INTERVIEW: Dan Sultan on beautiful mysteries, Killer, and the real writing process

Laura Kebby -


There’s no mistaking the passionate musical prowess of singer/songwriter Dan Sultan. An absolute mountain of a man both physically and metaphorically he is an artist who is constantly pushing and challenging creative boundaries. In particular with his latest record Killer e has always managed to both delight and surprise fans on all fronts. Thankfully for us Novocastrians, Dan is headed our way once again on the 29th of September, to bring his live show to the Bar on the Hill. I took the time to chat with him about his writing, Killer, and the beautiful mysteries of the creative process.

I love to ask any artist that I get the chance to chat to, why do you like to play music?

It’s my passion, you know it’s something that I have to do, but it’s not something that I necessarily really choose to do. But I love it, I definitely love it, but I don’t always like it. I get to travel around and have adventures but it’s definitely not always great. But it’s just like everything else.

Do you ever get the feeling that you’re almost frustrated at your creativity, in that you’re wanting to and having to write all the time, as though you’re almost propelled to do so?

Yeah absolutely, but that’s when it’s good you know. A few years ago I went through a period of time of not writing at all, and that was terrible. So to be in a place where it’s just coming out and flowing and flowing, that’s really great and it feels good.

Congrats of course on your latest record Killer, how long has this particular body of work been in the works for?

I guess my whole life in a lot of ways, you know. I feel like it’s the best thing I’ve ever done, but when I did my previous record Blackbird I felt like that was the best thing as well. If I ever do another one, which I probably will, I guess I’ll feel the same about that one. We were in the studio making the album and we did a pretty solid year. There were a lot of different parts of the record from writing to production and demos but it was about a year altogether.

Do you feel like each and every album that you’ve made is almost like a snapshot of where you are writing wise, at the time?

Of course, yeah. I don’t know how to write any other way. I’m not one of these songwriters that just writes for the sake of it you know, I have to write about something that I really care about. I have to write about something I believe in, and I have to really believe in it. Even if it’s a story and it’s fiction I have to believe in it and I have to have that empathy. Whether I’ve experienced something or I actually know about what the feeling is or I’m just writing about something that I’m imagining I’m always trying to empathise, you’ve always got to feel it. Once you’ve got the record and it’s out there, yeah it’s definitely a product of the environment that the record was created in.

This album in particular, I found really lyrically intricate. What is really inspiring you with this body of work as it stands?

I dunno. I dunno what inspires me, it’s a really difficult question to answer (laughs). I think with hindsight in a few years time I might be able to answer that question a little better but at the moment I’m really in the thick of everything and it’s where I’m at. I don’t really have the time or space to step out of it, or step away from it just yet to get any kind of perspective on it.

It’s kind of nice though right, having that little bit of mystery surrounding what it is you’re writing. It’s almost this beautifully organic process from everything you’re saying?

It is organic yeah, and you have to work, and you’ve got to push yourself. Jumping off the deep end is a positive thing and scaring yourself is a good thing. When you’re being creative it’s important to do that, to really let yourself go to a place and just take a leap. At the same time, if you’re lucky, there are going to be songs and pieces of music, and eventually a record that will be there with you. You’re kind of doing it together, and creating with the song and with the album itself. It’s a trip, but it’s great.

You have so many different variations of the style of music you play, I’ve seen you play acoustically just recently at 48 Watt Street, it was really stripped back and beautiful but this album in particular is such a full and really energetic sound. What’s your favourite way to perform?

It’s all the same in a lot of ways. You’re having the same conversations, it’s just about speaking a different language or using different instruments. I believe that a great song should stand up, whether you’re with an orchestra or a choir or a full band or whatever. Or whether you’re sitting there in an old church in Newcastle on your own playing piano. The song is the song. If it’s a good enough song I believe that it will stand up. I’m sure there are exceptions, but I mean there are no right or wrong ways to go about the creative process, but for me personally, that’s just the way I feel about it. 

You kind of need to, like you said to take that jump into the deep end to almost see where you want that writing to take the album. I love the way you describe the album and the body of work as an entity all of its own.

It is, that’s it. The album existed long before I discovered it. I was the songwriter sure, but all that means is that I was just the first person to sing it. I believe that it’s always out there and it’s my job as a writer to facilitate and honour each particular song and on a larger scale the eventual album itself.

As you were saying, with Killer there are so many intricate sounds that were used to make the record, how will that translate to your live show?

We’ll be playing it how it sounds absolutely. We’ll be going for it!

What can Newcastle fans expect from your show at Bar on the Hill

I dunno! That’s another question that I really don’t know the answer to. I mean, we’re going to have fun, I hope they do too. I’m not going to tell people what to expect or not, it’s going to be what it’s going to be and we’re going to try our hardest to put on the best show we possibly can. We’re all very close and we have a great time together on the road and hopefully The Bar on the Hill will be no different.

If it's on in Newcastle, it's on Newcastle Live

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