SETH SENTRY – Playing It Down

HE WENT OVER TO LOS ANGELES, TOOK ON THE COMPETITION, WON A SPOT ON AN LL COOL J TOUR AND VENTURED ONTO GROUNDS UPON WHICH NO AUSTRALIAN HIP HOP ARTIST HAS EVER SET FOOT. DESPITE THIS, SETH ‘SENTRY’ MARTON LIKENS THE EXPERIENCE TO FEELING LIKE THE BEARDED WOMAN ON SHOW. HAVING RETURNED HOME, THE BEARDED WOMAN EXPLAINS TO RIP NICHOLSON HOW HE PREPARES FOR BOTH THE DEAR SCIENCE TOUR AND TOURING WITH ONE OF HIP HOP’S GREATEST MCS.

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SETH SENTRY interviewed @ 14.15 AEST – Monday 13th April, 2013
For Street Press Australia & Rip2Shredz Press

Words by RIP NICHOLSON

Doritos sponsored the SXSW #BoldStage rap battle that put three MCs up against each other for the chance to win a support slot on LL Cool J’s forthcoming Authentic tour. Sentry let loose with new single Dear Science, despite feeling strange on the whole performance, and won. He also found himself taking the same record to a live appearance on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live, rocking his rap out in a flanny. A memory he can take straight to the pool room.

“I guess they saw me as an oddity, as an Australian rapper,” he says. “I felt like a bearded woman. So they picked me, this dude Devin Miles from Philadelphia, this chick [Snow Tha Product] from Texas, and they had us do one song each. I did Dear Science. One thing I must say, it was really confusing. At one stage there is footage of me standing at the back of stage and I’m seeing this guy waving,‘Come on, come up and have a go’. It was shocking.” Even when compared to performing live on Jimmy Kimmel, he says, “[#BoldStage] was definitely nerve-racking! Way more than my appearance on Jimmy Kimmel. The competition was way more full on.”

Sentry started getting dues when singles Simple Game and the breakfast romance of The Waitress Song found a regular home at Triple J over 2008-’09 and soon after dropping The Waiter Minute EP, Australia warmed to his cheeky folklore raps. In 2009 he toured nationally with Pez and the next year with Horrorshow. Sentry’s live career has already landed him in front of the deepest of festival numbers across the country, so rather than hear of him feeling the nerves before performing at the competition, one could assume that he’s going to own that shit.

“This is my first time in America as well,” he says. “And you gotta know, my first show was the competition itself. So, everything came to me at once in a big ball of nerves. And this is way different than playing a live show. I know how to play on stage, I get that part, but I don’t know how to win competitions – it’s not what I do – and I’m competitive as well.”

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Throughout his rhyme book, the Melbourne MC has told a story about the nuisances and nuances of the small nothings we battle daily to sometimes illustrate issues of a larger scale while using pop culture to exact his point. So, while nationally Sentry can hold a crowd to finish off his bars and get his metaphors, he is very aware than an American audience might not understand what’s behind his gripe with hoverboards. “I’m talking about science promising a cure for cancer – 90% of our science budget being spent on military applications – all that shit. But it’s easier when you say it’s about hoverboards,” he says, decoding his most recent record, Dear Science. “I like to make it accessible, you know?”

More so than letting them vibe off his music, Sentry says it’s important for his audience to understand his lyrics. “The words were a big part of it, and I knew that was going to be the case, so I kind of tried to enunciate my words a lot and make sure they [are] heard [in] the lyrics. It’s like, when people who don’t really listen to lyrics tune in and say ‘Oh, he’s just rapping about hoverboards’ instead of other people who will hear the lyrics and get a deeper understanding. That’s how I like my music to be. I grew up listening to lyricists, so I always thought the lyrics were important and something I really tried to focus on. I really don’t want to sell people short when it comes to the lyrics.”

Sentry has gone from being the first Australian hip hop act to perform on a US chat show that carries an audience several-million deep, returning home in business-class from LAX, to getting stuck into a festival show at Dubbo the following week. The reception was not one he was expecting. “That was the biggest crowd I have ever played to!” he exclaims, when asked whether or not he felt a comedown from performing on Jimmy to playing Dubbo. “There really was none. As soon as we came home we went right into another huge moment for me. The crowd at One Night Stand was fucking ridiculous. That place goes crazy! They get in 20,000 people. I mean, yeah we played to more people at Jimmy Kimmel, but we didn’t see them. And my whole philosophy on that kind of life is, just play to the crowd that is in front of you. If you try and ham up to the cameras and shit, that’s wack as fuck! I hate seeing dudes do that. Like, I hate when I see singers singing to the camera,” he laughs. “But you know when dude’s start making love to the camera and shit, so yeah, I was really only playing for 100 people [on Jimmy Kimmel Live]. This gig in Dubbo was off the wall! Crazy! People were driving up from Adelaide! Some people were making 12-hour pilgrimages, you know? It all added to give so much energy to the show.”

Before Seth Sentry heads back over Stateside, his Dear Science national tour is at the forefront of his mind. Last September his new album, This Was Tomorrow, debuted sixth on the Australian Album Chart and stood in the chart for five weeks. Sentry is anxious to serve this one up live around the country. So when asked on whether he will prepare differently for opening up LL shows than his own, he takes a moment with his reply. That’s a pretty good question, I must say. Let me just think about it,” he says. “I haven’t really put much thought into the LL shows. I’ve had my head stuck on the Dear Science stuff. I guess I’m going to have a shorter amount of time. I guess I just do my thing, that’s the kinda guy I am. I’m definitely not about to go and ‘fair dinkum’ and ‘strewth’ my way through a show. So I’m just gonna do me and just hope that, again, they hear my lyrics.

“Here, I can ease back on that because I know there are going to be people in the audience that will know some of my lyrics, but not over there. So to make sure they hear the lines and get my songs, I like to pick key people out in the audience and I think to myself, if I can make this one dude laugh then I’m connecting. So maybe I might do something like that again.”

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Q & A with SETH SENTRY

Doritos sponsored the SXSW #BoldStage rap battle that put three MCs up against each other for the chance to win a support slot on LL Cool J’s forthcoming Authentictour. Sentry let loose with new single Dear Science, despite feeling strange on the whole performance, and won. He also found himself taking the same record to a live appearance on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live, rocking his rap out in a flanny. A memory he can take straight to the pool room.

Congratulations on winning your spot on LL’s tour and playing on Jimmy Kimmel.

Thanks man.

Can you break it down exactly what the competition was, what you had to do and how you got involved?

The reason i was involved in the first place, i guess they saw me as a n oddity – as an Australian rapper. I felt like a bearded woman. So they picked me, this dude Devin Miles from Philadelphia, this chick from Texas. And they had us do one song each – I did ‘Dear Science’. One, I thing was really confusing. At one stage there is footage of me standing at the back of stage and I’m seeing this guy waving, “come on, come up and have a go.” It was shocking.

You said you were nervous as hell preparing for competition. More so than before a big show?

That was definitely nerve-wracking. That was way more than my appearance on Jimmy Kimmel. That was way more full on.

So what made you that nervous? You’ve been up on stages many time now.

This is my first time in America as well. And you gotta know, my first show was the competition itself. So, everything came to me at once in a big ball of nerves.

That was harder than playing at Big Day Out, in front of some serious crowds?

Oh way different. I know how to play on stage, I get that part, but I don’t know how to win competitions. it’s not what i do. And i’m competitive as well you know?

So what did they tell you when you won? Are you on dates with LL across the US?

Yes their are other dates but we are still working it out, because I don’t think they thought an Australian would win. So the logistics of everything has shifted. Now they have to make this happen. So we had to get our visas extended, all that shit.

Being that, as you said, you felt like the bearded woman, presenting your brand of Australian hip-hop to a US audience. Did you feel the audience related to your words, or was that not really necessary as long as they’re vibing off the music?

I think the words were a big part of it. And I knew that was going to be the case, so i kind of tried to enunciate my words a lot and make sure they heard the lyrics, you know. Um, ‘cause I’m not the coolest motherfucker and they don’t think I’m trying to get into their style. You know how they have the heavy production and that kinda style that’s hot in contemporary America at the moment. My shit’s not like that at all. So, i thought  the lyrics was important and something I really tried to focus on.

So from Jimmy Kimmel with an audience of several million, you came home and not long after, did a show in Dubbo.

Which was the biggest crowd I have ever played to!

Really? because i was going to ask how you readjust to the scale of gigs you’re now privy.

There really was none. As soon as we came home we went right into another huge moment for me. The crowd at one Night Stand was fucking ridiculous. That place goes crazy! They get in 20,000 people. I mean, yeah we played to more people at Jimmy Kimmel (Live), but we didn’t see them. And my whole philosophy on that kind of life is, just play to the crowd that is in front of you. if you try and ham up to the cameras and shit, that’s wack as fuck! I hate seeing dudes do that. Like, i hate when i see singers singing to the camera. I’m like, ‘fucking hell, what is the crowd thinking, you know?’

Although i think if you were to do it, no-one would take it seriously anyway. it would automatically be seen as a piss take.

Haha. But you know when dude’s start making love to the camera and shit, so yeah, i was really only playing for 100 people (in the Jimmy Kimmel Live audience). This gig in Dubbo was off the wall! Crazy!

So playing such a monster show, what do you think made it so successful?

I don’t know, I guess there was a really good lineup and it was sick that we got to perform in such a small town like Dubbo and have that turn out. people were driving up from Adelaide!  Some people were making 12 hour pilgrimages, you know? It all added to give so much energy to the show.

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Great video for ‘Dear Science’ by the way. What is it with you and hoverboards, man? Were you worried that your theme wouldn’t translate too well for the US audience?

I guess, yes. It’s not actually about hover boards, it’s about science promising things, there being no cure for cancer, 90% of our science budget being spent on military applications. All that shit. But it’s easier when you say it’s about hoverboards, you know?

It’s what I like to do with a lot of my songs I like to make it accessible.

I like when people who don’t really listen to lyrics, tune in and say ‘oh, he’s just rapping about hover boards’ instead of other people who will hear the lyrics and get a deeper understanding. That’s how I like my music to be. I grew up listening to lyricists, I really don’t wanna sell people short when it comes to the lyrics side of things.

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In defense of Back to the Future 2, they still have 2 years to stay true to their word, don’t they?

Dude I didn’t even do my research when i was writing that song. I had someone tell me something about Griff-Biff someone? Some lyric that I messed up and it’s a fucking outrage! I’m sorry.

You seem to attract that type of comic convention, Big Bang-type fans. They’re going to pull you up on the technical mistakes of references.

I did a reference, because I’ve been on this website with a camera and it’s cool because i can use it without having so much of a filter, I can just get my secateurs and say what I want. I made some mad, nerdy, Castlemania reference – this old video game about vampires, it’s full nerd shit. Some guy pulls me up on it, ‘I still can’t believe he made this reference, blah, blah.’ I just love these guys who think they’re the only ones who have this knowledge.

I was listening to some Aesop Rock and in his raps (on ‘The Yes And The Y’all’), I’m like, ‘Is that a fucking Mocking Bird reference?’ I love that shit.

You’re opening up the Dear Science tour here in May, then back state-side for LL’s Authentic tour in June/July. Do you come at each of them with separate preparation?

That’s a pretty good question, I must say. let me just think about it. I haven’t really put much thought into the LL shows. I’ve had my head stuck on the Dear Science and Groove In The Moo stuff. I guess I’m going to have a shorter amount of time. I guess i just do my thing, that’s the kinda guy i am.

tumblr_inline_mn71jgXK0K1qbialbWell I guess it will be a tighter set at the very least?

I’m definitely not about to go and ‘fair dinkum’ and ‘strooth’ my way through a show, do you know what i mean? So i’m just gonna do me and I guess in just a shorter amount of time. And really just thinking about conveying my message out to everybody, hoping that, again. they hear my lyrics. here I can ease back on that because i know there are going to be people in the audience that will know some of my lyrics, but not over there  So to make sure they hear the lines and get my songs.

I like to pick key people out in the audience and I think to myself, if i can make this one dude laugh then I’m connecting. So maybe I might do something like that again.

You’ve got a few under 18 gigs in there. Do you bring out the swear jar?

Less swearing. I probably will still swear.

They know the words.

They know the words. For a while, i really didn’t notice when i was doing an under 18 gig. Because I don’t really feel like i write music for under 18’s. Well, what was I listening to when i was a teeanger?

Kids don’t listen to kids’ music.

That’s true. Very true. All ages, always get wild, man. it was near a pool after some swimming event. And it was all-ages and it went off like crazy! I’m excited. And i don’t have a hangover the next day, it’s brilliant.

In an old interview before you dropped the album you stated that This Was Tomorrow  was going to be a more confident, evolved version of The Waiter Minute EP. Now in the aftermath of its release, is that how it was?

Yeah, definitely. Obviously, I’m thinking of the next thing now. But listening to The Waiter Minute EP and This Was Tomorrow –  and I don’t really listen to my own music once it’s recorded, but yes i really feel there has a been a big step up in both lyrics and in confidence, which is pretty natural when you keep at it. At the start it sounds like we don’t know what the fuck we’re doing, but with the EP we got better at everything and the second time around we kinda felt like we knew what we were doing.

So third time around you think you will get it right, or just reach yet another level in which to build?

Haha another level? Nah, I’m really happy with the album and I have to say, I’m happy with everything I do, but i was really happy with how this one came out. This was cohesive, you know how when you get an EP none of the songs feel connected to each other. But when you have an album that feels like it’s got a beginning and a middle and an end it feels like a storybook. And that’s what i tried to do, and I was listening to, well a benchmark for all of hip hop, Nas’ Illmatic a lot lately. Not only is one of the greatest hip hop albums of all-time, it was such a great package, so cohesive. I can press play and it finishes before i know it. it just flows. It’s just 9-10 songs so well put together.

Yes. You don’t end up with an LP of 20-25 tracks with some filler bullshit that you have to keep skipping over. It’s so hard these days to find an album so neat that you can play from start to finish and just enjoy. Hard.

Exactly. That’s why a fan of double and triple albums, dudes just go crazy with the amount of songs they put on. their shit.

So 10 years down the track, married, 2 kids, let’s say you’re still rapping, can you still keep that up or do your lyrics mature as well?

I dunno, I’m 30 now. So, how much more am I going to mature? When does it change?

Well, there’s the old theory that we keep learning. So, if you continued in your craft does your storytelling grow old with you? Like the pop refs of Back to the Future, Castlemania.

I think I always make the pop references because with pop references, people know exactly what you mean straight away. ‘Oh, I get that, it’s been a part of my life, too.’ You can always use that to mean something deeper.

They make the listener feel comfortable with you.

Exactly, yes. Well I just like to make pop references, like especially when they’re a little obscure.

‘Yes! I know that little blast of nostalgia, like I know exactly what you mean now.’ if I wasn’t before, I know exactly where you’re at. It puts people on the same wave as you.

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Seth Sentry [May13]

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