Dan Sultan

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Dan Sultan

After interviewing Dan Sultan, if I had to describe him using only one word I’d have to go with authentic. He comes across as grounded and comfortable in his own skin, even as he references his own insecurity. And when one of my questions isn’t conducive to an easy answer, instead of manufacturing a polished, publicity-friendly reply, he struggles to find his own unique truth and comfortably embraces the ambiguity that emerges.
The question I’m referring to relates to how much of an influence Sultan’s Indigenous roots have on his music. “Uh, I don’t know, that’s a hard question,” Sultan tells me. “As far as my work is concerned and being a musician and being a performer I don’t know how anything affects anything. I just kind of take it in my stride I guess.”
I don’t detect the slightest trace of arrogance in Sultan. If he was a different kind of person though, someone for whom an increase in success equates to an inflation of ego, he’d have plenty of reasons to justify it. He’s won several major ARIAs; he’s currently on the road with Paul Kelly; and his tight touring schedule over the next couple of months shows how in-demand he is all over the country. Yet when I ask him if he ever expected to achieve all that he has, he says, “I think humility is a good thing. I feel very flattered a lot of the time, and I certainly don’t take any of this for granted. When I was growing up I certainly hoped that things would work out, but at the same time if they didn’t they didn’t. I’d still be doing it anyway.”
In light of all that Sultan has achieved, it would be natural to assume he would have developed a passion for music when he was quite young, perhaps starting out casually and starting to take it more seriously later on. But his connection to his music is much deeper than that, and goes back much further. “I don’t think I ever really knew, like it wasn’t a light bulb moment, it was just something that was always there, it was always a part of me. I never really woke up one morning and thought no this is what I’m going to do. It was just something that I always knew that I was – for better or worse. Whether I ever made records or not, whether I ever played any concerts or not or anything…(my music was) something that was always a part of me. And I felt a part of it,” Sultan says.
When we speak, Sultan is in Darwin resting his voice in between concerts. And with 19 dates booked throughout February and March for his Dirty Ground tour, his love for live shows is evident. But what exactly is it about playing live that is so juicy for him? “I enjoy having a connection, just in life…and I think playing live, when it’s done properly, when it’s done right, you can really have that connection on a big scale,” he says.
As for the kind of response he likes to see in an audience, there is no hesitation in his answer: “Yelling and clapping and cheering…I think all performers have a certain amount of insecurity, and to get that gratification and validation from an audience is very nice.”
When&Where: Theatre Royal, Castlemaine – March 7 & National Theatre, St Kilda – March 21
By Andrew Pretorius