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Interview: Harrison Kantarias from ‘At Sunset’

At Sunset

At first glance At Sunset may look and sound like your average teenage boy band. But the Adelaide trio have plenty of rock’n’roll firepower and a loveable humbleness which might just push them onto your guilty pleasure playlist. We talked with lead vocalist Harrison Kantarias, just before he flew out for At Sunset’s massive Philippines arena tour, about their new ‘Grease’ inspired single, provocative lyrics, and serenading Ed Sheeran.

You’ve just been around Australia with British teenager heartthrobs The Vamps, what was it like supporting such an internationally renowned band?

Man it was awesome! They were our first arena shows so it was a bit daunting being up on a stage that size overlooking a sea of people. We actually met The Vamps backstage and they were absolute lads. It was awesome because we’d just come off a tour anyway, so we were seven shows in, raring to go, and got to play at All Phones Arena with The Vamps. It was definitely a massive career highlight, so far! We were very honoured to be on that bill.

How receptive was the crowd like for your set compared to the reaction when The Vamps played?

We were actually overwhelmed by [the response to us] because we opened the show…we got a bit of an intro, which let everyone know the show was starting…and we wanted to rock it, I guess we were kind of the underdogs. We just went out there and gave it our all, I mean we’ve got these massive Orange guitar amps which when that first sub kicks in and that distortion kicks in I think we really get everyone’s attention. We played some of our singles and it was just nuts, I couldn’t believe people knew our songs already and were screaming the lyrics at us! We were stoked with the response, but The Vamps put on a great show man, the amount of energy and the lights…just everything was exactly what everyone came to see. 

You’ve announced a national tour in support of the release of your latest single Kiss Me. It’s a classic rock infused boy-band track, do you think your emphasis on your hard rock instrumentation makes At Sunset different to say One Direction or 5 Seconds of Summer? 

Yeah I think it is, we go for the more rock approach…I wouldn’t say the classic rock approach but definitely like a new age pop-rock. I guess we’ve got all the elements of the sub-bass and high-end keyboard pieces, but we do hit you hard with the big epic guitar solos and things like that. Because our tracks, we call them anthems, have massive choruses that’s kind of what separates our show from others that are like a punk-pop. What you hear on our record compared to what you hear live is like another 10db, it’s massive man! Our set’s epic and we love playing it! 

You’ve said Kiss Me is about “falling quickly and easily in love with someone to the point that all you want to do is spend every minute of every day having fun with them!“. Considering this, do you think you’re clingy when it comes to relationships?

Ha! Not at all actually, I think everyone can relate to this song because it’s that part when you first start liking someone and basically every thought is about then. You can’t even help it, you’re not trying to do that, it could be anything with your mind going a million miles an hour and you still somehow think of them. That’s what we try to capture in Kiss Me where nothing else really matters, and that’s what why we referenced Sandy and Danny from ‘Grease’. It’s such a simple love story that everyone grew to love, and we were like it’s just the same thing, it’s just about that moment when nothing else matters and that’s what we wanted to convey with this track.

Your previous single Every Little Thing has some interesting lyrics, “Her body’s perfect perfection, she’s got a tattoo collection”. Who was the lyrical inspiration behind the song?

Ahh I think Andrew and Tom went on that tangent because (laughs) I think we were talking about Shakira at the time…I don’t even know why, she just came up. We were like let’s not describe what everyone would think of this girl, like the underdog thing again, let’s go the silent girl and pick her out of the crowd and say why’s she so special. I love Every Little Thing man, it’s one of my favourite tracks we’ve ever written, its got such a cool vibe.

When you sit back and listen to the lyrics it’s actually quite a provocative song, do you try and pull back the sexuality in some songs when you’re playing all ages shows?

I think there’s quite an amount of tongue in cheek, when someone’s watching us perform it’s not as seductive as it might read. If you come see our live show there’s a track called Tiffany, which is probably the most innuendo laden track of ours, but at the same time it’s just tongue in cheek, it’s fun, it’s just what we all grew up listening to. I grew up listening to Blink-182 and Simple Plan, so to me [our music] throws me back to an era that I love and what we’re trying to do. With the younger fans we definitely in Kiss Me when we played a Nickelodeon show I changed the lyrics up a bit because I was even thinking that if a parent was listening it’s probably not the right things [to say]. So we do change [our lyrics] up at bit or we’ll be a little cheeky and throw a different word in so the people who know the original have a laugh. We do change it up depending on the demographic, but I think overall we don’t mean anything bad by [our lyrics], it’s literally tongue in cheek and when people listen to it they chuckle to themselves and go “yeah this is rad, this is cool”.

At Sunset has been nominated for the Favourite Pop Sensation award for Nickelodeon’s 2016 Kids’ Choice Awards. When you look back in five years time do you think you’ll put greater value on winning awards or playing sold out shows?

Ahh man that’s such a hard decision because growing up I remember watching every single year the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards, so for us to be nominated…well I was ecstatic when I found out! But at the same time we’re so lucky with social media these days because everything’s captured, even if you didn’t capture it someone’s got it. So you’ll just be scrolling through your news feed and go “woah, how did someone get a video from behind us playing to 20,000 people?”, and you’ve got that on your phone so you’ve kind of got that forever. We won the MTV award last year and when you’re up there and they announce that, they say your name and you’ve won, there’s just this feeling that takes over you…it’s like an amazing appreciation after we’ve busted our arses for this. So I think the [sold out] shows kind of come with that, like without winning those awards we might not be able to go on and play these big shows without people going “we have to check them out, they’re nominated for this and they’ve won this”, and then we do the rest. I think it’s a mixture of both (winning awards and playing big shows), but we’re so excited and can’t thank Nickelodeon enough for the nomination!

You mentioned At Sunset have worked super hard to get where you are now, what are some of the hardest challenges you’ve faced? 

The hardest thing is getting noticed for the right reasons. We never wanted to that band that felt like we sold out, rather be known for who we are. There’s heaps of ways to make it right now, like there’s phenomenal platforms like X Factor or like we did through Youtube. There’s the old school way, which we basically did a hybrid of, like going to radio stations and going to labels and knocking on the door and going “hey, we’re At Sunset and we want to play you three songs and if you don’t like them we’ll leave, and if you like them we’ll sit and chat”. So we did a bit of a combination of that and the Youtube thing, but that was a massive hurdle to jump because you had to believe in your songs.

I think one of the biggest things is you set goals and the hardest thing is not achieving those goals that you had in your head, but at the same time going “yeah we fell short but look what we fell on, we fell on this and that opens this and we bypassed this”. For me, my goal was always to play the Adelaide Entertainment Centre. I still haven’t played there but I’ve now played Sydney’s All Phones Arena and I’m literally flying out in two days to go play the biggest arena in the Philippines and it’s sold out with like 30,000 people. So you can fall short of your goal but at the same time a new door opens, and it’s just about moving forward. 

Finally, last year you were given the opportunity to be mentored by Ed Sheeran. What were the most valuable lessons or tips he told you and the band?

I think he inspired part of the answer I just gave. I kind of felt like he took the mentoring sessions a bit personal, like even when the cameras weren’t rolling he just would not stop giving us advice and we could ask him questions and things like that. He was just an absolute champion, the best person to speak to about the industry. He said when he first got signed he looked at his idol, which was James Blunt, and he turned around and said “cool, I want to see Blunt’s schedule and what he does on a day to day basis and compare it to mine”. Once he got it he said “we need to double his schedule for me”. So we were like OMG, and he said “that’s the only way I became successful, I picked the guy that was pinnacle to me and I want to be just as good and if not better in what I do”. And so Andrew asked if we could see his schedule because we wanted to double his (laughs). At the time when he said all that we thought it was funny but at the same time he’s incredible, and when you see how much he actually does, like writing for other people in his down time and he’s a singer-songwriter touring the world with just an acoustic guitar and loop pedals, he’s just amazing.

The scary thing was singing for him! The whole TV crew and Warner executives were over 10 metres away from me, but he was no joke 1.5 metres from my microphone. He wanted to see it, believe it, wanted to feel it, and in the last chorus I could hear this harmony coming from his as he’s singing along. So Ed Sheeran telling me things like our song’s catchy and clapping first at the end of the song…that’s what hit home and kind of made us go we can do this music thing, we’ve gotta do this!

At Sunset ‘Kiss Me’ Tour Dates (remaining)

HQ, Perth All Ages

Get Tickets HERE