conrad sewell

Interview: Peter Robinson

Conrad Sewell has been banging at pop's door for over a decade but now his voice and song­writ­ing are famous around the world due to a spot on that amazing Kygo record, and his upcoming UK debut single is rather good too, so Popjustice got him on Skype for a chat about:

1. This
2. That
3. The other

And here is what we discussed.

You've been working at this for years, haven’t you?
There have been so many false starts. I guess you’re supposed to have lots of let-downs so that you’re ready when it comes. But there have been so many moments where I was like, ‘it’s going to happen!’ and it didn’t quite get there. But now feels like the right time.

Was the music not good enough before?
Timing is everything. With my voice I could sing lots of different styles of music and it was just finding the right pockets that made sense. People would often over­pro­duce my voice; I worked with a lot of Swedes and Swedes are great for pop but if you have a raw voice like mine over-producing can lose something. When I stripped everything back, people started to react.

What was the nearest miss? When did you start?
I started when I was 15 — picking up the phone, having con­ver­sa­tions with Sony, flying to meet labels.

And you’re 27 now, so yours has been a twelve-year overnight success?
Exactly. I think when the band’s single didn’t go, and that was the first time a label had put decent money behind it, and the song was at radio and I could just see it wasn’t working, and I could see the label lose interest, that was hard.

How do you know when a label’s losing interest?
It’s like when your girlfriend’s mad at you: you just KNOW. You can sense a breakup coming. I mean it’s business, they put money behind it, they didn’t think they had a better single and they just stopped. And that’s fair enough. It sucks, but I knew, and I knew I needed to go back to America and write.

Now you’ve been signed to a new label by someone very important.
I call him The Godfather. He’s had an amazing history and is very influ­en­tial. I’ve got to know him quite quickly — I signed just over a year ago. I’d heard lots about him and was scared to pick up the phone sometimes, but we’re past that now. He’s like a pitbull when it comes to rep­res­ent­ing me.

Kygo's first proper single was with you, his second with Parson James. Is he just going to keep launching new male vocalists into the world? Is that his thing?
Well I hope not! But I know he’s been working with a lot of people — some females too. Some big people are going to be on his record.

What was the story with 'Firestone', did you write to his track?
He got my song first — I was writing anyway, for a Steve Angelo pitch. It was in an EDM kind of vein. I wrote a basic chord structure, melody and lyric, but Steve didn’t take it for some reason and so we just sent it out to other people. One of those people was Kygo, he put his pro­duc­tion on it, and it sounded cool. And then Sony said it would be the first original they wanted to put out for him.

Who’s best out of you and Parson James?
Well me obviously! (Laughs)

A lot of artists would be very polite about this and say ‘well obviously we’re very different artists’, the whole thing. You’re straight in there: ME.
Yeah, I am. I’d say I’m more of a lifer. Put it that way.

Imagine you’d won [Australian] Idol when you entered 11 years ago. Imagine that instead of just audi­tion­ing you’d got to the live shows, you’d got to the final, and you’d won. What would you be doing now?
I just don’t think I’d be doing anything. I was SO not ready. Maybe this is why I’ve had to bang on all these doors: I was just not ready. I’ve always been a late developer — from hitting puberty to getting into the music industry.

When did you hit puberty?
Late! I don’t think I got through puberty until was 18. I was a very late developer. I just remember being in the gym class and being the last one with anything going on down­stairs, and…

Yes let’s move on. So I just wasn’t ready for Idol. When I left the show I was thanking God that I was out. I was praying that my name WOULDN’T get called. I only knew one song all the way through, and I was about to go on a show where you had to learn a new song every night!

And you sister sings as well!
Yes, she’s just gone to Number One in Australia!

Who’s best out of you and her?
Well she has a better recording voice, but I can shut a room down quicker than her.

Are you still working on sessions for other artists?
Yeah, I was working with Naughty Boy recently, which was inter­est­ing. I’d love to continue to do it. It’s funny, once you have a hit out — and I’ve written over 100 songs — all of a sudden all the songs that 'weren’t good enough' start getting pitched to people. I think it happened with Bruno [Mars] a lot, a lot of records were literally just sitting in his catalogue and ended up getting sent out to everyone. It’s always good to have a few in the bag.

Are you one of the several thousand song­writers to currently have a song on hold for the new Rihanna album?
Haha! Definitely — everyone has songs on hold for that album. I’ve lived in LA long enough now to know that means abso­lutely nothing. Or you get called in for a Beyoncé record and you turn up and they’re like, ‘here are the tracks, go into this room’, and she’s not going to be there. But I love writing, and I love writing for other people — you can just have fun with it.

This is the thing about not having to worry about whether or not you’d perform a song on stage.
Yeah, I love it — you can say what you want lyrically and you have a lot more freedom.

Is it easy to write as a woman?
Yeah, a few mar­gar­itas and I could put myself in the mindset of a woman easily! Erm… Yeah, I love women, I can connect with them, so I can easily put myself in their shoes.

Have you ever worn women’s shoes?

What stories do you want to tell through music?
I’d like to talk about my journey through life, and my per­spect­ive on life, I guess — how I’m feeling about the world, how I’m feeling about my girl, stories about my friends and all the ratbag shit we got into over the last twenty years.

How would you describe your per­spect­ive on life?
I’m a very spiritual person so I suppose my per­spect­ive on life is a positive one. I con­cen­trate on positive things more than horrible things.

So you think it’s better to ignore bad things?
No, not at all, but I think music should uplift people and take them away when things are bad. Life is an incred­ible thing. I never want to die, that’s my biggest fear.

Look, I’ve got some bad news.
DON’T TELL ME! I suffer from a lot of anxiety.

I mean it’s not going to happen today.

But I suppose it might happen today.

What would be the worst way to die?
On a plane. That, or drowning: being in a box with the water slowly rising.

How about this: a huge container, like a big vat, full of small ball­bear­ings. And you’re dropped into it, and you kind of drown in it, but you’re drowning in metal, and you’re snorting in ball­bear­ings, and then you die.
Well that takes the cake. That is actually horrible. Thanks!

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