roll back the stoneWhat’s a few men? Quite a lot actually, when it comes to Mark Seymour & The Undertow. John Ferguson catches up with the Aussie icon to talk about his new live album Roll Back The Stone.

“It’s kind of how I roll,” laughs Mark Seymour when asked about the number of live albums he is released over his 30-year-plus career. “I take recording very seriously, but trying to find a link between the two experiences has always been a bit of a movable feast…”

With his latest release Roll Back The Stone, recorded over three nights with The Undertow in Melbourne, the Aussie music icon has found the perfect compromise. By our count, it’s his sixth live album and is essentially a ‘greatest hits’ set. However, the new record is more a live-in-the-studio album as opposed to an old school concert LP.

“Essentially, it was a studio environment,” explains Seymour about recording in the Scrap Museum, which is in the loft of Bakewell Studio. “We just converted the room into a studio. It’s quite intimate. Basically we wanted to do what the band does on stage, but with people watching, so it was a bit edgy. Over the last few years, we’ve actually become quite a prolific touring beast and the set has really expanded. Someone said – it wasn’t me! – ‘Why don’t you try and convert it into a record and just pick the eyes out of the set?’”

Seymour has been playing with The Undertow – Peter Maslen (drums), Cameron McKenzie (guitar) and John Favaro (bass) – since 2011, and their relaxed camaraderie shines through on Roll Back The Stone. However, they also boast a surprisingly expansive sonic punch for a four-piece.

“When John came in as bass player, he was incredibly melodic,” says Seymour. “He introduces a lot of counterpoint – you don’t tend to focus on bass as a distinct instrument but when he arrived, we started to sound really wide and deep. I am just standing in the middle keeping time, keeping the pulse going – it’s a very simple formula. I have always loved playing in bands so the idea of getting something right so late in life with a bunch of middle-aged men… It’s great fun to do,” he laughs.

Roll Back The Stone draws primarily on his albums with The Undertow, although it also includes earlier solo favourites like Tobruk Pin and The Ballad Of The One Eyed Man, plus Hunters & Collectors classics such as Throw Your Arms Around Me and Say Goodbye.

With a catalogue of songs as extensive as Seymour’s, narrowing down a setlist is no easy task, and he usually won’t put one to paper until half an hour or so before he goes on. He also maintains that his best loved songs can often be ones that are hardest to get right on the night. “There is always the risk that you are just going through the motions,” he says.

Seymour will be sticking mainly to the Roll Back The Stone set for his upcoming national tour, which will kick off in Hobart on June 24 and conclude in Perth on August 26. However, he is keen to add a few more numbers from his most recent studio album Mayday and there may even be the opportunity to debut some new songs as well.

“I always treat the set like it’s a continuous story,” Seymour says. “We do a lot of jamming, too, and because there is only four of us, we will hold end sections for the hell of it and let things go, or we will extend introductions, or just extend middle eights depending on how the night’s going. There are plenty of interesting journeys on this record.

“My live set is always changing and I am always introducing new material. The test of a song is its capacity to galvanise an audience’s attention. The good thing about this band is that I can play a lot of new material in the show. I reckon it’s a good place to be creatively.”

Roll Back The Stone 1985-2016 by Mark Seymour & The Undertow is out March 24 via Liberation Music.

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