Following on from 2012's double-platinum #1 ARIA album 'Armagedon', Guy Sebastian has released 'Madness', a thirteen-track album of songs that speak of intense relationships, empathy, heartache, and celebration. It's an album of lyrical maturity that spurns the trivial nature of pop, but still manages to soar as a result of Guy's ever-present optimism and his gift of crafting melodic hooks and choruses.
With an incredibly successful career already under his belt in Australia, it took the release of his ‘Battle Scars’ single (featuring Lupe Fiasco) from his last album, to truly catapult Guy Sebastian's profile internationally. Whilst he had impacted international audiences previously in his career, ‘Battle Scars’ was a monster smash hit around the globe; debuting at #1 in Australia and achieving a phenomenal 9xPlatinum status, the single went on to chart around the globe and pick up a significant amount of critical acclaim and awards. It was a success story that not even Guy could have expected.
"I was very lucky with the collaboration with Lupe, and it was just one of those moments in music where everything came together."
"I was very lucky with the collaboration with Lupe, and it was just one of those moments in music where everything came together," he says modestly. "The truth is I worked really hard over the years, and I had some stop/starts along the way. Like when I moved to New York in 2009 and being told by a record company executive that it was never going to happen for me in the States because I wasn't edgy enough. As a result there was a time when I was facing a lot of negativity and insecurity, as there is for any artist, but I kept going and "Battle Scars" went on to sell a million and half copies with really very little promotion."
With all eyes focussed on Guy, the singer/songwriter began work on his follow-up album. However, despite best intentions, and ultimately throwing away 60-70 songs he had written, the album only began to come together in recent months, with Guy still putting the finishing touches on the album as late as October 2014.
"It's taken a while to finish up to be honest. It's been a tough one to make," he reflects wistfully.
"It's taken a while to finish up to be honest. It's been a tough one to make," he reflects wistfully. "I've been trying to make this album for while, just trying to juggle everything to get it done. I must say that kids make it a lot harder process, especially having to live the life of a travelling recording artist. It was definitely tougher.I'd love to be able to take a 8-months off on the coast somewhere, like some of my musician friends, and create an albumbut instead I have to create what I do in the midst of chaos.
"I toured quite a bit for the last album, and then I had "Battle Scars" do well overseas so I was busy promoting that, and doing TV appearances like Late Show With David Letterman, and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. All of that meant I was writing whilst I was all over the place."
Despite his geographic push-and-pull - or even because of it - 'Madness' exudes a tougher musical exterior for Guy Sebastian. His soulful pop style has been stretched to explore a bolder and more vivid palate than previously.
I think the new album jumps from pop-induced folk, through to a more defiant urban edge that brings forth the soul and hip hop sounds.
"I think the hip hop elements have gone a little heavier as far as the production goes, although it's still very much a pop album. There are also elements of dance, R&B, and blues which we've elevated I think, without losing any sense of being one of my albums. Overall I think the new album jumps from pop-induced folk, through to a more defiant urban edge that brings forth the soul and hip hop sounds."
The exploration of a more truculent soundscape however doesn't just take over the controls of 'Madness' with a succession of beats and styles. Guy Sebastian's song writing ability and prodigious vocals ensure that, at the core, what people love about his music - the honesty, the truth, and the talent - remain at the forefront throughout.
"I take in a lot of different styles when I listen to music, but when I'm actually writing a song it comes from a very stripped back place that focuses on melody and soaring choruses that lift-off. So songs like ‘Like A Drum’, ‘Mama Ain't Proud’ or the title track ‘Madness’ are all really big songs with big choruses. I must say, this is the most challenging vocal album I've made to date."
Opening up the collection of songs on the new album, is title-track ‘Madness’. It's an ode to the intensity and complexities of love, which Guy says is the cornerstone of the album.
The actual song is basically about the out-of-character things we do when we're in love, which we'd normally ever consider.
"The actual song is basically about the out-of-character things we do when we're in love, which we'd normally ever consider. When you're in love and in that mode, you'd do anything to make things work out right - and only you can understand that. In essence it's a romantic song; whatever you do, you do it for love, and no one can tell you any different. Some people call it madness, but you call it love.
"As an album title I felt it appropriate for the album because the nature of making this album was nothing short of crazy for me. I've got two kids under three years old, and it can be quite manic at home. In my travels it's been crazy trying to juggle everything in my mind, and my decision to leave a TV show because I just really wanted to dive into the deep end and get back to music. Being on the road was crazy - I did 53 shows in four months at one point, I did a festival in Scandinavia, writing in the UK, touring the US, and promoting songs...trying to make an album in the midst of all that is just not normal."
Thematically, many of the songs on 'Madness' are a step in a different direction for Guy Sebastian. Once known as traditional love balladeer, and now maturing as a man, husband, father and songwriter, this time around he found himself on the sidelines of love and war, observing the breakdown of relationships. In the same way Marvin Gaye explored divorce on his classic 70's album ‘Here My Dear’, Guy took lyrical inspiration on songs like ‘Like A Drum’, ‘Elephant’ and ‘The Pause from the heartache of separation - and ultimately hope - from some real-life situations surrounding him.
"It's funny because I'm more in love with my wife than I've ever been, but this time around, creatively, I didn't write any of those traditional type of love songs. A number of the songs were directly influenced by someone close to me going through a break-up. They've been together for a very long time, and it's very close to my heart, and so I've watched it all unravel. They're not the only ones I know having problems either, so all these emotions were swirling around me.
"I've just never really had it around me before. I mean, I've been through break-ups before but I don't think I've ever really seen a long-term relationship break down in these ways, and definitely not to the extent where I've really felt the emotions involved."
As a whole, the album is also balanced with bursts of revelry, and ownership of moments. Songs like the current single ‘Mama Ain't Proud’, ‘Alive’, ‘Animal In Me’ all reach for joy and celebration, and as such the album remains upright and steady. "Absolutely," Guy agrees. "There's also a song like "Light & Shade" which speaks to that point, and basically describes the album as a whole story."
Preliminary recording of the 'Madness' album took place in Sydney in Guy's studio, although work on the project also continued in the USA, Sweden, and Melbourne. Helping Guy to shape the record were previous collaborator Pro-J (Jennifer Hudson, Robin Thicke), and newer collaborators MdL (Justin Bieber, Maroon 5), Boots Ottestad (Robbie Williams, Macy Gray), Shuko & Freedo, and Aussie hip hop producer M-Phazes.
"In the past I've worked closely with writers and producers to build a song, but on this album most of the songs came about from me writing the songs in my own studio, producing it up to a certain level, and then passing all the vocal components and some of the instrumentation on to various producers for them to to breathe their own talent into it."
Also assisting Guy Sebastian to push his sound further on the album are US rappers Sage The Gemini (on the early Kanye-esque, gospel-infused ‘Light & Shade’), 2Chainz (on the riff-fuelled, urban-march of ‘Mama Ain't Proud’), and old-friend Lupe Fiasco (who is reunited with Guy on the sober swagger of ‘Linger’). It is the latter that both lyrically and musically represents the album at it's finest.
"That's my favourite song on the album actually," Guy says proudly. "It's another Lupe collaboration - yes, but it had to depart from ‘Battle Scars’ and be a different type of song, which it is.
"That's my favourite song on the album actually," Guy says proudly. "It's another Lupe collaboration - yes, but it had to depart from ‘Battle Scars’ and be a different type of song, which it is. There's a real emotional depth to the song, and I just knew that Lupe would be the right person to connect with and understand the essence of where it was coming from. I knew I could trust him to take some liberties with his rap, and use some great analogies to further enhance the song."