If 2015 was the year Conrad Sewell first made a spark—thanks to hit tracks like “Firestone” with Kygo and the chart-topping “Start Again”—then 2016 promises to be a full-blown inferno. This year, the 27-year-old, British-born, Australian-raised singer will release a new EP, All I Know, and in January he’ll embark on a nationwide U.S. tour. Here Sewell, who in November took home an ARIA Award—kind of like an Australian Grammy—talks about his road to success, his songwriting strategy and the end of his rock ‘n’ roll party days.
You’re kicking off a major U.S. tour, heading from New York to California. Are you prepared for a month on the road?
I try to stay healthy, try to make sure I’ve been to my vocal coach and sort of get ready for it. Really, to be honest, it’s just about staying healthy because as long as my voice is there I can do whatever I want. Gone are the days of rock ‘n’ roll where I used to be able to drink every night and still perform.
Now it’s just hot water with lemon every night?
I definitely have to take care of myself. I still have fun, but it’s not all what you think it is when you first dream of the rock ‘n’ roll journey.
Speaking of when you first dreamed of it, how did you start making music?
I started singing at age 7 or 8. Then, I moved on very quickly to recording demos in studios and trying to get a record deal. I’ve sort of done it all in terms of how to make it in music industry: I moved to the U.K. when I was 18 with my band and had a run at that. When that didn’t pan out how I had planned, I ended up moving to America. Two years ago I did my deal here for me solo and I’ve been working on that ever since. It’s taken me awhile, but it’s a crazy ride.
What about your solo act do you think made things click?
I think it’s the timing—and obviously “Firestone” with Kygo helped people listened to my voice and my songwriting. It’s just timing and hard work I guess.
What is your songwriting process like?
Sometimes I’m just trying to get something off my chest. I kind of write what happens. When I moved to L.A., I just started writing with everyone I could and experimented all the time. Now, it’s usually just me sitting at a piano. I come up with a melody and then I figure out what I want to talk about.
Are you a journaler? Do you write all sorts of stuff down?
I have notepads full of random thoughts. I figure out the lyric once I have a great melody. I’ll have like little things written down and things that I want to talk about—a lyric that I thought was great—but there’s no set way of how to do it or how it’s going to work. Each time it’s different.
You were nominated recently for three ARIA Awards and took home the award for “Best Song of the Year.” What did that mean to you?
Getting up there and giving a speech, you dream about those moments and who you are going to thank. When my record went number one, in those kind of moments, those are the milestones that you live for. It’s funny, because when you get there, you’ve worked so hard for it but then you’re already thinking, OK! What can I do next?
What is next? You’ve got an EP coming, is there more material on the way?
Yeah! I have a bunch ready, but I am still writing. I have a bunch of sessions that I’m looking forward too. I’m working with Ryan Tedder at the end of the month and a few other people. So, we’ll see what happens.
Who are your dream collaborators?
Prince, Kanye West, Adele, Sam Smith… There are heaps of people!
And once you finish up the tour?
I have a few sessions in January to hopefully finish off the album, and then I go back on the road. It’s pretty much the same process: write, record, go out on tour. It’s a very old-school way of thinking.