Tash Sultana is a big deal. Like, a really big deal. Just last weekend, the Australian multi-instrumentalist played three sold-out shows at London’s Brixton Academy – next summer, the 23-year-old is due to return and play that same city’s 10,000-plus capacity Alexandra Palace. In Australia, the Melbourne artist’s debut album ‘Flow State’ landed at Number 2, and arenas are now becoming regular occurrences all over the globe.
It’s not hard to see why we’ve all fallen completely head-over-heels – ‘Flow State’ is a world-beating blend of jazz, rock, pop, reggae, soul and beyond. While other artists will struggle to juggle such a varied palette of influences, Sultana has no such issues. Each riff, beat and melody on ‘Flow State’ nestles in comfortably with the other – never clashing, always combining with ease for a fluid listen.
Ahead of the final night of Sultana’s Brixton residency, we were granted an intimate audience with the star to talk using up all their songs, online privacy and shaking off the “viral sensation” tag.
How long has the album ‘Flow State’ been brewing inside you?
“They’re all the songs that I’ve ever recorded – I don’t have any fucking songs left, so it stresses me out thinking about the next album. Like, I’ve got songs, but these are the ones that I’ve been sitting on and marinating for years. I think the first album is pretty easy, but the second album might be a bit harder.”
What was your first experience with creating music?
“I was in a band when I was 12 and we didn’t have a singer, and my friends mum pressured me into having a sing. It was the best thing she ever did for me! I’d never sung, and my voice was shocking. We were a bit punk and a bit rock but I’ve always preferred soul and reggae and that sound. I was shit – I was absolutely terrible.”
Would you prefer a bit of backup with a band member?
“No, because I call the shots. Obviously I’ve had some gigs where I’m like ‘fuck me, how am I going to get through this’ and where shit goes wrong or you have a big night the night before and you’re feeling all sorry for yourself. That sucks. I’ve always done it on my own, so me sharing a stage is going to be strange – but I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again! But I want to see how far I can take it on my own first.”
Are there misconceptions about your show because you’re using loop pedals?
“Some people think I’m not doing it live. They think I’m a DJ, which is the dumbest fucking thing I’ve ever heard. Some people think my engineer is playing back all the tracks and I’m triggering it. But the people that say that shit are the ones that have shit-all knowledge about how it works. I don’t care about how people talk about me, because my live numbers are going strong, so I think it’s going pretty well.”
A video of you busking went viral a couple years back. How do you look back on that sudden attention?
“To me, it hasn’t happened very quickly, because I’m having an internal experience while everyone else is having this external perception of what is happening to me. All I’ve done my entire life is play music and open mic nights and pub or club gigs, or busking and all of that, so that’s been happening for the last 10 years. I’ve been non-stop since I was fucking born, to be honest.”
“I’ve been non-stop since I was fucking born”
Do you feel scared about being in the public eye more now?
“Not then, but now I do. Back then, no one knows who the fuck you are, so if they like what you show they’ll care. But if they don’t, they won’t, because you’re not a name. No one gives a fuck about your personal life or your life story. Now, I reckon that I’ve given away about 15% of who I am as a person – this is all mainly about my music and not my personal life, and I’d like to keep it that way. People just want to dig you out and go through all of you – and I don’t want that. Its intimidating. It’s like being interrogated by thousands of people that you don’t know.”
Has your private life suffered because of it?
“People try to create lots of issues between me and my girlfriend because we’re not so virtually open about our relationship But everything’s all fucking good. There’s this need for information, information, information – not knowledge, just information. It’s like being in high school sometimes. The virtual platform – it’s helped my music career in a lot of ways, but it’s fucking destroyed me too.”
“The virtual platform has helped my music career in a lot of ways, but it’s fucking destroyed me too”
Do you read all the comments?
“When I didn’t know how to filter the way that I engage with an online life, I’d read comments and shit, and some of those comments are fucking brutal. No-one’s ever said anything to my face, so it just goes to show the power of the screen. But it can tear you up, man. And you don’t get those people who don’t stop fucking talking or sharing shit.
“You are entitled to a complete level of privacy. When I do interviews and people try going places that aren’t up for discussion – don’t fucking go there because I won’t talk about it. I’ll sit there in silence for 15 minutes. I’ll do that.”
“Once I was called up for an interview, and he starts off, ‘Natasha! Can I call you that?’ and I said, ‘Absolutely fucking not, that’s not my name. Then he says ‘I’d love to start talking about your drug problems. I said ‘I don’t want to talk about that because it’s not important to me’. He said that it’s important for this listeners to have some information about your life. But that’s not an important part of my life now. It happened 7 years ago.
“I’ve already spoken about that stuff, it’s already out there. It’s a phase of my life and it is happening now, it has come and it has gone. I don’t really want to focus on a really shitty part of my life when I’ve got some really great stuff [to talk about].”
People want to know more and more about artists without acknowledging the results of that…
“The music is not enough for people now, I find. They want everything else as well. Because for our generation, that’s how people have grown up. Now, teenagers are on another level. It’s really scary.”
What’s the next step once this huge tour is done?
“I reckon there’s one more album in me, then I’m probably going to go have a hiatus. I want to take it as far as I can on my own. I’d really love to be a normal twenty-something now.”
Tash Sultana will play London’s Alexandra Palace on June 28, 2019