It’s not hard to think of Sarah McLeod as the quintessential rock chick. As the frontwoman and guitarist for nineties alt-rock stalwarts The Superjesus, she wooed Australian crowds with her rich, husky vocals and energised stage presence. She’s also really hot, let’s be honest. Breaking a twelve year drought between solo records, her recently released album ‘Rocky’s Diner’ is quickly gaining raves from the industry.
“The response has been really good, I’m really happy!” she enthuses during our phone chat.
“I don’t think one person has told me they don’t like it, and obviously as a songwriter it’s what you strive for. It’s warming the cockles of my heart on a regular basis. It’s an inferno in there!” She laughs.
I make the mistake of wondering out loud if anyone has ever said they don’t like something she has done, to her face. She hesitates for a second.
“Err… now that you’ve brought that up, no actually. Oh no! There’s all these people out there thinking ‘I better not say anything negative, she’s obviously a sensitive lady.’”
I attempt to dial back the question, but she’s caught it and run with it.
There’s a lot of people I haven’t spoken to as well, so I can guess I can just assume 90% of people hate it.
Thankfully she laughs, and I can breathe again. Her sense of humour is clearly ever-present, and we chuckle for a minute.
‘Rocky’s Diner’ is a bit of a creative gear shift for the singer / songwriter, with clear fifties rock influences and some motown-style grooves. We discuss the difference between her solo stuff and band stuff.
“The Superjesus songs are generally slower, half time, more dirge-y riffs, and everything is detuned” Sarah explains.
“For solo work I’m always in standard tunings. I’m obsessed with all the great songs from the fifties and sixties. I just sit around listening to Otis Redding and The Platters… that’s my jam, my happy place. The stuff I love the best.”
Twelve years is a long wait between albums, and Sarah explains why it took her so long.
“I do a lot of dilly dallying with my career and I mooch around a lot, work on a lot of knick knack projects that I don’t follow through to the end. I also start albums that I never finish.”
This time, she challenged herself with a different approach to songwriting by taking three months out and moving to New York in order to create ‘Rocky’s Diner’.
“I just thought ‘now is the time’ and I focused and made a commitment that I would write a record in three months. I told everyone so that it would make me execute it ‘cause if I didn’t tell anyone it would be easy for me to try and fail, but once you put it out in the universe people are expecting it! It was the overall commitment and the challenge and having a deadline — which I love — that made me rise to the occasion.”
New York, where Sarah has lived before, was a carefully chosen location.
“It’s a place of inspiration,” she says.
“It’s got this electricity; this magic to it where you feel like anything’s possible. I didn’t want to go there and go out and experience anything — I hardly left the house actually — the idea of being there opened my mind and made me write differently, it made braver with the songwriting and my lyrics. There’s something about having a giant obstacle to overcome. The universe rewards the brave.”
As well as being able to buy and stream through all the usual channels, several songs from ‘Rocky’s Diner’ were turned into live studio session YouTube clips. These clips give fans not only a different experience of the songs but will also prepare them for the live tour, which is just going to be comprised of Sarah and her drummer, Mick Skelton. I wonder how that is going to work.
“I’m playing the bass and guitar at the same time,” Sarah answers.
“I designed a guitar and had it built then I had to re-write the parts so I could play all the parts and then Mick and I re-arranged the songs so we could play live again.”
Great. And why, exactly?
“We just don’t have the budget,” she states. “Oh,” I say, unsure how to respond further. She bursts out laughing. “I’m KIDDING,” she roars. There’s that sense of humour again. I think I love this woman.
“Look, when I was in New York, I only had one guitar with me ‘cause I couldn’t take too much. When I was recording my demos I put the guitar down and when it was time to put the bass down I used the guitar and put it through a bass amp simulator.
“I was thinking ‘I’m gonna need a keyboard player and fucking percussionist and all this stuff.’ Then I thought ‘well I’ve been playing as an acoustic duo with Mick for 10 to 12 years. When it’s just he and I, we have a really tight synergy, so I wonder if there’s a way we can do it together.”
It’s so much better… it works, he and I.
Nothing seems impossible in the world of Sarah McLeod. At the beginning of her career, The Superjesus manager took her mother aside to give her some advice.
“He said ‘They’ve got a good five years in them tops, so she should have a backup plan and do something with the rest of her life.’ I didn’t have a backup plan. I failed to plan but I didn’t plan to fail. I just do whatever excites me, and who knows what that could be next? I just throw myself into it with reckless abandon and do it like my life depends on it.”