We're in a Motown kind of mood ahead of Summer Series next month.
From busking on the streets of Melbourne’s CBD to breaking the record for the biggest ever attendance for a local or international act at Margaret Court Arena, and scoring six ARIA nominations this year – including Best Blues & Roots album for Flow State and Best Australian Live Act for the Homecoming tour – it’s been a long road to the seemingly whirlwind, overnight success that has swept up Tash Sultana.
They haven’t strayed far from their roots though. No matter where they tour in the world, no matter the scale of the venue or size of the crowd, Sultana still remains a one-person band. On stage it’s just them, surrounded by a sea of instruments, as they layer and pile sounds on top of each other.
On their debut album Flow State, it’s much the same. Sultana is the lone musician credited on the record – playing each of the 15 instruments featured throughout – as well as it’s producer and songwriter.
We chatted with Sultana about the creation of their debut album, what they learned along the way, and what we can expect when Australian audiences finally get to experience it live.
How do the skills you’ve learned across your years of busking influence the way you play shows today?
Busking teaches you to work your arse off – people don’t have to stop and listen to you, you have to earn it.
What do you love most about creating and playing music? And how has this changed over the years?
To be honest, if you played me my Notion EP and I heard Big Smoke (Live), it wasn’t really a song, it was just something I used to jam when I was busking. Flow State is all proper songs – some that I’ve been working on for years, and it’s taken all that time to get them right and make them real songs, some of them I wrote while in the studio.
If you asked me a year ago, I would’ve told you I thought I knew my sound but now I’m realising that I don’t know everything about it and there’s still heaps for me to learn, and that’s influenced how I write songs in the studio now. I’m just trying to learn as much as I can off others and hone my craft.
What are some of your favourite parts of performing as a one-person band?
I play shows every other day and every show is different because it’s just me up there jamming. I’m centred when I’m playing, like a current that runs through my body sometimes, and I shake. I’m in my own zone and I like when people get into that zone with me. The stage is where I’m most comfortable and can completely be who I am and what I’m born to be.
What were some of the biggest lessons you learned during the creation of Flow State?
That practice makes perfect – just keep playing it until you get it right.
How do you feel now that the album is out in the world?
Thank fuck it’s done because it was an ordeal. I thought I’d just get in there and record the songs I wanted to, and it’d be done, but it’s hard work. I can’t believe I can actually hold it in my hands now. The love is a bit surreal.
Tell us about your ‘flow state’ – what does it look and feel like?
I became aware of the term ‘flow state’ by my naturopath. She was saying “Have you heard about flow state?” and I was like “No.” She said, “It’s when you do something that you love so much that you become your process.”
Someone that’s a marathon runner, they’re not just running, they become all of that –even spiritually – and receive pleasure and a high out of it. When painters paint and they become the painting, that’s accessing flow state. When I play music – when I create music, play guitar and sing – I access my flow state, and that whole album was the access point of my flow state.
I had a lot of shit sessions though, where I was just playing the parts to play the parts. Then there are moments where I captured the fact that I went right in there. Some of that stuff is one take. Like Harvest Love is a live take in my loungeroom like old times. Pink Moon was one take that we refined and got the most passionate and most painful part and we went “That’s the one.”Mellow Marmalade, same thing, that was one take, the intro and the outro were all one take.
You’ve said that your goal is to see how far you can go on your own – where will that journey take you next?
I feel like looping is such a massive part of my music and live show experience right now. It’s something that isn’t always going to define my live set, I’m open to doing something different, but for now, it’s just me.
What can fans expect from your upcoming run of Australian shows?
We’ve been working hard behind the scenes to bring the new show to life with an experience through visuals.
Get your tickets to Tash Sultana’s tour here.