“I was in tears the whole time writing that song for Chachi, like weeks. I had tears all over my jeans, all over the piano; I just had to push through it. I thought, ‘There’s only one way out of this.’”
Chachi wasn’t any old dog. She was singer, songwriter, guitarist and now pianist Sarah McLeod’s one constant in a life lived more on the road than off. For fifteen years, Chachi was there on the road with her. When she passed away in July 2020, there really was only one way to deal with her loss – to sit at the piano and find the words to express her feelings.
“I find that playing the piano seems to change the whole mood of things I write,” she admits. “It’s so much more emotive. The guitar for me is more of an upbeat, goodtime rock’n’roll situation, but piano really draws on the heart strings and I love it. It makes me write in a different way. It makes me feel different. I sit at the piano, I light scented candles, I’m emotional.”
Her legion of fans will be seeing and hearing a whole other side of Sarah McLeod when she hits the road in February for her first “electric” tour. Sure, they’ll hear their favourite songs, not only from her last solo album, 2017’s Rocky’s Diner, and even a few from her solo debut, 2005’s Beauty Was a Tiger, but also songs from the band that put her on the international map, The Superjesus – only not how you remember them. “I’ve rewritten The Superjesus songs as beautiful piano pieces, to give them a different edge – or lack of edge.”
Sarah was supposed to go out on her first electric tour of Australia in March 2020 – she’d done the solo sitting on a stool with an acoustic guitar thing enough times – but like everything else, that had to be shelved as the nation went into lockdown in order to minimise the impact of COVID-19. Sarah had been doodling around the piano for a little while but with lockdown she finally took the opportunity to get serious about the instrument. Not that she was about to study the books and learn how to play the conventional way. That’s never been her way at all – not even as a guitarist.
“In The Superjesus I play in different tunings and that’s cool,” she explains, “but I don’t know what the chords are called. I’ve never known what any of the chords are called. I just play by ear. So when I got to piano, I have no idea how to read music so I just sit there and tinker until I find sounds, which takes forever, but I’m really committed to the style. I’m finding really interesting voicings these days, like moving the bass around, and it’s making me a better guitar player, strangely.”
It’s also made Sarah a better lyricist. “For some reason, every word counts now. Every time I open my mouth to say something, I feel like it’s high-class real estate and I only have a certain number of lines that I can put in a song. It’s not like a novel, so every line has to count; every line has to help deliver the story in its most imaginative and descriptive way to take the listener on a journey. So, I find myself blabbing less and being more to the point and more colourful.”
Of course, it’s all very well feeling excited about her newfound skills as a pianist, but she’s not about to launch herself on an unsuspecting audience cold. Sarah is still the feisty, powerful, magnetic rock guitarist and performer, and that was the side she’d intended to showcase on that aborted 2020 electric tour. She’d even modified her guitar herself in order to become her own bass player. Adding a second outlet to her guitar that independently picks up the signal of the two bottom strings, she detunes them and put them through a bass amplifier, which provide the bass parts. Meanwhile the other outlet carries the guitar parts from the other six strings to a guitar amplifier – very clever. Throw in a foot pedal by which to control percussion parts and she’s the total one-woman band – One Electric Lady. And joining Sarah McLeod on the tour is – solo pianist Sarah McLeod.
“I thought that perhaps it was a bit brazen of me to come out and do a whole tour on piano while I’m still finding my way, so I thought that perhaps what I would do is do the electric show, which I haven’t ever toured – I’ve only done one show here, one show there – and I’ll put myself on as support playing the piano, ‘cause I know the headliner and she’s been good to me, I think she likes me! Pull some strings so to speak!! And I thought that would be a good way of edging my way into live performance as a pianist.
“The piano song stories are mainly just things in my life, my relationships and my connections with people, so the piano songs are all very personal, so far. With the guitar songs I write a lot of cheeky stuff, I write some fictitious stories, but with piano, I’m writing very vulnerable, direct from the heart songs, which I’ve never actually done before.”
And of course, alongside all those other songs, you’ll hear Chachi’s Theme, Sarah’s tribute to her beloved rock dog and sidekick, sitting somewhere on the other side of the rainbow bridge, tail wagging, where she’ll be listening out for her mummy’s’ voice and hearing the growing confidence in her art, her craft… and her piano playing.
TOUR DATES 2021
Friday, 5 March 2021 – Ballina RSL, Ballina NSW
Ticket Link: www.trybooking.com/BLBWX
Saturday, 6 March 2021 – The Lounge, Nundah QLD
Ticket Link: https://bit.ly/2YieBvw
Sunday, 7 March 2021 – Wallaby Hotel, Mudgeeraba QLD
Ticket Link: N/A – Free Event
Thursday, 11 March 2021 – The Vanguard, Sydney NSW (2 x sessions)
Ticket Link: https://moshtix.com.au/v2/event/sarah-mcleod-one-electric-lady-tour-/122064
Friday, 12 March 2021 – Royal Hotel, Queanbeyan NSW
Ticket Link: https://tickets.oztix.com.au/outlet/event/07197120-234a-46ce-9497-a8bbeb6ba882
Tickets Sold: 16
Saturday, 13 March 2021 – Brass Monkey, Cronulla QLD (2 x sessions)
Ticket Link: https://brassmonkey.oztix.com.au/outlet/event/db8ab600-1601-4dda-a83c-0a0c5b317ab6 (early) / https://brassmonkey.oztix.com.au/outlet/event/4032ae68-c6f6-43a7-aef2-8a72005b0f38 (late)
Friday, 19 March 2021 – Grace Emily, Adelaide SA
Ticket Link: https://tickets.oztix.com.au/outlet/event/c97205e4-2b2c-4501-b041-11572505d767
Saturday, 20 March 2021 – Soundcity, Port Lincoln SA
Ticket Link: https://www.soundcity.com.au/event-tix/
Thursday, 25 March 2021 – Northcote Social Club, Melbourne VIC
Ticket Link: https://northcotesocialclub.com/gig/138890417979/
Friday, 26 March 2021 – Sooki Lounge, Belgrave VIC
Ticket Link: https://tickets.oztix.com.au/outlet/event/00e88cb3-97c1-42c7-b09f-21f75f70402c
Saturday, 27 March 2021 – Meeniyan Town Hall, Meeniyan VIC
Ticket Link: http://lyrebirdartscouncil.com.au/upcoming-events/