“We’ve never actually punched each other at rehearsal or anything like that,” says Kim Scott, the man responsible for the rumbling bass sound behind Adelaide power trio The Mark of Cain. “We’ve come pretty close, though.”
The Mark of Cain’s existence has been significant as much for their devastating intensity – both in the studio and on stage – as it has for their longevity in spite of their once-famous inability to keep a drummer, long bouts of inactivity and a refusal to bow to any kind of trend. Kim and his frontman brother John continue to hit the stage as they’ve always done: grim-faced, close-cropped hair, beating the shit out of a pair of reliable but very unfashionable Rickenbackers.
“For us it’s always been about the music. We’ve never been interested in making money or being famous or anything like that,” Scott says. “We always did it on our own and kept our day jobs, so we never had to compromise or find anything that was popular. We just played what we wanted to play and do it when we wanted to do it.”
Doing things their own way has meant long bouts away from gigging as the brothers completed degrees and qualifications as engineers, at one point both working for the same firm. Their creative output has also been remarkably small for a band that has been around as long as The Mark of Cain. Scott puts that down to the idiosyncratic song writing regimen of brother John.
“John’s the principal song writer. John’s a perfectionist who will work for three hours on one tiny little part of the riff, or whatever. It works because of the attention to detail he puts in to what he wants.”
John Scott’s complete dedication to his vision has endeared The Mark of Cain to their extremely loyal (and patient!) fanbase as much as it has excluded them from the levels of achievement that some of their contemporaries went on to enjoy. The Mark of Cain has never played outside Australia and while their albums have scored Top 20 chart slots the band are almost constantly overlooked for festival appearances. Their only full tour with the Big Day Out was in 1995 and they’ve only played it once since.
“If there’s one thing we regret looking back over 30 years, I know that John would have liked getting overseas,” Scott says. “We were playing back in the mid-90s with the Hard Ons and all those guys and they were having successful careers internationally where they would go over to Europe but we always had full time day jobs so it was always pretty difficult and as a result we never got to really do it. We contemplated it when Rollins produced Ill at Ease because he gave our music some credence with the US market, in that a lot of people who followed Rollins would come out just out of curiosity and certainly when [John] Stanier joined in 2000 we could have use his infamy from his other projects. So that’s the only thing we talk about, that we should just go overseas and play some shows.”
The chances of overseas touring this late in the band’s career are decidedly slim. They are cogently aware that heading to foreign lands would mean starting from the bottom again, and that would be a big ask for a band that formed in 1984. Kim Scott is less clear, however, about the reasons for The Mark of Cain’s absence from most of the country’s major music festivals except for a brief couple of years in the mid 1990s. Their one and only Homebake appearance, for example, was in the festival’s first year.
“Last year we played the Golden Plains Festival in Melbourne. We have a long-standing friendship with the guy who organises that,” he explains. “We’ve tried to get on Soundwave but we had a difference of opinion with the promoter. I think with him everything’s got to be international or he doesn’t really care about it much at all. Even when you look at the Big Day Out, I think they’ve looked at our format and whether they just don’t think it’s friendly enough – but on the other hand they’ve had a lost list of strong, heavy bands play there so maybe they think we’re just too serious or something.”
Certainly the trio’s on-stage persona has always presented an unsmiling, militaristic stoicism that the less initiated may find confronting. Scott chuckles when he recalls the time that some thought the reason The Mark of Cain didn’t play all that often was because he and his brother were actually members of the special forces.
“It wasn’t true of course,” he says. “But maybe that’s why we never got invited to play at a lot of those things!”
Given the imagery the band has surrounded itself with, one could be forgiven for believing that they were at one point attached to some section of the armed forces, most likely the infantry. From the very beginning, John Scott has had a lyrical fixation with war and combat as a metaphor for the human condition. The band’s latest single release, ‘Grey 11’, featuring a monologue by their friend Henry Rollins, follows in that vein, a grim tale of a man struggling to adjust after coming home from the battlefront.
“John’s always written… if you look at the back catalogue, the song ‘Battlesick’, ‘Attrition’, all those songs had significant link to war and returning servicemen,” Kim Scott says. “We’ve always had songs from that perspective. John had a fascination with war when he was growing up and when he came of age he was always worried about getting drafted. I think he likes to explore that part of human emotions, extreme circumstances and how screwed up people can become. I think we’d all be more surprised if someone came back and was totally normal. That side of human nature always appealed to John, that plus the darker side of breakdowns in relationships and that type of thing has always filled the rich tapestry that he’s made. I still listen to Battlesick and the other stuff and I’m proud of it as a fan, of what John put into the lyrics and what he writes. I’m glad to be part of it. ”
It’s a tapestry that now stretches across thirty years – but a mere five albums – and one that Kim Scott is as much a fan as he is part of the weave. The brothers aren’t as young as they used to be, but they still have plenty left in the tank.
“While we’re still healthy and still able to do it… well, we can’t tour like we used to do! We used to jump in the car and drive 16 or 17 hours from Adelaide, sometimes sleep on a flea-infested floor and then play in Newcastle the next night, jump in the car and come home,” he says of touring, which they are doing once again this month. “The essence of youth gets you through, but now we’re getting old. You play a show and the next day you feel like you’ve been hit with a 4×2 and you haven’t even drunk that much.”
That’s how they’ll leave the audience feeling too.
Catch The Mark of Cain this month:
7/11: Metro Theatre, Sydney NSW
8/11: Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle NSW
15/11: Rosemount Hotel, Perth WA
28/11: The Zoo, Brisbane QLD
29/11: Coolangatta Hotel, Gold Coast QLD
5/12: The Gov, Adelaide SA