If you’re an Australian music fan, you’ll most definitely know the name Sarah McLeod: if it isn’t from her time fronting the SA Music Hall of Fame inductees The SuperJesus from 1994-2004 and 2012-present, it will be from her solo career when she released her debut album Beauty was a Tiger back in 2005. After a twelve-year hiatus on her solo career, McLeod is back with a vengeance; her second album Rocky’s Diner was released August 20th 2017 and has already hit number 20 on the ARIA Charts! McLeod has since embarked on a nation-wide Rocky’s Diner Tour, which recently had some new shows added to it!
McLeod was more than kind enough to give OVERDRIVE some of her time to discuss the Rocky’s Diner Tour, although the start of the phone call was a tad later than this interviewer expected. Because McLeod was driving to her next show whilst conducting interviews, she was prone to signal drop outs which resulted in her interviews going longer than expected. Once the small delay was explained, McLeod was an absolute pleasure to talk to! She was most insightful and down to earth, not to mention quite a good representation of a “Hard working Australian musician”!
The first topic of discussion was how the four shows of the Rocky’s Diner tour that had already taken place went. McLeod went on to give an insight into the highs and lows that she has experienced so far.
“They’ve gone really good. I mean, we’re still finding our feet as it’s a pretty ambitious show; I’m trying to do a lot for one performer! I’m playing bass and guitar at the same time, plus I’m also singing songs that aren’t exactly easy to sing; there are a lot of big notes, so there’s a lot of big singing. It’s an exhausting performance to be honest, but I love it! I get bored really quickly, so I’m loving having so much to do, plus I’m constantly on my toes all night. The arrangements are really complex, so there’s shit going on left, right and centre. I’ll be playing bass and suddenly I press a few buttons and I’ve switched onto playing guitar; then the bass has to come back in, not to mention the 30 different sounds I have to add so it’s constantly busy.” That last sentence ended with a good reflective chuckle from the heart.
This interviewer had originally intended to ask not only what inspired McLeod to create the bass / electric guitar hybrid a little later on, but how difficult it was for McLeod to adapt and learn how to play it fluently; however it made perfect sense to get further elaboration on the topic whilst it was already being broached! McLeod gave a very in-depth insight into the topic, but before that, she gave a small lesson on just how her hybrid worked, so make sure to pay attention!
“It sounds fucking cool to be honest; when you play the bass signal, it only picks up the bottom two strings (the E & the A). So when I play a bar chord, I’m getting a full guitar bar chord, then I’m getting octaves of the bass; the bass is playing octaves and I’ve got it coming out of this sub and it sounds massive, so when you hear it live it’s a lot dirtier and heavier than the record! It’s super tight as well, because every time I hit the guitar, I’m hitting the bass as well; plus if I make a mistake, I’m doing it twice. It’s not like the bass is going to play the correct note and doing something else whilst the guitar is doing something else (laughs) I’ll just play it off as a really shit idea, but I’ll make sure to do it twice; in the wise words of Jimi Hendrix, ‘if you make a mistake, do it twice so that people think it’s part of the arrangement, even if it’s a bad arrangement, at least you’re doing it intentionally!’ Getting back to how I got the inspiration to combine the two together, it all came about many years ago when The SuperJesus were touring America. We toured with a band called Local H who were a two-piece. Scott Lucas had something along these lines; I don’t remember what it was exactly because it was so long ago, but I remember had bass going at the same time as guitar. I don’t remember how he did it, but I knew it could be done. I just started mucking around with trial and error until I worked it out, butchering guitars and literally doing as follows: ‘Stick it in here, did it work? (screams) nope, that didn’t work…stick it in here, did it work? (screams again) nope; that didn’t work either…let’s re-wire this and stick it in here; did it work? Yeah mate, it worked!’ I just butchered the one guitar until I got it right, which became the blueprint; then I made a copy on another guitar. Now I know what I’m doing and that it works, I’m thinking of doing it to all my guitars! It can work as a normal guitar or as a dual split, so I can keep them as normal guitars when I play in The SuperJesus and flick a switch when I want to play solo; plus when you take the bass off, simple guitar distortion doesn’t do it for me anymore,” she laughs again.
Knowing that there had been twelve years between Beauty was a Tiger and Rocky’s Diner, this interviewer wanted to know what motivated McLeod to get back into the solo music scene, especially with the re-formation of The SuperJesus a couple of years ago. McLeod explained how, “I just thought the time was right; I never had any inkling to make another solo album until now. I had never felt the drive or the urge to do it, but I suddenly hit a point in my life where that changed. I felt that now is the time that I want to make something special and I want to do it properly, so I’m going to do it as one body of work. I’m going to start from complete scratch, with no previous licks or lyrics in my head, just go somewhere and see what I can create in one hit. I’ve never done that before and I loved it! I ended up hiring this ladies’ house in Williamsburg, New York. This Brazilian lady was going back to Brazil and I hired her apartment which I found on Craigslist. It’s a really dangerous website, don’t use it! I managed to find the house and the keys and she didn’t steal any of my stuff so I was super lucky. So I went and set up my studio in Brooklyn and worked 16 hours a day until it was done; I took off one day a week after each song. I thought I needed about a week for each song if I worked around a clock to a structure and when I fell behind my structure I would panic, but when I wrote something quickly, I would get excited as I thought I might be ahead of schedule and could possibly get to leave the house! When I took my one day off, I would go rabbiting around New York to try and get inspiration for the next song. The whole process was very regimented. I wrote a book about the process as well!”
Touching further on the experiences and the roller coaster ride that she experience in New York, McLeod added how, “It was really interesting as you go through all these different emotions: you go through elation, then frustration. Then you’ll go mad for a little while, before you get inspired again. The roller coaster of emotions is quite funny. The place that I was writing in actually became condemned. I kept having firefighters banging on my apartment window and I kept replying how I couldn’t leave the computer because I haven’t finished the song. Just fuck off, I don’t care if it’s falling down around me, but they kept trying to get me to leave. I kept telling them that, ‘I will leave when the song is finished’. It was quite funny because at one point I had 16 firefighters around me. I just kept thinking how ‘I am not on fire, for fucks sake just go away,” she laughs. “There are actually sirens in the end of the song ‘Northern Lights’ because I was recording the vocals over there. I thought that I would keep it in there because that’s just genuine New York for you and it felt very authentic.”
Sitting behind the drums supporting McLeod is Mick Skelton. These two have had quite a past over the years. McLeod gave a brief history lesson about their friendship, before explaining how Skelton joined her for this tour:
“I’ve been friends with Mick for about 12 years. He played drums in the five-piece band I first put together for Beauty was a Tiger. The band disbanded after a while and we continued on as a duo doing acoustic stuff. Unfortunately we had a big fight and didn’t speak for about five years; then we became friends again when my band The Screaming Bikini was supporting the Baby Animals at a gig in Sydney. We were an all-girl band and I was in the bathroom doing my makeup with the others when he came bursting in and said hi. I was quite nervous because I knew he was going to be there and wasn’t sure how things would go down. He came straight up to me, gave me a hug, some tears were shed and we’ve become friends again ever since!”
When this interviewer made a comment about how hopefully those tears were shed before the makeup was overly applied, McLeod had a good chuckle before saying how, “I use waterproof makeup. I’ve been through the rigours of ruined makeup! I use Revlon Colour Stay lipstick so it doesn’t rub off onto the mic and I wear waterproof mascara so it doesn’t run into my eyes. I’ve actually had an idea for a TV commercial for Revlon once, as a joke between friends. What if there are two smoking hot girls making out in an elevator and they both turn to the camera with perfect lipstick intact, before one of them says ‘Revlon Colour Stay,’” she laughs. “I mean, who wouldn’t want to watch that clip and then go out and buy that lipstick!”
We may have then spent a couple of minutes discussing possible ads to pitch to makeup companies; this shall neither be confirmed or denied!
For those who have heard the news recently about the new SuperJesus album, this reviewer has got you covered! There was no way that he was going to speak to Sarah McLeod without asking her about the current status of it: McLeod was kind enough to mention how, “We’ve written a bunch of songs, but we’ve got to write a whole bunch more! I’ve got to get through the remainder of this solo run, but then I’ll go back and hide myself away in the mountains or something and write a bit more, plus I’m also going to go back to Adelaide and write with the boys as well! I’d say it would be some stage towards late next year, but don’t hold me to that!” she adds with a good chuckle from deep down.
A handful of shows have already passed, but there are still plenty of shows left on the Rocky’s Diner Tour.
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