Multi-instrumentalist Tash Sultana is a big proponent of patience. Unlike most other explosive headline performers, the artist, who prefers the non-binary pronoun “they”, builds their show slowly. Their live-looped samples—perfected busking on the streets of Melbourne—take many minutes to stack up, assembling into everything from 10-minute jams to punchy, rhythmically driven tracks. Now selling out small stadiums around the globe, Sultana is reintroducing millennials to the art of delayed gratification.
“No one was listening to me on the street, because at the time I was only playing acoustic guitar,” Sultana recalls of their early solo days, reaching the Straight on the line from her Australian home. “As soon as I started playing electric guitar and live-looping, people thought I was a fucking magician. But it’s not for everyone. Looping is a performance that you need to have patience for. Unlike most songs, it doesn’t kick in straight away; you’ve got to build every aspect and every layer of the songs. I feel like in our generation, people have the shortest fucking attention spans. I think my music is a generational test for people.”
Patience is a virtue that Sultana learned the hard way. Rocketing to success in 2016 after videos of them jamming in their lounge went viral, they found themself boosted into the Aussie charts and booking tours across three continents. Continually surprised by their own success—“I didn’t really think it would get to this point,” they say of the looping act—Sultana burned out after two years of nonstop touring. Reevaluating their gruelling schedule, they chose to take a slower approach to the road.
“I figured out that I have to tour in a certain way,” Sultana says. “If I go away for a month, that’s enough. I can’t do any more than a month on the road at a time. I need to come home after that, chill the fuck out, get really bored, and go out on tour again. It would be much cheaper if I could stay for a three-month stint overseas, instead of flying everyone back and forth and all that shit, but I just can’t. It doesn’t work that way for me. And you can’t put a price on your mental stability.”
Carrying that newfound ethos into the studio, patience became the core of Sultana’s first full-length album. Released in September this year, Flow State is characteristically varied, weaving indie, reggae, acoustic singer-songwriting, and psychedelic elements seamlessly, each crowned by high-pitched, velvety vocals. Named for the state of mind Sultana locks into when jamming with their pedals, the record is authored entirely by the musician, who plays every instrument on it. Releasing songs that they’d been performing for years, Flow State was an exercise in waiting.
“I definitely learned patience from making this album,” the artist says. “I thought it was going to be done really quickly. It wasn’t. When you come into the studio and how you finish in the studio are two different points. Everything I did at the start I went back and did again.”
Learning to pace themself in what will doubtless be a long and storied career, Sultana is looking forward to a time when they can take a step back from the stage.
“I don’t reckon I’ll be able to take a hiatus until I’ve finished my second album,” the singer says, hoping to have a moment out of the spotlight. “I’m pretty much in the process right now of pimping out my studio, and renovating it so I can make it as comfortable as possible to me. I’m going to dedicate as many hours as possible in that time to learn the space, learn the sounds, learn the equipment, so that I get comfortable and make a great second record.”
Tash Sultana plays the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Arena next Thursday (November 1).
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