Tash Sultana sits backstage in Adelaide with an IV drip in her arm.
Nothing serious. The Melbourne busker turned international touring phenomenon is ensuring she’s totally “chilled and hydrated” ahead of that night’s first show on the national tour for hit debut album, Flow State.
Following an impressive run through North American theatres, the Australian dates include a headline show supported by Hottest 100 winners Ocean Alley at Fremantle Oval later this month.
After another leg of US and Canadian concerts, Sultana heads to the UK and Europe.
The 23-year-old self-taught musician will be on the road until September, when she plays the fabled Red Rocks Auditorium in Colorado.
“To be able to deal with all this stuff that is happening, internally and externally, my health, my mind and my body needs to be completely in sync with each other,” Sultana says.
“I’m a bit of a health freak now. When I was busking on the street, I was smoking weed, having heaps of fun and drinking knock-off beers.
“The stakes are much higher now,” she adds. “I don’t want to be sick. I don’t want to cancel any shows. I want to be on my game.”
Sultana is selling out big venues across the world, earning ARIA Award nominations (and winning best blues and roots album for Flow State) and racking up platinum sales for singles Notion and Jungle.
Three years ago she was busking on the streets of Melbourne, where she could barely see over the trolley used to cart around her amplifiers, guitar and other gear.
“When I was busking on the street, I was smoking weed, having heaps of fun and drinking knock-off beers.”
“(Sultana was a) five-foot nothing person towering over everybody,” said Pat Pierce of Melbourne folk duo Pierce Brothers, who used to busk across the road from Sultana.
Busking was “my rehearsal space”, according to Sultana, who has played guitar since she could hold one, formed first band Mindpilot at high school and never played covers on the street.
“Covers are for others,” laughs Sultana, who suffered from a nine-month drug-induced psychosis when she was 17 and admits to having “ups and downs mentally”.
“I finished school and I didn’t want to work, and I was also pretty much not hire-able,” she explains. “People took one look at me and thought ‘Well, I don’t really trust you. I reckon you might be pocketing money from the till’. That’s the look I’ve been given every time I’ve handed over a CV.
“Anyway, I was never destined to do that. It was in the waters that this was the way my life was meant to go.”
While cash from busking bought the “knock-off beers” and helped pay for the basics, Sultana genuinely saw it as a “pathway” to a career in music.
“It wasn’t about the money,” she says. “And it’s not about the money now. I’m not a flashy person, like, I’m still wearing the same jeans I’ve been wearing for six years.”
“(Sultana was a) five-foot nothing person towering over everybody.”
Sultana also uploaded bedroom recordings of psych-folk instruments made with electric guitar and looping pedals to YouTube.
Notion was posted in February, 2016 and now has 12 million views.
Jungle raced past a million views within five days of being uploaded in May, 2016 on the way to more than 40 million views, platinum accreditation and third place on the Triple J Hottest 100.
While Notion garnered her attention and a management team in Australia, Jungle broke her internationally, landing a record deal with New York City-based label Mom + Pop Music and worldwide publishing agreement with Kobalt.
Flow State was distributed by major label Sony Music Australia but released through Sultana’s own label, Lonely Lands Records.
The young Victorian looked to friend John Butler for a blueprint for a sustainable independent music career.
“I think what he has done is absolutely phenomenal because he’s been on the scene for 20 years now and he’s selling out absolutely massive shows,” Sultana says.
“He’s such an amazing live presence and a fantastic musician that you’re coming (to concerts) because you want to experience that, it’s not about hearing the hits.”
Last year, Sultana won the ARIA Award for best blues and roots album — a gong her mate Butler has taken home on three occasions.
“Obviously, it’s cool,” she says, “but I’m not doing this to win awards. I’ve got a couple of awards and they’re great, but what they’re actually doing is just sitting on my shelf collecting dust.
“I’ve hung my records on the wall — my platinum and gold records — and you find that you don’t even notice them when you walk into your house,” adds Sultana, who had already written a second album’s worth of songs before Flow State was released in August last year.
“My mind is thinking about what songs I’m writing and who I want to work with and what I can do better for my show.”
Tash Sultana plays Fremantle Oval on March 30, supported by Ocean Alley. Tickets from Ticketmaster.