INTERVIEW: SARAH McLEOD – November 2017

INTERVIEW: SARAH McLEOD – November 2017
By Shane Pinnegar

Somehow Superjesus frontwoman, guitar slanger and rock n’ roll adventurer hasn’t released a rock album in around a dozen years – until now, with her excellent second solo album, Rocky’s Diner. A killer album full of American rock n’ roll heritage, fascinating characters and irresistible hooks, it’s arguably the best thing she’s ever put her name to… so we called her for a chat about it, and learnt a lot about her career thus far. You can find her album tour dates at the bottom of this page.

McLeod relocated to New York to write Rocky’s Diner [Reviewed here], in search of a very particular vibe.

“I like the idea of being in New York, because it gives me that feeling that anything’s possible,” she explains. “You feel like you’re connected to the world more, and I think with my lyrics, it made me feel more confident and stronger about everything that I was saying, for some reason. I can’t really put my finger as to why, but I think it’s just that air of anything’s possible and that magic in the air that makes you feel… it gives you a new confidence in your writing, summing it up.

“It’s not like I ever went anywhere – I was just sitting in this little bedroom, in a house that I hired in Williamsburg, working around the clock. But just to be there – and from my window I could look at the Williamsburg Bridge and across to the skyline of Manhattan, and it made me feel cool.”

One’s physical environment can be a pivotal influence on one’s creative endeavours. Could Led Zeppelin’s Bron Y’aur Stomp be written anywhere but the Welsh village that leant it its name? Could God Save The Queen have been birthed anywhere but London 1976?

“I think sometimes it does, yeah,” agrees McLeod, “My whole

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was based on Little Italy, which I love. I just had this image in my head of Little Italy in the ’50s, and all of the goings on down there… making it like a lonely hearts club [where] all of the ladies would go and meet their suitors at the bar, and then they’d sit and talk to the restaurateur, who would be like their life coach. So I made it [about] those souls connecting – which is just, you know, the meaning of life, really: people trying to connect with each other. So for me, I think it did affect it a little bit, yeah.”

The titular diner is fictitious, says McLeod, but there is a great story behind the name.

“It’s the hub of the stories,” she starts, “it’s fictitious, but I watched all of the Rocky movies before I went to New York, so I had this idea in my head that I had this great challenge ahead of me. The fight of my life! Because I’d told everybody that I was going to write an album from scratch, in a foreign country, by myself, and I needed exactly three months. One song per week, which would give me 10 songs and two B-sides. So, the pressure was on, and I felt like Rocky in the big fight! So, couple that with the restaurants in Little Italy, that’s how I got there.

“I was really disciplined,” she continues. “I really wanted to make sure that I would do everything that I said I would do. And I started on the first of January, and I submitted the album to the label, in its final order, with its title, at 11:30 at night on the 31st of March. So, it was a clear three months. And I went, ‘there you go.’”

Sarah’s vision of her characters connected in a 1950’s Little Italy is interesting, given the ‘50s pop and rock n’ roll vibe coursing throughout the record. Songs like Bad Valentine and No-one Wants to Be The First To Say Goodbye contain echoes of 1950’s girl groups, with hints of early Beach Boys.

“Well I love that kind of stuff – that’s the music I love,” McLeod enthuses. “I’m a huge Phil Spector fan, so anything of that era is right up my alley. It’s all I listen to at home, so I tried to write in that style, but I wanted to produce it like a rock record, make it more tailored to how I like to play.”

Several songs on Rocky’s Diner present as possibly autobiographical, at least in character. McLeod happily confirms that this is indeed the case.

“It is quite a lot actually, like very subtly,” she explains. “There was some stories about situations that I’d had with people – Giants was one of those. Wild Hearts was definitely about me. My Motivation was [about] when I got writer’s block and I went crazy for a little while, so, yeah, they’re all laced with emotions I was going through at the time.

“Black Sheep totally is – that’s when I threw my hands in the air, and I was just like, ‘fuck it, I don’t care.’ You know, just bring it all back to simplicity, don’t overthink anything. If you’re hungry, you fucking eat something; if you’re tired, go to sleep. Just get up and get on with it, and the sun will shine, and the moon will be out again, and it’s a new day, and put your troubles aside, and just whistle a nice little ditty, and put your hands in your pockets, and go for a stroll.”

In the twelve years since McLeod’s last solo album, Beauty Was A Tiger, she has been far from creatively dormant. The Superjesus was resurrected and toured, there’s been solo tours, a few top secret projects yet to see the light of day, and unbeknownst to many in the rock world, she had some big dance and electronic music hits in The States and Europe. Modestly, she just says, “I did all sorts of stuff in that period, yeah.”

Having explored different musical styles and indeed different areas of the music industry, were they necessary experiences to get where she is now?

“Hard to say,” she says thoughtfully, “but I do learn something from everything that I do, even if it is a lot of work for one small lesson. So no matter how much work or time went into it, if I had learnt something, then it was always worth doing.”

One of those ‘secret’ projects that took up a lot of time roughly three years ago was an album project in collaboration with Jeff Martin of The Tea Party. Only one single, Man The Lifeboats, was released to coincide with a collaborative tour, while the rest of their work together remains locked away. McLeod goes on to confess to other unreleased albums – easily enough material for a future box set, in fact.

“Yeah, there’s a whole album [from those sessions]… whether we are ever going to put it out or not, I don’t know. You’d need to speak to Jeff… Unfortunately, it’s become quite normal for me, because I make a lot of albums that I don’t release, which is why it took 12 years to get Rocky’s Diner out. I made three albums in that period that are all finished, that I didn’t release, so that’s part of my shtick. But I learned something from each one. [The songs] surface around my house every now and then after a few bottles of wine. I go, ‘oh, that’s right, this song was great.’”

McLeod is heading out on tour with Mick Skelton backing her on drums, and has worked up a guitar rig which allows her to play both the guitar and bass lines simultaneously – as well as sing, almost one girl band, style.

“I feel like, the less people on stage the better, really,” she explains, “because it’s just that bit [more] together, and it’s easier to control the sound, and then you can get really good dynamics in it. So, sometimes I play with Mick, and sometimes I just do it by myself, so it’s different each time, depending on where we are.”

McLeod has said in recent interviews that not only does she have a plan for a follow-up to Rocky’s Diner, but there are also plans to record a new Superjesus album.

“Yeah…where did you read that?” she asks protectively. “I let that cat out the bag – I’d forgot that I’m not supposed to be talking about it, but, yeah, we are working on taking The Superjesus somewhere new, which I’m really excited about.

“Is it important to keep my solo stuff and The Superesus sounding distinguishably different? I think so, yeah. I think The Superjesus has a distinct sound, and, when I write, I have to just conform for that sound, because it’s a brand. That the members, when they play together, that’s just what we sound like. Let’s say if I write something random, once we all get in a room together, it ends up sounding like The Superjesus anyway.

But I look at the songwriting as really different, so when I’m writing for my solo project, the chords that I will choose, the grooves that I will choose, the tempos that I was choose, even the lyrical content that I would choose, is completely different to how I would attack it if writing for The Superjesus.

“Otherwise, which song goes where? It [would be like], why am I solo, if I’m just doing it all again with different shoes on, you know?”

With the #metoo wave all over Facebook the week before we talked, and women around the world sharing terrible experiences of harassment and sexism at work, I ask Sarah McLeod what she thinks can be done to counter that ingrained bigotted mentality in the music industry.

“God, you know, that’s a loaded question…” she says with a sad sigh. “Yeah, it’s still everywhere, and it doesn’t necessarily come in forms that are super obvious, and I think that’s something that we need to make clear.

“It’s not necessarily people being directly abused in any way,” she continues. “It happens in the subtlest formats, like, every day, everywhere. And sometimes, it’s the subtle ones that are actually the hardest ones to battle – because you’re thinking, ‘did that just happen? Is that actually what’s going on here?’

“And I find that a lot… I just find the best thing to do is to be straight up and honest, and just try and hold your own and look after yourself where possible. Some people don’t realise [they are being out of line] at all. Some people think about it differently, but it definitely has been an issue in my career so many times, in so many different ways.”

It’s time to change, music industry and, indeed, all of us.

Sarah McLeod’s Rocky’s Diner album tour dates still to come:

WED 29 NOV | THE CURTIN, MELBOURNE, VIC | 18+
THURS 30 NOV | THE BASEMENT, CANBERRA, ACT | 18+
SAT 2 DEC | THE FOUNDRY, BRISBANE, QLD | 18+
THURS 7 DEC | THE HEN HOUSE, BADLANDS BAR, PERTH, WA | 18+
FRI 8 DEC | THE ODD FELLOW, FREMANTLE, WA | 18+
SAT 9 DEC | PRINCE OF WALES, BUNBURY, WA | 18+
FRI 15 DEC | HERITAGE HOTEL, BULLI, NSW | 18+
SAT 16 DEC | THE LANSDOWNE, SYDNEY | 18+

 

INTERVIEW: SARAH McLEOD – November 2017

Filed Under: Interviews

About the Author: Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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