One of Australia’s most prolific and iconic musicians, Mark Seymour, chats to FOCUS ahead of the Red Hot Summer tour show in Port Macquarie …
Hi Mark. Please give us some background on when music became a prominent part of your life …
It’d be safe to say I’ve had a connection with music since I was five years old, really; there’s a lot of singing in our family for one reason or another. My mother really encouraged it, general awareness of music and with all our musical instruments throughout our childhood; we had a family choir which we competed in country talent quests with.
Somewhere towards the end of my adolescence I started getting into Rock ‘n’ Roll, and I was given an acoustic guitar – that was the clincher for me. I discovered the joy of playing guitar and singing, accompanying my own voice – that kind of hit it for me. I just got into writing; it was a gradual process of engaging, I think. I wrote my first song when I was about 21 or 22.
I remember being in a cover band in uni. It had several singers, and I was rostered to do Twist and Shout by the Beatles. I was stepping up to do that and in the key that Paul McCartney sang in, and I realised that I actually really had a voice! I had the attitude to the microphone – the whole trip. I remember thinking, “Gee, I really like doing this” – and that was the switch, I reckon. It wasn’t a beautiful story of self discovery; it was just a series of accidents and defining moments.
Tell us about your latest musical endeavour, “Mark Seymour and the Undertow”. When and how did you form, and who makes up the rest of the band?
Well, the band’s made up of Cameron McKenzie on electric guitar, Peter Maslen on drums and John Favaro on bass. I’ve been in a gradual process of developing long term music relationships with those guys. I’ve been working with the drummer since … Well, he was on my first solo album! I’ve been playing on and off with him for 15/16 years, but not in a formal sense. And then Cameron produced several of my records, so those two guys have been around for ages.
The bass player story is a bit of a moveable feast – Fazzy came in about four years ago, and that sort of clinched it. Pretty much he’s a rival who created all this chemistry, and the band has a really good sound. It’s very clear and simple, it’s got a lot of space in it, but we create all this scale – there’s a lot of drama and emotion in it … And that’s kind of the key, I reckon. It’s personality and sure chemistry. There’s no formula to it; it’s purely accidental.
With the last album, I wrote the songs in clusters and we’d go into these really obscure little rehearsal rooms around Melbourne, just to see how it shook out, and jammed on those songs. The band’s got a life of it’s own, really; it works really well. We do a lot of work – a lot of regional touring.
Speaking of touring, you and the guys are coming to Port Macquarie alongside Jimmy Barnes, Noiseworks, the Angels and the Badloves for the Red Hot Summer tour. What are you looking forward to most about getting out on the road with these fellow Aussie legends?
It’s pretty interesting. I’ve done a few of them already! It’s not what I expected, by any stance. I’m really enjoying it; I thought initially that this is what it’s going to be like – we’re going to be playing mid afternoon, I don’t know how many people we’ll be in front of; is this actually going to work?
There’s very little pressure, the crowds are big – they’re solid crowds, it’s a very popular tour – I don’t know how many times they’ve done it. It just seems to be a simple formula … The bands come on, we’re playing for about 45 minutes – that’s not ideal; I’d like to be on longer, but it works really well. We just rip into it, and the punters really relate and enjoy themselves.
You’ve had so many iconic and well loved songs throughout your career. Will you be playing any of these old classics, such as Holy Grail, and Throw your Arms Around Me?
It’s not exactly a “hit list”. I mix it up; I do Hunter’s songs, though. There’s a key catalogue of songs that I rotate basically, given the nature of the show, that I think people want to hear.
If you could collaborate with any artist past or present, who would you choose?
I did a duet with Abby Dobson a while ago; that was pretty special. I only played with her a couple of times, but that was pretty good. She’s a great singer, stage time was really good as well – we just interacted really well. I’ll definitely be doing it again at some point.
What have you got planned for the next 12 months?
We’re actually working on an album … Ahh, OK, I’ll give it away … There’s a “best of” coming out, for which we’re actually going to record 24 songs pretty much spread out over my entire career, dating back to about 1985. The band is going to re-record them all, so that’s the next project.
And then I’m going on tour at the back end of the year with the very audacious gentleman, James Reyne. That’ll be fun; I think that starts at the beginning of July.
Don’t miss Mark Seymour and the Undertow along with Jimmy Barnes, the Badloves, the Angels and Noiseworks on the Red Hot Summer Tour.
March 19th, Westport Park.