Sarah McLeod has been lying low for a bit. In her defence, she's earned a bit of a break – the band with which she rose to fame, The Superjesus, had a remarkably busy 2018 and haven't been slouching in 2019 either. Last year revolved mostly around a re-release and tour in support of their breakthrough album Sumo, which was celebrating its 20th anniversary.
Soon to be historically documented through a new live album, Double Live, McLeod speaks proudly about the national run commemorating their all-important debut.
“That would probably be the best tour we've ever done in our entire career,” she says. “To be perfectly honest with you, when The Superjesus got back together in 2013, we phoned it in a bit. We learned 12 songs, and that was it. No-one's heart was 100% in it – we were kind of just popping our heads back in to see if anyone still remembered us. For the Sumo tour, things really changed. We rehearsed intensively for months and months, and it ended up being a two-and-a-half hour show. The band was tighter than ever, and when we took it to the audiences they all really responded. Back in the day, people never used to sing along at our shows – now, everyone is singing as loudly as possible. It's impossible to not want to milk that moment.”
Before The Superjesus return to the road this September to support the release of Double Live, McLeod is briefly returning to performing under her own name. McLeod will be one of the many artists on the bill for the Melbourne Guitar Show, taking place across the first weekend of August at Caulfield Racecourse. Despite having played guitar for some 25-odd years now – nearly half her life – McLeod has never really perceived herself as an exceptional guitarist. “I don't fancy myself as a guitar player – I fancy myself as a singer,” she explains. “For me, playing guitar was always about necessity – about accompanying myself. This whole time, I've kinda felt like I've just been getting by.”
“I've now found myself in this position where people are talking about me as a guitar player, and I've found myself on this bill with all of these absolutely gun musicians. As soon as I knew I'd be part of the show, I knew that just getting up there with my old acoustic just wasn't gonna cut it. I needed to do something interesting – and that I will.” McLeod's plans for the show are based on a unique live show that she toured a few years back that involves playing a customised electric guitar that boasts two output jacks. By running the guitar through two different channels and respective pedalboards, she is able to emulate both a dirty electric sound and bass guitar simultaneously.
“I sat down with the guy who fixes my guitars, and I explained to him what I wanted to do with it,” says McLeod. “It was a lot of trial and error, but we kept going until we'd gotten the sounds right. I'd go into the room with my amps and play it after every tweak, and if it wasn't sounding right we got right back to work. Once we finalised it, I got him to duplicate it – I wanted to have two, because if I broke a string on one the whole show would be fucked.”
The experiment was particularly sentimental for McLeod, as one of the guitars that was customised was given to her by none other than the late, great Billy Thorpe. “I was making a lot of dance music at the time,” she explains – and yes, she pronounces “dance” like any self-respecting South Australian does. “He gave me this guitar, and he said 'Hey kid, it's time to get back into rock & roll.' I think he'd appreciate the originality of it.” McLeod speaks fondly of the time she got to spend with Thorpe, who she met through playing a series of benefit gigs: “He was the most gentle, kind, beautiful man,” she says. “Great singer, great guitar player... he took a bit of a shining to my mum, too, which was cute.”
Catch Sarah McLeod at the Melbourne Guitar Show on Saturday August 3.