Sultan in full swing

ARIA award-winning artist, Dan Sultan, had a massive 2014 and shows no signs of slowing down this year with the release of his new solo EP, Dirty Ground and recently hitting the road on his national tour.

Sultan heads back to Newcastle to perform in intimate solo-mode at Newcastle City Hall on Tuesday 17 March.

We sat down for a chat with Dan ahead of his Newcastle show to talk about his latest solo EP, the stories behind his music, and what it’s like to hit the stage without his band…

Congratulations are in order! You received the ARIA for Best Rock Album in 2014, your album Blackbird went Gold in February, and now you’ve received three nominations in this year’s APRA awards… Seeing your work culminate in such great recognition – Does it get any better than that?

Honestly, I’m just humbled by it all. I’m just one of many local acts out there doing their thing and I feel lucky that I have so much great fan support out there.


When you’re writing a song, does it ever cross your mind that you’re onto a really good thing, that you’ve penned a hit? Or is it always the songs you least expect that receive the biggest response?

There’s no real formula nor do I ever sit there to write a hit song. In fact, it’s the last thing on my mind. I make music that inspires me and that, hopefully, inspires the people around me – family, friends and fans.


You recently shared the inspiration behind your APRA-nominated song ‘Kimberley Calling’, recounting the moving story about finding the final resting place of your grandmother. Was it difficult to expose such a personal story from your life in the public sphere?

Yes it was, but it was a cathartic experience for me to write that song. It was moving and it was the most grown up thing I’ve ever done. I wanted to share it because it means a lot to me, my mother and her extended family. It’s a song about love and about hope and about never giving up once you put your mind to something.


Do you think it’s an important part of songwriting to share a song’s meaning, or do you normally prefer to leave things open for the listeners’ interpretation?

A bit of both really. There are certain songs that you can work out for yourself as a listener and then there are those that are open to interpretation. If the truth be known, I would prefer for the listener to get what they want out of each song. On the song ‘It Belongs To Us’ on Blackbird, I’ve had people telling me they think it’s about land rights and reclaiming our land, and I can live with that. Whether that’s the right meaning or not, it is in the ears of the beholder. I would rather the listener make up their own mind.


Your new solo EP Dirty Ground was recorded in one day, tell us a bit about that process?

I had a bunch of demos lying around that I had written and co-written that didn’t quite fit the album at the time, so I felt compelled to record them. My good friend Jan Skubiszweski – who I wrote ‘Rattlesnake’ with for his WAY OF THE EAGLE project – and I knocked them over in one day in his studio. We wanted to keep them raw and gritty and we didn’t want to labour over them. The songs do the work in this case.


Dirty Ground also saw you co-write a few tracks with Australian rock music royalty – Paul Kelly and Paul Dempsey – How did this collaboration come about?

I’ve been friends with both Paul’s for years now. Paul Kelly has always been good to me and as a fan, I feel privileged that he has wanted to write with me. I’ve returned the favour on his Merri Soul Sessions album as well. We just get along and love working with each other. As for Paul Dempsey, he’s a great mate and an incredible songsmith. We’ve always wanted to work together and the song we did together ‘Mountain Top’ is a live favourite of mine to perform on this solo tour.


The Dirty Ground tour brings you to Newcastle City Hall, where you’ll be performing solo – What can you get out of a solo performance that you can’t when performing with your band?

There’s nowhere to hide when you play solo. It’s warts and all, hearts on sleeve kind of stuff. I love it cos it gives me a chance to reinterpret existing songs, test new ones and generally get closer to my fans in a more intimate environment. There’s a lot more interaction between the audience and myself.


Your current tour is associated with the GO! Foundation, tell us about your experience as an ambassador for this organisation?

Adam Goodes and Mickey O’Loughlin from the Syd swans are great fellas and they do so much for the indigenous community on many levels. The GO! Foundation is about supporting indigenous kids in urban areas and helping them get the secondary and tertiary education they may sometimes not be able to, or are entitled to get. It seems that the only pathways to future success for our kids is through sport or music. What we’re trying to do is educate these kids so that they don’t have to be reliant in these traditional pathways. They should be judged on scholastic merit alone sometimes!  

You’re on the road for next few weeks, but what’s your favourite way to wind down after a big tour?

Sleep, eat well, and if the weather is fine, swim!


2014 was a huge year for you and 2015 is shaping up to be just the same, what’s next on the cards for Dan Sultan?

I’m going to travel, write and start recording the next album. Going to stay on the horse for a little while yet!

Catch Dan Sultan on his Dirty Ground tour, coming to Newcastle City Hall on Tuesday 17 March.