Dan Sultan has just released his third album, Blackbird. DAN WATT checks in with him.
After flirting with success and widespread appeal for over a decade, Australian rock singer and guitarist Dan Sultan has arrived.
His latest album, Blackbird, is slickly produced yet energetic, sexy and fun with the execution seemingly effortless. This album screams accessibility while still remaining deeply credible and creative.
To a casual observer this may seem obvious when you combine Sultan’s movie-star good-looks, James Dean-like swagger and blues drenched rock’n’roll vocals. However, belying this strut is over 14 years of hard-gigging that began proper in 2000 at an open mic night in Williamstown, a performance that led to a friendship with fellow guitarist and songwriter Scott Wilson – a union that led to Sultan’s debut album, Homemade Biscuits (2006).
Blackbird is Sultan’s third album, a tantalising, energetic and fun release, with three songs seemingly representing the aforementioned adjectives: The Same Man, Under Your Skin, Waiting On The End Of The Phone.
Your correspondent caught up with Sultan in person to discuss Blackbird and also the sticky subject of his Aboriginality being continually brought up in the media (the irony of this subject’s inclusion in this story is addressed).
Sultan opens the conversation by addressing the key textures of his new album. “I think fun is the big one, energetic as well. It feels like the most energetic record that I have made. Every record that you have made feels like practice for the one you are about to make or the one that you are making at the time – you’re all ways wanting to go further with stuff.”
Debut single from the album, The Same Man, is a rollicking and rolling tune that pairs confessional lyrics with the inexorable bravado of the music. A particularly memorable aspect of the song is a hummed pre-chorus that may remind some of a Navaho Indian chant.
“When I first started the song it was just the chant and it was a lot slower, and sounded a bit Chinese. I was in a writing session and I decided to speed it up a bit and the song took shape from there.
“The song’s meaning is that ‘this relationship is finished because you’ve changed’; I – the protagonist – haven’t changed but maybe that’s the problem. Maybe ‘he’ needed to pull his head in,” explains Sultan.
So is this ‘he’, the protagonist, Sultan?
“From time to time,” is Sultan’s casual and slightly comedic dismissal for this question. “But with the banjo and the chanting it is pretty fun as well on the ears but it has heavy content,” concludes Sultan on The Same Man.
As established above, Blackbird is a sassy release and a very different creature from Sultan’s album of 2010, the double ARIA Award-winning Get Out While You Can. The album also won him Male Artist Of The Year and Best Single Release Of The Year for Letter at the Deadly Awards – an annual awards ceremony that celebrates musicians of an Aboriginal heritage.
Sultan’s mother was Aboriginal and his father Irish and he has always embraced his ethnicity, especially that to Australia’s first people, however, during this interview he takes issue with his Aboriginality being brought-up.
“Over the last few years I have been wanting to avoid this,” Sultan softly dismisses of the subject. He now elaborates on not wanting to discuss his Aboriginal heritage. “Just because I find, I’ll tell you why, I just won’t say ‘no’, I don’t want to be a dickhead about it. Archie Roach said it best in an interview a few years ago when he said, ‘No one asks Paul Kelly about where he’s from?’” states Sultan with plain yet slightly bored tone – bored with the subject matter.
“But not one to hate the player, instead the game, Sultan mollifies by saying, “I know it’s coming from a place that is genuine but at the same time as Aboriginal artists, we find it hard to just be allowed to be artists.”