- 01 Mar 21
Rising Aussie star Tash Sultana on becoming a YouTube sensation, playing rip-roaring live shows, and finding their true creative voice ahead of scintillating new album 'Terra Firma'. “I decided that I do not give a flying fuck anymore,” they tell Kate Brayden.
When Hot Press catches up with rising Australian star Tash Sultana, the singer is buried deep in press and promotional duties. Thankfully, the late evening slot hasn’t detracted from Tash’s usual energetic demeanour.
Their 2018 debut LP, Flow State, cemented Sultana’s status as one of Oz’s best new exports, and after a period of well-earned relaxation, they’re ready to jump into the fray once again.
Known for performing hundreds of gigs a year barefoot – while playing every instrument with only the help of a loop pedal – the fiercely independent artist has returned with boundary-defying sophomore effort Terra Firma. Having played Dublin’s Vicar Street four years ago and blown away the crowd in Cork’s Marquee in 2019, Sultana has strong memories of playing for Irish crowds.
“You always remember when you’re in Ireland!” Tash enthuses. “Cork was some fucking wild shit. What do they say – it’s the true capital of Ireland? I said that on stage and they absolutely ate it up. Everyone’s dates are postponed but I’ll be the first one on the plane when they open up the borders again. Just watch me.
“I’ll literally be jumping off every single surface – I’ll be crowd surfing, I’ll be doing everything. I get pulled off the stage into the throngs of people, but I do come out alive actually! I’ve started wearing shoes when I perform now because my feet were having a really hard time. I’ve stepped on everything at some stage – dog shit, glass, phone screens, cigarette butts...”.
When I ask whether they’ve got their feet insured, Tash replies, “Yeah, with Adidas Originals”.
Starting out as a Melbourne busker, and proficient at no less than 20 instruments, Sultana’s 2016 EP, Nation, attracted a serious buzz and saw the singer embark a series of dates across the globe. The low case incidence of Covid in Australia, meanwhile, is even allowing Sultana to play some upcoming gigs in their home country.
“The shows sold out like hot cakes, which I’m so happy about,” they say. “Obviously, with the times we’re in, I was worried about whether people were going to come, but fans are very keen to see live music. I’ve played huge festivals all around the world and big arena tours, but these little club shows are only around 450 capacity – I haven’t done that for about five or six years. I’m really looking forward it, but am stressed as fuck with album promo. I’ve barely even got enough time to sleep.”
Sultana has a notable sense of confidence in how they present themselves on social media, further allowing their fans to relate to them.
“I wanted to reach out as far as I possibly could to people who hadn’t come across me before,” says Tash, “and lift the blinds up a bit. I was pretty private before – I still am – and only speak about a certain amount of things in public. I’ve got a percentage of discussion topics that I’m willing to talk about, and the rest is for me. But I feel physically, mentally and spiritually better, and I’m enjoying life so much more.
“It makes me want to reach out and grab everyone. I’m being a little blasé about the songs on Terra Firma because I don’t actually want to give it away what they signify for me. I’m giving a layer of the meaning, but not the root.”
After 2018’s debut LP 'Flow State' illustrated Tash’s undeniable potential, did Sultana experience difficult second album syndrome?
“Not at all,” they counter. “It’s like in life, you can’t just hold people to you. If they’re going to stay, they will stay. It’s the same with fans; some come and some go, some will be halfway there, and some will love you to the ends of the earth. Then there’s the section of people that don’t want to fuck with you at all.
“Writing a second album is like going forward in time. Musicians should see it as an extension to your catalogue - you’re progressing as an artist - but if you’re writing songs that aren’t true to you, you’re going to expire when the lights go out.”
Everything changed in 2016 when Sultana posted a seven-minute live performance of ‘Jungle’ on YouTube. Within five days, the Aussie’s jam session had notched up over a million views - it now has more than 50 million and counting.
“I say this all the time - I had a hit with ‘Jungle’, but I might never do that again,” says Tash. “I don’t give a shit because I am not a hit chaser, to be honest. I just want to write meaningful jams that I feel really good about, because then I know they’re real. I don’t let criticism bother me because I’m living my fullest, truest life.
“When I turned 25, I decided that I do not give a flying fuck anymore. Be who you are, say what you want, feel what you want, write what you want. The ones who don’t like your music aren’t your market, so who fucking cares?”
Creative independence has always been a priority for Sultana, who began performing with a fake ID at open mic nights as a young teenager. Terra Firma again sees Tash playing every instrument, in addition to songwriting and production credits.
“In the past, people have tried to tell me to shorten tracks, but I just told them to get fucked - in a nice way!” Tash laughs. “Sometimes you say what you need to say in a-minute-and-a-half, but other times you’ve got a lot to communicate. I think that the three-minute rule on radio doesn’t apply to what I’m doing. I have creative control and I work with people who totally allow me to run the ship, so making the second album was wonderful.
“I bought a studio and went crazy buying gear. I’ll wear the same jeans for six years with the ass pockets falling out and a hole in the crotch, but I’ve got a new guitar! I saw a really ugly side of myself in the past from extensive touring. I used to get IV vitamin and mineral infusions straight into the veins from a fluid bag, because I was so fucked on tour.
“I got really bad acne at one point and I just wasn’t sleeping. I became an insomniac and it was just messed up. I looked like shit, but eventually I was granted my bed and it added another five years to my lifespan.“
It was previously reported that Sultana had plucked three multi-instrumentalists to play in their band for the Terra Firma tour, and that Tash had taken a step back from solo performances.
“Let’s just say there’s a blanket rule here: COVID fucks everything when it comes to tour plans,” they say. “I’ve got crew members who are some of the best at what they do in the country, and they’ve had to find new jobs. A lot of them don’t want to come back to the industry at all, but it’s going to be life like we’ve never seen it before in 2022.
“So many people will go to gigs, even those who never would have been interested in live music before. Gig attendance numbers will fucking explode, I’m telling you. The revival won’t be this year, but it’s coming.”
Listen to Terra Firma below.