Tash Sultana's Sugary Inspiration
“I think everyone is capable, it’s just about being consistent”
In a music world where the word “indie” hasn’t really meant independent for decades, Tash Sultana can truly be described as an indie artist. Having taken a wholly DIY approach to not just their music but their entire career, this ethos has expanded over the years from Tash’s DIY approach in the studio to the more business end of things, having started both the Lonely Lands Agency and Lonely Lands Records.
With their last album Terra Firma out in early 2021 and their MTV Unplugged double album (that Tash mixed themself) out mid last year, we’ve been treated to a few new singles from Tash in the lead up to their latest collection with the Sugar EP now released to the world, out via Lonely Land Records (of course!) and Tash playing every instrument on the record.
Tash explains “I feel like the entire point of my career has always been DIY. I’ve always produced everything, written everything, played every instrument you hear, engineered, co-engineered, and sometimes mixed and mastered. I have always done all that, but I feel like people still just don’t get it, and to me, it’s the most important message.”
Taking things in a slightly different direction to Terra Firma, the six tracks of Sugar see Sultana channelling some of the vibes from their earlier releases, taking cues from funk, r&b and soul as well as indie-pop and alt-rock. The result is an addictive EP that encapsulates the sounds we’ve heard from Tash so far, with a few nods to the past while looking firmly towards the future and leaving us excited for what may come next.
What’s coming next for Sultana is a mammoth North American tour, a continent they has taken on a few times in the past. To celebrate the release of Sugar, we jumped on the line with Tash to chat about their DIY approach, tour bus horror stories, the sounds of Sugar, not playing the games of the “music industry”, the upcoming tour and more!
I wanted to start off asking about your DIY approach to stuff, because I think one of the most inspiring things for me when reading about your new EP is not just the artistry but also all the behind the scenes stuff, both from a studio and a label/agency standpoint… So where do you think this DIY ethos comes from, is it something that you’ve always had, something you had to consciously develop?
Honestly, I think it kind of formed around my dad. So my dad is an immigrant and he came with his family to Australia in the 70s, the late 70s, from Malta, and they lived in a caravan - like eight of them on a block of land out in Avondale Heights. They had nothing. So that kind of ethos, the foundation of the DIY approach was just observing my dad… really, my dad can do literally everything like he’s a tiler, he’s a break layer, he can be a carpenter, he can be a fucking mechanic - he can be all these things because no one else could, no one else was there to do it. Someone had to do it, so he just put himself forward and learned everything there was to learn about everything.
Even when I was a little kid, if something broke or whatever, I’d just give it to my dad to fix it. Like even if something was wrong with a guitar pedal, he’s got no knowledge of music but he could just work it out. So yeah, I think it was just that my dad really encouraged me and pushed me to just give everything a go, so I did and I kept it up.
I didn’t really feel the need to involve other people, and I’m still this way even though now I do more projects with other people and maybe listen a little bit more to other people. But anyone’s capable of it, it’s just about if the passion’s there then you can kind of uncover everything that you need to know about what direction to go in. Like, I think if I wanted to be a doctor, I could have been, but I wasn’t passionate about studying so it wasn’t going to happen. I think everyone is capable, it’s just about being consistent. Also, I had no fucking money to hire anyone, that was probably the big one - I don’t wanna do that if it’s gonna cost me an extra 500 bucks. I’m still like that now, just very watchful of things.
For sure, and I can only imagine some of the horror stories you’d have about people trying to pull a fast one, but let’s not go down that road… one other thing I’m really curious about with you doing so much is how do you avoid burning out?
I actually burn out all the time, I’ve started burning out all the time, and it’s an issue, actually, and it calls for some really big changes ahead. I’m 28, so for the better part of the last 10 years I’ve been touring pretty hardcore, sometimes doing hundreds of shows in a year and just travelling so much. Then I just kind of thought when I was away last time “why am I doing this? Why? What else do I have to prove? What am I doing this for?” So I just had some cogs ticking in my brain and I think it could be still just as effective to maybe do less, and now that there’s other things going on on the side beyond music, like with the agency, and I’m launching a beverage company and a charity. I don’t want to tour like I’ve been touring, I don’t need to. I keen burning out and getting stroppy halfway through because I’m sop fucking tired. Do you know what I mean? Like, I’m just tired.
And I really don’t know what you mean, cos I get really tired just working like a normal nine to five, so yeah, jesus christ!
Yeah, it’s crazy. It’s crazy. So I’ve got this tour coming up, leaving on Friday and going to America again, I know what to do. But these places, they’re never going to go anywhere, so I don;t know if I need to keep going back as religiously as I have been. I said I would go hard until I was 30, and that’s not far away.
Blink and it will be here… how’s this upcoming American tour feeling? Cos you said you know what to do having been before, so how’s it feeling this time around with a massive tour - I don’t even know how many shows you’re playing?
32 shows on this one. Yeah, I’ve done it before, we’ll do it again. I don’t know, I think when you’re touring on this level and beyond and you’ve just done it so many times, you just know what to do. It’s fine, I’ve had everything possible happen to me on the road, good and bad. So really, at this point, it would be hard to surprise me with a spanner in the works somewhere. Expect nothing.
I have to ask now about some of the weird stuff you’ve experienced on tour, like maybe what’s one of the most bizarre spanners that’s been thrown in the works?
Ah, there’s so many. Last year when I was on tour, because everyone stopped during COVID, so when the world turned back on it was a big influx of everyone trying to grab a piece of it again at the same time. So what that means is there’s major shortages of everything. That includes the bus, which is your key form of transport when you’re touring around America. So we had this bus that was pretty much Ozzy Osborne’s meth den from 1981… I actually reckon that it was cursed, like there was just a vibe on it. We hated it. Everything was black. The interior - I mean everything was black, the curtains were black, the roof was black… everything was fucking black, and you’d walk into this piece of shit and like nothing worked, it’s hot as fuck, we’re driving through the South, you’re not allowed to shit in the toilet because the plumbing won’t do it justice. They’d converted the back room into a bedroom and where the wheel axle is is where my head was, on the mattress.
The engine was at the back of the bus, and the two side tables were actually the wheel hubs, so it was hot as fuck. I’m like “okay, it’s loud, it’s fucking hot, let’s turn the aircon on”... Aircon’s even louder and it started spitting out ice cubes, like the whole bus had fucking ice in it from this fucking aircon. Then I finally get to sleep on one of the nights, cos I hadn’t been sleeping for this whole tour cos there was just no possible way, and then I get a knock on my door. It was my assistant saying “Tash! You need to get up, we need to get off the bus, the bus has caught on fire!” And at that point I refused to go on it again because it was just a nightmare, so I started flying everywhere. We eventually got a bus in the end, and it was a bit better. But that’s my bad luck, there’s two things that always happen to me - I get stitched up with buses, and my luggage always goes missing.
Well I’m tapping some wood now for what that’s worth… So let’s chat Sugar now, your new EP that you played every instrument on, so sick - so is there a general starting point for your songs these days? Like do you reach for the guitar first or does it change every time?
Pretty much for this project - well I released Terra Firma in February 2021, and I didn’t actually get to tour that until 2022, then after that was done I actually already had the songs that are on Sugar. Half of them were meant to go on Terra Firma but they just didn’t make the cut, they weren’t finished in time, and then the other half were kind of just things that I’d written along the way, excluding the collab track which is with BJ the Chicago Kid and two other producers. Everything else is me as usual. It’s a stepping stone. I kind of thought “I’ve got these songs, they’re either gonna sit here or I can just release them”. The EP’s kind of really different sounding to anything that I’ve done so far. I think people either love it or just super weren’t on board with it, but they haven’t heard the whole thing yet. I think when you listen to the whole thing, it’s kind of travelling back to the very OG Notion, Flow State style sound, it’s very old school sounding. Yeah, it’s just because I can, so I independently released a six track EP, it’s not an album, who fucking cares? It’s just what it is.
For sure, and like yeah, what does an EP or album even really mean these days if it’s not on vinyl I guess? Do formats matter to you, like is another album a milestone that you want to do again?
So that EP was just a stepping stone to work out what I wanted to do, and now I’ve come to the conclusion that I will do an album next year, then tour that album, and then I’m gonna take a big break from touring. I’m gonna take a big fucking break. So now I have a plan… I don’t know, I think I’m just having that seven year cognitive shift going on at the moment where it’s like, when do you decide that you’re successful? What is it? Like, at what point do you go “okay, this is just for fun because I’ve already accomplished my goals”. I think I’ve been learning a lot of stuff at the moment and really needed to sit back and ask myself why I’m doing what I’m doing. What is it for? What am I standing for? Just those simple questions about your identity that can get convoluted along the way from the influence of other people and life events and whatnot. So yeah, I think what I realised recently is that I can see how people get into the middle age just so fucking jaded from their music careers because the industry just fucking beats you to a damn pulp and there’s no actual formula for any of it. That’s why it’s hard to draw the line and define success so that you’re not getting bashed with the long dick of the music industry.
*laughs* Well when you figure that out, I think a lot of people would also like to know the answer. So is that something you want to be involved more with when you take that long break from touring, like getting involved more in the - I don’t even want to say “industry” side, cos that’s lumping you with this kind of archaic monster…
I’ve never been involved with it. I’ve never been part of it, I barely get nominated for shit, I barely win shit, ever. I’m not in that clique, I don’t do the stuff that you need to do to be in that clique. I don’t play the game. I don’t care. Anytime I’ve tried to do that, it just feels wrong and it doesn’t work, so I just don’t bother. I was kind of like that when I was younger, I had core people that meant a lot to me, but I didn’t really fit in. I wasn’t rock and roll enough, so I didn’t fit in over there. I wasn’t funk enough, so I didn’t fit in over there. And I wasn’t soul enough, so I didn’t really fit in there, and I wasn’t folk enough so I didn’t really fit in there. So I’ve always kind of just done my own thing, forged my own path and then when I got a little bit of success, I just didn’t really appreciate the way I was being treated in terms of the music industry, so I decided to start a booking agency with Jaddan & Regan and just kind of rewrite the law a little bit.
That rules, and I think it’s super inspiring and just showing a whole new generation that you don’t have to play the game, you don’t have to sign a deal with a major to be successful and all that… So awesome, Tash - thanks so much for chatting and congrats again on the new EP!
Tash Sultana's new EP Sugar is out now via Lonely Land Records