Sarah McLeod describes her latest release, Rocky’s Diner, as “dirty deeds, simple and sweet” yet her scene was, and still is, one of “bunkering down”. The singer-songwriter/guitarist, in her own right as well as a founding member of The Superjesus, explains: “Yeah that’s true – if I had a house. I don’t have a house now. But when I do, I very rarely leave the house. I’m a full home body. I bunker on in there and play my guitar and play with my dog, work on music, fun.”
McLeod is, at this moment, taking interviews, sitting on the edge of the highway; poetic – a road-tripping troubadour. Her latest release Rocky’s Diner reached #20 on the ARIA charts, propelling her once again into the spotlight. Not that McLeod ever really left. Though this is her first solo album in 12 years, the talented vocalist, guitarist and songwriter, who first found fame in the late 1990s with 3X ARIA Award winning rock band The Superjesus, has been creating music continuously. Yet McLeod still finds it “ridiculous” being addressed as “Rock Royalty”. She exclaims: “I hate it. I don’t know why people keep saying it to me. It’s embarrassing.” Inheritor of the Australian tall-poppy syndrome, or simply just modest, McLeod finally concedes: “Well, I definitely have been cracking on it for many years. yeah.” After all being inducted in to the rock n’ roll hall of fame is no small feat. McLeod continues: “But again, I was a bit embarrassed. I’m not good with things like that. They gave me this huge medal and they had this like ‘this is your life’ thing on the screen behind me, tracking back from my youth, pictures of me when I was young. [pullquote]I felt honoured to be recognised. Recognition is fantastic. I was just laughing because the medal that they gave me was huge, and it was like I was at a swimming carnival but there was no pool.” [/pullquote]I was like ‘this is so embarrassing. What are we doing?’ But having said that, I felt honoured to be recognised. Recognition is fantastic. I was just laughing because the medal that they gave me was huge, and it was like I was at a swimming carnival but there was no pool.”
McLeod works tirelessly with writing, perfecting and performing her music. Her voice is as distinctive as ever, even when the pitch is so different, from highs to lows, rough to smooth. McLeod states: “I don’t do any training no, never have. I just have an idea and try it out and just go for it. I think training is over rated. I don’t want to put a whole lot of music teachers out of work though. I think it’s just about doing it a lot. You do anything enough, you get good at it.” McLeod’s latest work reflects her growth as a musician, as well as her influences and the music she currently listens to. Of her influences, she states: “Mainly just the Beatles, I listened to so much Beatles when I was young. And I, strangely enough, even though they had already been and gone by the time I discovered them, I appreciated them chronologically. So I started with “Please, Please, Please me” and the first Beatles record. And I loved that album and as I got older, I went through their records chronologically. and it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I got to later Beatles. Only really now am I starting to appreciate all of the like trippy Beatles’ shit, before I never liked that, I was into the straight up “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”, “I Saw Her Standing There”, “Love Me Do”. I liked the simple ones. But know I am appreciating George Harrison, in a different way from what I did before. But I had to grow up a bit to get it. Now, I don’t really listen to Beatles anymore. I’m kind of into soul stuff now, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett. I love the old soul guys.”
With Rocky’s Diner, there was no planning stages or notes brought in to the studio. McLeod “didn’t write a note for that until [she] begun”. She states: “I went to New York, just a couple of days before New Year’s Eve, just after Christmas and I did just a couple of days, just getting a bit of partying out of my system, and on the first of January, I started, I had no ideas and I had given myself three months to do it. So I had to submit it by the end of March. And the first 2 songs, the first song that I wrote, was a bit of a dog, so I scrapped it. and then the 2nd song, was called “I wanna be your dog”, which became the bonus track on the vinyl. And that was the 3rd song that I had the idea for ‘Rocky’s Diner’ and then once I had that, then everything started to flow and snowball and then I had the whole vision for the record and I did it pretty quick from there. I pretty much wrote, non-stop for 16 hours a day, for 3 months, and then I delivered the album: 11.30 at night, on the 31st of March, in its entirety, in its folder, with its title. It felt good.”
Rocky’s Diner was both challenging and rewarding for McLeod. She states: “I was the most excited about that one and I wrote in three different ways. Originally it was one long song with all these different parts, I had been thinking about Billy Joel’s song “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant”, but there’ s lots of different parts. It’s like four different songs in one. It’s a bit schizo but when you get it right it works. Billy’s is great. But mine is a bit schizo so I ended up ditching some of the parts. and made it two songs instead of one super long song with a million different bits. But I loved writing that song, I got really detailed into the story and I really connected with it, and that sort of became the feeling for the whole record.”[pullquote]The whole record, mainly it’s about people trying to connect with each other.” [/pullquote]The story of Rocky’s Diner is “like a fictitious sort of vibe; it’s like a lonely-hearts club and people go into this restaurant and pour out their hearts to the owner, and it is souls basically trying to connect. The whole record, mainly it’s about people trying to connect with each other.”
Still, there’s hope in her music, even with songs with titles such as: No One Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye and Bad Valentine, the latter highlighting that “even if the rubble is all round your feet, you’re like it’s ok, we’ve lost everything but we are still together, and we are bad ass.” Perseverance is one of McLeod’s biggest attributes, as is her dedication to her music and her fans. As well as the studio album, she produced live studio sessions to ensure the songs worked live.
McLeod also designed a guitar so that she could play bass and regular guitar at the same time. McLeod explains: “We did the studio sessions after we come back to Australia because I was just over there writing it, then I came back to Australia, went to this studio and recorded it properly and then got Mick (Skelton) and then got the studio sessions. We wrote the songs to make them work live, as a two-piece, because I was playing the bass and the guitar at the same time, so we had to rewrite the songs, to make them work as a 2 piece. So, we better film it so we can show people what we are doing. It was really fun.”
Delivering her music live and connecting with the audience is extremely important to McLeod. She states: “Yeah well, that’s what it is all about. I feel like the show is not meant to be me just standing there playing the songs from the album louder live, that’s why I like to rewrite them so that there are versions that we play live that are different. I think it’s important to give the audience something else again, but it’s also like a bit of a party and I am leading the parade. So I have got to ‘hi guys let’s have a good time’. I have to have a good time and I have to lead their good time and make them have a good time. It’s not enough just to play the songs. It’s about creating an energy.”
Touring can sometimes “be difficult”. McLeod states: “I go through phases where it is good, and sometimes it’s hard, but it’s a sacrifice that you have to make to be creative I think. Not always a smooth road. Being successful has its own demons, but being creative has a very different set of baggage…I’m on the road for three months, I’ve got my dog with me, everything I own in the back in the trailer and I’m just kicking it on from town to town; just living for rock and roll.”
On the road with McLeod and her dog Chachi, is drummer, Mick Skelton (Baby Animals). McLeod states: “He’s really good. I’ve been playing with him on and off for about 12 years, so we are pretty tight. But we fight a lot. So, it’s very volatile on the road. We are really close and then we just fight like brother and sister. So it can be really fun and then it can be really horrible. But that’s the price you pay, it’s deep and it’s heavy and it’s real. It’s loaded.” McLeod continues: “I love touring. I feel like I am at my best when I’m on the road. I love singing and when you break it down in pure simplicity, singing makes you happy. Like you know when little kids jump up and down on trampolines and it makes them giggle, singing does that for me. Like it makes me happy, it creates some sort of inner joy, so it keeps me alive basically. It’s the reason that I do it. If i couldn’t sing I don’t know how I would find happiness elsewhere cause I get so much happiness from that. It’s a grueling tour – put it that way: we are driving, we are taking this giant neon sign with us everywhere – which is bad ass. Although I’ve already broke half of it, it still works. I just smashed the front perspex from it the other day, so now I hang it up without the front perspex on it. It actually looks better without it; it’s just really dangerous!”
Danger aside, McLeod’s national Rocky’s Diner tour is now in full swing and, due to high demand from fans, it has been extended into November and December. Audiences can expect a show that “gets better and better.” McLeod states: “Every day I learn something new. We are playing better every night. Honing the set better every night. Yeah it’s working well, I want people to see it, because I’ve been touring as an acoustic solo artist for so long, and I think that’s what people expect of me, either that or Superjesus. It’s a very different show to that and it’s an ambitious show, I’ve put a lot of work into it. and I’m really proud of it so the more people I can get to see it, the better.”
Don’t miss our very own rock royalty, Sarah McLeod, on her Rocky’s Diner tour. Rocky’s Diner is out now.
Tickets to the newly announced Rocky’s Diner tour are on sale now: http://sarahmcleod.oztix.com.
SARAH MCLEOD ROCKY’S DINER TOUR
Tickets available from http://sarahmcleod.oztix.
Wednesday 25th October – Pelly Bar, Frankston – Tickets
Thursday 26th October – Sooki Lounge, Belgrave – Tickets
Friday 27th October – Karova Lounge, Ballarat – Tickets
Friday 3rd November – The Waratah Hotel, Hobart – Tickets
Saturday 4th November – Club 54, Launceston – Tickets
Sunday 5th November – Jive, Adelaide – Tickets
Wednesday 29th November – The Curtin, Melbourne – Tickets
Thursday 30th November – The Basement, Canberra – Tickets
Saturday 2nd December – The Foundry, Brisbane – Tickets
Thursday 7th December – The Hen House @ Badlands Bar, Perth – Tickets
Friday 8th December – The Odd Fellow, Fremantle – Tickets
Saturday 9th December – Prince of Wales, Bunbury – Tickets
Friday 15th December – Heritage Hotel, Bulli – Tickets
Saturday 16th December – The Lansdowne, Sydney – Tickets