By Brian Wise.
Sarah McLeod certainly used the lockdown to good advantage and you can hear evidence of that on her current One Electric Lady tour. McLeod not only started a Patreon site, McLeod’s Wolf Pack, where she could share her work and even collaborated with some fans, but she also decided to hone her piano skills and spent months in her home studio practising.
As singer and guitarist with The Superjesus, McLeod didn’t get much of a chance to sit at the piano but on her current solo tour she is using her newfound skills to excellent advantage – and she is enjoying it.
McLeod is performing solo on the One Electric Lady Tour, which she says is ‘a bridge between where I’ve been and where I would like to go.’ The show comprises two sets of completely different styles: one set is a stand-up rock show using guitar and effects pedals and the other set is McLeod alone on the piano.
McLeod also recently released her new single ‘Killin’ It Til I’m Dead,’ the product of a new songwriting podcast, Hatjam, from Eskimo Joe’s Kav Temperley, in which fans can listen in on its conception, from beginning to end.
When we catch up by phone to talk about the tour, McCleod has just had a new piano delivered, having moved from Woodend in Victoria to Brisbane.
“So, I am sitting, staring at it and playing at it and staring at it and taking photos of it and playing it and staring at it some more. Now I’m staring while I’m talking to you,” she laughs.
“I started playing last year when COVID came and there was nothing to do,” she says when I ask her what prompted her sudden interest in the keyboard. “So, I thought this is probably a good time to learn a new instrument. I decided to buy something nice and I thought if I buy a piano that’s sexy it will make me want to sit at it. So, I bought a baby grand, which was really indulgent. Then I just sat there playing it every day and I’m still a bit of a novice, but I just love it. I just, I love it. I love staring at it. You should see the one I got today. I feel like I should have started it years ago. I feel like it’s more me than guitar. It’s my calling.”
How hard is it to learn the piano?
“Well, I learned by just sitting there mucking around. I don’t, I’ve never any lessons,” answers Mcleod when I ask her how hard it is to learn the piano. “I’ve never read music. I just sit there and tinker and just write songs. It takes ages because I don’t really know what I’m doing. It takes forever. But once you’ve got it, it’s so great. The frustration in trying to put it together is really hard. And sometimes I get up and I want to just walk out and smash it. But then once you have that penny drop moment and you get it then you can’t stop playing it. That’s when it becomes fun.”
“Instructional booklets, are you kidding me?” exclaims McLeod when I ask if she has used any aids to help her learn. “I hate instructional booklets. I don’t think I’ve ever read an instructional booklet, ever, in my life. No, it’s trial and error.”
“It just feels so much more musical because all the notes are sitting there in front of me,” she continues. “So, when I write melodies I can play the melodies on the piano and write beautiful melodies; whereas on guitar you play a chord and then I’ll just sing melodies in my head. I can think of more interesting melodies when I’ve got all the notes in front of me.”
McLeod was set to go out on tour last year when everything stopped. What was that like for her when that happened?
“Well, I actually enjoyed the break to be honest. And the timing was really good because I was about to go on the road but my dog was sick and I found out that she didn’t have long,” she replies. “I took her on every tour I’ve pretty much ever been on. I didn’t really know what to do and then the tour got moved and then I got to spend all her final six months with her every day on our farm. So, that was a blessing in disguise for me really.” McCleod released ‘Chachi’s Song’ in August last year as a tribute to the much-loved departed pet.
“I’ve never had a connection with a human that I’ve had with my dog,” explains McLeod. “It’s just something very spiritual about it. I loved her deeply and when she passed I was calm about it. I knew she had to go and I’ve prepared, but I had to write the song because I wanted to make sure that we would find each other, in the next life. So, that’s what the song was for. Just so that she had clear instructions of where to meet me so that there was no grey area.”
McLeod is now winding her way back down to Victoria. After gigs in Adelaide and Port Lincoln she will be at the Northcote Social Club on March 25, the Sooki Lounge in Belgrave on March 26 and the great Meeniyan Town Hall the following day.
Of course, this show is quite a bit different to what McLeod does with the Superjesus.
“This show is different to what I even normally do in my normal solo shows,” she laughs. “So, obviously in the Super Jesus – that’s a full loud rock band – but my solo shows are normally just me with an acoustic guitar. But for this show, I’m splitting the show up into two parts and I’m doing the first half playing piano, like I’m the support band. Then the second half I’m doing a one woman show, like a standup rock show, but it’s just me. I built a guitar that can also play bass and guitar at the same time. So, I’m playing bass and I’m playing guitar and I’ve got triggers and drums from the floor. So, it sounds like a big sonic three-piece band, but it’s just me. So, there’s two very different shows, but as one performance over two parts.”
“I built this guitar that has bass in it as well,” responds McLeod when I ask her how she manages to play two parts simultaneously. “So, it’s got two output jacks and it’s got a bass pickup that picks up the bottom two strings only and goes out to a separate output jack. Then I put it through a succession of octaves and bells and whistles to make it sound like bass. I had to rewrite how I play the guitar because I have to always be holding down root note, I can’t do open chords, I must always be holding down the root note [the first note in a chord] so that I can be holding the bass while the other fingers play the guitar.”
“It works. It’s actually easier than it sounds,” she continues. “It sounds really complicated but the main trouble was just building it. But once it was built rewriting all the songs to hold down the root note is not too hard. But I can do it so I can turn the bass on and off within the song or turn the guitar on and off so I can break down to bass and drums. I can bring the guitar back in, or I can pull the bass out and just take guitar. I did rewrite the songs within whatever tricks I can use within the set up.”
“The piano set is a few songs from my record Rocky’s Diner,” adds McLeod, “a few beautiful covers that I’ve put together and then reinventions of Superjesus songs, rewritten for piano and ‘Chachi’s Song’.”
“It’s a big tour. I’m terrified actually, but it’ll be fun. It will be great,” she adds. “It’s been so long since playing in Victoria and I missed it. I’ve missed all my friends. Yeah, it’s going to be great.”
MARCH 19 FRIDAY
One Electric Lady Tour @ 7:30pm
MARCH 20 SATURDAY
One Electric Lady Tour @ 7:00pm
Port Lincoln, Australia
MARCH 25 THURSDAY
One Electric Lady Tour – Northcote @ 7:30pm
Melbourne Vic, Australia
MARCH 26 FRIDAY
One Electric Lady Tour @ 7:30pm
MARCH 27 SATURDAY
One Electric Lady Tour @ 7:00pm