By Shanelle Franklin
Adelaide-born The Superjesus front woman and rock goddess Sarah McLeod rose to the heights of the Aussie rock and roll scene in the ’90s, helping to pave the way for young aspiring female artists to follow.
An inductee in the South Australia Music Hall of Fame, the four-piece was formed in Adelaide and in 1998 released whopper album Sumo which was released worldwide, went double platinum and won best rock album at the ARIA Awards that same year.
Twenty years on and lead singer Sarah tells Brand SA News she will always have a soft spot for the city that started it all.
“I love flying home to Adelaide to see Mum and my school friends,” she says. “My first pit stop is Asian Gourmet in the Adelaide Central Market for a laksa – it’s actually the best.”
“I adore the Adelaide hills. My mate Susie and her husband Andrew own Bird in Hand Winery, I love to go up there and roam around the vineyards with a glass of their Nest Egg Chardonnay”.
Sarah reflects on her crazy career journey and where it all began.
“Mum worked so hard to send my sister and I to St Peter’s Girls’ School, and all I wanted to do was work at the stock exchange,” says Sarah, who initially envisioned herself as a stockbroker, in Michael J Fox The Secret of My Success kind of style.
Finishing school and attending Flinders University she welcomed the need for some reckless behaviour. So she booked a trip to Bali with the girls.
After a few drinks and some Dutch courage, Sarah jumped on stage – her first time ever performing in front of an audience. Wearing baggy shorts, a Stussy t-shirt and green bumbag (standard Bali attire) she grabbed the guitar and belted out a tune with an Indonesian cover band. The place went bananas and people were buying her drinks all night.
Following the unexpected audition, the band had her playing every night. They even invited her to play in Jakarta in front of 200,000 Indonesians. Tempting as this was, Sarah declined, flew home, quit university and started a band.
“I’m a huge believer in swinging on the first pitch, perfection is boring and making mistakes was the fastest way to learn,” she says.
Fast forward a couple of years, which included developing nodules – a throat condition affecting her ability to sing – Sarah began working in a surf shop while her voice healed. She practiced guitar riffs when trade was quiet, and it was here that the first band Hell’s Kitchen was born.
“Our first gig was at the Crown & Anchor, then we managed to get a gig at The Synagogue (now Mary’s Poppin). We rode on our push bikes and stuck posters up all around town,” Sarah says.
“From there we did The Austral and The Exeter. I’ve always loved those two pubs. Since then we’ve done Fowlers, The Gov, the Adelaide Entertainment Centre and the Thebby.”
At the 1994 Adelaide Fringe Festival, two guys wearing black sunnies (who were big in the music business) loved what they heard and signed the rock group on the spot. The band had a solid sound, new management and bookings were rolling in.
Just before their first performance at the 1996 Big Day Out, they had a last-minute epiphany and changed their name to The Superjesus. Warner Music jumped at the chance to have them on board alongside fellow ’90s rock legends Regurgitator.
Armed with a level of filthy determination, The Superjesus toured the USA in a 12-seater Ram, which they later left trashed and dripping oil in the Warner Music car park before they flew home.
They released full-length studio album SUMO, a huge success which hit gold before it reached the stores. But after playing in London at a food and wine festival, the group lost its spark, returning home and going their separate ways.
Sarah went on to live in Sydney with then boyfriend, Chris Joannou of Aussie rock royalty band Silverchair, but recognised a total shift in focus was needed. She then moved to Melbourne and changed her tempo.
“I wanted to live simply and fight for every dollar, I wanted to live and die by my sword,” she says.
Sarah also moved to New York and remembers riding a motorbike daily along the Brooklyn Bridge to an underground recording studio to play guitar riffs over every rap album the studio pushed out. She then returned to London, this time collaborating with dance music producers.
Now Sarah reflects on Adelaide’s music scene and says it’s gone from strength to strength, helped by booming small bars staying open later.
“There are so many amazing bands coming out of Adelaide,” she says. “I love Southpaw, they’re a rad blues rock band. I feel like we put in 110% to compete with east coast bands.
“I think Adelaide supersedes Melbourne with its music community. I’m thrilled UNESCO designated Adelaide ‘A City of Music’.”