“…Addiction is a very selfish disease that takes hold of you and ruins everything in your life…The people that love you try over and over and over again to change it but they can’t, because you have to come to terms with it yourself, you have to want to change, you have to want to get help, you have to want to talk to someone about it…I was lucky, I had a family that always told me that I could do anything, and the best part about coming here is that I get to tell you guys to believe in yourselves and stuff like that, because it can happen for literally anybody…I’m trying to make wiser decisions, and not make the same mistakes I’ve made in the past, and I think that’s all you can do, just try and be better every day…”
I’ve always thought in the past that an artist has to have their life all together, or to be inspiring beyond the stage, for them to be considered as being influential, or becoming influential. I’m not really sure if this thought of mine is valid or not, considering that we ourselves as humans in one way or another do not have our life together as we may think (unless we’re like Jesus, which we’re not!); but let’s quickly take a look at the evidence to support my theory of influence meaning being near-perfect, shall we? If you look at the artists that Jon has written about, and that I have written about in this blog series thus far, I am sure you will find that probably every single artist we’ve posted about thus far; yes have had success when the spotlight is on them, but also have thrived in their personal life and their extra-curricular activities, reminding us all that influence stretches beyond the songs. They’ve supported charities and causes that are worthy and admirable and have also mostly given us food for thought and challenged us immensely with profound and thought-provoking lyrics.
Yet what happens if an artist is in the midst of overcoming adversity yet still releases heartfelt, personal, emotional, honest, and hard-hitting material? What then? If an artist is addicted to drugs or alcohol or pornography or if they are prideful, or a misogynist? Are they still influential despite their personal life? If their life away from the spotlight is still a work in progress, should we as listeners, critics and fans alike still champion them because of hopeful and encouraging song lyrics? Or shall we wait until they’re the finished product in all facets of life; a hope and dream that may never come? Now I’m sure in the future of this blog series, we will talk about artists whom have released inspiring songs with their own private life being a wreck. But let me start off this instalment of Momentous Mondays by saying that I’ve realised over the past week that you do not have to be perfect or even appear to be, in order for you to have great influence in the area God has placed you in. You just need to be authentic and willing to show the world parts of yourself that are ugly, messy, and unlikeable. If people know that ‘hey, this guy is just as much of a screw-up as me, and if he/she can make it, then so can I’, then the world will be a better place, won’t it?
Conrad Sewell, an Australian singer/songwriter who has been active since 2014, and just released his debut album LIFE this year, is one such artist whom has had some bumpy roads on this journey of life, probably hence the broad yet fitting debut album title. I first heard of Conrad’s songs on my local radio station (Hope 103.2), and specifically the song “Hold Me Up” from his 2015 EP. Originally when I heard this track, I thought it was a worship song and that Conrad was a Christian. Thus began my interest in Conrad’s music, with songs like “Changing” and “Healing Hands” also on rotation on Hope 103.2. And it was in the middle of this year that I decided that I was going to write about Conrad and his music, no matter if he was a Christian or not- so now you can see how much my faith means to me and how much it shapes which other artists I listen to… And even though now I know that Christianity is not so much what Conrad believes now as it was something he grew up with and shaped his moral compass (you can read all about Conrad’s religious upbringing in an honest and informative article here!); there’s still no denying his passion and raw, brutal honesty. And the fact that God is using him to draw us all to Himself, whether Conrad knows or believes it or not.
Born in 1988, Conrad’s life is anything but pretty- and on the surface you’d say that he may not be the best role model- if kids who listen to his music dig into Conrad’s past and find out all sorts of things, they may think it’s ok to do it if Conrad did. However who Conrad is now is so much more vibrant and peaceful than who he was before, and right now as LIFE has released, it seems as if Conrad’s demons are rid of (for now at least), with his family and friends by his side to help him along the journey. But for us to gain more context into why this ongoing feel-good story has resonated with me so much, and probably with all of you as well; we need to go back to the beginning. Back to when Conrad was starting out. With Conrad attending an all-boys Catholic school, his grandparents being religious, Conrad being part of the school choir, and Conrad also having many religious tattoos to honour his family- especially his grandfather when he passed; it seems as if there was a sense of Jesus and God drilled into him. I don’t know if that ever was the case- there’s not really much information on Conrad’s religious past; but given that he moved to the U.K. for a time in 2006 and then subsequently started a band called Sons Of Midnight (ultimately a flop!), and then toured all over the world with Ed Sheeran, Maroon 5 and Jess Glynne to name a few- one could say that Conrad was running from God, from the One who created Him, from the One who was continually drawing him to Himself. I may have been going out on a limb here, saying that Conrad was intentionally running away from Jesus; yet some words from the man himself (which I found and couldn’t paraphrase as the meaning would be lost, do decided to include them here verbatim!) remind us that in the spotlight of fame and success, morals and values can erode.
“I was travelling the world with my four best mates. We thought we were the Rolling Stones – rock’n’roll, drinking, partying – so we would be like, ‘Let’s smash every beer on the rider and then go out there and play.’
“The thing with me was that I could always get away with it, because my voice was resilient and I was used to drinking all weekend and then singing at the pub for three hours, even if I’d just vomited around the corner an hour before
“She saw me in States – she was arguing with me at Madison Square Garden, she was with me on the road when I couldn’t get up for shows, she saw everything – and I think she saw how great I could be and she saw me ruining that, and eventually I lost her.
“And then my mum was the same thing. I just remember thinking after – I’d had an episode where I’d done too much blow…I was on one and I ended up not well. And I remember coming out thinking it could, you know, eventually end your life. It could get that bad.
“And talking to my mum and her just being in tears and being like, ‘Just realise what you’re doing to yourself. You’re going to lose the one thing that you love more than anything and that’s your voice. God’s going to take that gift away from you, boy.’
A modern-day prodigal son in maybe the most closest literal sense, Conrad has his life turned around from where he was in the 2000’s and early 2010’s until now. A stable home life, a therapist he sees regularly, playing soccer and hiking on the advice of his therapist- Conrad’s lie now is balanced…well according to what I’ve read on the internet. And though I’m not sure about where Conrad stands on religion and Jesus, it’s clear his early Christian roots still impact his music today. In my opinion LIFE is one of the most inspiring albums I’ve heard all year (yep, inclusive of Christian albums!), and that’s not a dig at the calibre of Christian albums from the year, or even Conrad’s songs pre-LIFE. It’s just that this album spoke to me and tugged at my emotions that no other album managed to do this year- and if I was reviewing the album (which would be a pointless exercise, as I’d be championing every single song as a fan, and going on and on and on for pages and pages!), I’d instantly give it 5/5.
As for Conrad’s songs pre his debut album- sure many are inspiring and encouraging. “Start Again” from 2015 (and also present on LIFE) speaks about a broken relationship and how the person left a hole in Conrad’s heart, with the track culminating in an assertion that Conrad will start again in the rebuilding of his life; while “Hold Me Up” has a double meaning to me as a worship song (which may not be what Conrad intended). The gospel tinged “Remind Me” also speaks about a love lost- and in the compelling music video, Conrad delves into the idea of someone lost due to death, which is as emotional a song as they come. While Conrad has collaborated with many artists and songwriters, resulting in smash hits and underrated gems, inclusive of “Firestone” (Kygo), and “Taste The Feeling” (Avicii). But nothing really could match the vulnerability and openness of Conrad’s debut album- and it is in these 15 songs alone that confirmed that he would make my list despite only one full length album to his name.
“…I don’t regret telling the truth. Everyone has a story and I just hope it’s not such a big part of my story that it becomes a thing, because it’s not the thing. The thing should be my voice and that’s what people should talk about. The album is a great body of work and I think if enough people hear it, it will spread because the songs are classic and real and it doesn’t really sound like anything else out there at the moment. It’s unapologetically me and it may not be the coolest f–ing thing in the world, but it’s the truth…”
“…This album pretty much sums up my life to date. A lot of the album was inspired by my battles with addiction, regrets I have as a result of those battles, and the people I’ve hurt along the way. These were hard truths that I’ve had to come to terms with. Although the underlying message in most of the songs is one of redemption and hope that people can change… I suppose that’s what the journey of life is all about. I wanted to make a classic timeless album with songs that will hopefully be played 50 years from now. No bells and whistles, just my truth and my voice singing with every ounce of pain and love that I have…”
As Conrad has indeed summed up LIFE the theme of the album being one of redemption and honesty and vulnerability and authenticity in these above two quotes, let me just finish up this short post by saying that LIFE is a masterpiece for a debut album, containing tons of personal songs and songs that make us think. In a world where quite a lot of songs these days are about materialistic pleasures, Conrad’s songs speak about the eternity and the beauty of a long lasting relationship. Many songs have impacted me on this album, inclusive of tracks such as “Neighbourhood”, “Big World”, “Love Me Anyway”, “Light In The Dark”, “Belong”, “Come Clean”, “Changing” and the title track, as Conrad has opened up and discussed a wide variety of deep and meaningful topics. Belonging, not wanting anyone to change for any reason, wondering if anyone can love him, asking for a light in the dark, recognising that it’s a big world out there, and that our character and who we are is shaped by the neighbourhood that we live in; it’s these deep introspective moments on here that make me forget that it’s only Conrad’s first album. So imagine what full length album #2 would be like!
But I want to take a moment to talk about “Healing Hands”, probably Conrad’s most successful single to date. A pop song at heart, and one which I also think could be sung to God (if you disregard the ‘darling’ in the song!); I think this song is so successful simply because of the fact that it is universal in its themes. Sure, we could be singing to a loved one or to a mate, or even to God the maker of the universe Himself; but our longings and our desires are still the same. Thanking someone other than ourselves for the role they’ve played in our lives in ‘healing’ us is a concept that is very therapeutic, and I’m sure for Conrad writing and recording the song was healing to him too. Conrad may subtly have been thanking God for healing him from addiction (which by no means is a one and done thing, but more of an ongoing process!), but even if he’s not, the impact is still there. And there’s not much more I can say except listen to this song at least once- and then go and buy LIFE. You won’t regret it. While the world wasn’t ready back then for Conrad, they sure are now, as this Aussie is about the storm the world with poise and grace, creating music that makes us think and feel alive.
I’ve previously said that an artist has to have their life all together, or to be inspiring beyond the stage, for them to be considered as being influential, or becoming influential. But Conrad’s life and his vulnerability and his songs that transcend all walks of life, changes that for me. his ongoing testimony has really altered what I think, and I’m reminded by Matthew West’s song “Broken Things”- that it’s more often than not the broken people that God uses the most to further His kingdom. And I firmly believe that for Conrad. I’m not sure what the next album will bring, or whether Conrad’s addiction will be quelled for good- I do in fact pray that that happens though! But whatever the case, we are indeed witnessing history in the making, as Conrad’s name is sure to be on all of our lips for a while yet! Maybe a full on worship album or a gospel album celebrating his roots would be great, but until then I’ll keep championing Conrad in whatever he does- and as long as he’s still breathing, God’s not done with him yet!
Does Conrad Sewell make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Influential Artists of the next 5-10 years’ list? Is there any song (other than “Changing”, “Healing Hands”, “Start Again”, “Hold Me Up”, and “Life”) that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far, or even your walk with God? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!