Seth Sentry may not have been looking for fame, but fame found him in 2013.
The Melbourne MC is coming off the end of a huge summer following the release of his debut album, ‘This Was Tomorrow’, and its clutch of high-rotation singles, ‘My Scene’, ‘Float Away’ and ‘Dear Science’. A trip to the United States for South by Southwest and a performance on Triple J’s One Night Stand have followed, squaring the ledger somewhat for time passed since the release of his ‘The Waiter Minute’ EP in late 2008.
But there were numerous points during that four year break when ‘This Was Tomorrow’ wasn’t going to happen, Sentry spooked by the raging success of his breakthrough single, ‘The Waitress Song’.
“The album did die a number of times,” he explains over the phone from his Melbourne home. “Because I was going to quit rap and I had all sorts of crazy thoughts. I just lost momentum after the EP and I didn’t know what to do and it scared me so much how well ‘The Waitress Song’ did. I made this little five track EP and that song did so well, and even ‘Simple Game’ off the same record started getting played on Nova and shit. That was bizarre. It just terrified me. I didn’t really know what to do after that.”
‘The Waitress Song’ hadn’t even been intended for release, which in Sentry’s mind drove home how much of a happy accident it had all been.
“We were going to scrap it,” he says. “So it was like, ‘Fuck, that was a fluke’. And then I thought, ‘I’m never doing music again because that was terrifying’. Eventually I just had to go back to writing songs that I wanted to hear about things that I wanted to write about and not over think it too much.”
But it perhaps didn’t feel like four years between Seth Sentry projects. As he somewhat harshly puts it, he “got lucky” with appearances on a 360 mixtape and a tour with Horrorshow, for which he penned a new cut – ‘Our Song’ – with the Sydney duo.
“That just happened to get picked up by Triple J and played a lot. So little things just kept me around enough for people to give a shit. But in 2012 I just ramped it up and went hard on the album. Because people set deadlines on me, and once I had the deadline there I thought, ‘Fuck, I’ve gotta do it now’. And it worked. I got really creative. I was working fast, but it felt like a lot of good stuff was coming out of it.”
The album was finally released in September and met with rapturous reviews by critics. If the subsequent summer has been Sentry getting used to the idea that he may be a legitimate artist, then it’s also been about adjusting to music as a fulltime job.
“It’s been a good transition, really,” he says. “It’s always been something I’ve done in my free time and a little bit of hobby, and since September it’s been fulltime … 100 percent, that’s surprised me. I never thought it was a viable option to become a career or something. It’s just something that I do because I enjoy it, and I still really enjoy it. I feel like I’m cheating.
“There have been little downtimes, but there’s always something coming up, or something in the not-to-distant future that I’m gearing up for. Which is good: I had four years of doing fuck all, so it’s about time,” he laughs.
Since our interview, Sentry has returned from a short tour in North America during which he visited both South by Southwest in Texas and Canadian Music Week in Toronto, as well as playing a clutch of smaller shows throughout the rest of the continent. The undoubted highlight, though, was his win in the SXSW Dorito Boldstage competition, which means Sentry will support LL Cool J on the LA-based rap legend’s June-July US tour. It’s a small sign of the potential for penetration Australian rap music has in an American market, although when we spoke to him Sentry wasn’t totally convinced the local genre is prepared to make the final leap.
“Maybe. I think the thing about Australian rap – and I know Chuck D said this – we’re still really focussed on the lyrics here and we have that skill set with our raps. That’s opposed to a lot of the more mainstream stuff in America: there’s still a massive underground scene there, but in the mainstream that’s been lost a little bit – it’s glossy and your swagger and all that stuff. Here, we don’t have the greatest voices and we haven’t got the best accent, but we focus hard on getting our flow right and the lyrics, the content.”
Indeed, while many remain concerned about the isolationism of local hip hop culture, Sentry doesn’t regard it as being a total negative, pointing out that it allowed the Australian genre to develop its own sound and differentiate itself from the music coming out of the US.
“It’s been kinda good doing that,” he says. “At the start, a lot of the acts who were big were really Americanised, and we adopted whatever the American trends were at the time. People were trying to put on American accents and stuff, and I think it’s been a nice little break away from that. We do our own thing and have our own sound happening now with a unique style. But I do think people get a little lost in that sometimes, and pick a particular era or sound from America and say, ‘That’s hip hop and we’re refusing to budge from that’. Which I think can be a little unhealthy as well.”
Much more practical concerns are now on Sentry’s agenda, with the ‘Dear Science’ tour set to check in at major centres around mainland Australia.
“Originally it was going to be the ‘Room For Rent’ tour,” he laughs, “but now it’s the ‘Dear Science’ tour. Because we didn’t pitch ‘Dear Science’ as a single – it’s just all been really organic, which has been awesome. Triple J started playing ‘Dear Science’ without ever announcing it as officially being on rotation. They just started playing it and the song did pretty well, so now it’s the ‘Dear Science’ tour.
“I’m taking my DJ, B2, who’s an Australian DMC champ. I think he came sixth in the world in terms of the championships. He’s very good, he’s overqualified! And supporting will be Tuka and Ellesquire. Once I’ve finished my tour, I’m going to take a little break. By then the new ‘Bioshock’ game should be well and truly out. I’ll play the shit out of that and then maybe another tour or two later this year.”