Of late, to say Dan Sultan is a man-about-town would be an understatement. If he’s not sharing the stage with electro kings Peking Duk or gracing the pages of InStyle magazine, he’s playing a tune with his long-time pal Paul Kelly, or as he revealed before last month’s Splendour In the Grass, he’s hatching a plan to meet Kirin J Callinan. “We’ve got a lot of mutual friends and I’m going to make him my friend, ‘cause I just love him,” he jokes. “I don’t know him yet, but I will.
“Festivals are great,” he adds. “You’re hanging out with your mates and watching them do great work, and you get to do the same. It’s all a bit of a love-in.”
Good vibes aside, with such a full schedule, it’s no wonder when we sit down to have a chat about his latest album, Killer, Sultan is a little under the weather. “I’ve been feeling crook for a while now. It goes away, then it comes back, but I just have to push through it.”
While some may see that response as a throwaway remark, as we continue to talk I realise, Dan Sultan is a man focused on moving forward. “It feels good to have it [Killer] done. There’s been a lot of work put into it and there’s a lot of work going on as we speak. There’s a lot more to come as well,” he says, “which is very exciting.”
The ARIA Award winner has never been afraid of hard work. He learnt to play the guitar at four years old and was writing songs while he was still in primary school. “I have a short attention span, so I always wanna be honing my craft as a writer, as a musician and as a creative person.”
In 2007, at the age of 24, Sultan became a household name when he performed his self-penned track ‘Roslyn’, named for his mother, an indigenous Australian of the Arrernte and Gurindji people and a member of the stolen generation, at the National Sorry Day concert. Since then, he has become an outspoken advocate of Indigenous concerns and he says a lot of his writing is inspired by his people’s struggles.
“Well, it’s the passion, and the passion isn’t exactly something that you enjoy all the time, you know? It’s something that you are compelled to do. I love it, I don’t always like it, but I love it, always.”
The opening track on his fourth album, ‘Drover’, in which he recreates the atmosphere surrounding the lead-up to the momentous Wave Hill ‘walk-off’ through the eyes of an indigenous pastoral worker, showcases the APRA Award nominee’s strength as a song composer. “It’s the prequel to the Kev Carmody and Paul Kelly song ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’ – I was inspired by the ‘walk-off’,” Sultan says.
The politically-minded ‘Kingdom’ is one of the lead singles and another example of his exceptional ability. “I really love that song!” he smiles. “It’s obviously a really big song with a lot of production and a lot of big voices, and it’s just really exciting to play live.
“It’s got a message too, I guess, without being too full on about it. I’m a bit of a soft touch with all that stuff, I guess that’s just my style, but it feels really good that it’s just come out and it’s off to a good start.”
Soul-laden ‘Should’ve Known’ is one of Sultan’s favourites that almost didn’t make it to the final cut. “I was worried that one would fall through the cracks a bit, because the singles are so huge and are really being churned out,” he says. “It’s about going into a situation that you know isn’t going to work out, but you get so caught up in the moment and in the energy of the situation, that you can’t help it. I’m really proud of that song and I think it’s really beautiful.”
Killer was recorded with the help of producer and long-time collaborator Jan Skubiszewski at his Way Of The Eagle studio in Melbourne. “It was great to do it in Melbourne and with Jan, my friend, who is also in my band now,” Sultan says. “It was a real family vibe, and I can’t wait to play these songs together live…
“There’s going to be five to seven band members on-stage every night, on this upcoming tour, budget permitting. When we can swing it we will have a couple of extra singers as well. I’ve got to be a little bit realistic, but if it was up to me I’d have a fucking choir and I’d have an orchestra!” he laughs.
“So I’m just focusing on this tour at the moment. There’s no finish line or destination, you just gotta keep moving. I do anyway.”
When & Where: Wool Exchange, Geelong – September 1 & Forum Theatre, Melbourne – September 2
Written by Natalie Rogers
Photo by Luke Henery