Dan Sultan reflects on Blackbird before ‘epic’ MSO show: ‘It feels like 10 years, but I mean that in a really beautiful way’

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Dan Sultan reflects on Blackbird before ‘epic’ MSO show: ‘It feels like 10 years, but I mean that in a really beautiful way’

Dan Sultan
Words by Tyler Jenke

As Dan Sultan will tell you, he’s no stranger to performing as part of NAIDOC Week, having taken part in the annual celebration of First Nations culture for as long as he’s been performing shows.

This year, however, features one of his biggest appearances yet as he reinterprets his 2014 album Blackbird with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. The shows take place on July 12th and 13th at Hamer Hall, with the two sets looking at both the album, and his wider catalogue.

For Sultan, it’s a chance to reflect, to reimagine, and to take part in a wider program shining a light on overlooked Australian art.

Dan Sultan and the MSO for NAIDOC Week

  • Date: Friday 12 and Saturday 13 July, 7.30pm
  • Venue: Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne
  • Tickets: on sale now

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“NAIDOC Week is a time when we can reflect on a few things and I see it as a celebration where people who aren’t First Nations get an opportunity to be exposed to some incredible work done by really great people from all facets of the community,” he explains. “It’s a really nice opportunity to highlight a small part of all the beautiful things that go on.

First released back in April 2014, Blackbird was Sultan’s third album, and his biggest success up to that time. Hitting #4 on the charts, going Gold, and winning his second Best Independent Blues and Roots Album award at the ARIAs, it amounted to a bright spotlight shone upon him.

Writing the record with names like Alex Burnett and Pip Norman, and recording it in Nashville at the titular Blackbird Studios with Jacquire King, it was a record that Sultan describes as being lyrically sad, yet diverse and ultimately influential within the Australian music scene.

“Get Out While You Can, that was certainly my breakout record, and it was the first time I’d gotten big festivals and national radio and ARIA Awards,” he remembers. “That really brought about a lot of change, and then Blackbird followed on and picked up the mantle from there.

“I feel proud of the contribution that I was able to make with Blackbird.”

Described as “the simple journey of a man singing about love, desire and identity” upon its release, ten years on, the record serves as something of a time capsule for Sultan, crystalising those feelings, those memories, and those times into one concise album that stands tall in his discography.

“For me it feels like a long time,” he says. “It feels like 10 years, but I mean that in a really beautiful way. It was an exciting time making that record and it was certainly exciting bringing out things I was experiencing, and things that I hadn’t experienced before as far as my work was concerned .

“I’d moved on from a situation that I was in for a long time, and it was pretty scary at the time,” he notes. “Then I find myself in Nashville at Blackbird Studios, which is just an incredible place, and just those life experiences I’ll never forget.”

A decade later, it’s time to revisit Blackbird in a wholly new way. Though this isn’t Sultan’s first time with the MSO (he performed as part of last year’s NAIDOC Week performance, One Song: The Music of Archie Roach), and though it might not seem like a ‘regular performance’, he’s not fazed, admitting there’s no such thing.

“I’ve done a lot of solo shows, three-piece shows, and a lot of different types of performing, and I don’t really feel like there is much of a ‘regular performance’,” he notes. “You just want to do the best work you possibly can with the options that you have in front of you.

“So in that way there is no difference, but in, in another way, it’s with a fucking orchestra,” he adds.

Sultan has never been one to be afraid of new things, admitting that if he’s not pushing himself toward new frontiers, he’s not evolving as an artist. With arrangements by Alex Turley, and Aaron Wyatt as conductor, it’s bound to be an exciting moment for everyone involved. At the end of the day, Sultan just wants to share good music in a new capacity.

“I’ve always wanted things to sound pretty epic and cinematic in my writing and in my production,” he admits. “And I feel like there’s probably no better way to pay tribute to that energy than with a symphony orchestra.”

Dan Sultan is performing with the MSO at Hamer Hall for NAIDOC Week on Friday 12 and Saturday 13 July at 7.30pm. Tickets are on sale now.

This article was made in partnership with Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.