Anyone who has lived for a time in London will know the expression, “you wait an age for a bus, then three come along at once.” Sarah McLeod has called London home, but it was in New York when the cavalry arrived.
McLeod, the singer and guitarist with the ARIA Award winning, platinum-selling rockers The Superjesus, hunkered down in the bitter cold of New York in the new year to construct “Rocky’s Diner,” her long-awaited new solo album.
“Rocky’s Diner” is the culmination of a radical change of creative gears for McLeod, who shaped the project from scratch in near-complete isolation during a three-month stint in the Big Apple. McLeod found her muse as she watched the world go by outside her Williamsburg, Brooklyn apartment, as locals got about their daily life, trundling through another harsh winter.
“This album has reinvented my brain,” she explained. “I wanted to be completely by myself and write the record in its entirety from start to finish in one creative whirlwind. It was my biggest musical challenge to-date”.
On “Rocky’s Diner,” McLeod showcases her maturity as a songwriter, and her gift for melding grooves and soul within a rock framework. “With every song I write I learn so much more, it’s like I teach myself as I go. It feels like I learn something new every day, which is really strange at my age. This record was a really big step in a good direction for me as far as how I feel about my songwriting and how I look at the process. I feel I’ve come a long way and I’ve still got better in me. There’s still new tricks I haven’t put into practice yet.”
Twelve years have passed since McLeod’s last solo album release, “Beauty Was a Tiger” (a live album “Live & Acoustic” dropped the following year, in 2006). Distraction is, admittedly, a bitter enemy of McLeod. “I’ve been busy in my career, but I haven’t been attacking it as I should have been. I have a short attention span so I get swept up by different types of music scenes which, although educational, could be confusing to anyone trying to get a feel for my style,” she explains. ”That’s why it’s taken me so long to do another record. And that’s why I needed to write it all in one hit.”
McLeod found her studio getaway on Craigslist and she carried a full functioning studio in her luggage to complete the project. The NYC experience was all business. “I took my whole studio setup, a Samsonite hardcase and filled it. I even took my desktop computer. All my suitcases were full of equipment. I took no clothes, except what I was wearing and bought more clothes when I got there. I didn’t even bring clothes to go out in just so I wouldn’t be compelled to down-tools and go partying.”
The process of forced isolation proved a creative masterstroke. With the tap switched on, music poured out, and McLeod found the drive and inspiration to write a book of the process, an extract from which can be found in these notes. She was so energized by the process, she’s mapped out a five-year plan of recordings. The cavalry truly arrived. “It was such a great decision, I’m so glad I did it.”
Those fighting words are the energy behind “Rocky’s Diner.” As its title would suggest, “Rocky’s Diner” is inspired by Sylvester Stallone’s slugfest “Rocky” franchise, which has been on high-rotation at McLeod’s house. The new LP draws imagery from her experiences eating out in New York’s Little Italy district and hammering those films. “I used to go to a place called Rocky’s, which sadly wasn’t there I returned in early 2016. The feeling when you go into some of these places in Little Italy is that they’re more than just places to eat, they’re soul -enriching places where the bar staff sit and talk to you. It’s almost a lonely hearts club.”
With a batch of “very elaborate demos” in hand, McLeod took the production seat, starting at Sydney’s 301 and Pow Wow Studios, with Steve Balbi as executive producer . Then one last stint at A Sharp Studios with long time collaborater and friend Mick Skelton. “The demos are pretty much a low-fi version of the album,” McLeod recalls, “though I was singing softer and triple-tracking because I was worried the neighbours would hear it.”
Though more than a decade has passed since her debut solo set, McLeod has been anything but idle in her music career. Her group, The Superjesus, released “The Setting Sun" in June 2015, their first new single in more than a decade. The track "St. Peters Lane" arrived in November 2015 of that year and the "Love and Violence" EP dropped in August 2016. And there have been musical changes of tac along the way, including a few flirtations with electronic dance music. McLeod had a couple of surprise club hits with her songs “He Doesn't Love You” and“Hurricane,” the latter received a Euro-house treatment with a remix by Dzeko and Torres (the earliest vision of the song finds its way onto the new album). McLeod toured the country in 2016 with her buddies The Baby Animals on the She Who Rocks tour, and in one of the most special moments of her career, she and her bandmates were inducted into the South Australian Music Hall of Fame during a ceremony earlier this year in Adelaide.
McLeod is looking forward to unleashing her new songs on the road this August, and a full-scale national tour is booked for later in the year in support of “Rocky’s Diner.”
- Lars Brandle