In the waning days of the year, Tash Sultana is taking a moment to chill out.
“I’m telling ya, I haven’t moved from my bed all morning – the power of Zoom is that you can do it fucking anywhere!” they say to Rolling Stone AU/NZ from the serene confines of their home on Victoria’s Surf Coast, still lounging in bed, the Australian musician at ease.
Because it’s not always this calm in Sultana’s world. Known for their astonishing live performances and going from busking on Melbourne’s Bourke Street to becoming an Australian music mainstay (their bedroom “Jungle” video now has 165 million views), they now have a decade of solo gigs under their belt. They’ve played guitar, keyboard, trumpet, loop pedals, and much more around the world, including at iconic festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza, traversing the US and Japan in the past year alone.
But now, Sultana is thinking about a proper break from the hectic touring scene. After their long-awaited return to New Zealand for a massive show at Auckland’s Spark Arena on Saturday, November 25th, at least.
“I’m all about the live show. It’s the only way to fully understand what I’m doing – physically seeing it. It’s not just about the sound; it’s about the performance, the energy, and I get that from the crowd. They feed me, and then I’ll just go nuts,” Sultana says.
“But I’ve been on tour for ten years, and in this recent cycle, I’ve been overseas like six times in the last two years. I need a break, you know? I’ve hit a threshold where I need to chill for a bit and put my feet back on the ground.”
This slowdown comes after the release of Sultana’s latest EP, Sugar. The six-track project, born during the pandemic, showcases Sultana’s diverse musical range. There’s the breezy “James Dean”, all about cutting off toxic relationships; the synth-driven “New York” (“about one of the lowest points of my life, professionally and personally,” reveals Sultana), and the deep “1975″, which delves into past trauma with evocative lyrics like, “When we are all knee deep inside the water that is rising / For the tide to come and take us out to sea.”
Sugar also sees Sultana diving into new sounds, collaborating with American hip hop artists like BJ the Chicago Kid for the smooth R&B-tinged “Bitter Lovers”. They also had a special studio jam with Ty Dolla $ign during their recent time in the States, which was in the making for five years. “A lot of them are from the hood… I think they think I’m funny because I’m Australian, like Americans just really love Aussies,” Sultana laughs.
But despite the sonic experimentations and diversions on their latest release, Sultana is trying to think about one person when making music these days.
“I’m now at a place where I only create music for myself,” they reflect. “If people say it doesn’t sound like my old stuff, it won’t, because I’m never going to write the same song or sound the same twice. It’s always gonna be evolving.”
As for the cryptic EP title, “Sugar” holds a deeper meaning for the multi-instrumentalist. “A lot of people assume it’s about cocaine, but it’s not. During this period of my life, I was experimenting with different approaches to manage my mental state… I decided to take medication throughout this EP, so that’s why I called it “Sugar” – like synthetic happiness, really.”
Has this impacted her creative output? “It hasn’t really affected me in my creative space, but in day-to-day life, it’s pretty much saved me for the period of time because I was probably beyond help, really, at that point. I’d always done everything raw and holistically but I just surrendered to science,” they answer. “It’s all about discipline. So even if you fall off the wagon, you have enough discipline and awareness to just bring you back.”
In their personal life, they’ve also adopted a constant “spring cleaning” approach, inspired by writing the EP’s lead single “James Dean”. “I’m still learning to develop boundaries, there were a few people that had a front row seat to my life that definitely shouldn’t have had one,” they reveal.
In addition to touring and making music, Sultana launched their own non-profit organisation, I Am Me Foundation, in September, which provides grants to the trans/non-binary/gender non-conforming community to aid in their transitions. Music means the world to Sultana, but they also know there’s so much more to life outside of art.
Epilogue: Post-interview, Sultana officially broke the news about their touring hiatus to their Instagram followers, concluding, “I am taking a break from touring for a little while. Not sure what my plan is exactly right now, but I guess I kind of like that. If you do everything from the heart, then it’s never a waste of time.”