Your Saviour, Only Better
On the first night of the Intel New York Music Festival, Australia’s the Superjesus are set to warm up the audience for legendary headliners, The Jesus and Mary Chain. The quartet create an instantaneous roar of sound as they plunge into their opening number: all melodic, layered guitars, wall of bass, and spectacular drum fills. But all eyes are on the diminutive woman whose pixie haircut flies in her face as she prowls about the stage, a guitar strapped across her chest, her voice soaring and swooping with the music. It wouldn’t be off base to say the Superjesus make music comparable to Soundgarden, if Chris Cornell were a woman. “We have heard it before,” says singer/guitarist Sarah McLeod, 25. “I guess in our early stages, they were an influence. I don’t think we really sound like them as much as we used to.” Actually, the Superjesus are a more entertaining live band than Soundgarden ever was. McLeod’s commanding stage presence and powerful voice make her the high-energy focal point for a band who seem poised to resurrect guitar rock, one riff at a time.
Virtually unknown in America but already platinum-selling festival headliners at home, the Superjesus, (lead guitarist, Chris Tennent — McLeod’s former guitar teacher, Stuart Rudd on bass and Paul Berryman on drums) are in the midst of a six month stay in the US, promoting their Warner Bros. debut, Sumo, released in June. It is their goal that very soon, everyone in the States will know their name.
I heard that Chris was your guitar teacher and then you asked him to join the band and that the two of you later became a couple.
God, everyone knows about this, it’s so embarrassing. We went out for four years, and not even the guys in the band knew. The management, no one knew… our parents didn’t even know. Then one day Chris was doing an interview for Rolling Stone in Australia and she [the writer] hung out with us for a couple of days. She came to a party where Chris and I had broken up and he was all bummed about it. He got really drunk and told her everything. Then she printed it all in Rolling Stone. Then our manager sent that article to everyone as a press release. We didn’t know that until we got [to the States]. Now everyone in the world knows.
Well, not to pry into your personal love life, but it must be at first intimidating to have your guitar teacher join your band, and then he becomes your boyfriend…
It was a nightmare [laughs].
Were you afraid the band might break up?
Oh yeah. Totally. I blew it, I reckoned, getting into that. It was just a bad idea. [Laughs]
How long ago did that relationship end?
That’s hard to say, it drags on because we’re always together and it’s kind of weird. But, officially, I guess last November. It’s cool though, we’ve sorted it out. Everyone gets along well now. I think we’re coming out of the tunnel.
So, let’s hear the story behind your name, because this has to be good.
Well, it was a joke. In Adelaide, where we came from, there was this real cliquey scene and everyone was playing a similar sort of music. We were totally different to all the other bands around, but we just couldn’t get gigs and no one wanted to play with us because we were not like everyone else. We felt really left out. We used to be called Hell’s Kitchen, and it was just such a bad name, we hated it, but it was a working title that we had from some other band that Chris used to be in. We were giving our demo tapes to people, and these were songs that ended up being really popular singles in Australia. But people were saying “No, we don’t want you to play here.” We couldn’t believe it. So we thought maybe we just need to get ourselves a bit of a trendy name. All the bands that were around [were] using the words “Jesus” and “Super.” It was like Jesus and Mary Chain, Jesus Lizard, “Jesus Built My Hotrod” and then “super” this, “super” that.
We used to joke: Let’s call ourselves the SuperJesus, the ultimate cliche trendy name we could think of. It was a total joke, we were just going, “Let’s see if anyone buys it.” Because at this stage, we were just playing on a local level. We never even thought of taking it any further. So we changed the name and then, all of a sudden, all these places were ringing us up going “Hey, you guys wanna play here?” We started getting played on the radio and selling albums. We thought it was hilarious, but it worked!
It probably wouldn’t have worked if you sucked.
Yeah, maybe [laughs]. But we’re read lot of reviews that go “cool name” and we can’t believe it. We think it’s really funny.
Do you get sick of being around guys all the time?
Yeah [laughs], I do, totally. I never used to, I used to really like it. But since Chris and I broke up it’s become a bit harder. I accommodate it where I can and spend time by myself or go and hang out with other girls.
When you were touring with Veruca Salt, did you like hanging out with Louise and Nina?
Yeah, Louise is awesome. I really like Louise, she’s excellent. I caught up with her in Chicago when we were there the other day and that was cool. That was really good fun touring with them, actually. A nice change.
And you’ve also toured with Silverchair and Bush. What was that like? Did any of those guys hit on you?
Maybe people think that I would expect that, I don’t know. It’s kind of cool and people don’t try [pick me up] because they think I think that they’re going to. It’s weird. I take a very “pally pally” situation with all the other guys so that doesn’t happen. I guess I almost discourage it. I don’t want to be like “the girl in the band.” I’m just everyone’s mate and keep it on a friendship level, which is good.
I understand there is some kind of unwritten rule that the Superjesus will record no love songs?
That was Chris’ idea. He would say to me — ’cause I was always writing the lyrics — that’s not a love song, is it? So if I ever wanted to write anything to do with love, I would have to heavily disguise it. That’s how the totally ambiguous lyrics touched off, just so I could write about anything I wanted but disguise it so he would never know what I was saying.
Well, it worked because I’ve been listening to the record and I want to know what every song is about. I have two songs picked out, you can start with those. One is “Ashes.” I like that song the best.
Oh yeah. That’s kind of a long story. My Mum had broken up with this guy she had been living with for a few years. She was living by herself and she was kind of lonely. I was living away and didn’t get to see her much. There was this young girl, who was a bit younger than me, who Mum had met who was really pushy and decided that my Mum was going to be her new best friend. She moved in with my Mum as a flat mate. She was a total nightmare, but Mum loved her. She used to call my Mum “Mum,” and I just hated it. She was really sneaky and deceiving, I could see all of these things that she was doing that Mum didn’t catch on to. I’d always say “She’s bad news, get her out of here.” It turned out in the end that she was bad news and mum ended up kicking her out. So, that song’s about her and about me coping with it and trying to warn my mum. So you see, once again, [the meaning is] very heavily disguised.
That’s a good story. The other song I like a lot is “Now and Then,” which seems to have a sort of philosophical bent to it.
That song is about when we were in Atlanta doing the album. It was about being away from home, unfamiliar with your surroundings, and having everyone want something from you. Everyone was always telling us what was going on and what was being done and what we had to do, rather than us discovering for ourselves. [The song] was more about me thinking, well, “I don’t have to wait around for someone to tell me what I should be thinking or doing.” It’s about these flashes of awareness into the situation.
What songs mean the most to you?
Probably “Down Again” and “Sandfly,” I’d say. “Down Again” is just a really rockin’ one to sing and fun to play. It’s really comfortable for me to sing. I really like that one. And “Sandfly” is just dark and it’s different for us. It’s a different sort of style of song to what we’d written before. It’s got a really cool feel and it’s really gritty. It’s for that part in the set where, if everything’s totally going off, then you play “Sandfly.” We usually extend it and Chris goes off into guitar solo land and I can hang back and have a bit of a breather. I think that’s probably my favorite out of all the songs on the album anyway.
Do you have any good tour disaster stories?
I remember once we were trying to drive out of Melbourne, and we’d always get lost and take the wrong highway. We’d get on this highway that took us to Sydney and once you get on the highway there’s no way of turning around. We did this two or three times and had to go five hours out of our way. Finally it was the last straw, like “This is ridiculous.” It was dark, probably three in the morning and there was this huge median strip in the middle of the road we were going on and the opposite direction, where we wanted to go. We had a trailer on the back and we said, “Let’s go through the median strip, do a U turn and get back on the other road.” So we tried to drive across it and it turns out there was a big dip in the middle. We got fully bogged in the middle of the road.
We’d all had a few drinks, it was a night after a show, and we were sitting in the car laughing our heads off. We just couldn’t get out (imitates sound of wheels spinning in mud). Everyone got out of the car and we were standing on the side of the road laughing. There was nothing we could use anywhere for traction, no trees, no twigs, nothing. We were trying to flag people down, and no one would help us. Now, we were staying in this really bad hotel at the time, so I’d brought thong sandals with me to wear in the shower. So, I went “Wait!” and I pulled these thongs out of the car and jammed them under the tires and we used them as traction. We got [unstuck] and the thongs saved us. All along, I knew I’d brought them for a reason! Then, there were these traction marks on the thongs so we kept them as a bit of a souvenir. I only remember that one because it was me who saved the day!
I guess the obvious final question is: Will the Superjesus be the saviours of rock and roll?
People have asked us that before. I guess it’s kind of an apt time to ask a rock band coming out now. Everywhere we go, everyone is getting into hip hop and dance music. There’s not really that thirst for rock that there used to be maybe five years ago, so it’s a hard time to come out with this sort of album. I think if you do it well and you can be totally convincing then yeah, maybe you can turn it around, if people like what you do, then you can bring back a bit more interest in that style. Who knows. Good question. [Laughs].