‘We are still all stuck in the mud together’: Dan Sultan is striving for a kinder world through his art

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‘We are still all stuck in the mud together’: Dan Sultan is striving for a kinder world through his art

Dan Sultan
words by Jacob McCormack

Dan Sultan has been releasing music and playing shows for decades now. Along with his artistry, or rather in conjunction with it, he has used his public profile to discuss Indigeneity in Australia.

On Saturday, June 3, he will be playing alongside a wealth of Indigenous talent at the Treaty Day Out festival at Burnley Circus Park.

The Festival will also feature the star-studded line-up of Jessica Mauboy, Thelma Plum, Electric Fields, Alice Skye, Marlon X Rulla, Nooky, Scott Darlow, Madi Colville-Walker, YOTHU YINDI and a Triple J Unearthed winner. Treaty Day Out will act as an opportunity for Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islanders and allies to show their support for Treaty and celebrate the final day of voting in the Assembly Elections.

Keep up with the latest music news, festivals, interviews and reviews here.

“I’ve been speaking about these things for a long time,” says Dan. “I was speaking about it when they got me on triple j to argue with bogans about why it’s racist to throw bananas at Adam Goodes. Now we have our own show on triple j.

“I was speaking about it at the ARIAs when I won a bunch of awards and they didn’t even report that I’d won in some newspapers, let alone what I had to say about it. I think it’s good that a lot more people are listening and taking an interest, but people have been talking about this for a while, people spoke about this stuff before I had a voice, pardon the pun, in a public forum at least.”

Dan hasn’t been deterred from pushing for a better existence for everyone. Critically, Dan articulates that he can only make himself accountable and outline expectations that remain solely applicable to himself.

“I think anything where people are trying to create a space and world, where things are better is a great thing to be involved with. It’s certainly how I try to live my life. But, I don’t think my expectations go any further than myself, as far as kindness is concerned. 

“In my personal opinion I think things are nicer if we are [kinder], but I am certainly not trying to tell anyone else how to feel. People feel differently about different things and that is ok. Well, it’s not ok, it just is. It’s like it’s not up for an opinion, it’s just the way of the world.

“I don’t feel like I am a finished product. We should always be on the lookout for lessons. I have certainly found if I’m not then I’ll get them, and some are harder than others.”

Dan’s attitude remains measured, sculpted by the trials and tribulations he only briefly alludes to. He has recently finished working on a lot of new music, of which three singles have already been released. It is this new music that he outlines an expansion that has occurred – although that has translated into a sonic expansion, its epicentre resides within his heart and spirit.

“The expansion has occurred within my heart, mind and spirit,” he says. “I have been able to go a lot further with my experiences and my story than I have previously. To have that freedom is a beautiful and powerful thing, when you are sitting down at the keyboard or with a pen as it were.

“As an artist and creative person, to feel a real sense of freedom in your work, as well as liberation is such an important thing. I’ve been as free, liberated and honest as I possibly could have been throughout my whole career, but I think experiencing Covid and coming out the other side of things, being a lot healthier and being in a much nicer place in my life is a beautiful thing.

“It’s been conducive to making some work that I feel really fulfilled within. Regardless of how it is received. I mean, I hope it is received well – I am a family person and provide for my family, so from that practical standpoint I am not without ambition. But from a purely artistic standpoint it feels great for me.”

The album we are all set to receive this year will incorporate Dan’s expansion as well as showcasing what we’ve come to know of him since he began sharing music. Co-existing with a coming into something new, Joel Quartermain was on board for the recent LP, acting in line with Dan as a multi-instrumentalist and producer.

“I recorded [the new singles] with my producer Joel Quartermain,” he says. “He is a very, very clever musician. We call him a Swiss army knife; he can pretty much do anything. I have capabilities in that area too, so between the two of us we just played everything on the record. 

“He is a really great drummer, bass player and great on the keys, guitar and all that stuff. I am pretty tidy with the keys, and handy on the guitar and vocals. Between the two of us we played everything on the record.”

“From a more practical standpoint the chords, stringlines I’ve written and the writing I have done – as well as the production I have been a part of with Joel Quartermain – I have gone to places I haven’t been before. It is really beautiful and fulfilling stuff.”

So, as we gear up for the spectacle that will be Treaty Day Out, we can expect the intersection of both the old and the new from Dan Sultan. 

“I am just really happy and it’s really beautiful. I am looking forward to playing it as much as possible. I’m looking forward to heading back to near where I was born. The festival isn’t too far away from the hospital I was born at, so it’s going to be a nice time. My family will be there. My wife and kids will be there with me.”

Treaty Day Out is brought to you by First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria and Treaty For Victoria. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders can grab their free, enrolled ticket here and allies can pick up some here.

Dan Sultan’s latest self-titled album will be released on August 18, via Liberation.