Deadly Vibe caught up with Dan Sultan, a powerhouse performer and a considered musician – some of the songs on his new album, Blackbird, were written over a 10 year period, and some were written straightaway. As long as it was ‘right’. What matters most to Sultan is the music. Quality is uppermost and something to strive for.
Dan Sultan is not a guy you can pigeonhole. Far from it. Give the man a guitar and let him do his stuff. Such is the pulling power of this rock icon that Australians the country over eagerly anticipate his next move, and after a four-year recording hiatus, the man’s ready to be listened to with his new album, Blackbird, recently released through Liberation Music.
“This album took four years. There are a lot of songs I either wrote or started to write. Some songs took 10 years, others were written straightaway,” he says. “I don’t have a process. I don’t need those things. I don’t have a way of doing it. I let it happen as it comes around. Our record took a long time and I don’t really need to push it.”
Dan says he’s no ‘black Elvis’ or even the ‘Sultan of Swing’. Typically, he debunks those labels and stereotypes, preferring to let the music speak for itself. He cites the song “The Same Man” as an example.
“The banjo [in this song] was done by a Russian in a recording studio in Nashville Tennessee, for an Aboriginal musician – there’s not much stereotyping in that,” he says.
Taking an idea to a song, to full production, then releasing it to as many listeners as possible is something that satisfies the musician, and the performer. Blackbird, recorded in Nashville with ‘super’ producer Jacquire King (Tom Waits, King Of Leon), is a 13-track album that moves from hard rock through to slow ballads.
“It feels very good and I’m happy with the album. Going to a place like Nashville and going over with the band… we worked hard,” Sultan says.
Having a good work ethic is important to Dan. He toured recently with the ‘The Boss’ (aka Bruce Springsteen) and says he learnt about longevity, generosity as a performer and the ethic that goes with producing music that lasts.
“To be successful you need three things in equal measure: you need a good work ethic, you need to be lucky and you need the ability to do it… the talent,” he says.
“I know plenty of good musicians who aren’t lucky and plenty of good musicians who work hard but haven’t made it. You definitely need all three things.
“There have been times when I’ve not been motivated, and it shows. Things haven’t gone my way.”
Despite the power of his stage persona, Sultan admits to being shy. It’s probably why he doesn’t do much media and is almost reclusive at times. But give him a stage and the charisma flows.
“I’m shy by nature, but I love touring and getting out there and living it,” he says. “When I’m on stage I want to do a good job.”
Blackbird has been described by the promoters as “the simple journey of a man, singing about love, desire and identity. It’s an Australian musician coming into his own, stepping out to show the country and the world the many facets of his personality and artistry.”
Fair call. But Dan says making Blackbird was a cathartic experience as much as anything else. A period of uncertainty followed his 2009 album, Get Out While You Can. He wasn’t writing; he split with his management and parted ways with guitarist Scott Wilson. That upheaval tested Sultan’s drive and weakened his self-belief. Blackbird has put the last four years in perspective.
“It’s [Blackbird] been very cathartic. You go through what you are going through, you write about it and you get to record and listen to it,” he says. “And you have to take care of yourself. At times I do that more than others. Now I enjoy the quiet times and get a lot of peace out of solitude.”