Tash Sultana is credited with playing roughly as many instruments as there are songs on their new album, Terra Firma—out later this week via Mom+Pop—meaning somewhere in the range of fourteen. Here’s a partial list of those credits, per the record’s production notes: “Acoustic and electric guitar, lap steel, bass, drums…percussion, piano, synth, keyboard, pan flutes, flute, sax, trumpet, trombone, [and] mandolin.”
This versatility—and the musical vision that necessitates it—should surprise absolutely no one who’s followed Tash’s wild journey from Melbourne street performer to globetrotting stadium headliner over the past five years or so. The ever-evolving singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is known for crafting epic, grooving live performances using custom consoles. But Terra Firma is Tash’s most expansive effort to date. The final product pairs staggeringly raw songwriting with intricate instrumentation and lush production, fusing jazz, soul, funk, psych rock, and R&B influences along the way. Thematically, the album builds toward a sense of liberation, with the closing number literally called “I Am Free.”
Terra Firma also features contributions from Matt Corby, Dann Hume, Jerome Farah, and Josh Cashman, and comes after Tash’s 2018 album Flow State as well as their 2016 EP Notions. We caught up with the 26-year-old musician over email about their new record, their fear of death, and their recent cover of “Flume” by Bon Iver, an artist whose influence can be heard in a handful of Terra Firma’s most soulful, atmospheric numbers. Check out the full interview and listen to Tash’s latest singles below.
American Songwriter: Where did you get the inspiration for the title Terra Firma? When did these songs come together?
Tash Sultana: I heard this name and I thought it perfectly represented how I feel and the record I’ve written. I began writing the record in October 2019 and finished it in October 2020. I wrote these songs stationed between my studio and my home.
AS: Do lyrics or instrumentation usually come first when you’re starting to work on a new project? What about for Terra Firma?
TS: It’s a little bit from all angles, but they usually marry up in the middle to form a complete song.
AS: Speaking of lyrics, one of the first lines on the album, in “Crop Circles,” is “The only thing I fear is my death.” Does fear drive you to write?
TS: Fear does not drive me to write, life does. One thing I’ve learned in my life is that my only one true fear is to die. I’ve had to get myself to a point where I have peacefully accepted that it is a part of allowing us to exist. The question remaining is, where do we go?
AS: Musically, how does Terra Firma compare to Flow State?
TS: Terra Firma is a further extension of the musical being I am. If the world were to discover me now, you would not know Flow State or the Notion EP, as I would have never released it.
AS: I was so excited to come across your “Flume” cover a few weeks ago. You write, in the video description, that “I get found in his music,” adding, “Should’ve practiced some faces in the mirror first but I guess I was in a trance.”
TS: I just pull some ugly-as-fuck faces when I play tunes but that’s because I’m not bothered by how I look. All I’m doing is just feeling and being in the moment and I suppose the face does what it does.
AS: You’ve performed in so many different contexts, from sidewalks to festival stages to arenas. Have you missed doing major tours, or are you happy to have periods of downtime between those runs?
TS: Downtime is a necessary part of self-reflection. You look inward without distraction. The tours will come again and I will literally be on the first flight out of here.
AS: Lastly, I want to ask about the stunning final tracks on Terra Firma—“Let The Light In” and “I Am Free.” What are they about? And how do you personally practice letting light and love in?
TS: I sure do, but I also really like to give that to others as well. Pretty much “Let The Light In” is about surrendering to the self and the love that follows when you let go. “I Am Free” is about me literally waking up one day and realizing I don’t give a flying fuck what society thinks of me. I will always be unapologetically myself.
Photo credit: Giulia McGauran