To say you’ve shared the stage with the likes of Kygo, Ed Sheeran and Maroon 5 is a huge achievement, but to have released a debut album is another ball game. At 31-years-of age, singer-songwriter Conrad Sewell has already made waves across the industry, both in Australia and overseas. What the Brisbane-born artist has described as “a very long musical journey”, after four years of producing smash-hits including ‘Healing Hands’ and newly-released single ‘Love Me Anyway’, the ARIA Award-winning musician has released LIFE.
“The stories I’ve written, it’s taken me my whole life to get to my debut at 30 … that’s why we called it ‘LIFE’, because it has taken my whole f**king life to write it,” Conrad Sewell revealed to ICON.
Since 2014, the artist has found himself on a professional rollercoaster and with a growing portfolio it ultimately came at a price both personally and professionally. Last year, Sewell revealed his struggles with drug and alcohol addiction which at a point had put his life at a stand still. After signing a fresh record deal with Sony Music Entertainment Australia in 2018, it’s only an upwards trajectory from here.
Exploring his hardships and “demons”, LIFE provides listeners with an insight into the artist’s world with heart wrenching ballads, smooth RnB tunes and some of his previous chart-topping hits.
And when I asked if this is a new era of ‘Conrad Sewell’, his response?
“I f**cking hope so … I believe in it, I believe in the music I’m putting out so we’ll see.”
ICON: Tell me about your up-bringing. How did you find a love for music?
Conrad Sewell: “My grandparents were singers and my mum was just always playing music in the house so I grew up hearing Motown in the background, hearing Stevie, hearing Gladys Knight, Whitney. That kind of music was always being played in the car in the house. When I was seven or eight I already had a palette for that kind of music … My mum was very creative so she would do things like ‘let’s all write a song’ and instead of colouring-in we would try to write a song. I guess she saw something in me early on, said I could hold a note and then it just became life … My family had no connections we had no way to do it so it was a constant battle to find the next person who would introduce us to this person, who could introduce us to this person.”
ICON: At the 2015 ARIA Music Awards, you won Song of the Year for “Start Again”, as well as being nominated for Breakthrough Artist and Best Pop Release. Since then, what has been your biggest career lesson?
“And then I went through some stuff and almost lost it all. I realised nothing is promised and you’ve got to work hard everyday trying to better yourself.”
CS: “I think just to not take anything for granted. At that point, because I had worked so hard to get there, when I finally got my recognition and I had some success it felt like I deserved it in a way, and I think I took a lot of it for granted. And then I went through some stuff and almost lost it all. I realised nothing is promised and you’ve got to work hard everyday trying to better yourself.”
ICON: Amongst your award nominations, performances and other opportunities including Coachella and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, can you pin point a current career highlight?
CS: “I think Coachella was definitely a highlight. For one it was my 30th birthday, all my friends were there, the whole industry [was] there and I closed out Kygo’s set. You know … Ariana Grande was on stage, all these massive artists but I was the one closing the set. There was a lot of pressure on that and the whole industry was there so they were all watching and then also the thousands of people were watching so it was just a really nice feeling. That was a massive one. Winning the ARIA was a massive one, it’s a sort of claim for what I’ve done and just being able to work with the people I got to work with. I’ve gotten to work with everyone from producers to songwriters to artists that I [have] admired my whole life and before you know it you get to work with them, you’ve talked with them, written songs with them and that’s amazing.”
ICON: You’ve recently opened up about personal struggles with drug and alcohol addiction. What pushed you to bring these issues to light?
“Drugs and alcohol started seeping in lyrically to everything … I guess anyone who’s ever dealt with that stuff, it consumes your whole life…”
CS: “When I started writing, I wrote ‘Come Clean’. I was in a relationship and that’s when I was drinking really heavily and doing way too much blow and it was just f**king everything up in my life. I would usually go into a session and just write songs, write pop songs, it could be about anything, [it] could be about a sign I saw on the way to the studio … I was trying to get sober and that’s all I could think about so it started coming out everywhere in the music, lyrically, talking about getting sober. Drugs and alcohol started seeping in lyrically to everything … I guess anyone who’s ever dealt with that stuff, it consumes your whole life, so it’s hard not to be honest about it in the music.”
ICON: Tell me about your song writing process. I’ve been told some of the music in the album was first written in 2014.
CS: “Like I said, I’ve been on a very long musical journey. In 2014, I wasn’t signed and I’d written ‘Start Again’ and about four different songs from the album. Then I got signed and everybody gets involved and everybody tries to turn you into what they think you are. I went in with massive producers and songwriters and churned out another 200 songs. And then those ones became irrelevant but when I re-signed to Sony, we went back and looked at the catalogue and the strongest stuff was what I’d written then. My voice and my music was simple. I wasn’t trying to be anything but myself so I guess that’s why the older ones are going to be on the record. It just felt right.”
ICON: Is your personal life and hardships a large influence in your upcoming album?
“That’s why we called ‘Life’ because it has taken my whole f**king life to write it.”
CS: “Yes, very much so. It’s a lot to do with the relationship I was in and that ending and it’s got a lot to do with the demons I was battling. The stories I’ve written, it’s taken me my whole life to get to my debut at 30. The amount of time I’ve been in the industry, you would have though I’d have put out four or five records but this is my first; that’s why we called life because it has taken my whole f**king life to write it.”
ICON: After a quick scroll through your Instagram feed, it appears that you’ve evolved a strong sense of your own of style. Who do you look at for inspiration?
CS: I’ve always been into fashion, I think I’m more into high fashion like Saint Laurent and Enfant Riches and a lot of Parisian style, rock ‘n roll influences … That sort of mood, English rocker theme. I feel like music and fashion go hand-in-hand, I’ve always tried to stay on top of that.”
ICON: May and June will see your largest Australian tour yet. What do you love most about performing in your home country?
CS: “For me it’s probably seeing the fans connecting to the music. It’s hard to explain without sounding like I don’t have any fans, for me it still blows my mind that people come and see me play. I’m so used to playing these big stages with people like Kygo and it’s a bit heartbreaking because you know they’re not there to see you. Some of them maybe, but it’s not my concert. But, when I come home or when I play my own shows overseas it’s like ‘wow’. These thousands of people bought tickets to come see my music and watch me sing and that really humbles me and makes me so happy, I can’t explain it. And also, I just love singing more than anything…”
ICON: Following your debut album and Australian tour, is there any artists you hope to collaborate with in the future?
CS: “I’d love [to with] Tom Meesh, Daniel Caesar. I’ve seen big people like Beyonce and Kanye and people like that I love. Mike Posner – there’s so many talented people, I can’t even pick one. I’m a big hip-hop fan so I’d love to do like a bright hip-hop feature.”
Lastly, in light of these exciting announcements, do you think this is a new era of “Conrad Sewell”?
CS: “I fucking hope so. It depends on how I act. I have this opportunity to put this music out into the world and I think if I work hard then anything’s possible. I believe in it, I believe in the music I’m putting out, so we’ll see.”