Sultan spills on the odyssey of making his killer new album
“When I’ve decided on something, I’ve decided”
THIS MONTH, DAN Sultan will release his fourth album Killer, produced by long-time collaborator and friend Jan Skubiszewski. “I’ve changed things up stylistically and instrumentally,” says Sultan, who is a headline act at Splendour in the Grass in July. “I like to keep myself interested and on my toes.”
In Killer, Sultan plays with new sounds, introducing synthesisers, drum machines and gospel vocals to underscore his own powerful, raw singing. Thumping opening track ‘Drover’ has been described as a prequel to Paul Kelly’s ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’. In ‘Hold It Together’ there’s a booming gospel chorus, and ‘Fire Under Foot’ is emotionally charged and vulnerable. It’s clear we’re being taken on a different journey, though not too far away from Sultan’s personal and reflective lyricism.
“Jan has done a lot of stuff with that kind of sound and that sort of instrumentation, so he could articulate what I was trying to hear – he could get that out. I’ll describe something as ‘fluffy’ and then he’ll go ‘Oh, a sound like this…?’
“We are very close. There’s a brotherhood there. We read each other’s minds in the studio. There are times when I tested his patience, absolutely, which we won’t go into,” he adds, laughing.
Sultan spent most of 2016 writing more than 50 finished songs. He wrote many by himself and also teamed up with regular writing partners including Alex Burnett (of pop-rock group Sparkadia) and Pip Norman. As with the Aria-winning Blackbird, where he had written over 40 songs in the lead up, the process of shaping an album was one of both highs and lows.
“When you are writing a song, the song is the boss. [Then] the album is the boss. You can spend a really long time on a particular song and feel really good about it, invest so much into it, but if it’s not fitting, that’s it. You’ve gotta be a bit harsh with it.”
At one point in the recording process Sultan says there were perhaps too many different voices and creative minds trying to shape the sound. Taking a stand for the direction he desired was key for him, and the album, which he says has been quite a journey. “There were times where I had to go, ‘This is what I’m doing.’ I don’t mind listening to people and taking people’s advice – I will do that – but when I’ve decided on something, I’ve decided on it. I’m happy with it and I hope people get a chance to hear it. I know that I’ve done something as an artist, first and foremost, that I’m really proud of.”
àkiller is now available via Liberation Music. Tickets are on sale now for his Killer tour: Forum Theatre, Flinders & Russell Sts, Melbourne 3000. 03 9299 9860. www.forummelbourne.com.au. 8pm. $59.38. Sat Sep 2.