Guy Sebastian is an artist that has evolved quite experimentally and emotively over the past 17 years while delivering some of the biggest Australian pop moments like ‘Battle Scars’, ‘Like It Like That’, ‘Angels Brought Me Here’ and ‘Choir’. But when you strip away all of these layers of experimentation and ear worm hook songwriting, there is an incredible vocalist, songwriter and musician who just has a story that he wants to tell. And with the release of his ninth studio album ’T.R.U.T.H’ (out now), he returns to his roots to give you a record that feels like a true and definitive representation of where he’s at personally.
Guy Sebastian is an artist that has evolved quite experimentally and emotively as an artist over the past 17 years while delivering some of the biggest Australian pop moments in recent times like ‘Battle Scars’, ‘Like It Like That’ and ‘Choir’. But when you strip away all of these layers of experimentation and ear worm hook songwriting, there is an incredible vocalist, songwriter and musician who just has a story that he wants to tell. And with the release of his ninth studio album ’T.R.U.T.H’ (out now), he returns to his roots to give you a record that feels like a true and definitive representation of where he’s at personally.
This twelve track collection is a vivid piece of his soul that soundtracks the heartbreak, grief, hardships and confusion that has been apart of his life over the past couple of years. With the record being written mostly on the piano, there is a very vulnerable and soulful heart that immediately shines through, while a playful groove intertwines some of the production to highlight a sense of hope and celebration.
I recently chatted to Guy Sebastian about returning to his roots as a songwriter on ’T.R.U.T.H’ and creating an organic palette to bring these songs to life, as well as reflect on the creative process behind songs like ‘Believer’, ‘Only Thing Missing’, ‘Love On Display’ and ‘Fantasize’. Check it out BELOW;
THOMAS BLEACH: ’T.R.U.T.H’ has been a few years in the making but it’s finally here!
GUY SEBASTIAN: Yeah, finally done! It took three years to do, but what a weird few years to write an album in *laughs*. 2020 has been a weird year for everyone, so that’s a given, but you know I had a period of time of pure extremes, where there was nothing really down the middle.
There’s a spot that Jules and I talk a lot. We have this fire place out the back of our home and we just sit and talk, and I think about some of the talks we’ve had and what the subject matter has been and I’m just like “what the heck” *laughs*. It’s just been so extreme with so many tough things to get our heads around, as well as so many really amazing and insane things that I never thought would happen, like hosting the Arias last year and winning song of the year, to so many personal achievements too. Like, Jules is just kicking goals at the moment.
TB: She really is killing it!
GS: Yeah she is! She’s just loving life, and it’s weird because all she’s doing is just living and being herself, and then she’s sharing it to social media. It’s so nice to watch that though because she’s just loving having fun, and sharing her life. It’s good to see her that confident.
She’s so heartfelt with stuff, like she’s teared up on multiple occasions just because someone has made her cocktail or lasagne and shared it on Instagram. I don’t think people understand the history of that for her because she’s never been a good cook, and she’s always really wanted to be, but never really got it. But now something has clicked and she’s loving cooking and making cocktails. She’s like “how are people making MY things, this is crazy” and then she will just tear up, it’s very sweet!
TB: That’s so cute! Well let’s dive into the album because ’T.R.U.T.H’ is a very honest and vulnerable affair that sits quite heavily in ballad territory, and also hears you delivering one of your most impressive vocal offerings yet. Did you have the sound and vision for this record clear in your head at the start of the process, or did it only really start to take shape the deeper you got into the sessions?
GS: I think I started out wanting to do something that was more organic, and something that was more instrument driven. When I write I start off mainly on piano, and sometimes on guitar, so I kinda knew it was going to be a piano driven album. My two favourite things are programming great drums that might involve some electronic sounds but largely more of a rich and organic approach, and then playing piano and programming strings to go with it. I knew it was going to be a marriage between those two sounds and instruments.
There were some anomalies that stuck around for a while, but only one made it on the record and that is the final track ‘Fantasize’. It’s very urban and more electronica in it’s approach to production. I was never going to include on the album, but then I realised I loved growing up listening to old school RNB-Pop albums that had one sexy time song at the end of finish it off, so I thought bugger it I’m going to put it on.
So yeah I guess I sunk into the sound as the album progressed. Whenever I start a new project I try not to limit myself. I try to have a bit of a vision but I sometimes get in my own way, so I decided early on to not rush it. I wanted to make a very honest album that was truly about the stuff I was going through at the time.
I got so used to churning out albums to meet deadlines and to coincide with TV shows I was doing, and I just realised that I don’t want to do that anymore. I think I’ve ended up with an album that is a snapshot in time for me. It’s reflective of all the highs and lows of the past three years.
TB: It is a very honest and reflective album and in particular ‘Believer’ really stood out to me lyrically with the line “you are the reason that I believe in myself”. Ooft! What inspired that particular lyric?
GS: It’s funny because my A&R and my manager always cry when they talk about that song, so it must’ve really resonated with them too. It’s essentially a song about Jules, and how we’ve known each other since we were kids. Something I mentioned about her earlier is how she doesn’t always back herself or believe in herself, so in the past she could be quit self deprecating and insecure. I see it still even today. Like this morning she was talking about how was scared she was failing as a mum as the kids will be naughty and she will take it so personal. I sort of love that pursuit she has for improving, but sometimes she just need to be reminded that she’s doing okay.
TB: ’Only Thing Missing’ is another song that immediately stands out on the album but for a different reason with its groovy production, gospel influenced harmonies and romantic storyline. Can you explain the creative process behind this track?
GS: I will always look back at that song and think of the times we were in because I wrote it in my home studio over zoom. Trevor and Zaire are a production duo, and Trevor was based in Orange County and Zaire was in LA. So we were all by ourselves, and we were using these plugins that allowed us to use our own outputs and hear what each other is doing in real time. It was really cool and allowed us to feel like we were in the room with each other during these weird times.
We got the music down but we just couldn’t write a topline, it was weird. Everything I was doing, and everything we were trying to sing over the top was really uninspiring. So I went down to make a coffee downstairs after the boys went to bed cause of the timezone and I just started singing the whole song and recorded it via voice note. So I went back up and tracked the vocals and by the time they woke up the song was done! It’s funny because when I look back at how some of my big songs have come together, it’s like that too. As soon as I leave the room and the pressure is off, it all comes out.
It’s a really fun song. It’s sad because people won’t see it as a sequel to another song as it will never be released, but it is. Trevor, Zaire and I wrote this really fun song together all about COVID. It was in this really piss-take way of how everyone died in like a zombie apocalypse, and I’ve gotta bunker down with this person and re-populate the world. It’s this kinda funny, sexual song that was centred around this really sick old-school guitar riff. It didn’t make the album because it was a little too not PC, but we wrote ‘Only Thing Missing’ as the sequel about coming out and getting your bounce back together again.
TB: You’ve said that ‘Love On Display’ was a song that took a lot of different versions to get it to where it is now. What was the most contrasting version of it you had made of it? What was it about the final rendition that felt right?
GS: The demo was a bit slower, and then the drums we had on it lacked punch and character. I don’t think the song knew what it wanted to be, whether it was a mid-tempo groove or a high energy post chorus chant vibe. It was just stuck in the middle, and I couldn’t get it right. It was weird because I did so many different versions of it and I ended up just giving it to M-Phazes and he absolutely crushed it. He made it still have a groove that was slow enough to feel like it had a swing, but then the drums he added were so thick that it still feels big when the post chorus hits. He’s just got a real knack for taking a song and reinventing it, and giving it what he feels it needs on a dynamic level.
TB: ’Fantasize’ closes the album with a track that I would say is sonically the closest to the ‘Conscious’ era. It’s seductive, DIY and contrastingly quite different. What I also loved about this song is that you wrote it with the same team you wrote ‘Choir’ with. Where in the timeline did this song come together compared to ‘Choir’? It also would’ve been quite a different writing experience I could imagine?
GS: Yeah they both have the same producers! I wrote Choir mostly in LA just after I found out that my mate had passed away. I wrote it in the moment, and it existed as a ballad for a little while before being produced up a few months later.
But ‘Fantasize’ was actually written at 301 in Sydney when Trevor and Zaire came to Australia for a writing camp that APRA organised. I did one random session with them, and this song just came together. It was very much so a different time, and since then we’ve written quite a lot together.
I’m glad you said that it’s like ‘Conscious’ because it really does remind me of a similar production by Dan Hume on a song called ‘Small Talk’ that we did from the ‘Part 1’ EP that led into ‘Conscious’. It’s definitely got similar drum vibes and sits in that same space.
TB: Well, ’Conscious’ was a really experimental collection of tracks that heard you showing listeners a different side of you sonically. Reflecting back on that record, what would you say was the portal song from that record that gave birth to the vision for ’T.R.U.T.H’.
GS: Probably ‘Bloodstone’. I think sonically it started heading back to a place that was me. When you wear a few hats and you get lost within the hat you don’t wear as strongly, it can be quite difficult as an artist. I love production, and I love experimenting with sounds, and for a long time that has been a great tool for my writing. But then you’ve got producers like M-Phazes and Jon Hume who wear that hat every day-all day and I think I got a little too involved in making something that was more reflective of what I was listening to and appreciating on a production level that I kinda lost the artist I am within that project.
There is nothing in me that would make that record any differently because it’s apart of why I made this album. I think everything has a purpose, and it made me think more about production, and allowed me to get more in-tune with who I am. There was sprinklings of me in there, but not a lot. And I think I did lose a sense of who I was a little bit and who my audience was as well I guess.
TB: You will be heading out on tour in November 2021 to play some huge arenas and venues. You first played arenas to this level on the Madness Tour in 2015, so what did you learn from that tour that you are conscious of with this upcoming tour? How do you envision the experience?
GS: At that stage in my life I think I was a little bit overcome by the grander of the size of it all. I think I changed who I was as a performer a little bit to suit the venues and the style of show it was. Where as what I was doing in smaller venues on the last run of shows was impressive. We went to a lot of effort with screen content and choreography. So I don’t think I need to do much differently if I’m being honest. I think I just need to ignore the size of the room and still make it feel intimate, and let it go back to it being about the feels.
With this being a very emotional project, I want people to process and to insert their emotions into the songs. Fuck, I want people to transcend for 2 hours and leave whatever they’ve brought into the room and leave it there and leave lighter, happier and like they’ve had an emotional cleaning of some sort.
TB: You recently posted a fun little video on your Instagram of you trying to come up with some anagrams from ’T.R.U.T.H’. You came up with some good ones, as well as some questionable ones too. So if you were told you had to release a deluxe edition of the album with an acronym from the title, what would you choose?
GS: Oh god, I don’t even remember the ones I said, this was so bad *laughs*. So I guess the acronym I would come up with would be… ‘The Real Ugly Truth Hurts’ *laughs*.
’T.R.U.T.H’ is out now!
Guy Sebastian 2021 Australian Tour
Thursday 4 November – Newcastle Entertainment Centre, Newcastle
Friday 5 November – Brisbane Entertainment Centre, Brisbane
Saturday 6 November – Gold Coast Convention & Exhibition Centre
Wednesday 10 November – WIN Entertainment Centre
Friday 12 November – Aware Super Theatre, ICC Sydney
Wednesday 17 November – Bendigo Stadium, Bendigo
Friday 19 November – Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne
Monday 22 November – Derwent Entertainment Centre, Hobart
Wednesday 24 November – Adelaide Entertainment Centre, Adelaide
Friday 26 November – RAC Arena, Perth
Tuesday 30 November – Cairns Convention Centre, Cairns
Wednesday 1 December, Townsville Entertainment Centre, Townsville
For all ticketing information head to https://www.guysebastian.com/tour/