From busking on street corners to headlining festivals across the world, Tash Sultana is a one-woman-band success story, 24 years in the making.
She’d been playing and performing music for as long as she can remember, but it wasn’t until she released her bedroom recording of “Jungle”, that she blew up. This recording got over a million views within the first five days, and it’s sitting on a casual 51 million views right now.
Currently on the European leg of her world tour, I got her on the phone just before her headlining slot at Mad Cool Festival in Madrid, Spain.
“It’s fucking hot here… like 40 degrees!” she responds when I ask how Spain’s been treating her. She laughs when I tell her how obsessed I am with the Australian accent, instant bond.
We briefly touch on her musical background – she got her first guitar at the age of three, taking lessons and subsequently teaching herself an impressive nine other instruments.
Given her long history with music, I ask how she reacts when people refer to her as an overnight success. The change in the tone of her voice lets me know I’ve touched on a sensitive topic. “I’m not,” she responds adamently. “People have opinions about whatever they want to have opinions on… but it’s not an overnight thing. I’ve shut down many, many journalists for suggesting it happened overnight because I’ve been playing in bands and performing since I was really young.”
“A huge part of the last 11 years has been me working my arse off to get to where I am,” she adds before maintaining that music was never just a hobby. She had a very clear goal that she spent every day working towards.
“People happened to catch on to one thing, ‘Jungle’ – which is not my best song or even the song I’m most proud of. It was just the song that grabbed most people’s attention and for that I’m fucking thankful ‘cause I’m living my dreams now. So whatever.”
I decide to take things back to exactly where it all started, and ask her about Joe Rock, her three-year-old rock star alter ego. She laughs as she recalls: “That was only back then, now I’m Tash Sultana when I perform. I don’t even know where that name came from.”
I wonder whether it’s even fair to ask her to pick a favourite instrument but without a moments hesitation she blurts out that “guitar is definitely my favourite instrument,” a no-brainer.
Cheekily I ask if she has any strange pre-gig rituals, and she laughs. “Yup, I have loads. I take weekly vitamin infusions so that I don’t get sick on tour. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I make sure that I sleep for at least nine hours a day.”
Her list goes on, and she ends on what I think more musicians could incorporate into their daily routine: “I practice to a click track so I can stay on time.” Preach the muso gospel, girl!
I wonder about the busking scene in Australia, whether it’s a wild world of first-come-first-serve and band wars to claim or defend territory. She completely dissolves that notion: “There are general busking areas, but you need specific permits for other streets. You have to audition for your permits, and you have to attend weekly meetings to discuss and decide your roster… same as having a job.”
We talk about the contrast of trading eye-level street performances with huge festival audiences that she can barely see the end of. “I try and do like a mix of big shows and festivals, and smaller, more intimate shows. I played a show in Amsterdam the other night to 10 000 people. But last night’s show [Razzmatazz, Barcelona] was 2 000 people and it’s nice to jump between the two. And then Mad Cool might be 30 000 people.”
We move on swiftly to collaborations, having just released “Talk it Out” the previous day.
This is the first of her collaborations to actually make it out of studio and she talks very fondly of Corby saying, “Matt and I are very similar. We could basically be siblings. We call each other all the time to just touch base. He sent me the track and I was like, ‘What the fuck Matt, why didn’t you put this on your album?’ He just wanted to give it to me so I could fill in the gaps.”
Just before our time is up, she lets me in on a little secret: “I do have a couple more collabs that will be released in the next couple of months, so stick around.”
She’ll be playing ay Rocking the Daisies this October and they’re more than 50% sold out so any Tash Sultana fans better get their tickets and quick. She promises that it’s going to be, “a really special performance.”