Seth Sentry: “I just didn’t put a filter on it this time”

There’s many sides to Seth Sentry. From the rebellious youth to the introverted homebody, to the charismatic rapper and remarkable lyricist, there’s a lot to learn, and a lot to love.

With the release of his sophomore album Strange New Past, Sentry, real name Seth Marton, opened his personal floodgates; he’s allowed the world a peek into his life, his roots, his worries and his opinions.

Lyrically, Strange New Past is creative and personal. In terms of skill, it’s a beast. Flexing his lyrical muscles more than ever before, it’s a testament to his natural talent. “Everything [on This Was Tomorrow] was about such specific topics… I worked so hard at crafting the lyrics, the flow and the technical aspects, but I think it got overshadowed by the topic,” he says. “I just love rapping. The actual act of rapping – the technical side, the way that the words sound. That’s what drew me to it. So this time, because it was a lot more personal, it freed me up. I could be more dynamic and put a lot more emotion into the delivery.”

Authenticity is paramount to most good hip-hop. For Seth, it’s more than authentic – it’s therapeutic. “A lot of these things were things I’d never really talked about, especially stuff about my father, and depression as a kid. I just didn’t put a filter on it this time,” he says.

“Whatever my first instinct was when I heard the music, was what I wrote about. And it felt good! I felt lighter afterwards, but it was definitely a struggle. I write a lot of revisions on songs, so I have to keep putting myself back into that headspace every time. That was exhausting at times. There’s stuff on this album that I don’t even talk about with friends, let alone complete strangers.”

It’s never easy to put your heart on your sleeve, but Seth took the plunge, and it’s paid off. But don’t confuse honesty with self-assurance. Just like anybody else, the rapper feels doubt and has entertained thoughts about quitting – even while recording this album. “All the time, yeah, constantly. It’s self doubt, it’s not really quantifiable, it just comes out of nowhere,” he says. “You struggle writing a song or you can’t get an idea for a beat, and then there’s a flight or fight mechanic – and you might take flight.”

And if the rap game did ever fail him? “I’ve always wanted to write a book, that’s how it all got started. I really liked creative writing as a kid, I used to write little stories that were heavily borrowed from Star Wars movies.”

Once a champion battle rapper, Seth is now meticulously, obsessively drawn to lyrical detail. A few of the album’s verses were close to freestyled; “Dumb came out really quickly, Hate Love came out really easy, Run was easy to write,” he says, but the more serious and personal tracks took a lot more care and attention.

“The lighter, funnier stuff was easy. It’s easier to be funny and not too serious in real life, than to say something from your soul.”

Does he miss his rap battle days? “Absolutely. It wasn’t serious, it was so fun. I rapped for about five years before I even heard myself recorded – I never heard my own voice. All that mattered was what was happening in that moment.”

As a collection of short stories, the album is creative and refreshingly dense. A labyrinth of self-exploration and reflection, with interconnected lines between tracks, it’s no wonder Sentry counts underground hero Aesop Rock as a huge influence. “He’s just so fucking great to delve into,” he says, “You can just get so much out of it based on repeated listens, it’s so cryptic. You can still put on a song you’ve been listening to for ten years and figure out a lyric and think, ‘ah, that’s what that means. Like it’s a puzzle.”

In spite of his undeniable skill, Aesop’s music never made it out of the underground because of its relentless density. While some people love it, many want verses spliced by melodic hooks and choruses. For Seth, it’s about balance: about finding that fine line between nerdy rap wordplay, and creating an accessible sound, that even people who aren’t rap fans will enjoy. “I like to walk that line,” he says. “I have some of the more digestible stuff, but I still like to nerd out, like hiding stuff in there – a lot of songs reference each other on this album.”

Seth worked with producer Stylaz Fuego to create the album, and is cited as a useful in finding that balance. “He’s got a real pop sensibility,” he says. “I always come at things from a lyrical point of view – I just wanna rap good. And he’s more like, ‘let’s make a good song.’ He produces a lot of pop music as well, so he’s got a good ear for things that are fun to sing for other people.”

Indeed, in between the illustrative lyrics and the album is full of catchy hooks which break up the verses – the perfect singalong moments, ideal for any kind of crowd. It’s great rap, but it’s also rap for people who don’t necessarily like rap.

“I don’t actually give a fuck about that,” he says, talking about making rap accessible. “I’m doing it for a hardcore rap fan when it comes to the lyrics – so I think it was a good balance between [Styalz and I].”

So is an unaccessible, hardcore, non-radio friendly rap album in Seth’s future? “I’d LOVE to do that,” he says. “I’d love to really go hard on a side project and just do some sort of concept album. There’s a concept album called Deltron 3030 and I’ve always wanted to do something like that, some sort of sci-fi, weird conceptual thing.”

Deltron 3030, by the way, is an album by a group also called Deltron 3030, comprised of Dan the Automator, Del the Funky Homosapien and Kid Koala. It is WELL worth a listen. Here’s a snippet of the Wikipedia description: “The album casts Del in the role of Deltron Zero, a disillusioned mech soldier and interplanetary computer prodigy rebelling against a 31st-century new world order.”

From there, our conversation trailed off into a wonderful nerdy chat about Star Wars and Philip K Dick. Seth told me that the K stands for Kindred. Seth’s middle name is Gabriel, but he’s not too happy about it. “I got a lot of shit for it – it had ‘gay’ in it. Kids can be so uninventive.”

We then started chatting about video games – once the tour’s done, Seth’s planning some pretty serious Fallout 4 time. Games like Fallout and Grand Theft Auto are seriously violent – Seth reckons they teach us something about ourselves. “Why do you do it?” he asks, after we talk about all the murdering and robbing and vehicular manslaughter that gamers regularly commit. “Why do you want to do it? Why is that impulse there? Don’t you think that’s weird?!”

In real life, anyone who acts out on their video game desires would very obviously end up in prison. A younger Seth wasn’t too worried about it though. “When I was young I used to do a bunch of bad stuff, and I used to think I’d be okay if I went to prison because I can freestyle rap. So I’d be like, ‘No, they wouldn’t wanna hurt me and kill me ‘cos I’m a source of entertainment.’”

He’s now realised that’s almost certainly not true.

Seth has a massive 48-date tour coming up, which will see him visit more Australian locations than most people visit in their lifetime. As exciting as it is, it’s no easy feat – especially when you start missing the home comforts. “I always miss home,” he says. “When I was a kid we moved around so much, we never once had a family home. So I just fucking love it so much… I just wanna be there all the time. And I love my bed, I love my Xbox, my fridge. It’s a good fridge!”

It turns out that Seth Sentry really, really loves his fridge:

“I’ve got this thing with this fridge. It was a big grown up purchase for me, an adult thing. The fridge didn’t fit in my front door, so I had to hire a guy with a forklift to lift it up. I wanted this fridge so badly and when the guys at Harvey norman dropped it off they were like, ‘just get a smaller fridge mate!’ And I was like, no, I’m fucking decided on this fridge – once I’ve decided on it I have to stick with it. So we forklifted it in through the lounge room window. I’m very aware that for the next two and a half months I’ll be sleeping in different hotel rooms with shit fridges.”

Buy Strange New Past here
Buy tickets here.