Guy Sebastian Wears His ‘Battle Scars’ (Interview)

Guy Sebastian may not think the world is ending in 2012, but his upcoming album, titled Armageddon, isn’t as cheery as we’d expect from the Australian Idol winner turned X-Factor judge.

“Some people are going to listen to this album and think ‘Is he okay? Is he himself lately?’” says Guy.

“The album is so schizophrenic. I go from ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ and ‘Gold’ to ‘Battle Scars’ to a song that I wrote called ‘Get Along’ which discusses religious and cultural intolerances and hopes for that utopian world where everyone gets along and doesn’t judge and can love… and then back to ‘Gold’! [laughs]”

“But that’s me. I’m on top of the world, I’m always positive and always have a positive outlook, but then I can be so… emo,” he says, almost taken aback by his choice of words.

“I love looking by the ocean, and sometimes I’ll just think… ‘Wow, this world that [son] Hudson is going to inherit, it’s so crazy and tumultuous’. You really do get a different perspective on things, and then you get all pedantic and start worrying, but then I’ll be back to crazy-happy. It kind of reflects on this album! I wish I was more in between but I don’t think many artists are, really.”

Fresh off the bat of two of his most successful singles ‘Who’s That Girl?’ and ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’, ‘Battle Scars’, which features American rapper Lupe Fiasco, raced to the top of iTunes last week and became his sixth number 1 on the ARIA singles chart. Only Kylie Minogue and Delta Goodrem have more chart toppers than Sebastian, so he’s in good company.

“’Who’s That Girl’ was the biggest song I’ve ever done, and funnily enough, the quickest and easiest song to write” says Guy.

“‘Gold’ kind of stalled, though…” he says. I reminded him that it still went top 10 and achieved gold status. Not all bad, right?

“Oh you’re right! Maybe if I had called it ‘Multi-Platinum’ instead it would have been different [laughs]”

“When I first started, iTunes wasn’t around at all. That was back when people used to buy singles! I did that many single signings… [laughs], so seeing it [‘Battle Scars’ at number 1 on iTunes] was a welcome thing, I was stoked. I just felt bad because I was at the Sony office when I found out and Justice Crew were there and they were number 1 and I had bumped them off. But they had their few weeks at number 1, give someone else a go!” Guy says, smirking.

On his almost unwavering public support, Guy says “It’s always nice, I never take it for granted. This industry is so full on. You go from something successful like 'Who's That Girl' or 'Battle Scars' to a single or an album that just bombs, but that’s life. That’s what keeps you hungry, and that’s what makes you want to commit to the public and tell stories through your music.”

Darker lyrically and production-wise, ‘Battle Scars’ is a departure from much of Guy’s previous vintage throwback and dance-pop tunes. At the top his game, happily married with a newborn child, I wondered how much of ‘Scars’ lyrics, such as “I wish I couldn't feel, I wish I couldn't love, I wish that I could stop cause it hurts so much”, were autobiographical.

“When I write, I naturally draw on my own life, my own experiences. But a lot of time, you don’t let the public in, or even your friends, family, or anybody, into some aspects of your life, especially the dark areas, which we all have. The areas you struggle with… I mean, I love my life. My life is the best. I get to do music for a living, I have a healthy child, I’m married, I’ve got a great family, but even in that, people’s own pain is relative to them. They battle things and experience things; it’s one of those songs where I initially draw on my own experiences, but I’m like a social sponge. When my friends talk to me or when someone close to me is in pain, I take on things on quite emotionally and all of that comes out in my work. People I meet and the stories I hear inspire my songwriting. I wrote ‘Battle Scars’ for everybody.”

The music video, shot in New York, features striking scenes where everyday people were asked to write down one word that best describes how they feel, from ‘Outcast’, ‘Fatherless’, ‘Empty’, ‘Slave’ and ‘Bullied’.

But with X-Factor back on our screens, Guy has much to smile about. Coming full-circle from winning Australian Idol in 2003 to now judging new talent, the irony isn’t lost on last year’s winning mentor to young Reece Mastin.

“Some of these young kids singing have said that they do vocal runs to my songs and study my singing… I mean, when I first started, I was doing the same thing to artists like Brian McKnight!”

When asked about 18-year-old Bella Ferraro, whom he touted as having the best audition he’s ever seen, Guy acknowledges that he does “sometimes get carried away a bit”, but with a slew of incredible auditions after just one episode and high-ratings to boot, getting carried away seems inherent.

It’s hard to believe that Guy once studied Radio Therapy at the University of South Australia, but he assures me, with or without Idol, music, not science or study, was always his niche.

“Not a question, I would have always come back to music somehow. Somehow… My idea of heaven is writing music and programming beats, not sitting in a classroom” says Guy.

Welcome to heaven. Population = Guy Sebastian.

‘Battle Scars’ featuring Lupe Fiasco is out now through iTunes.
Armageddon will be released later this year

Photos by Brent Leideritz

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