14 August 2012
A decade since winning the inaugural Australian Idol, Guy Sebastian is still the nation’s underdog. Of his past five LPs, three have peaked within the top 5 in Australia, yet even with 30 Platinum and three Gold certifications Sebastian is yet to receive a public voted ARIA award. Some say it’s a case of the Idol curse, an unshakable stigma bestowed on the television programme’s chosen few, but amidst a promotional tour for sixth release Armageddon, 30-year-old Sebastian is more concerned with seizing the day than public perception.
“Live like it is Armageddon, live like the world is going to end,” he beams while seated in Sony Music’s Sydney boardroom. “Because it is at some point, so don’t worry, be happy - that bridge is my life model.”
Sebastian references lyrics from his own tracks throughout the interview, but not in the self-aggrandising tone of those aiming to raise their own worth – it’s clear he lives his own words. Having finished his 18-date sold-out tour of Australia in July, Sebastian looks relieved the stint was actually lucrative.
“You’re sort of faced with this dilemma at the start of every tour as an Australian touring act, of, ‘how much risk do I want to take?’ You can go out with a four-piece band and have some crappy lights and hopefully make a bit of cash at the end of the day or you can go all out. We went all out this time.
“I was able to invest it all back into it without losing money and without having to sell my child,” he laughs. “For me, I’ve done that every tour, I’ve never walked away from a tour and sort of rubbed my hands together thinking ‘cool I’ve earned some cash’.”
In 2008, Sebastian’s tour profits were in the red when he flew iconic soul legends like the late Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn and Steve Potts over from the US for his Memphis Tour. “They were a ridiculous fee every gig. That was tough, but it meant that Australians got to see Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn who’s now passed away and Steve Cropper. That would have been the last time anyone had gotten to see those guys play together.”
Despite Sebastian’s commercially-honed songwriting skills, his genre-agnostic collaborations have been key to keeping him in the charts. His single Art Of Love with Jordan Sparks went to #8 in Australia while #1 track Who’s That Girl, featuring Eve won an ARIA last year for Highest Selling Single. Though R’n’B has heavily influenced Sebastian in the past, Armageddon will showcase his first dabbling in hip hop, with Lupe Fiasco’s cameo in second single Battle Scars. Even the lyrics and melody for the track–written with songwriter David Ryan Harris, who co-wrote Like It Like That–came about in a way different to his previous methods.
“I always like to go into a songwriting session with an idea, I don’t want to go in there and just start dry. I got these chords in my head and then just started singing them,” Sebastian begins singing the words in his honeyed tone. “A lot of the time I don’t sing lyrics, it’s all melody,” he says, silverly singing a wordless hook, “and I’ll worry about the words later - but that just popped into my head. I got to David’s and literally it was done in ten minutes.”
The pairing with Lupe Fiasco was even easier, with the Chicago rapper agreeing to an email request in April and turning up to Sebastian’s Sydney studio a week later with two different versions of his part. Granted, he was in the country for hip hop event Supafest, but Sebastian puts it all down to fate.
“I think Lupe marrying with that song, it was just supposed to happen, because I don’t think anyone would have done as good a job as Lupe; he just fit it so well and he’s so passionate about that sort of stuff… For Lupe, it doesn’t matter if you pay him a bunch of money, he’s only going to do something if he digs it. I was so happy and just honoured that he was like, ‘Dude I love the song and I think we can do something special with it together’.”
Linked to freedom fighting organisations and anti-establishment, it’s apposite the video with Fiasco should touch on war and the inner battles of human kind. The clip, filmed in the US, features pedestrians holding signs with different one-word messages that represent those battles, and while it takes a bit of digging before Sebastian admits his own personal scars, he confesses they are entirely relational.
“I’ve been cheated on a couple of times but if I had to hold one thing up it’d probably be ‘used’,” he says softly. “I’ve had friends or people in my life where I’ve come to the conclusion that they don’t actually care about me, these people are literally just milking me dry. I don’t have those people in my life anymore. I must say I’ve gotten very confrontational nowadays. Life is short, we only live it once so live and love, give it all you got,” he says quoting lead single Don't Worry Be Happy.
WATCH: BATTLE SCARS ft. Lupe Fiasco
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