interviews

Sarah McLeod – Still Dining On Solo Success

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From fronting rock band The Superjesus to her successful solo career, Aussie powerhouse Sarah McLeod is as inspiring as she is humble. One of the hardest-working women in the music industry, McLeod is hitting the road with her trusty sidekicks for a national tour celebrating her latest release, Rocky’s Diner. Girl interrupted her tour preparations to discuss dogs, touring, writing and more:

“Jade, it’s Sarah McLeod here.”

How are you Sarah?
I’m good, how are you darling?

I’m not too bad. You got a day full of press today?
Actually, the great news about this is that you’re my last one, and then I’m going to the pub. So things are looking up. (laughs) I’ve been doing it all morning, but you’re the lucky last one, Jade!

Excellent, that’s good to hear! So what’s been going on, how’ve you been?
Good. Super busy, really really busy, and excited. Doing a lot of work to get the live show together, we go out in like three weeks, so we’ve basically kind of re-written all of the songs on the album to make different versions for live.

Oh wow, really?
Yeah, we don’t do anything by halves. Mick (Skelton) the drummer and I went into the rehearsal room and have re-written everything so that we can play it as a two-piece. So they’re longer versions, they’re extended, they’ve got crowd involvement, they’ve got different riffs in them, and they’re all different arrangements. I kind of like that, when I go see a band, if I like their album, I don’t want to go to their live show and just listen to the album played the same, I want to hear something different. So we have gone to town on the show and made it a bonanza. And it’s really fun now, it’s taken all year to get it right but now we get to go out and do it.

So is it just you and Mick?
Yeah, it’s just the two of us.

Well you have already played a few shows, like this isn’t all completely new. How did those shows go?
Yeah we did a few warm-up shows on the Giants single tour. There were only six shows. It went great, although we were still sort of finding our feet and it took so long to get the set right. We played for about an hour, but now we’ve managed to get it to a good long set jam-packed with action because we’ve been working on it, and it’s going to be way better this time around. I’m excited, because the first tour was really good, really fun. And I’m taking my dog, Chachi.

You are?
Yep, and I’m taking my plant, George. I’ve decided to move out of my house because I’m going to be on the road for so long and I didn’t really want to live here any more anyway. So in the next two weeks I’ve got to put everything in storage, and finish off the rehearsals and do all of the press, so there’s a lot going on. I didn’t want to leave George behind so he’s coming on the tour as well. So it’ll be me and Mick, and then this weird little plant, and the dog on stage (laughs).

That’s amazing!
It’s ridiculous I know, but they’re my little mascots (laughs).

So good, haha. So I did notice you just released the video for Wild Hearts, and it’s super exciting for me because it means we get to talk about Chachi – how is she doing?
Haha! Any excuse to talk about Chachi! She’s lying next to me, in the same red bandana that she was pretty much born in (laughs) and she sits with me while I do my interviews to make sure that I don’t swear. She’s doing a great job so far; she’s fast asleep (laughs). But yeah she is a good dog.

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McLeod with dog Chachi in their first photo shoot together. (Source: Twitter)

How old is she now?
She’s 12. She’s beautiful you know, she’s got that old dog soul. I’ve had her since she was six weeks old so we know each other so well, and we communicate really quite clearly, which is lovely. She’s got a real passion for the music and energy of the crowd. She comes to all of the rehearsals and sits in the rehearsals with her little headphones on. I noticed if I play something on TV or on my phone or whatever that’s a live performance and you can hear people applauding, as soon as you hear people applauding she gets up and wags her tail and comes over to wherever the sound is. She’s like, ‘Oh, my people! They’re calling for me!” so yeah, she loves it. I try to get her on stage whenever I can, everyone gives her a pat and she gets all excited but then I’m like, “Okay now get backstage and let me have a minute.”

So she gets more attention than you?
Oh, she gets a lot of attention, yeah. Sometimes I just send her into the crowd while I’m playing and she works the room, which was actually easier when I was doing acoustic shows because people were sitting down having dinner. So she would wander through after dinner and work every table, I’ve seen her work every table. It’s great because it really brings people together, you know, two people who didn’t know each other are both playing with the dog and it’s my dog, so it brings everyone together as one. At a rock show though, because this tour is a stand up loud rock show, it’s not as easy to send her out into the crowd because there’s more people and they’re all standing up. So I might lose her out there, or you know (laughs) someone trod on her foot once in Adelaide so I’ve got to be careful (laughs) some drunk wanker trod on her foot.

So is the Wild Hearts clip an accurate representation of her studio and ‘road dog’ life?
Ah, pretty much. She just sits at my feet day in day out while I work in the studio. She’s very patient. She just waits and when she needs to go for a wee she just taps me on the leg and it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s time to go, we’ll be back in five,” (laughs). It was really cute in that video actually because she kept trying to go to sleep and I was driving with my right arm, and my left arm I had like, strapped around her trying to hold her up, kind of like Weekend At Bernie’s (laughs).

I did actually notice that, she was kind of snuggled in. I was like, is she trying to go to sleep there, or what’s going on?
Yeah, we were driving around for hours, we took a lot of footage (laughs) so yeah, she was trying to go to sleep. I was like, “Wake up! There’s the camera! Wake up! Look lively! You’re on!” (laughs) it was really funny because we were in a convertible so people could hear me.

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Chachi in the studio. (Source: Twitter)

Actually yeah, whose car did you steal?
I don’t know, we just hired it for the day. The funny part about that video was the guy who owns the car – like, we hired it from some company – but the guy who owned it came out to the shoot to make sure we were treating his car well. He followed me around in my car. So every now and again you can see this little white Volkswagen behind, which is my car, following me in the big convertible (laughs). It was funny yeah.

Congratulations by the way on finally getting Rocky’s Diner out. How long was this one in the works for?
It was only in the works for… well, you could say a year, but it took me three months to write it and then just a few weeks to record it. But then it’s just been sitting there waiting for release. So pretty much four months in the works I’d say, all up.

That’s not too bad. Is that pretty standard for you, doing solo stuff?
No, no, it’s crazy. Normally I write songs all the time, and then when it comes time to put out a record I go back and I find the best from the collection. Never do I go, “Okay, it’s time to write an album, I’m starting on this date, I’m going to finish on this date, and within those weeks I’m going to write exactly ten songs.” I’ve never done it like that before. It’s crazy, really, because you’re putting quite a lot of pressure on yourself. But in this case it seemed to work. I told everybody, “I’m going to start on the first of January and deliver it on the 31st of March. I’m going to New York, I’m going to send one per week back to the label.” I told everybody that I didn’t want any communication whatsoever, I didn’t want any feedback on songs whatsoever, because any feedback they would give me could throw me, either way. I didn’t want to hear, “We like it,” or, “We hate it,” or anything. I was like, “I’m just going to send you a song, and don’t reply, you’re going to get one song every week until you’ve got ten and that’s the album.” Then on the 31st of March at like 11.45 at night, I sent the final album track listing and said, “Here, it’s called Rocky’s Diner, here’s the order and there you go, my work here is done,” (laughs).

Haha that’s amazing. So did you work with anyone special on this record? Were there any producers or guest artists you particularly wanted to bring in and work with?
Well I produced it, so Steve Dalby executive produced it with me, and my friend Mick Skelton, who’s the drummer I work with in the live part, he actually didn’t play on the record because he wasn’t well at the time and it was a bit of this bone of contention so I got a session guy. Then when Mick was feeling better he was like, “Aw man, I didn’t play on the record,” and I’m like, “I know! You were meant to play on the record!” So then he went back into the studio, we went back in together, and he just played all over the other guy’s stuff (laughs). It was fantastic, he was like, “I think we need extra snare here,” and I was like, “Knock yourself out, babe. Do whatever you like, you’re in the driver’s seat now.”

Haha that’s so good! Well last time you personally chose your supports for each city, are you doing that again this time?
Oh no, this tour’s really long, and it took me weeks to pick people because I had to go through so many entries. Yeah, it was a much larger undertaking than I initially thought. And that was only for six gigs. This tour’s like 23 gigs or something and there’s no way I have time to do that. Although, I did enjoy it. But like, for 23 gigs, it’d take me months to get through them all (laughs). It was really cool though; it was fun to listen to what everyone else is doing. And there was some really cool shit, it was actually really hard to choose. I had in my mind I wanted something wacky, which, I’m not sure if it worked so well having wacky… it was cool, but this time I said to my agent, “Can you just pick quality performers?” We had a lot of quality performers, then we had a couple of magicians and an illusionist and stuff – that was my idea. I was like, “I want some wacky magic shit going on,” but I don’t know if the crowd really understood what was going on with the illusionists… I had some mixed feedback… but all the actual singers and performers – not that the illusionists aren’t performers – the musicians all got great feedback, the illusionists had mixed feedback, so I thought maybe I’ll quit it with my whole magic trick show (laughs).

Well you know, you could branch out into that if the music thing ‘doesn’t work out’, you never know.
Haha yeah, if the ticket sales start dwindling I’ll get supports that are like live sex shows with ping pong balls, that’ll bring ‘em in! (laughs)

Do it! I’ll be there!
Yeah (laughs) there’ll be something for everyone!

So how did you find the transition from Superjesus front woman to solo artist initially, and how is it now?
Well the only thing that I really noticed was the lack of support. Like, when I was in The Superjesus I didn’t ever really have to think about anything, there was such a support network around us all the time, so many people on staff that were involved in the machine itself; and then having the guys in the band, there was no real pressure on me. I was just sitting in the bus and someone was driving. As soon as I went solo, all the pressure was on me, and all the support network had disappeared and I was driving the bus, and it was my bus, and I had no insurance (laughs) and no idea where we were going!

Watch: The Superjesus – Gravity

Do you prefer to have a bit more input into the direction that you’re taking and all of the decisions? Or do you kind of like sitting back?
I do, yeah, in my older years I’ve actually become a complete megalomaniac (laughs) maybe sometimes to my detriment because the people that I work with have to keep stopping me and saying, “Listen, I need you to just let me do my job, you can’t do my job for me. You’ve just got to trust that I know what I’m doing and you just do your job, don’t try and do everyone’s jobs.” Because I’m in everyone’s ear, going, “Have you done this?” or, “I have an idea…” or, “Hey, on Wednesday can you do it like this?” or, “Hey, can you actually just, be more like me?” (laughs). I think it’s taken me a while but I need to learn to trust that other people know what they’re doing and I don’t have to take the pressure of every single facet of the whole machine on myself. I have trouble letting go still, even now (laughs), like I’m going to come over and write this interview out for you afterwards (laughs).

Excellent! You can bring beer! I did notice that you’re doing a lot more with your social media, the Facebook live with the Chomp (chocolate bar) in the car wash – that was a personal favourite, haha. Do you think it’s important for artists to connect with their fans that way, and kind of embrace the whole social media thing?
I mean it is, yeah, it’s really important because, say for example, you’re friends with your best mate A probably because they’re nice but B because you’ve known them a long time, and you know them really well. I just want people to know me better, and I want to know them better. On the Facebook live thing they can talk to you and it’s like I’ve got all these friends that I don’t know (laughs). I only just discovered this Facebook live thing a few weeks back, I didn’t even know it was possible. It’s blowing my mind a bit, I have to stop myself from being on it all the time. I’m like, “If I turn this thing on all the time I can basically have my own 24 hour a day uncensored, unedited reality TV show,” (laughs) like what is to stop me doing that, except that my phone will run out of battery? So yeah, I have to rein it in a bit so it doesn’t get boring but I get a real kick out of it. And the weirder or more mundane the task you’re doing the better. Originally I was told to do it, my manager was like, “I want you to use this Facebook live thing. I want you to sit down at a table and have a wine and pretend you’re at a restaurant and call it Rocky’s Diner and ask people to ask you questions.” So I was like, “No problem!” and then I didn’t do that at all, I did it from a car wash which she was furious about, like, “That’s not what I asked,” and I didn’t ask for anybody’s questions, but I had fun and the car was clean.

Exactly – the car was clean and you were lamenting the fact that you only bought one chocolate bar, I can relate!
Exactly! (laughs) I’m just doing whatever you guys are doing, just because I get on stage every now and again and sing my songs doesn’t mean my life is any different from what you guys do, so it’s good to show that (laughs).

Well it does sound like you’ve gone a bit more personal with this record than perhaps some of your previous works, would you say that’s the case?
Yeah, because I think I’ve learnt how to articulate my thoughts better. I would disguise my lack of articulation in thoughts by ambiguity before, because I didn’t really know how to say what I wanted to say so I would just kind of fluff around it. I’ve worked quite hard on that with this record. I think that’s one of the reasons why it’s connecting. It definitely makes the songs more memorable to me, and I connect with them more, because I know every line – I know what I’m talking about, I know why I said it, it’s meant to be there. It’s not just sitting there because it rhymes. Every line is there for a reason, to tell the story.

I did notice that, I thought it sounded a lot more personal; the lyrics are things you can relate to or go, yeah, I know how she’s feeling there.
Yeah, I opened up more and I wasn’t trying to cover my image with bravado, which is what I have always done. I don’t let people in. I pretend everything’s fabulous and it’s all rock’n’roll, baby. But on this one I was like no, let’s just be real. You can’t go wrong if you’re honest. I’ve learnt that now, if you just listen to your heart and act with complete honest in any situation – whether it’s something you’re creating, whether it’s a relationship you have with a friend or a partner, whether it’s a deal that you’re doing in a business situation – if you go into anything following your heart and do it with honesty, you absolutely can’t go wrong.

Very well said.
It works! 100 per cent success rate (laughs).

Yeah it does, for sure. So what is the status with The Superjesus right now?
Well we’ve got some things planned for next year but they’re shrouded in mystery, so I’m not supposed to talk about them. But The Superjesus action is all planned for 2018, and there’s lots of it.

So we might see you, maybe solo or maybe with the band, back in North Queensland soon?
If you play your cards right you just might!

Excellent! I know you’re always working and writing and touring and working, so I’ve got to ask – what’s next after this tour?
Well we’re going to keep extending this tour for as long as we possibly can, because I just love this live show that we’ve put together. It’s a really fun live show and it’s taken nearly all year to put it together, it’s crazy. So we’re pretty much going to try to play that right through until next year, and then The Superjesus thing starts to kick in. And I’ve got another project that I’m not sure when it’s coming out, but it’s a collaboration that I’ve done with Mick, my drummer, he’s also in the Baby Animals, and Jeff Martin from The Tea Party, so that one’s finished and ready to go, we’re just doing deals with that one at the moment to work out when it’s going to come out and whatnot.

You have done stuff with Jeff in the past too, this isn’t the first time?
Yeah, Jeff and I are good mates. It’s a good album, too, it’s really eclectic. It’s been a really fun project to work on.

Watch: Sarah McLeod – Wild Hearts Official Video

 

 

Rocky’s Diner Tour – New Dates Just Announced
All tickets available from Oztix

SUN 5 NOV | JIVE, ADELAIDE, SA | 18+
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+

Previously Announced:

THURS 5 OCT | SOL BAR, SUNSHINE COAST, QLD | 18+
FRI 6 OCT | SPOTTED COW, TOOWOOMBA, QLD | 18+
SAT 7 OCT | MIAMI SHARK BAR, GOLD COAST, QLD | 18+
SUN 8 OCT | BYRON BAY BREWERY, BYRON BAY, NSW | 18+
THURS 12 OCT | 48 WATT, NEWCASTLE, NSW | 18+
FRI 13 OCT | THE BAROQUE ROOM, KATOOMBA, NSW | 18+
SUN 15 OCT | MIRANDA HOTEL, MIRANDA, NSW | 18+
WED 25 OCT | PELLY BAR, FRANKSTON, VIC | 18+
THURS 26 OCT | SOOKI LOUNGE, BELGRAVE, VIC | 18+
FRI 27 OCT | KAROVA LOUNGE, BALLARAT, VIC | 18+
FRI 3 NOV | WARATAH HOTEL, HOBART, TAS | 18+
SAT 4 NOV | CLUB 54, LAUNCESTON, TAS | 18+

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