The pairing of Sarah McLeod and Jeff Martin might seem creatively disparate – that is, until you hear them play together. On paper you see Martin, the enigmatic Canadian powerhouse of brooding rock who has effortlessly and flawlessly soared his way through decades of career highs. Then there’s our own McLeod – coming in on the illustrious line of trailblazing female rock singers after Amphlett, DeMarchi and more. McLeod is herself a rocket of the rock’n’roll world, with a roll call of achievements laid bare behind her both in The Superjesus and her solo work.
And yet McLeod seems to exist at the ultraviolet end of the spectrum and Martin in the infrared. They are light and dark, an odd couple of sorts. But a gig together on the Central Coast and later a charity concert in the Blue Mountains set in motion a project that is sure to pique the interests of diverse music fans.
“For the first ten years of playing in The Superjesus, that was my rock’n’roll high school,” says McLeod. “I learned most things about playing in a band; I learned most things about the music industry – or what I could at the time, anyway; I learned how to become a performer, and I didn’t really need to branch out. As I got older and started to experiment with other types of music I realised there was so much more that I liked to do. As much as I love playing with The Superjesus, they don’t necessarily like all the styles of music I like playing, and because I’ve got a short attention span, I really need to go the extra mile and do random shit just to keep my brain entertained.”
McLeod’s enthusiasm ahead of her Man The Life Boats tour with Martin is infectious. She’s busting out of her skin to be working with the former Tea Party frontman, and her respect for him shines through with every word. After all, it’s Jeff freakin’ Martin – that voice, those guitar skills.
“I’ve been working alone for so long, I’m used to working alone and I do like it, but you need a buddy,” McLeod says. “To have somebody that you look up to, that you’re totally inspired by, and that you respect beyond belief is so amazing. It also makes me step up to the plate a lot. He encourages me to sing better – well, not encourages me; he leads through example. I’m used to doing multiple takes and choosing the best one, maybe chopping up parts, but with Jeff, he’ll do his part, nail it in one take and then look at you and go, ‘Your turn.’ You do an internal gulp and then you just go for it. I really want to impress him, so because of that I do my best work.”
But for all of McLeod’s praise, Martin reveals a mutual admiration for his new touring partner. “In my other bands, they’ve always been these very masculine, testosterone rock bands,” says Martin. “I really enjoyed working with a female voice when I worked with Kimberley [Dawn Lysons, whose debut album Martin produced]. When I met Sarah I loved her voice and her rock’n’roll attitude and I knew I wanted to produce her someday. She played me the stuff she’d been working on; it was dark and haunting and not really suitable for The Superjesus sound – and, well, dark and haunting, that’s kinda my forte. So I took this kind of swashbuckling, pirate sound around her beautiful vocals and it got us excited about somehow, someday, over the course of this year, doing a record.”
While McLeod talks about feeling as though Martin pushes her beyond her limits and to a greater performance, Martin says that’s exactly what a great producer should do. “I don’t want to blow my horn, but what a great producer does is get people out of their comfort zone and helps them find a better comfort zone. You push them and those parameters as well as stretch their imagination. Even just with my set-up and the exotic instruments I have, it helps to push people.
“[Sarah] has some really interesting ideas and I respect the fact that she works hard. She will really, really practise; I’ve never practised … We’re working on a song at the moment that sounds like a song out of a speakeasy in the 1920s. It’s gonna end up like one of those types of eclectic records.”
As for who’s manning the life boats, that remains to be seen. Martin says McLeod is the one “out there checking for icebergs”.
“She calls me the captain of the ship but really she’s out the front. She’s the focal point of the project and I’m really enjoying that. I get to do my part and it just complements her in the centre.”
Jeff Martin and Sarah McLeod play at The Brass Monkey on Tuesday February 4 and Wednesday February 5, The Basement on Thursday February 6 and Tattersalls Hotel Penrith on Saturday February 8. ‘Man The Life Boats’ single is out Friday January 31.