Breaking the mould, writing visually, and crazy tattoo stories with Chris Sebastian

One-part songwriter, one-part tattoo aficionado, and one-part reality television star, it’s clear that Chris Sebastian has his finger in many different pies.

Chris Sebastian is a man of many talents. But what allows him to break musical moulds is the ability to create art from his most immediate surroundings – a feat that shines through on his new single, Hard to Get Love.

We sat down with Chris to discuss his latest projects, his visual writing style, and his uncouth approach towards tattoos.

Chris Sebastian Image 2
Image: Mamamia

HAPPY: Congrats on the new single.

CHRIS: Thank you!

HAPPY: How does it feel to have it out in the world?

CHRIS: Look, we had to wait a little bit of time. The Voice finished in July and we didn’t get it out till March, so it took longer than anticipated, but you know, COVID just screwed everyone a little bit, so it took longer to get out than we would’ve liked. But it’s out now and the response has been really cool. Radio has been so supportive, and yeah, I’m loving every second of it.

HAPPY: Could you tell us a little bit about the single?

CHRIS: Yeah, absolutely! This one’s a unique one. I’ve never actually released a song that I didn’t write before, but pretty much, it was two days after the grand final. I had my first ever meeting with the label, and they played me a bunch of songs, which is a very common thing. When you’re working with a label, they’ll obviously hear your songs and they’ll play you a bunch of stuff that they’ve got and there was one song that they played, I think it was like the second one in, I was like wait wait ‘wait, that song’s is awesome! Who did that?’ And it ended up being some friends of mine.

And so that’s why I was immediately like, ‘yes’. One, cause it’s a really catchy song, but two, the storyline was intriguing to me. It took me a couple of goes to figure out what it was talking about, but specifically, it was something I could relate to, and a bunch of people would. Basically picking the wrong girl, the wrong type of girl, and I know we’ve all done that, where we’ve gone to people that we thought would be, you know, right for us, and it ends up being a bit of a train wreck.

HAPPY: (Laughs)

CHRIS: And then continuously doing that. Doing that a couple of times, that was definitely me. Where it took me a couple of goes, but then finally figuring it out. I wasn’t getting to that place where it was something good because I kept picking the wrong type of person, and yeah, that’s what the song’s about.

HAPPY: Well it was an amazing release, congrats on it.

CHRIS: Thank you.

HAPPY: What was it like working with M-Squared? I know you said you were mates with them, but what was that process like?

CHRIS: Yeah! Look it was awesome, but also insanely unique. When we tracked the vocal, we were in the middle of Melbourne’s hardcore lockdown.

HAPPY: Oh wow.

CHRIS: So, I’ve got a studio here in Sydney, and the way that we did it, typically I record all my own stuff, but obviously ’cause I was working with these guys I wanted to bring them into it, and so what we did is, there’s a program that allows them to remotely control my computer from Melbourne, and so I sat up in my studio and set up like a webcam, and they remotely controlled my computer and tracked my vocals.

HAPPY: That’s so high-tech!

CHRIS: Yeah! And I remember doing the session and thinking, ‘this is so outrageous and cool what we’re doing right now’. I was able to literally stand in the corner of the room in my vocal booth and just sing while he pressed the buttons in Melbourne.

HAPPY: What a great story, oh my god.

CHRIS: Yeah, it was so… as 2020 as it gets.

HAPPY: Have you had a chance to perform the song live yet?

CHRIS: No, which is devastating, I was supposed to. I had a show booked in Adelaide on the 26th, but I’ve got a one-year-old daughter and she went to daycare and got gastro.

HAPPY: Oh no!

CHRIS: And she passed it onto me and my wife (laughs). And I couldn’t get doctor’s clearance, I obviously didn’t want to be the guy that spreads that, so I went to the doctor to find out if it was safe to travel, and they said no, so I had to cancel it.

HAPPY: Hope you’re feeling better! You’ve always been well really known for your talent for storytelling. Is there something that you really try and hone in on with each one of your songs?

CHRIS: I don’t know if it’s something I intentionally try to do. I honestly don’t know another way. I think it’s kind of my default, to transform things into a story, even if they’re not. I’m a very visual person so whenever I listen to a song I typically see a moving picture. So when I’m writing, a little songwriting trick, I’m not sure if you would have heard it before, if you’ve chatted to a lot of writers, a lot of them will almost picture a film clip when they’re writing a song.

And that’s definitely me. I’m sort of seeing an image of a movie as I’m writing, and I love that. My whole goal is to make people feel something whenever I’m singing. Whenever it’s a writing thing, it’s about feel. If you can’t see it, and you can’t feel it, then you’ve not done the right thing. That’s definitely my goal so I’m glad that’s come through.

HAPPY: Last year was huge for you, did your experiences last year have any impact on the way you approached your songwriting?

CHRIS: Definitely, oh my gosh, yeah! You know what was really cool? It’s a little hard to admit because it can be taken the wrong way, but there is almost a certain mould you gotta fit, when you’re writing songs and you’re trying to get on the radio, and you’re trying to be listened to by the wider public. There’s typically a mould you’ve gotta fit into and the way that The Voice went, for me, I definitely tried to do that. Obviously trying to stay true to myself as well of course, but also adapting and changing things up a little bit to what I thought needed to be done. And that was purely because I was trying to make it, you know!

I was trying to get across the line, and be more than just, you know, Guy’s brother. So The Voice for me, and the way that that went down, kind of cemented that, and stopped me from needing to do that. Maybe I can just write the songs the way I want to write them, and sing them the way I wanna sing them, because it seems like people are willing to accept it, and go along with it. And that was really eye-opening for me and I’ve been a lot more fearless. I’ve been less gripped by what people thought, and I was able to focus on making it more of a piece of me, if that makes sense.

HAPPY: That must have been such an affirming experience to come out of that with that.

CHRIS: 100%! And something that I’ve been trying to do for a really long time. I think it means a lot more than people realise.

HAPPY: And now you’re just like, go with it, try things out, and it’s a bit more freeing for you?

CHRIS: Yeah, it’s just a lot more fearless, I’m not scared to try things that might not be the typical thing that you try, and I think the beauty of Australian music especially is we are very much a society that goes against the grain, that’s kind of in our DNA. We’re not straight-down-the-line pop music. We like a bit of edge, we like a bit of variation and a bit of a change-up. If you look at the people doing well in the Australian music scene, they kind of went ‘I’m gonna do it my way’, and I love that! You know, that’s kind of where I’m at now, where I don’t care if it’s not that tempo, or it’s not sitting in that exact key. I’m gonna do it here and it’s gonna sound cool and the fear of ‘are people gonna like it?’ isn’t really there as much.

HAPPY: I’m sure the response from the fans would be incredible too, because they’re going to be excited to see you grow.

CHRIS: Not only that, but I had the chance at the end of last year to do the ‘COVID-safe tour’. I got the chance to sit down and play a bunch of my songs and explain the stories behind them, and I loved every second of that, because one, I’m a doofus and love telling stories as you know, and getting the chance to explain some of the ridiculous things. I’ve got a song called On My Arm that’s about a friend of mine who was dating this girl. I knew she was really mean, and I knew she was doing some really bad stuff to him, and he was gonna get her name tattooed on his arm

HAPPY: Oh no.

CHRIS: I knew it was a bad idea, but I didn’t say anything. And anyway, he found out that she had been cheating on him for quite a long time, and so I wrote a song about how he almost, well it, says, “I almost wrote your name on my arm” and I got to tell that story and then also to ask people in the crowd, “does anyone else out there have an embarrassing tattoo?”

HAPPY: (Laughs)

CHRIS: And so that ended up being such a huge part of the tour where from town to town you go, hearing these incredible tattoo stories, and that kind of stuff really just brings me so much joy because it’s bringing people into the show, and I love that intimacy. That’s a byproduct of having that lack of fear of having to fit that structure that hasn’t allowed me to do things like that.

HAPPY: What was the weirdest story you had? I’m curious now.

CHRIS: The weirdest story, it was what happened afterwards. It was a lady up in Newcastle.

HAPPY: Oh of course, I’m from Newcastle so I’m allowed to say that.

CHRIS: Oh amazing, amazing. She did a summer camp in Texas, and while she was there she got the logo of that summer camp tattooed on her arse… which in itself is a great story, but it’s what she did afterwards. I was out in the foyer at the end of the show, just taking photos and signing some CDs and stuff, and she comes up – and this is a packed room with kids and stuff – and she comes up out of nowhere and pulls her pants down to show me the tattoo. I almost passed out because I was laughing so hard.

HAPPY: Oh my god.

CHRIS: And there were literal kids a foot from you… it was wild. So yeah, Newcastle provided some good laughs.

HAPPY: So I know you said you were planning a few shows, is there anything else you’ve got at the moment?

CHRIS: Yeah absolutely! So, those Queensland shows are going to be part of a wider tour. This year, so far, the plan is to do four singles and an EP, and an album at the very start of next year. I think we’re aiming for a January album release. And two tours, so far. So 2021 we’re definitely trying to make up for the lack of being able to play and so far we’ve got two tours already organised and yeah, we’re only in April now, so we’re definitely trying to hit the ground running.

HAPPY: Amazing. Thanks so much for the chat, good luck!

CHRIS: Thank you, I appreciate that.


Hard to Get Love is out now. Stream or purchase the single here.