by Catherine Blanch.
Singer/songwriter Dan Sultan is embarking on a new album tour with the release of his Dirty Ground EP. The title track comes from a song he wrote with legendary songwriter Paul Kelly, while the recording also contains some of Dan’s favourite songs from his own repertoire as well as a co-write with Something For Kate’s Paul Dempsey.
Performing two shows only at The Garden Of Unearthly Delights’ Aurora Spiegeltent, we speak with Dan Sultan and ask if the intention for recording the EP in one day was capture a live organic sound or if it just happened that way?
“A bit of both,” he begins. “A couple of the songs had been recorded previously but we definitely wanted to go for something a bit raw with this EP. Gullible Few is on the Blackbird album, as well as an acoustic version of a song from the same album, which I really enjoyed doing the first time around, so I wanted to give that a bit of a Guernsey as well. We recorded four of the songs here in Melbourne with producer Jan Skubizewski at Way of the Eagle studios. We set up the room with some mics and just went for it. We only did a few takes of each song, which was a nice way to spend the evening.
“Blackbird has a lot of production and overdubs done on the recording, which was an incredible experience to be working in such an amazing place with such talented musicians, but I think it was good to look at the other side of the coin and get that raw sound with Dirty Ground,” Sultan says. “The album also enabled me to bring out some new work as well as take a re-look at some of my older tracks. I’m really proud of it and Jan is a great producer who always gets a really great sound. We know each other very well; he’s one of my dear friends and he knows what it is that I’m trying to get out of my music and songs.
“After not having anything out for a few yearsand then two things out in twelve months, as well as quite a few tours; it’s been a busy year and I’ve enjoyed working hard again – especially in the industry that I’m in. It’s nice that people are interested enough to keep me busy.”
Working with both Paul Kelly and Paul Dempsey would be enough to make any musician feel small pangs of envy.
“Absolutely!” he agrees. “I’ve been a fan of them both for a long time. Paul Kelly and I helped each other out with a few songs a while back, and a couple of our co-writes are on something that he’ll be bringing out in the not-too-distant future. A couple of others are also on the Dirty Ground EP so it worked out well for both of us. Paul Dempsey and I wrote Mountaintop together. It was originally intended to go on Blackbird but for one reason or another it didn’t make it, so it’s good to get it down, have it recorded.”
Was it a learning experience to work with both of them?
“It was and it wasn’t, but I definitely learned a lot of things,” Sultan says. “When you go into something with an open mind and an open heart you’re always going to learn something, but it’s hard to say exactly what that is. At this stage, I think I’m always learning about songwriting and I feel like everything I do is better than the last time – which is all you can hope for, really; to evolve and get better. It was also great to break that rut I’d been in for a long time since I wrote a song so it’s good to be doing it again.
“There’s something really beautiful about co-writing and creating a song from start to finish,” he adds. “Paul [Dempsey] is a pleasure to spend time with, let alone to be writing with him. He’s very inspirational. We sat down in the morning, ran through a few ideas and it wasn’t long before Mountaintop came along. It all happened very naturally.”
Dirty Ground has been recorded in acoustic mode, which is how you will be touring for much of 2015. Having worked with a band for so long, are you feeling a little exposed to be playing solo as a singer/songwriter? Will it allow you to tell stories about the songs and about yourself more?
“I love playing with my band but I really enjoy performing solo as well,” Sultan says. “They’re both great for different reasons. It’s been about a year since I toured solo, and that one turned out to be a storytelling tour; I talked about the writing and recording process mixed with some little anecdotes. It was good fun, had a few laughs and even had a bit of a script down midway through the tour; I knew what did and didn’t work as far as the stories and jokes about recording and travelling were concerned.
“That all came about organically and whether that happens again on this tour, I’m not sure. I don’t like to plan things out too much. But I think it’s good to have a bit of a yarn with your audience – within reason,” he laughs. “I still get nervous before going onstage anyway, so when you’re up there on your own it can be pretty intense and a little soul exposing – which can also be a good thing.
“One thing I don’t do on the road anymore is drink, so that brings out the rawness even more. A drink can really take the edge off, as they say. I really enjoy going on the road, it’s a big tour and it’s always great to be heading back to The Garden Of Unearthly Delights again. It’s a good scene, and I love that time of the year in Adelaide. It’s a great place to be. I’ve got family and friends there so it will be great to catch up with them all. And the Aurora Spiegeltent is such an iconic place to perform in.”
Dan Sultan performs his Dirty Ground Tour at The Garden Of Unearthly Delights’ Aurora Spiegeltent from 7pm on Thu Feb 19 and Fri Feb 20.
Book at FringeTIX on 1300 621 255 and adelaidefringe.com.au/fringetix. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.