“When we were riding around New York on the subway I could predict what the next stop was going to be, from growing up listening to east coast ‘90s rap.”
A couple of months back Seth Sentry was riding high. 2012 was easily the biggest year of the Melbourne rapper’s career – Channel [V] had crowned him Oz Artist of the Year, his album This Was Tomorrow had debuted at number six on the ARIA charts and was featured by triple j. Massive single ‘Dear Science’ was on high rotation at radio stations across the land and confirmed him as a national favourite by romping home at 26 in January’s annual Hottest 100.
According to Sentry, the accolades and acclaim were just in time. “To be honest man, it was about time for some shit to finally start happening,” he says plainly. “I’d had four years of doing sweet fuck all – well, I’d been working on the album a bit – but it was really about time.”
The four years he refers to came in between his 2008 debut release The Waiter Minute EP and his first album. The EP gave audiences an inkling of his ability via catchy tune ‘The Waitress Song’, but Sentry was keen to show people he was capable of a whole lot more.
“I think I had a lot of anger,” he says. “I spent ten years working in hospitality, and that kept me pretty angry. It also meant I got to play a lot of videogames. Like, a lot.”
There was not a trace of anger in the Melbournian’s tone in early March. The South by South West (SXSW) showcase in Austin and Canadian Music Week were beckoning, and he was experiencing some understandable nerves. “This is actually the first time I’ve ever left the country,” he says. “I’m going to America for the first time and I don’t really know what to expect. I’m not too worried – if anything I’d say I’m in a pretty happy place right now. Part of that is the fact that I’ve finally been able to quit hospitality, which in case you can’t tell is the industry I hate.”
Sentry’s change in circumstances has been born from more than a decade of writing raps, while relentlessly grinding away in small rooms to tiny audiences. And he plans on continuing to keep his head down and work hard. “I don’t feel vindicated by my current success,” he says. “That idea is kind of annoying, because I’ve never been interested in any of that shit. I’ve never done anything to get famous, and that’s pretty obvious if you look at the last few years.”
The rapper is surrounded by a posse of similarly talented performers and producers, all of whom he credits for maintaining his energy and focus.
“Collaborating keeps it really…well, it keeps the whole thing as pure as it can be. My passion for what I do has been kept alive because of the people I work and hang with. I’m inspired by guys like Styles, Grey Ghost, Manta and [DJ] B-Two, and that’s a constant thing that never changes.”
What kind of expectations was he placing on the upcoming international tour? “Ah man, I’m setting my expectations real low. I find if I set my standards really low then I can’t be disappointed. As long as we all have some fun, and make it back, it’ll all be good.”
Fast-forward two months and everything is different. Seth Sentry has gone from cruising along as a national favourite to exploding across the stratosphere of international fame. During SXSW he won the Doritos Bold Stage competition, which meant he earned the right to open for rap legend and entertainment mega-star LL Cool J.
“That was fucking weird – to be honest, I think what played in our favour was the fact that nobody saw us coming. No one thought an Australian was going to get up there,” he says of the experience. “It was the very first show in America, and there I am standing on this 70 foot Doritos vending machine. Then there’s the fact that the whole thing is being live streamed around the world, and I got picked to go first. You never want to go first.”
Adding to the pressure was the fact that Public Enemy and Doug E. Fresh had performed on the same strange stage just prior. Despite the apparent disadvantages of following hip hop royalty and going first, the Aussie triumphed in the challenge, defeating Texan rapper Snow Tha Product and Philadelphia’s Devin Miles.
In addition to winning the support slot with LL Cool J, Sentry also became the first Australian rapper to appear on an American late night show. His appearance on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live was less worrying than the Austin show. “Doing Kimmel was surprisingly casual,” Sentry says. “We thought it would be a kind of weird TV vibe with a few people up in the bleachers, but there was about a hundred people packed in nice and tight. It was actually quite a lot like playing in a pub, and I’ve obviously had a fair bit of experience doing that.”
After Los Angeles the tour headed north to Toronto, before winding south to the Aussie BBQ Showcase in New York. Visiting the Big Apple allowed Sentry and his crew to unleash their unabashed inner tourists.
“We went up the top of the Empire State Building, and I had that Jay Z and Alicia Keys song going in my head – I don’t feel too bad, though, ‘cause I know everyone else did too,” he says. “When we were riding around the city on the subway I actually knew where we were going; I could predict what the next stop was going to be because I knew the different boroughs from growing up listening to east coast ‘90s rap.”
Since arriving back in Australia he hasn’t stopped. He got home, washed his clothes and headed back up the Hume Highway to Dubbo in central NSW to play triple j’s One Night Stand. 40,000 people welcomed him back to the country alongside Flume, The Rubens and Ball Park Music.
“The One Night Stand was more daunting than anything I did in America. I’ve never seen a crowd like that. I was a bit nervous so I swore a fair bit more than I would normally. It was definitely the biggest show I’ve ever played, but then there’s just so much going on to make something like that happen. There are these huge cranes going out over the crowd – I think they call them jib cameras – and the kids are going fucking nuts. It was intense, but it was fun too.”
The big stages continued with his performances on the recent Groovin The Moo tour. “This is the first festival I’ve ever been on where I felt like I actually belonged there, you know? Touring with guys like Tuka and Ellesquire, and we’re having a great time hanging out and talking shit.”
The upcoming Dear Science tour throughout May gives Sentry the chance to get up close and personal with his fans again. “The festivals are great, but I love coming back to the smaller rooms. That shit is daunting in its own way, but I’ve got confidence in my live show. I think we’re all gonna have some fun.”
BY BENJAMIN COOPER
Seth Sentry plays Metro Theatre on Friday May 24.