Conrad Sewell On Making Music That 'Impacts & Affects People'

6 March 2023 | 8:54 pm | David James Young

Conrad Sewell has just released his second album, Precious, and it's the best thing he's made in his career to date.

(Pic by Shervin Lainez)

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Meet the new Conrad Sewell. Much has been made of the ARIA-winning singer-songwriter's pivot into the world of blue-eyed soul and old-time rock & roll after many years in the midst of the pop and electronica world. That, however, is the what of the situation – and The Music, instead, is more intrigued by the why. At this particular point in his career, what prompted such an emphatic left turn on Sewell's end? At first, he's a little taken by this line of questioning. “That's the first time anyone's really asked me that,” he begins.

“It really stemmed from performing live. My music has never translated on record like it does in the room – and that's been the case my whole career. There have been so many cases where people have seen me sing live and come up after being like, 'Wow, that was actually good – you have a powerful voice'. The recordings were very slick, whereas when you come to a show it's a lot more raw and rock & roll. When we finished the last tour, I was in the mindset of making a record that's as live as possible – just me, singing into an SM7, with the speakers bleeding.”

Sewell's second studio album, Precious, is quite the achievement in that respect. His vision comes to life care of an emotive vocal delivery, a sizzling band and a refreshing sonic palette that draws from some of Sewell's musical heroes – to the point where he'd attempt to envision their exact approach in order to get the required sound. “The brief, really, was classic songs,” he says. “Basically, the kind of songs that feel like they could be played at the grocery store every day for the next 20 years. Songs that are absolutely timeless.

“I'm talking songs like Every Breath You Take, Maneater, Don't Stop Believin'. We'd use songs like that as a jumping-off point, and we'd always end up coming back to those original artists. Like, what kind of vocal would Steve Perry do? What kind of guitar part would Keith Richards play? In order to make a song sound as iconic and as timeless as possible, we needed to cross-reference the artists that already are.”

Sewell using the term “we” when discussing the creation of Precious is a curious aspect of his answers – given, after all, that it's his name on the album cover, which also happens to feature a photograph of him. He's also the album's co-producer and maintains a writing credit for every song on the album. Given how many moving parts assisted in its creation, however, Sewell is proud to describe Precious as a team effort.

“I think the songwriting makes it an 'I' album, but the arrangements and the way it was produced make it a 'we' album,” he muses. “Pro Jay, who produced it with me, was all about it. The first day I sent demos, he sent me one back that night with an idea for an arrangement. I've met with big-time producers who want hundreds of thousands of dollars before you even get in the room with them – and this guy was working for free because he loved the music. I had to have that.

“This band, with Zane Carney and Victor Indrizzo, are unbelievably good at what they do. Anything I threw at them, they could do at the drop of a hat. 'Can you make this sound like James Taylor?' Immediately, it would sound like James Taylor. 'Can you play that like Ronnie Wood?' It was like Ronnie was there. They took every song that started on either the piano or the guitar and built them up into exactly what you hear on the album. It's a very classy project – I feel like I was in there with the very best.”

Sewell exudes confidence when it comes to Precious. He has every right to, as well – it's handily the best thing he's ever made. As someone who has been searching for themselves musically since the ripe old age of 19, though, it's quite the position to be in. “I want people to have a glimpse into me and the journey I've been on over the last 15 years,” he says of the album. 

“I'm a real singer, and a real songwriter, who is trying to impact and affect people. It isn't easy, doing what we do. The shit you deal with in this industry, trying to be a successful artist, puts you at the mercy of your own self-doubt. That's the kind of struggle that I'm trying to project in the emotion of this album. What it takes to get to that point of acceptance where you're playing to 10,000 people... it could kill a person.”

Precious is out now. You can listen to it here.