It can be pretty surreal, meeting someone you’ve idolised for a long time. But meeting your hero, forming a mentor-mentee relationship, and eventually touring the country with them, that’s just ridiculous. Especially when that hero is Sir Elton John.
“I met him quite a few years ago now,” says former-ANU School of Music student Tate Sheridan, recounting his first interactions with icon and music legend Elton John. Tate’s currently touring with Sir Elton, playing more than 20 shows on his last ever Australian tour.
“He was touring Australia at the time and I got a CD to his management, just some demos that I’d been working on. I didn’t think anything of it. I was just like, ‘What the hell, I’ll just throw something out into the universe!’ It was to my extreme good fortune that he heard it and liked it. It was really unbelievable.”
This is starting to sound like a cheesy movie.
“He just rang me. He got a contact number, and said he liked what he heard, and he offered to meet me the following day in Sydney and we managed to stay in touch.”
While Tate is recounting the story in a very calm, humble manner, I’m still in disbelief. It seems that his cool, collected nature is perhaps why he is feeling confident about this giant tour.
“I’m trying to think of it like any other gig. I think that’s the best mentality. Because as a performer you can kind of get in your own head sometimes.”
Tate has played piano for much of his life, studying jazz piano at university and going onto a masters in Cuban jazz piano.
“I really always gravitated towards the piano, so Billy Joel, Elton John, Randy Newman, even Neil Young. Those kind of storytellers of that era, you know how they could capture the very fabric of society in that age and put it on a blank page. That was really inspiring to me.
“That was always such a big part of my musical adolescence.”
While he has always held an interest in pop and 70s rock ‘n’ roll, jazz took a front seat at the beginning of his music career.
“Towards the end of my degree, which was 2013 and into 2014, I started doing some local gigs around Canberra and I think the jazz background was both a blessing and a curse, really.
“My songwriting has come such a long way in the last two years, mainly because I have taken a step back and tried to be a lot simpler. I [used to] infuse a little bit more of that complex harmony and chords, but you’ve got to be careful not to indulge that much.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in America, Nashville in particular, and that really helped me realise how can I say more with fewer chords, or say more with fewer words.”
Tate says that spending time in places like Nashville, where everyone you meet is a songwriter, was a completely new and inspiring experience.
“If you’re out at a bar it’s pretty much guaranteed that the guy bringing you a beer knows how to write. You start up a conversation and everyone is sort of on the same wavelength. So I soaked it all up and really learnt a lot about the craft.”
He says his travels have also helped him keep in touch with Elton John over the years. They always tried to catch up when he visited.
“He’s given me lots of advice, like what sort of gigs I should be playing, my songwriting, my visual image. I’ve been very lucky because he was one of my biggest heroes growing up. So I am extremely fortunate and he is just so generous with his time.”
It sounds like taking advice from such a successful musician as Elton John has paid off. Touring the East Coast multiple times with his original music, and even playing shows as classical accompaniment, he has built up a huge range of experience to set himself up for moments like this.
“I’ve gained a lot of experience doing all different kinds of [shows]. I think if you can muster up all that experience, everything gives you backbone as an artist. So when it comes to the more special, bigger occasions, I think I can really draw on all that experience.”
Tate has certainly come a long way since studying in Canberra. And we’re all cheering for him.
Tate Sheridan will be performing at outdoor venues with Sir Elton on the Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour. Tickets to Tate Sheridan (and Sir Elton John) are available through Ticketek.