Seth Sentry is on a massive national tour in support of his new album, Strange New Past, and will stop by the Astor Theatre on Saturday, August 22. DAVID JAMES YOUNG reports.
You’ve probably read so much about sophomore slumps and second album syndrome by now that you’ve caught it by proxy.
One might have suspected Seth Sentry would be no different when it came to following up his incredibly popular debut effort, 2012’s This Was Tomorrow – the album that brought him a top 10 chart position, an ARIA nomination and a US television appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! At least, that’s what you’d think.
“If anything, I felt that pressure before the first album,” says the Aussie hip hop star, taking some time off in Melbourne before the new album’s release. “I had an EP (2008’s The Waiter Minute EP) that had The Waitress Song on it, which did really well. It’s weird – that kind of expectation and the notion that you’re following up something really important is what I had when I was making This Was Tomorrow.
“For this album, it actually felt a lot more free. I wasn’t worried about over-thinking it – I just let it come to me. That’s not to say I didn’t think about the lyrics, mind you. I put a lot of effort into that part of the music; it’s a huge part of what I do. When it came to the subject matter, though, there wasn’t a looming idea of what I should or shouldn’t be doing, or what people would respond to.”
The album in question, Strange New Past, sees the man born Seth Marton reflect on his upbringing, his immediate relationships and his own particular way of seeing the world. “This record’s creation is based a lot around following your instinct,” Sentry says. “Whatever came to mind when I first heard the beats that we were working on, that’s what I knew the song had to be about. I didn’t struggle for topics once.”
From The Waitress Song and Float Away right up to recent single Run, which details growing up as an anti-authoritative youth, a lot of Sentry’s songs rely heavily on personal anecdote and deep levels of introspection. It’s a little surprising, therefore, that Sentry has been inundated with people writing to say they’ve been through the exact same situations as he raps about. He admits that, while it can be a peculiar thing to encounter, it makes him feel as though what he is doing with his music is making some kind of difference.
“I think it’s validating, in a way. When you’re having a conversation with someone, you might bring up something that you’ve done or said in a certain situation. If that person responds by saying ‘me too’, you develop an affinity with that person. Just imagine being able to do that on a level of complete strangers. It’s a surreal experience.”
It’s been said that you have your entire life to write your first album and a year to write your second. While that may be true to a certain extent when it comes to Sentry, he stresses that having Strange New Past formulate within a specific time period made it much more resemblant of an album in the traditional sense, as opposed to merely being a collection of songs.
“I wrote a bunch while I was touring the first record, but I don’t think I ended up using any of those verses,” he says. “The bulk of the record was all written in an 18-month period, whereas the first record came together over the course of four years. I can actually hear it when I listen back to these songs – this feels a lot more connected.”
When Sentry appeared on Jimmy Kimmel just over two years ago, it was considered a major step forward for the visibility of Australian hip hop on a global scale. Presently, the genre is getting more international exposure than ever before. Sentry offers his view on the current state of affairs.
“I like where it’s at now,” he says. “I like that there are more people pushing the envelope. There was a period there where things were quite stagnant – I don’t know if that was to do with a comfort zone or maybe it was to do with fear of breaking out of a certain mould. I think now people are doing whatever the fuck they want. That appeals a lot to me. I should say that I didn’t grow up listening to Australian hip hop – there’s still a lot of it that I don’t listen to now.”
So does Sentry consider himself an outsider to hip hop culture in this country?
“I’m not sure,” he replies after a pause. “Don’t get me wrong – I love a lot of crews over here, and I’ve made a lot of great friends. Horrorshow, Grey Ghost, the Hoods… I think I’ve been really lucky to get to know people like them. I think, for a while there, people in Australian hip hop were stuck just solely listening to one another. It was that whole ‘support Australian hip hop’ movement, with the stickers and stuff.
“Australian hip hop is definitely a grassroots movement, and I think supporting one another is an important aspect of it – I’m really excited to hear the new Drapht record for that very reason. I just feel as though we were too caught up in that whole thing for a while. It kind of held us back a bit.”
Sentry will kick off a tour in support of the album, but it’s not just a quick jaunt through the capital cities. His Australasian tour will stop at not one, not two, not even 10, but 47 different places. To paraphrase Talking Heads, you may ask yourself, how did we get here?
“We do a lot of regional shows when the opportunities come up – more than most, I’d say,” says Sentry. “We’ve built up really strong audiences there over the years. We figured if we were going to go out and revisit them, we should do it all in the one hit. Of course, it built up into something way bigger than I could have ever anticipated.”
From Noosa to Nowra, Thredbo to Townsville, it feels as though there is nowhere that will be left untouched on this exhaustive schedule. There’s even one stop on the tour around the middle of July that holds a particularly special place in Sentry’s heart.
“There’s a show on the tour happening in Sorrento, which is in the Mornington Peninsula where I grew up. Not only did I used to work at the venue we’re playing, I also used to live there.” No way. “Way, man! There was staff accommodation, so you could stay upstairs above the place. I’m basically going to be playing at my old house, which is a total trip.”
Seth Sentry’s WA visit also takes in Judd’s, Kalgoorlie, on Wednesday, August 12; Pier Hotel, Esperance, on Thursday, August 13; Studio 146, Albany, on Friday, August 14; Settlers Tavern, Margaret River, on Saturday, August 15; Dunsborough Tavern on Wednesday, August 19, and the Prince Of Wales, Bunbury, on Thursday, August 20.