It was 17 years ago when Guy Sebastian was thrust into the public eye with Australian Idol. Since then, the local music icon has released nine studio albums, embarked on countless tours and is a regular on the television scene. In 2019, the 38-year-old proved his longevity in the music industry after not only hosting the Australian music night-of-nights, the ARIAs, but winning the Apple Music Song of the Year for single ‘Choir’, a fitting prelude to his latest album, T.R.U.T.H.
As Sebastian tells ICON, this new project is a realisation of the power of truth, not just for the artist but for us all. Here is his story from three years of adversity.
ICON: Congratulations on your new album T.R.U.T.H! This is said to be a project that has bloomed out of the adversity we have all faced in 2020. What is the biggest personal challenge you’ve faced?
Guy Sebastian: “The album has actually been two or three years in the making. It’s been a while since I’ve actually released an album. There are parts of it that are a reflection of this year and then there’s stuff that predates COVID. Probably the biggest lesson, if I talk about the title of the album, that’s probably what I’ve learnt, the power in truth and I think there’s been two massive lessons. I realised there’s not your truth and my truth, there is just truth. Sometimes, if you’re on the right side of that, it can sometimes take some time for it to have power in your life and it’s hard to keep the faith in what you believe is truth. I realised there is a lot of power in honesty and truth and it can take a little while for it to come to your rescue but it does in the end. All those cliché’s ring true, ‘The truth will set you free’, or ‘Truth comes out in the end’… it’s just a really good way to live, to try and be as truthful as you can.”
Speaking on the cover art you have said, “I think throughout my life I will always look back on this album cover and remember exactly what I was feeling, even decades from now.” What were you feeling? What are you feeling?
GS: “It’s such a mix. I’ve navigated the pandemic the best I can. My industry is massively impacted, and the live scene is obviously dead until things change again. We are trying to adapt and they’re doing the best they can. It’s been really hard for performers. Their purpose is caught up in getting that feedback from their audience and fans… I feel like I’ve had that to navigate through and obviously work has changed a lot, I’ve had to work really differently and then there’s the personal stuff. Not seeing my parents for a long time or loved ones, not being able to travel.
What was the catalyst moment for creating T.R.U.T.H?
GS: “There’s been pretty big structural changes to my life, very personal and it played out quite publicly when my management split. I ended up in a really weird place that I never could have ever forecasted. That was pretty heart breaking. We aren’t talking just a colleague – that’s your manager. That relationship is already extremely close, they know everything about you. You need to have that trust, or they can’t manage you. We were very close, like family. It’s a betrayal that hits pretty deeply… It took a little time, but I’ve found an amazing team and set up things in a way that is smarter now. I can’t call myself an established artist or mentor without having to fight the ugly fight as well. Which has been tough. When I look back, I will remember that.
But it doesn’t define the album, it defines what kicked it off because I was pretty vulnerable… but I think it gave me the fuel to power through and not let anything define me. With the album, there’s tons of triumphant moments and moments that are so joyful. The way Choir has spoken to people, the way people have played that at funerals and have written to me about how they have struggled with loss… They’ve messaged me about ‘Before I Go’ and how that became their fight song. That’s what drives me as a song writer and as an artist.”
Congratulations is also in order for your two ARIA nominations. What does it mean to you to be recognised in this way particularly after so many years in the industry?
GS: “It means the world. The ARIAs! Anyone that tries to be too cool for school, when it comes to the ARIAs is silly. It’s such an amazing, historical ceremony that unites us as an industry. It brings us together; it makes us learn about each other and makes us learn about each other’s music. It makes us value each other and be inspired by one another and it gives us a chance to unite because let’s face it, we’re in a small country and in an industry that’s very competitive so sometimes that competitive edge can separate a lot of us. I just love it, at the end we’re all pretty pissed and you’re hanging with Tame Impala and they’re hanging with Jess Mauboy and The Veronica’s are there. It’s the most random gathering of people and I just love it. I’m stoked to be nominated and it will always mean something to me. The ARIAs I will always appreciate and respect.”
One of the nominations is for Best Video for ‘Standing With You’. How did the video come about, what were the influences in that?
GS: “I’ve worked with James (Chappell) now on five videos, every video I’ve released on this album has been done by him. He gets who I am and what I’m about and we almost go through the same process every video. Directors are artists and they want to create art and it’s hard to do that when you’re working with multiple artists who all have their own DNA as far as what they want to achieve with their art. The thing that I want to achieve generally is to get the visual to represent what I’m saying in the song. But still not be too literal, but literal enough for people to absorb it and be moved by the message. James does that in a really beautiful way where sometimes it might start really abstract and I always pull it back.”
‘Standing With You’, I always cry when I watch that video. When people’s darkness and their circumstances turn around and they might not physically turn around but mentally it turns around and the grief that the old man is feeling, the flowers come back to life. To me there’s so many symbols in that video that I don’t know what to do with my emotions. One it all starts to brighten up it’s such a beautiful reflection of what the song is about. It’s about being there for one another and strangers on a train represents that we just don’t know what people are going through in their lives. That train represents life because it just keeps moving and sometimes it moves so fast that we struggle to keep up.”
Guy Sebastian’s latest album T.R.U.T.H is out now. For more from the artist, visit here.