INTERVIEW: Guy Sebastian

With sixteen years in the industry, Guy Sebastian has made himself one of Australia’s leading pop voices. The singer-songwriter has evolved from a soulful R&B singer into a powerhouse contemporary pop artist who is constantly reimagining his sound and finding his unique trajectory. 

Following his experimental eighth studio album ‘Conscious’, he has re-entered the spotlight with one of his most vulnerable songs yet. ‘Choir’ hears him finding the perfect use of light and shade as he celebrates his close friend and bandmate who he lost to suicide last year. Sebastian wanted to highlight the bright spirit and personality that Luke Liang brought into his life. Therefore it has a very joyful sentiment to it as he reflects on the memories they shared and the things he wished he could’ve said to him. Keeping this celebration theme rolling, he will also be hitting the road in September for a national run of dates. 

I recently chatted to Guy Sebastian about the importance of finding light and shade in his emotional new single ‘Choir’, the struggle of performing the track live with it’s deep personal connection and finally found out just where him and Jennifer Hawkins were catching an elevator to in the music video for ‘Elevator Love’. Check it out HERE; 

TB: On the outside ‘Choir’ is a bright song about celebrating hope but when you strip away the layers there is a heartbreaking story of losing your friend and fellow bandmate. Why was using light and shade such an important element for you with this song compared to the determination anthem ‘Before I Go’ which was a bit more stripped back.?

GS: Any song about losing someone is quite personal and normally it has to reflect the person you are writing about. I think with the way my friend passed on, I wanted it to pave his legacy forward with helping other people in similar situations who are battling with mental health. So this song is a fun celebration of someones life who really impacted me and everyone around him. He was a really talented guy who put in his everything and was such a nice person to be around. 

Everything was more fun when Luke was around. He was this really nerdy and likeable guy who liked Star Trek and played every instrument possible. He played bass, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, keys and programmed everything. He showed me how to use Ableton and program my live gear. He had such an impact on me. We traveled the world together and go to play so many shows together too so I really wanted it to celebrate his life. And I feel like we did that. I also wanted it to serve as a reminder for us to look after each other. 

TB: Over your 16 years in the industry, vulnerability has been something you’e never been afraid of but I would have to say that ‘Choir’ is one of your most vulnerable moments because of the way you’ve approached it. Reflecting on the track, what would you say is the most vulnerable lyric or moment for you?

GS: I can’t get through the bridge. I’ve only performed it live once so far and it was here in Brisbane at the Races and I was a mess. I was crying and the whole band was crying. And let me tell you, it’s a very strange place to cry at the races *laughs*. Everyone is boozed up and I’m meant to be brining the party and I’m sitting there crying *laughs*. But it was the first time we all played it together so it was a very emotional and beautiful moment. 

When I wrote the bridge I was absolutely balling my eyes out. It just came out quickly and genuinely. And the bridge says;  “Someday, I know, my friend I’m gonna see you again and when I do, you better have a part for me. You sing the melody and I’ll take the harmony. Cause we ain’t done making music yet. We got some more sound checks And this time we gonna have about a million voices Singing, dancing”. The bit that really kills me is the melody part because usually I always sing the melody and he would back me with the harmony. There’s just something in that for some reason which really kills me and makes me choke up. 

TB: Well I was going to ask how you were going to go performing this song live because you will be taking the stage at The TV Week Logie Awards this weekend to perform it. So does performing a song this raw in emotion make you extra nervous on how you represent it?

GS: You know what, I would be more nervous if it was the first time which is why I decided to get it out of the way last weekend and play it at the Brisbane races. I had to get it done. I’m so glad I did it then because I remember I wrote a song for my son and I played it live for the first time on tour and I was a blubbering mess and I couldn’t recover. But then the rest of the tour was so much smoother. I may have teared up a few times but I could get through the whole song. With those type of songs it’s all about getting over the first time and getting used to being vulnerable with your emotions.

I’m also singing it on The Voice and I’ve kinda done a double whammy on myself. I’m a bit of an idiot for doing it as I’ve done an intro for it. I was in the studio the other night and I just hit record and had my kids talk about friendship and what makes a good friend. I cut some of their quotes together and put it over some music for the start of the song. I think I’m going to have to ask them to mute that part in my inner ears so it doesn’t throw me off because so far every time I listen to it I start crying *laughs*. I didn’t used to be this emotional but having kids just unlocks something inside of you and you just tear up about anything. I will be watching TV and a Westpac commercial will come on and it will have something about a family and then I will just start crying *laughs*. 

TB: You will be hitting the road in September for your ‘Ridin With You Tour’. As an artist who has done a lot of national tours over the years and have done theatrical arena tours, intimate showcase tours, theatre shows and even a Motown inspired run of dates, how do you continually try to evolve as a performer and give audiences something new or different?

GS: I know this sounds weird but I think it happens because I don’t try to make it happen. I don’t try to fit into something that’s current or try to find out how to fit in because that’s quite a dangerous thing to do. Instead it’s kinda naturally built inside of me. I’m always internally searching how to improve myself and find a way to connect with music. 

With how accessible streaming is you can find so much new music to connect with and explore more opportunities within yourself. So I’m always trying to find new music because it inspires me. Not necessarily to keep on the pulse but I think it’s more led by the fact it helps me evolve. 

It’s such a hard question to answer because there are so many layers to it. But I’m very lucky that I love music production and songwriting so it’s something I listen out for. If your only strength is singing then you are at the mercy of what people present you in your a&r team. Where as I have a lot more freedom to present my vision. And the live show continues that vision by bringing the sonical idea to life. 

TB: With such a big message of celebration and hope behind ‘Choir’, how do you want this tour to look and feel aesthetically? 

GS: I just want it to feel like we are all in this together. It’s called the ‘Ridin With You Tour’ and I just want people to feel inspired at the end of the show and to feel that we are all united. 

Music is one of those things we all turn to when things get tough and it unites us all. We really do come together. It helps us forget our differences. Look at Eurovision for example, It was in a tumultuous country with tumultuous history, warfare and territorial claim. People of different languages are coming together to celebrate their culture and sexuality. It’s such a beautiful and united way to come together through music. 

TB: Is there any songs from your discography that you’ve neglected over the past few tours that have recently reconnected with and want to perform again?

GS: There are different arrangements of songs like ‘Battle Scars’ and ‘Like It Like That’ which I want to play with as they are quite soulful. What I tend to do as my music tastes evolve is, I tend to do them in those kinda of new versions. On my last tour I did some Acapella versions which I will do again because they were so fun. I do chat in my shows a bit because I love talking and I love explaining the stories behind the songs. It can be quite a interactive show at times. 

TB: I have to say, I’m a sucker for ‘Animal In Me’ and ‘Out With My Baby’

GS: Oh yeah? that’s so funny that you love ‘Animal In Me’, that’s awesome. I’m thinking of bringing that song back.

That was actually a really quick song I wrote. A producer played a instrumental track to me in a session and I just heard the melody in my head instantly and that song came to life. It was a really fast session but so fun. 

It’s so interesting hearing the songs that people gravitate towards and it’s something I really want to put a spotlight on in this new live show. I want to play songs that aren’t necessarily the singles. I want to play some songs that fans have said are their favourites over the years. 

I want this show to be unashamedly emotional. I’m even bringing out ‘Climb Every Mountain’ *laughs*. It’s been so many years since I’ve sung that song but I just love belting out a big emotional ballad. That’s going to be a big throwback. 

TB: With artists like Jack Vidgen and Chynna Taylor returning to the spotlight and trusting yourself and with the next step of their career, who would you choose in an alternate universe if the roles were switched and it was Delta, Kelly Rowland, Boy George and Shannon Noll turning their chairs for you? 

GS: *Laughs* Shannon Noll! I love that! *laughs*. But I have to say Delta. She has been such a kind and nurturing friend to me as I am the newbie on this show. I’ve watched Delta grow over the years and I’ve seen her go through a lot of stuff too on a personal level. I’ve seen her navigate through some awful people who have tried to take advantage of her and she’s just grown into this really strong and amazing woman. 

I was having a bit of a rough time on the show the other night and she just came over to me and gave me the biggest hug. She’s such a gem and such a good friend! So I would definitely choose her if I was having them turn around for me. 

TB: Now I have a question I’ve wanted to ask you since 2006. ‘Elevator Love’ is still a banger in its own right and the music video is pretty iconic. But all I want to know is where were you and Jennifer Hawkins were trying to catch an elevator to? Because there seemed to be a lot of riding up and down with nowhere to go?

GS: Yeah, there wasn’t really a destination, was there? *Laughs*. We would’ve loved to have had a big narrative but that didn’t really happen.

I look at my video for ‘Choir’ that I’ve just put out and there is such a big story behind it. When I was sitting with the director there was this big story and concept we were both trying to absorb. Where as ‘Elevator Love’ was just literally just about every time I was hopping in this elevator I was crushing on this girl and I didn’t know what to do. Then she drops her apple and I think about delivering it back to her but I get too scared *laughs*.

It was actually shot in the QVB in the middle of Sydney city. It’s probably the busiest shopping hub and there was just all of these boutique stores surrounding us. So we were probably just trying to go shopping coincidentally at the same time*laughs*. 

That was actually the first time me and Jennifer really hung out and we are still really good friends to this day. She is actually about to have a baby which is so exciting!

Ridin’ With You Australian Tour

Friday 6 September – Festival Theatre, Adelaide 

Saturday 7 September – Regal Theatre, Perth

Sunday 8 September – Regal Theatre, Perth

Thursday 12 September – Wrest Point, Hobart

Saturday 14 September – Arts Centre, Melbourne 

Sunday 15 September – Arts Centre, Melbourne

Saturday 21 September – The Star, Gold Coast

Sunday 22 September – QPAC, Brisbane 

Thursday 3 October – The Star, Sydney

Thursday 10 October – The Star, Sydney

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