As one of Australia’s foremost singer/songwriters, Mark Seymour has had a long career in the music industry, performing both as lead singer for Hunters and Collectors and more recently as a solo artist and with his current band, The Undertow. Over three decades, he has amassed a very impressive catalogue of material, writing some of this country’s most loved and classic songs. So, it is not surprising that this latest album from Mark Seymour and The Undertow, Roll Back the Stone 1985 – 2016, celebrates that musical catalogue of the past thirty years.
I had the privilege of talking to the singer recently about the new album and the upcoming tour. “We had been vaguely discussing the idea of doing some kind of a collection for a few years,” Mark tells me. “But there’s been all sorts of contractual situations and I didn’t want to put together a record that was just a collection of all the hard copy. That would have been a bit dry and not particularly exciting, I thought.”
In the last few years, he says that he has consolidated a strong relationship with his band, The Undertow. Along with Mark on vocals and guitar, The Undertow is Cameron McKenzie on guitars, Peter Maslen on drums and John Favaro on bass. “We’ve toured a lot the last few years and built up our repertoire. I’ve gone back through the catalogue and we’ve come up with the idea of doing a ‘Best of’, basically recording a selection of songs and just treating it like it’s a set. Normally I might play twenty songs on average anyway so we thought a double CD and so I had to basically go through about thirty-six songs and used twenty-four and just see how they landed really.”
Roll Back the Stone was recorded in the Scrap Museum at Bakehouse Studios in Richmond, Melbourne over three nights. “We just really miked the room up, did all the pre-production, made sure it sounded good and then just got stuck into it. There was an invited audience of around seventy people to give it more of a ‘live’ feel. We wanted it to be presented in a way like the band was really performing so it had to have a live audience but we didn’t want the ‘live’ thing to be overwhelming because sometimes it can be not really that exciting. We wanted to really hear the band clearly so we kept it small and then there were a couple of pickups.” He says that they did manage to squeeze in a couple of extra songs afterwards.
The album is a collection of songs Mark has written and recorded both with Hunters and Collectors and as a solo artist from 1985 to 2016. His natural ability for storytelling within his songs is demonstrated in many of the tracks in this collection and I wonder if that was a deliberate choice.
“When Hunters and Collectors retired in 1998, I really wanted to keep going,” he explains. “I had a strong desire to continue to write but I was on my own. I just had myself and a guitar, playing solo. And I think that a lot of that idea of storytelling merged out of that kind of performing environment. The way to communicate with an audience is in song. If you’re just there standing with a guitar, that’s the best way to write I think. They’re not all like that but I’ve just developed a taste for it. The idea of sharing a yarn; it’s from my imagination and I’ve gleaned a lot of human experience and emotion out of things I’ve heard on the road and stories I’ve heard and things I’ve seen and just tried to translate them into a sort of structure that communicates effectively with an audience. People really appreciate it. It just makes it feel more like a shared experience. You’re not just getting up and singing about your own stuff all the time. With some of the Hunters stuff, they’re songs that I never really stopped playing but I’ve also kind of ventured into that terrain more recently, just looking at songs which were essentially written on acoustic guitar then got translated by the band but they’ve got that sort of traditional songwriter feeling about them; they’re structured around chords and choruses. Hunters and Collectors covered all sorts of different styles and over the years that the band played, their recordings varied greatly but, in the midst of all of that, there were these certain songs that had a real resonance with me personally and they’re the ones I picked.”
Recalling how he began his career in music, Mark says that he ‘kind of drifted’ into it. “My family were very musical, lots of singing and my mother really cultivated that amongst all the kids when we were very small so I just grew up singing. She used to love getting us to sing harmonies. We were quite a religious family and we used to do a lot of hymn singing and traditional songs. I remember when we were living in this town out in the western districts called Beaufort which is about 160kms out of Melbourne. It’s out on the Western Highway and my mother put together this little family singing group. We even sang at the Country Women’s Association meeting in the hall in Beaufort. We got involved in little country talent quests and that lasted for a couple of years when I was about eight or nine so it really had a big impact on me. I loved it. I loved the idea of performing and I never forgot it. Obviously, life changed dramatically after that but it definitely got into me.”
He remembers going to see rock bands in Melbourne when he was about nineteen or twenty. “There was just some point in amidst all that when I started singing. I was watching these guys performing and I thought ‘I could do that’. At some point when I finished Uni, I decided that’s what I wanted to do and, over a long period of time, I kind of made it happen. When we first started with Hunters and Collectors, I think the band were pretty serious about it but we didn’t really know how long it would last. But I recall at that time I was pretty hellbent on doing it for the rest of my life. I really wanted to do it and nothing was going to stop me.” He laughs and adds “And that’s what’s happened…”
‘Roll Back the Stone 1985-2016‘ is released Friday, 24th March 2017 through Liberation Music and Mark Seymour and The Undertow will kick off their Winter 2017 tour in June, showcasing the songs from the album in a series of live shows in theatres around the country.
For full touring details, go to frontiertouring.com/markseymour
by Sharyn Hamey
Copyright © Sharyn Hamey 2017. All rights reserved