John Butler told the Australian edition of Rolling Stone published in April 2004 that he wanted greater freedom to pursue his vision. "Essentially what I learnt out of this process was, more so than ever, I'm the keeper of the music. I have the intuition and the foresight to pick the right players to my music. I've learned it's not always about having the same players for five, six or 10 years, it’s having the right chemistry for these songs at this time. Some of my favourite Jimi Hendrix music is off-the-cuff stuff with Band of Gypsys."
The title Sunrise Over Sea is probably a reference to his home in Byron Bay which is one of the most easterly points in Australia and therefore one of the first points to see the sunrise. It is also part of the lyrics to the song "Peaches & Cream."
All the songs on the album were written, arranged and produced by John Butler, except for "What You Want" where the string section was arranged by Shannon Birchall and John Butler and was scored and conducted by Shannon Birchall.
Additional musicians performing on the album include: Michael Barker - "Treat Yo Mama", "Company Sin", "Born To Ramble", Seeing Angels", "There'll Come a Time", "Zebra"; Daniel Caruna - "Treat Yo Mama", "Peaches & Cream", "What You Want", "Sometime"; Michael Caruna - "Zebra"; Dave Pensabene - "Zebra"; Tim Neil - "Sometimes"
Recent editions of the album have included the bonus track "Something's Gotta Give", which was released on an EP in 2004. It's a politically charged song that was very successful off the back of the recent LP.
In August 2004, a new disc, What You Want EP was released, with the song "What You Want" (Shared by Sunrise over Sea) and including a new version of the song "Treat Yo' Mama" and a cover of The Beatles' song "Across the Universe".
The album debuted at number one in the national album charts in March 15, 2004 and achieved gold record status in its first week of release. "Zebra" was released in December 2003 and made the ARIA singles charts in early 2004. It was number 5 in the Triple J Hottest 100 for 2003 and also had significant airplay on commercial FM radio across Australia.