Rachel Quilligan sat down for a chat with Guy Sebastian on his recent trip to Brisbane to talk about life, keeping perspective and his new album Madness.
After six number-one singles, including the eight-times-platinum hit single Battle Scars, two number-one albums and 22 ARIA Award nominations, one could forgive Guy Sebastian for having his head in the clouds – but instead his feet are firmly planted on the ground.
Songs on his new album Madness touch on the ‘little moments’ in life; including the ordinary parts.
“There are a couple about how mundane life can be,” he says. “You get so caught up in the machine of work, trying to keep up with life, your mortgage and kids, that you get lost in it a little bit.
“I was working so hard I had to stop and smell the roses. Your creativity starts to suffer as an artist. I had to breathe for a while and fall in love with music again.”
He mentions being inspired for a song called Imagine the Sunrise when singing Christmas carols to sick children in hospital. He met a little girl and her father who in a previous room had views over the town and the ocean, but could now only see the next hospital wing from their window.
“He said their favourite thing to do was watch the sunrise together before he went to work, but now all they could see was that brick wall,” says Guy. “Then he turned to his daughter and said, ‘So we just imagine the sunrise now, don’t we darling?’
“I cry every time I sing it. It just really hit me. You go through life and think all these things matter – paying bills, and your career – but if your kids are healthy … there’s nothing more important.”
There are also songs about heartbreak and what Guy calls ‘the inevitable endings to relationships’.
“Being in a relationship where you’re slow dancing in a burning room – it’s caving in and neither one wants to really face it or admit it,” he says. “I was surrounded in this final period of writing by a couple of relationship breakdowns … and watching that fall apart, and the effort to try and salvage what was left – it was just heartbreaking.
“That’s when you understand the difference between sympathy and empathy, because you really do feel those things when you love the person and you see them going through that.”
The sound of the new record is eclectic, with soul and RnB sounds alongside radio-friendly pop melodies.
“Writing the album happened over almost two years,” he says. “I didn’t go into a cabin in the woods for six weeks and write my album, so there’s not that similar, one vibe on the album – it’s quite diverse.
“This is probably the most soulful record I’ve ever made. I’m getting back to my roots of what I really love to listen to and write.”
Guy adds that collaborations with other artists always bring something new.
“It’s just a clash of art,” he says. “I just released a song called Mama Ain’t Proud with 2 Chainz, which is a pretty odd coupling! I was hanging out with him, me and 2 Chainz, in our trailer in Atlanta, and it’s like, ‘This is weird. I’m from Adelaide.’
“Especially where I’ve come from – if you watch possibly the worst film clip in the world for Angels Brought Me Here … it’s just funny that that guy did a duet with 2 Chainz!”
The album was recorded in many different locations around the world, which Guy says is both a blessing and a curse.
“I love going away as far as meeting new fans and playing to new audiences, but it’s just harder now,” he says. “It’s kind of why I called the album Madness… it was such a tumultuous time, trying to juggle two kids that are so young.
“Hudson is old enough to cry when he sees a suitcase at the front door, and I get really emotional. I’m so attached to my kids and I hate being away from them. At that age if you go away you’ve got to completely earn their trust again when you come back.”
Guy’s also got some sound advice for up-and-coming talent.
“You’ve got to work hard and be nice. Just be nice!” he says. “Very recently I’ve seen somebody come very undone and he’ll probably never recover from it, because he’s an asshole. He’s been handed an opportunity and he’s just thrown it down the toilet because he’s been a jerk.
“90 per cent of it you would think is being talented, but that can be very quickly superseded; if you’re not nice, if you’re a jerk, then talent can only get you so far.”
He adds that the mentality of entitlement among young artists can be very damaging.
“People go on TV shows and almost feel like that TV show owes them,” he says. “You’ll never, ever hear me saying anything negative about my journey or how I got here, or Idol, because I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you if it wasn’t for that, and the generosity of people who texted and spent their actual money so that I could achieve what I wanted to do. That’s amazing – it’s the ultimate pact of sacrifice and support.”
Hear Guy’s musical evolution for yourself – the new album Madness is available now and he plays the Brisbane Entertainment Centre on Saturday 14 February. For more information, visit our event guide.