Dan Sultan doesn’t quite fit comfortably into any niche you try to squeeze him into in the Australian music scene. His sexy, blues-infused rock weaves between genres and tone, making him a hard man to nail down when you’re trying to describe his style. This, of course, doesn’t bother Sultan in the slightest. 

“I think the further I go, the more honed in my sound gets. Whether it caters to a particular genre or not, I’m not exactly sure. I’ve never really thought about it too much, I just sort of write and perform the music that I like to listen to. Sometimes it’s rock ’n’ roll, sometimes it’s soul and sometimes it’s country.”

These are affirming words from the crooner, who, not too long ago, lacked the confidence to write at all. While Sultan has been consistently closed-lipped regarding the politics of his split from management and his long-term collaborator Scott Wilson, it’s clear that the decision has had a huge effect on the musician’s creative drive.

“In the end I had to take a lot more control and responsibility over my own career, and that is only a positive thing. [The change] was probably the best thing I’ve ever done. I was in a real rut and I felt that those relationships had sort of run their course really. I needed to make a change and I think everyone was happier for it. We weren’t in the best place – me in particular – I wasn’t writing or inspired in any way.”

Lucky for us, Sultan well and truly got his writing mojo back, with the resulting album Blackbird being his most assured record to date. Featuring five of his own songs and a handful of co-writes with Alex Burnett (Sparkadia) and Pip Norman (TZU), it’s a record that plays to Sultan’s strengths, letting his voice take command on a collection of chameleon-like and soulful tracks.

Blackbird saw Sultan travel to Nashville, Tennessee where he recorded in the album’s namesake studio with Jacquire King. The legendary producer – who cut his teeth on Tom Waits and helped Kings Of Leon find their world-beating sound – was a key factor in ensuring Blackbird was a cut above Sultan’s previous two albums. Of course, there are reasons Dan Sultan has a collection of ARIA, Deadly and AIR Awards to his name, including the 2010 ARIA for Best Male Artist. But Blackbird is a different animal. As Sultan realized, there really is merit to the marriage of great production and self-satisfaction.

“Working with [Jacquire] and having the freedom to create…it all kind of lined up at once. I was able to write and I was working with a great producer, so there were different elements coming together.”

Of course, being friends certainly didn’t hurt when it came to 12-hour long sessions in the studio every day, admits Sultan.

“We actually spoke to each other on the phone for about 40 minutes – before we even went over there and decided that we would definitely make the record with him – just to see if we would get along. I think we spoke about the record for about five minutes and the rest of the time we just talked shit. We became good friends really.”

Sultan is preparing to kick-off his huge national tour as we speak to him, having given a surprise performance at Melbourne’s Ding Dong Lounge a few nights earlier as a kind of pre-tour warm-up. Supporting Bruce Springsteen recently also gave Sultan the chance to lift his already stellar live-show.

“It was great,” Sultan chuckles; “Overall, it’s been a great reaction. I’ve got some amazing fans and there’s really nothing better than a good crowd. They come to the shows ready to have fun and that’s a good feeling.”

July 19 will see Dan Sultan bring his live show to the Westernport Hotel in San Remo, with support acts Stonefield and Way of the Eagle (DJ Set) filling the bill for what is sure to be a fun, raucous and deeply satisfying show.

Tickets and more info at www.thewesternport.com.au

MATILDA HEGGIE

 

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