as music into a writers festival. I’ll keep my ears open for the next one, as musician I find it important to get inspiration from all the arts, so for musicians to give a little back and ”cross polinate” with the writers is blessing. I’ll keep my eyes and ears wide open for the next one.

    Tony Hogan

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